Techwear and Being Comfortable on Changing Weather
They key to being comfortable across multiple weather situations while commuting is a combination of two things: having the right garments and layering.
Layering has been around for many years; sailors, fishermen and alpinists have been layering clothing for over a century, but a couple decades back, modern alpinists like Yvon Chouinard and Mark Twight, and companies like Patagonia, Arc’teryx and The North Face, began taking layering to a whole different level, creating systems of clothing for the climbers, hikers, skiers, and special operations soldiers (the PCU System).
Modern garments and “techwear” are taking the idea of layering and having the right clothing for the outdoors into the urban environment.
Layering is essentially having a clothing system work in tandem to manage both the weather and body temperature. It helps keep cold, rain or snow out, while helping manage sweat and heat buildup in the body, working in a way that transport that heat and moisture out, keeping the body temperature constant across several weather and temperatures ranges.
At its essential idea, it is comprised of:
Base layer: The inner-most layer. This layer is critical because it’s in direct contact with your skin. it must be great in managing and transporting moisture out.
Mid layer: Provides basic insulation and continues the transportation of moisture from the inner layer. This layer must be breathable regardless of whether you are moving or static. This way, warm air from the base layer can flow freely.
Outer layer: Protects you from the elements and should allow air to circulate and excess moisture to escape. Depending on the level of rain/snow or lack thereof, this can be a full on hardshell (less breathable) or a softshell (more breathable but less water resistant).
Insulated jacket: This goes on top of everything. You can take it off when it's warmer and put it on when it's colder. This jacket should trap the hard-earned warmth of your body and keep it in. This layers is used when you are really static and it’s very cold.
The system works as follow: when it’s cool you remove the layers, and when it’s cold you add layers. The base layer transports the sweat out, and the warmth of the body helps it evaporate through the layers. When you are moving, you want to be light and cool, even if it’s cold out side. But when you stop, immediately add the mid layer or the insulated jacket to keep the warmth in. This way you really manage your own microclimate inside your clothing.
The key to all this is synthetic fabrics or wool. Cotton is soft, but it takes too long to dry once wet.
A few years back companies like Arc’teryx (specifically its Veilance line) and Outlier began experimenting with bringing the technical aspects and fabrics used on the garments designed for the high demanding alpine environments, and adding a look and aesthetic that suited the city. The result is what we know today as techwear. If you are interested, you can read a great intro to techwear at Grailed.
Techwear is - as defined in the Grailed article - clothing for everyday life, with special fabrics, construction and properties that allow for breathability, movement, water-resistance and comfort. In other words, a clothing system or garments that provide both utility, weather resistance, and comfort while maintaining a look suited for cities and the urban commute.
This is great, because I was used to wearing my trusted Arc’teryx Alpha rain jacket, Patagonia R2 fleece and a weird combination of different pants to try to remain warm or dry during my commute, and I looked like I was just stepping out of a trail or a mountain. With techwear, I could find the right clothing that had both the look and the technical features I was used to having while climbing or hiking.
Jackets like the Interstate Jacket and the Gramercy Blazer, shirts like the A2B Polo and the Aero Dress Shirt, and pants like the Modern Chino and Voronoi Pant, make layering and staying comfortable and dry, while looking good for a meeting, easier. Sure, it’s expensive, but the fabrics are durable, help keep you dry, and warm or cool, so it’s worth investing in them, in my opinion.
Another good point here is the fact that the majority of the techwear items today are both lightweight and compressible, making them the perfect pieces to bring with you on a backpack, as your backup clothing when you think the weather might turn on you. You can support your layering system by having a light sweater, for example, and a thicker fleece rolled up and stashed on our pack, waiting in case the weather turns cold.
Of course, techwear is being taken to the extreme, but for the most part, the brands that develop and bring techwear to the market keep simple and serious.
How to Keep Dry / Warm / Cool?
The idea is to have a collection of clothes that are made out of synthetic fabrics, wool, or a blend of fabrics (synthetics with some cotton, or wool), that are easy to layer.
For example, having a base layer tshirt that is synthetic, with a dress shirt that is merino wool or a blend of cotton and synthetic fabrics, underwear that is synthetic, and dress pants that are made out of breathable synthetic fabrics, will allow you remain cooler in a humid NYC summer day. A different example, with a merino wool long sleeve polo, a sweater made out of a blend of fabrics, a pair of thicker, fast drying synthetic pants, a water resistant but breathable parka, and a wool beanie, you’ll be able to remain warm, dry (both inside and out), in a colder, rainier city day.
Again, thinking about layering as a two-way system that will help you remain dry, warm or cool, and buying the right items to be able to layer and be ready for any weather the city may throw, is where the mindset should be. Let’s bring the philosophy again: be comfortable and blend in.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money on this items, you can wear what you already have, just make sure there is a good combination between synthetic and natural fabrics to make it work.
My Own Techwear
Over the years I have brought a few items that can be considered techwear. Here are some of them:
So, after all this, I think you can begin to see why I like techwear. I can bring all the experience I have while preparing my clothing systems for the dangers of the alpine environment, and put it to work here. Similar to what I did with my backpacks, I grabbed my experience in other fields and environments, and adapted them to the city and my commute, enabling me to be lighter, more comfortable and, more importantly, be able to resist weather the best possible way.
Check techwear and layering. Make it work for you.