This may seam like an old topic, but many of my frinds have asked me about proper layering in the past. Especially those new to touring that are usually just on-piste riders. For this reason I decided to post a little help on the topic for those who are in need.
Proper layering is very important when doing any activity at all, especially in the cold.
The reason is that if just one mistske is made, it can destroy the entire effect of even the very best garment.
Proper layering should look like this:
1st layer. This is directly on your skin and has the sole purpose of comfort. It does this by doing mainly 2 things.
Firstly it is there to wick sweat away from your skin so that the natural cooling system of your body can work.
It should only remove exess sweat, but leave a thin layer on the skin to evaporate, thus cooling you.
If there is no sweat (meaning that you are not working hard) the garment should warm you to keep you from freezing.
The best materials for this purpose are merino or yack wool. They can be mixed with some synthetics in some cases, or be woven as 100% wool. This is up to you to decide. I habe used synthetic, 100% wool and am currently waiting on a mixed material with 70% merino for a test as well.
Fully synthetic underwear may be more comfortable as far as skinirritation goes if you are sensitive to wool like I am, but with the right garment wool can also be very comfortable. The problem with synthetic is that it usually wicks too much sweat and that it starts to stink quickly (especially bad if you wear it several days in a row and sleep in a hut with others).
Second the garment is meant to keep the rather unpleasent feeling inside of your soft- or Hardshell off your skin.
If you are wearing a Hardshell directly over your 1st layer, it should always be a long arm/leg model because direct skin contact with a hardshell will make you feel like you are wearing a plastic bag, so you will be wet, cold and it is unpleasant.
2nd layer. If it is extremelyy cold outside you may wish to wear fleece underwear over your 1st layer for added warmth.
Fleece is perfect because it will also transfer sweat away if it is of good quality and let it evaporate quickly so as not to become wet. But it should never be your first layer because it also does not do am good job directly on skin.
3rd layer. This is where your softshell, down- or primaloft comes into play if you would like to wear one.
This is a very breathable (lets the moisture from your sweat out) but windblocking material to keep you safe from stormy weather. It will also protect from a short drizzle, but it is not waterproof. If you are warm enough with just your first layer (especially on your upper body, not so much on your legs because of snow) you can also refrain from wearing the thrid layer.
Down should not get wet at all because the feathers will bunch and the effect will be lost.
Downjackets work by keeping a layer of air inside the fabrik which should insulate against the outside air.
4th layer. This is your hardshell. It should be breathable (don't wear a rubber raincoat) so that it will also let moisture out or your sweat will collect there and destroy all effects of the layers you are wearing underneath.
This layer is to protect you from heavy rain, extreme winds and thus also from the cold.
In itself it does not keep you warm at all, but by keeping the wind away it will leave the warm air in your other layers protected from the cold air surrounding you, thus keeping you warmer.
The problem with a hardshell is that is is usually never as breathable as a softshel and it is usually not stretachble material so that it may impair your movement.
Also, as softshell can be worn directly on skin, a hardshell can not.
Some acceptions may apply because there are always new innovations out there, but for most garments these rules do apply.
By wearing all these layers it is possible to control how warm you are.
When walking up the mountain for example, you can remove warming layers so you are not overheating and sweatting too much as this will only cost your body lots of energy and water for no use. Plus you will not feel comfortable and be wet.
When you take a break you should get a bit chilly if you are dressed properly. If you want to take a longer break, put on a warming layer so you don't cool out and start freezing. Then when you start walking again, remove the warm layer so as not to overheat.
When you start your decent you should put on something to keep you warm because you will be less active then when walking up and because of the wind. It is also a good idea to wear a hardshell at this point so that if you fall you will be protected from snow getting you wet. This is especially important in wet snow and also in powder because even though it is dry, it has the tendancy to get into every opening in your clothes and making you wet. Hardshell garments are usually made not to have any uneccesary openings anywhere so that snow will not fall in through the hole for your head or be pushed in through the bottom if you crash (be sure to have it closed and all, rubberbands and velcros tight enough so it will not be pushed aside easily in case of a fall).
I aslo like to wear thin silk gloves under my thick gloves or especially under mitts to keep my fingers protected a little bit when I have to take them off to do something like shoot pictures of fidget with equipment.
On my head a ballaclava is always my first choice (also Merino) because it protects my throat from the cold as well and I can either use it as open face if it is not too cold by pushing the lower part down under my chin, or to protect me all the way up to the goggles if it is cold out. Please be sure not to have it beneath the foam of your goggles because then wind may kreep in and hurt in your eyes when riding fast. Also your goggles will fog because of th sweat it transports in underneath them.
My last tip is to experiment a bit. Take your time, go to test events if you have a chance so you can test different equipment from different manufacturers and compare it directly. They usually do this over several days and by hiking in the mountains, but it will give you a good idea of breathability and water/windproofness of a jacket.
An example of such an event in Austria is the Intersport Gipfeltreff which is every year. This is where I tested a lot and learned where differences in prices may come from, or when prices are just due to hype froma name.
Happy powder slashing to all!
P.S. Please excuse any "m" which may be in place of a "space", this was written on my iPad and sometimes I don't get to the space bar and usually will habv an "m" standing there instead.