Layering your clothing like a Pro

Most trades people have to deal with large variations in temperature, weather conditions and activity levels throughout the working day. This is especially true in the colder months.

A typical winter work day for an electrician might start by climbing into a freezing cold van and off to the job site. Then doing second fit electrical work on a loft extension, where it’s noticeably warmer but drafty, and the work builds up a sweat. The day then ends stepping back out into the frigid winter evening for a brisk walk to the local pub where it’s warm and stuffy, before heading back home.

Within this hypothetical scenario, there are at least four different climactic conditions that your workwear has to deal with. This is precisely where LAYERING comes in. Think of LAYERING as a system of combining multiple layers of clothes together, adding or removing layers depending on the conditions to maximize comfort throughout the work day. This concept is not new and has been used by outdoor and mountain athletes to keep themselves protected from the elements for years.

The principle of layering is that multiple thinner layers will keep you warmer than a one heavy layer. This is because each layer traps warm air, creating multiple layers of insulation around your body. You can then regulate your insulation as required by adding or removing a layer, warming you up by adding a layer or cooling you down by removing an additional level of insulation, whilst retaining the insulation from the remaining layers. It’s a hugely flexible system that prepares you for any climactic eventualities.

There are typically three layers to the LAYERING system. The first is the all-important base layer. This is worn directly next to the skin and has one critical function – wicking sweat away from the skin and accelerating evaporation, turning sweat into vapour. This helps to regulate your core body temperature and creates the first layer of warmth. Base layers must NEVER be made from cotton. Cotton is unable to transport moisture away from the body efficiently, soaking up
sweat instead. Since it is also very slow-drying, the result is that the wearer feels cold and wet for extended periods, driving down core body temperature. In harsh conditions, this can happen very quickly and can be very dangerous as it can lead to hypothermia. Instead, base layers should be made out of synthetic materials or merino wool, both of which do a good job wicking sweat away from the body and drying quickly. Both are effective, but synthetics have the edge in their wicking and quick-drying abilities, whilst merino wool is more breathable and smells less due to its naturally antimicrobial properties.

Next up is the insulating – or mid – layer. This layer is all about keeping you warm. It retains any body heat that is not held by the base layer and keeps out the cold. It should also be breathable as well as wick away sweat from the base layer. A typical mid layer is a fleece pullover, which is very breathable and has good insulating properties. Softshell jackets also make excellent mid layers for cooler, blustery weather, since they provide good insulation and decent wind protection whilst remaining breathable. They are often water-resistant as well, allowing them to be used as part of two-layer system when the conditions are not extreme, providing reasonable protection from brief bouts of rain. For freezing weather, an insulated jacket – like a puffer jacket – is a perfect mid layer.

The final layer in the system protects the wearer from the wind and rain. This shell layer keeps out the elements, whilst allowing the base and mid layers to do their jobs wicking away sweat and retaining body heat, thus keeping the wearer’s temperature regulated and warm. A shell should always be waterproof, but good shell layers are also durable – especially when used for the job site where tradies
are surrounded by abrasive materials – as well as breathable, allowing sweat vapour to pass through all of the layers in the system. Otherwise, it just gets damp and clammy for the wearer when activity levels are elevated and you start to sweat.

There are two types of waterproof jackets – those with awaterproof membrane laminated into layers of fabric and those with waterproof coating (typically a polyurethane – or PU - coat). The jackets with waterproof membranes are significantly more breathable but can be quite expensive (such as Goretex or eVent jackets), whilst the PU coated jackets are more affordable but still do an ok job with breathability. All waterproof jackets must also be seam taped. Thisis waterproof tape glued onto the stitched seams of a jacket to ensure it is fully watertight. If a jacket is not seam taped, it’s not waterproof (this is typically the difference between a waterproof and a water-resistant jacket).

The final element but critical element to a waterproof shell jacket is the durable-water-repellent (DWR) coat that is applied onto the outer surface of the jacket in order to make it hydrophobic. This allows water to bead off the jacket surface instead of absorbing into the fabric.