I never seem to find the perfect way to dress for sweat inducing activities in cold weather. By sweat inducing activities I mean mostly activities in the mountains, especially hiking uphill or ski touring. By cold weather I mean weather that would normally require a jacket, or at least a thick jumper. If that is too wide of a description, let's say I mean between 0°C (32°) and 10°C (50°F).

What I normally do is choose materials that breathe well. So no hard shell or puffy jacket, but instead some sort of warm fleece hoodie or a windstopper. Naturally, I avoid anything made of cotton, and use (technical) synthetic clothing instead. I make sure to cover my neck, as I am much too prone to getting throat colds and similar problems. I also make sure to bring warmer clothes for later, and a change of t-shirt/long-sleeved shirt that I wear as a base layer.

All this effort seems to work just partly: I am still sweating more than I would e.g. in summer. At the same time I am still getting cold when a cold gust of wind catches me.

Is there anything else I could be doing/doing differently? Are there some magical technical clothes that I am missing?

  • 2
    You seem to be doing everything mostly right. Personally I dress the same be it 0°C, -20°C, or -30°C. Thick polyester undergarments with winter softshell. It starts off super cold but takes about 10 minutes to get comfy. This works perfect for going 100% throughout. I carry a down jacket for breaks and hardshell for wind in the backpack.
    – Gabriel
    Commented Nov 15, 2018 at 13:52

6 Answers 6



There's no magic to this, it's mostly about thin layers and windproofing. When you're working hard you strip some layers, when you slow down you put them back on again.

If you're warm enough for standing around in the cold, you'll be too warm while active. If you're about right for being active you'll be too cold standing around.

A thick jumper or big fleece hoodie may be too much investment in a single layer for the activities you're doing.

Also a snood scarf (available branded as Buff), I swear by these things on the bike in winter. It keeps the draft out from round your neck while not being as awkward as a scarf.

  • 1
    The partners to layering are anticipation and getting out of the wind when possible. Layer up as soon as you stop, before you get cold, and remove layers just before getting going, considering how hard you'll be working on the next step (you may feel a little cool for a few minutes). Waiting until you're uncomfortable tends to lead to overshooting, and getting too hot or too cold, or an additional stop.
    – Chris H
    Commented Nov 15, 2018 at 12:44
  • a buff as a good idea, even though I own a couple, I don't use them nearly enough for other activieties than skiing
    – april rain
    Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 10:35
  • If you wear both a (light) down jacket and a fleece (or similar),wear the down jacket over (outside of) the fleece layer. If the down layer is inside it has a much bigger chance of getting wet from the sweat, and down becomes useless when wet. Commented May 22, 2019 at 9:54
  • Bring one extra very lightweight (synthetic) innermost layer, particularly in winter hiking. If your innermost layer gets wet due to sweat (most likely when working hard to get up a mountain) you can change into the dry layer (for the way down). Commented May 22, 2019 at 9:57

Wool. That is as simple as it is.

Inner layer needs to be thin and light, but still wool. Merino wool is common. It breathes like nothing else, keeps you warm, and doesn't absorb water. It'll get wet, but it won't get wet as cotton does.

Add layers to comfort - add windshell / rainshell if circumstances require it - otherwise pick a softshell fleece or wool sweater. I like all my layers to have zip/buttons halfway down the chest - and then use neck and head for regulating temperature. open up if it is getting hot, zip it up if it is getting cold.

And remember, you'll always be clammy from prolonged activity, no matter what high-tech-astronaut-approved-million-dollar-super-breathing-gear you are wearing. if you are going to rest, and the rules of propriety allows it, strip off the inner layer, replace it with a dry one.


Timing is key.

A lot of times, your outdoor activity will involve more intense parts (for example, going up is more intense than going down).

Remove a layer before starting an intense activity, put it back as soon as you stop.


Part of this is learning to pay attention to what your body is doing. I had a friend on a dogsled trip who was soaked when we reached camp: He could wring water out of his polypro underwear. Me, I was dry.

But he was a phys ed major and thought nothing of sweating. Me, I hate feeling sweaty. So he would happily sweat away, and I would be unzip, rezip, take toque off, put mitts on, add a layer, take off a layer.

One thing I found that really taught me: It was a fairly light weight acrylic turtle neck shirt made of coarse acrylic. Because it was coarse it didn't wick at all.

"Ewww" you say. "You feel wet"

Yes you do. But at the first feeling of wet, you unzip to dry out.

Another trick, "To stay warm, keep cool" Try for just a bit chilly. This gives you some margin for warming up before sweating.

Baggy clothes. I don't like anything to be tight. If I'm jumping about, I want my clothes to flap. This means when I'm more active, I'm also getting more ventilation.

Pants go OVER boot tops, not inside. This gives you ventilation in the legs, and keeps snow out of the tops of your boots. I like wind pants with vent zips at the top.

Often just a wind layer is enough. This sounds crazy. Try it. And sometimes you can go without a shirt at surprisingly cold temps, if the air is calm and you have sun. (You can also get a wicked sun burn this way in a very short period of time from snow reflection.)


It's worth reading Andy Kirkpatick's article on the 'Softshell' principle (The Best Softshell in the World:

From the article:

The heart of this clothing is its polyester micro pile interior which is, considering its weight, high volume but low density and hydrophobic, meaning it’s warm for its low weight, but also retains very little moisture, meaning there isn’t a lot for sweat or moisture to cling to. The micro pile surface is a perfect wicking surface as the actual surface contact is minimal. This means that when the fabric is damp it feels dry because the body is able to dry the micro pile ‘spikes’ almost instantly and even if the moisture level gets too high that the body’s unable to dry these spikes, it will still be able to warm the wet tip to body temperature, giving the illusion that they are dry (remember that the actual body contact with these spikes is much lower than the actual surface area of the top).

The outer wind and water-resistant shell of the jacket helps to maintain the stable micro climate within and as moisture is wicked out from the interior surface it is picked up by the shell, which absorbs it like blotting paper, wicked out across the surface of the fabric so it can be transferred into the environment very quickly. When the top becomes uncomfortable, either due to the environment overloading its insulation or when totally saturated, then it’s time to put on a secondary full weight soft shell, or traditional outer layers. And this is the beauty of the piece, it’s so effective that although it’s technically only soft shell that combines a base layer with a windproof top, combined it’s able to stand up to some incredibly grim conditions.

Once your activity level drops and you throw on more layers this type of clothing goes on performing, because it not only keeps your skin comfortable but it also acts as a kind of citadel, your last defence layer, meaning even if wind and moisture does cut through your outer defences you still have this layer to stop it dead.


If your insulation is robust enough to take the ingress of showers without you feeling wet then waterproofing can be sacrificed in order to hit your breathability target. By replacing the words ‘waterproof and dry’ with ‘weather resistant and comfortable’ you get a much better idea what you’re looking for. Windproofing is the most important aspect, as no matter how robust the insulation is, the slightest breeze will rob you of any of its warmth.


Ideally this type of clothing should be used next to the skin, the reason being that that way you can vent it most effectively, meaning you can maintain your comfort level most effectively. If climbing in hot conditions you may want to either carry, or wear underneath your top, a very thin base layer, as this gives you something to wear when it’s roasting.

This clothing is a perfect high performance base layer to be worn under a thicker soft shell as its warmth is equivalently double the weight in fleece due to its ability to create this stable core microclimate. It’s also a great component in a traditional base layering system as its slick shell reduces binding between the layers making movement much easier. The hood can be worn under a helmet, creating a vital windbreak in stormy weather giving great visibility without the need of a huge hood or balaclava.

Of all the types of clothing on the market today, the one that truly represents what soft shell should be about is the shelled micro pile jacket. This type of top has been around now for over a decade, with Marmot being the first company to introduce such a piece with their Driclime pullover. The reason this type of top is so perfect is because the equation between weight and performance is so high with these pieces, although often now thicker than a base layer, actually replacing base, mid and shell, even in active sub zero conditions.

The current examples of this type of clothing include Rab Vapour-Rise and Buffalo (various lighter and heavier Pertex and micro-pile or thicker pile combinations.)


Between 0 and +10 °C I'm often (usually?) still in T-Shirt when active (depending also on weather: sunny vs. fog + wind etc.) and still may sweat a lot. If it's too cold for T-Shirt, I use a loose long-sleeve shirt of light but pretty wind-tight fabric or a tight thermo-shirt.

I accept that I'll be sweating uphill/when working and bring not only a jacket and sweater for breaks/bad weather/the way back down but also a 2nd T-Shirt. I don't change layers for a single gust of wind, but I may be putting things off (or on) at the beginning after maybe 10 min or if the weather changes (including getting into or out of the wind). As for breaks, if I'm in the sun, I may decide to first let the T-Shirt dry a bit, or in the fog to immediately put on the jacket.

I cannot comment on the neck: I'm not much into wearing scarves etc.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.