Layering is the smartest way to dress not only for physical activities outdoors, but also for the urban environment. When done right, layering enables comfort by maintaining proper body temperature, and helping you remain dry and light, two of the key elements of the Urban Commuter Philosophy.
Layering is in its essence placing different pieces on top of each other to help with heat management, sweat prevention, cool down the body, or simply have the ability to adapt to the changing weather or pace of activities. This last point is what we want to focus on here.
I recommend synthetic or wool-based clothing for layering, but you could - if you experiment with it - do it right with cotton. Still, I would invest in good pieces that are low maintenance and dry fast. Also, remember that each layer has to work with the next, as we will see below, and that proper layering also allows you to move freely so you don’t experience restriction or chafing. If it feels uncomfortable is not the right piece.
This is the first layer, worn next to skin to provide warmth and help move sweat away from your skin. Generally, lighter weight base layers are best for warmer conditions or when you move a lot, while heavier weights pieces are great for cool conditions or when you are more static.
This is the insulating layer, providing warmth while also continuing to dissipate heat during periods of movement. Consider the weather conditions when selecting the type and weight of this layer.
For the city I usually focus on light to mid-weight pieces. This enables me to remain cool or warm depending on whether I’m inside or outside, or how crowded it is.
Best insulation material:
Outer layers protect you from the weather. This layer helps stop rain, snow, and wind. Their fabrics vary from the most weather proof - and less breathable, to the lighter and less weather resistant pieces.
Here is where you need to experiment a bit, but I found that usually a full, lightweight shell (rain jacket) is best for the city. The other fabrics are good, and they have their place, but in my experience they are less useful in an urban environment than a full on shell.
Simple does it. Layer the right way and you remain fluid, warm/cool, and blend in. Learn layering and it will also help with traveling, where you can begin to pack less, and rely on layering to adapt to the different weather conditions.
EDIT Feb 15th, 2022.
A few readers requested an example of layering for the city. Here you go.
Fall and Winter
Late Spring and Summer