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Layering clothes in cold weather

If you often find yourself miserably cold in the winter, maybe you haven’t discovered or perfected the art of layering. Not only do layers trap warm air between them, keeping you toastier, but they’re also flexible because you can easily shed a layer if you get too hot.

If you’re wondering how to layer clothes for winter, it’s quite simple once you know the basics. You start with a base layer, add an insulating mid-layer and then round it off with an outer layer.

Layering basics

Start with a base layer

The key to layering is to start with a quality base layer. If it’s extremely cold out and you’re serious about staying warm, you should start with thermal underwear as a base layer. A long-sleeved thermal top and thermal long johns, or long underwear, work wonders on a cold day. They should be made from moisture-wicking material so that, if you sweat, you won’t be left cold and wet once you cool down again.

However, on milder days, you can consider a T-shirt or long-sleeved T-shirt as your base layer. If you feel like you need an extra layer on your legs, wear a pair of tights or leggings.

If you’re looking to layer stylishly, you might want to choose a base layer that will show throw under your next layer. For instance, you could wear a button-down shirt under a sweater with the collar and tails out or a long-sleeved T-shirt under a set of overalls.

Add an insulating layer

Your mid-layer or insulating layer should be warm but not excessively so. A sweater or hoodie is a great choice, whether it’s made from a synthetic, such as polyester, or a natural fabric, such as cotton.

If you’re wearing thermal underwear, you might want to double-up your mid-layer, wearing a T-shirt and a sweater so your base layer won’t be on show if you shed your sweater. Layering a short-sleeved T-shirt over a long-sleeved thermal top can also create a cool retro look.

Finish with an outer layer

Your outer layer on your top half is your jacket or coat. If you’re expecting wet weather, your top outer layer should be a waterproof jacket. However, a more breathable coat is more likely to keep you warm yet comfortable if it’s dry out.

Generally, the outer layer on your bottom half will be your choice of pants, whether they’re jeans, slacks or something extra-warm, such as ski pants. However, if you plan to wear waterproof pants (for instance, on a wet hike or for working outside), consider these your outer layer and your regular pants your insulating layer underneath.

Other winter essentials

While they’re not directly for layering, if you want to stay warm this winter, these items of apparel are essential.


A beanie or other warm hat can make a huge difference when it comes to keeping you warm. When it’s especially cold, you might want to consider wearing an insulated beanie; you can even find some with waterproofing for wet weather.


The right gloves keep your hands warm without impacting your range of motion too much. You may also want ones that are touchscreen compatible so you can use your phone without taking them off.


You have plenty of options, from standard long-knit scarves to neck gaiters and infinity scarves. Those with a loose knit aren’t as warm as tight knits or fleece materials.


Thermal socks are perfect for winter, especially those made from moisture-wicking fabrics so your feet don’t end up cold and wet if they sweat. You can layer socks for warmth by wearing a thick pair over a thin pair.

What you need to buy for layering clothes

best Rocky Thermal Underwear for Women

Rocky Thermal Underwear for Women

This thermal underwear set includes a top and long johns, forming the perfect base layer to keep you toasty while wicking moisture away from the skin. It comes in 20 solid colors and prints, including black, gray, green plaid and seafoam stripe.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

best Dickies Men's Base Layer Set

Dickies Men’s Base Layer Set

In this set, you get a thermal top and thermal long johns, both of which are made from a blend of polyester and spandex to keep wearers warm and dry. It comes in sizes S-2XL, in black, white, gray, navy, khaki and camouflage print.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

best Daily Ritual Women's Cotton Mock Neck Sweater

Daily Ritual Women’s Cotton Mock Neck Sweater

Made from fine cotton yarn, this knitted sweater is great for layering because it’s light enough to pair with a range of layers without overheating. It has a comfortable fit that’s loose enough to fit layers underneath but not so bulky you can’t fit others over the top.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

best Wrangler Authentics Men's Long-Sleeved Quarter-Zip Fleece

Wrangler Authentics Men’s Long-Sleeved Quarter-Zip Fleece

Thanks to its cozy fleece material, this is a great sweater to use as an insulating layer on chilly days. It has a comfortably relaxed fit that you can easily fit layers underneath and comes in sizes from S-3XL.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

best Helly-Hansen Women's Aden Waterproof Breathable Hooded Rain Jacket

Helly-Hansen Women’s Aden Waterproof Breathable Hooded Rain Jacket

Waterproof yet breathable, this is the perfect outer layer, protecting you from the rain without causing you to overheat due to a lack of airflow. It reaches around the upper-to-mid-thigh, offering more protection from the elements than shorter jackets.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

best Carhartt Men's Storm Defender Loose Fit Heavyweight Jacket

Carhartt Men’s Storm Defender Loose Fit Heavyweight Jacket

This jacket’s water-repellent finish keeps you dry, but it’s also breathable for more comfortable wear and has a loose fit that’s great for layering. It’s available in standard and big and tall sizes, from S-4XL and comes in 10 muted hues, including navy, black, and gravel.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

best Moreok Thinsulate Winter Gloves

Moreok Thinsulate Winter Gloves

Suitable for temperatures down to -10 degrees, these gloves are warm yet lightweight and have touchscreen-compatible fingers. You can choose from black, light gray or deep gray hues, all of which come in sizes S-2XL.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

best Sealskinz Waterproof Cold Weather Roll Cuff Beanie

Sealskinz Waterproof Cold Weather Roll Cuff Beanie

Ideal for wet, cold conditions, this beanie is not only insulated, but has a waterproof membrane inside to keep your head dry. It comes in red, navy, gray and black, and in three sizes to fit most heads.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

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Lauren Corona writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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