Layering - the Do’s and Don’ts

There is a saying in the fly-fishing industry: there’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing. Many years ago Simms ran a bumper sticker that said: “Today’s Weather Forecast? Who Cares.”

The goal in layering is three-fold:

  1. Move moisture away from your skin and out through the layers.
  2. Keep the elements out, while trapping warmth.
  3. Allow freedom of movement, even in the harshest of condition.

Layering is simple, keep it that way. Use fit-for-purpose clothing in their appropriate layers, avoid bulk, and make sure that your layers can be shed when it warms up, or added back when the temperature starts to fall. Each layer is critical – dropping anyone of them can cause the system to break down and negate the warmth offered by other layers.

Each layer should be fit-for-purpose, and each layer should be as close to the next layer as possible, thus not allowing the cold to enter between the layers. They should move or slide over each other freely and without restricting movement.


Base Layer

This is the on-skin layer designed to lift moisture.


Use a fit-for-purpose base layer which only performs one function – to lift moisture away from the skin thus keeping the wearer comfortable. It should be form-fitting and allow other garments to slide over it easily. Most base layers are made from polypropylene with some percentage of spandex. Bamboo has also proven very good as a base layer and has an additional benefit of being odour resistant and can be worn a few times between washes.


The base layer should not have insulating properties. Its sole goal is to lift moisture. There are other layers designed for insulation. A base layer that has insulating properties can overheat the wearer when conditions change and also add bulk to the layering system.

Insulating Layer

Generally speaking, fleece garments are what are worn for warmth. It is better to wear two lightweight fleece garments than one thick one.


Use form-fitting fleece garments. Yes you read that correct – garments not garment. Often two lightweight fleece garments are better than one heavy garment. Or use a lightweight fleece garment in conjunction with a midweight fleece garment. The theory behind this thought process is  that as the garments knit together, they offer a better mechanism for trapping heat. 


Form-fitting is the key here so don’t wear a loose-fitting fleece garment as it will allow cold air to penetrate and you will negate the insulating properties.

Barrier Layer

A barrier layer is usually a puff layer and should be the layer that keeps the insulating layer away from the cold.


Use a form-fitting layer that can slide over the fleece layer. Puff jackets are generally the preferred garment using Prima Loft as its fill. Prima Loft sheds water well and has a good warmth-to-wetness ratio. Goose- or duck down is a very good insulator, but it retains water, has a slow drying rate and has a low warmth to wetness ratio. It also loses its insulating loft when under a shell layer.


Don’t compact the loft element of the garment by wearing a garment that is too small, or by wearing a shell layer that is too tight.

Shell/Outer Layer

This is the outermost layer that keeps the element out, be it wind, rain, sleet or snow.


The shell/outer layer is designed to keep the elements out. It should be water- and wind proof, relatively lightweight, packable and breathable. It should have adjustable cuffs, a high neck and a hood. Large cargo pockets come in handy when you’re on the water as you can store a lot of gear in them.

When purchasing a shell/outer layer do not purchase an oversize layer as it will just let cold air in and negate the properties of the other layers. When wearing waders, the shell should never be tucked into the waders; it should go over the top of the waders to reduce the amount of air distribution.

Under Waders


Use tapered garments as this will reduce the bulk in the lower leg area and will be far more comfortable. Simms Waderwick fleece pants have the correct taper to the garment but you can also wear on-skin tights like those worn by cyclists.

Wear loop-knit thermal long socks that are the correct size. The bootie you wear over the neoprene sock of the waders should be over-sized as you do not want to compact the loop-knit of the sock. It is also advisable to wear a lightweight nylon sock inside the thermal sock thus allowing moisture to be moved away from your foot.

Your waders and shell are probably the most technical garments you are ever going to wear. Just think about what you are trying to achieve with them: keeping water out while expelling the moisture your body is generating, all the while trapping heat and behaving like regular clothing. Treat them with respect. Wash them regularly by following the care instructions and manufacturer’s directions.

The most common cause of wader failure is user error.

  • Incorrect garments worn under the waders.
  • Putting too much pressure on the seams while putting them on or taking them off.
  • Incorrect storage.
  • Incorrect care.

Under Waders


Cotton, in any form, should be avoided. It has one of the lowest warmth to wetness ratios. Cottton does not retain any warmth once the fabric is only 20% wet. Angora fabrics on the other hand can retain 90% of their warmth when 90% wet. Cotton is also highly abrasive and becomes more abrasive when wet. Denim (jean-type) material must always be avoided. Globally, Demin jeans can comfortably attribute for 40 percent of wader failures. It’s not only the fabric that causes wader failure; the copper studs that often come with jeans are also a cause of failure.

Also avoid hiking socks as they generally have a cotton content and are usually a little short.

Zips in any under-garment must we avoided at all costs. They have sharp edges that can destroy fabrics. If you are going to use a garment with a zip then ensure that the zip is mad from plastic (not metal).



Find garments that have quarter zips as this allows you to zip down to cool off.

Buy the best quality garments you can afford: generally the more you pay the better quality garment you will get. Not all fleeces are created equal.


Don’t have full-length zips on all your layers as they will build bulk on the zips. There is also the possibility of them rubbing or catching on each other.

Never wash your technical garments, including fleeces, with fabric softener. It clots the pile or pores in the garments and reduces the loft (and thus insulating qualities).

Technical shirts should not be worn as they are designed to be a loose fit and therefore allow air to penetrate your system.

Although they look like they are warm and will fight the elements, 3-in-1 jackets should be avoided. They are not form-fitting, they move as one unit and you are not able to strip just one layer off. They also tend to be oversized, thus allowing cold air in.

These simple do’s and don’ts will keep your technical gear doing what it was designed to do; keep the elements out and you comfortable and warm.




Putting waders on
  • Always sit down when putting waders on.
  • Work your feett into the waders until they are half in the stockingfeet at an angle.
  • Grab the waders at the back of the ankle and work the stockingfeet onto your feet.
  • Once both feet are in, work the waders up your legs and body until they are on.
  • Never stand in the waders and pull them on like you would with a pair of pants or jeans. This creates excess stress on the seams which can cause seams to leak.
Taking waders off
  • Like putting waders on, always sit down when taking waders off.
  • Work the waders down from your chest to your legs.
  • Grip the ankles/heals of the waders and work them off both feet.
  • Waders can then be slipped off easily without putting stress on the seams.
  • Never stand on the back or front of the stockingfoot with your other foot when removing your foot from the stockingfootnd pull your foot out. This creates excess stress on the seam and will cause the waders to leak either in the toe of the stockingfoot or the seams joining the neoprene to the breathable membrane.
  • When pulling your waders on or taking them off, always ensure you are standing on a mat (or soemthing similar) to protect your neoprene stockingfeet from sharp objects on the ground.
Float tubing and walking the bank
  • Always wear a protective shoe or neoprene bootie over the stockingfeet of the waders. Never walk in the waders when the stockingfeet are not protected.
  • Dive booties are a great way of protecting the neoprene of the stockingfeet, Not only do they protect the bottom from pin holes caused by walking in them, but they stop your fins from damaging or causing wear on the stockingfeet.
  • When fishing from a bank or in a river or stream, a pair of wading boots over the stockingfeet are the best as they provide sturdy ankle support as they limit ankle movement.
  • Wearing true wading boots with fins while float tubing limits the amount of movement of the ankle and causes fatigue a lot quicker when finning with neoprene dive booties. Soft dive booties are designed to allow for ankle movement when finning.