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    • Scottish Winter Layering Guide

      Layering clothing for Scottish winter climbing is really difficult. Very changeable weather and stop/start activities like climbing and belaying mean that clothing has a hard job keeping you warm and comfortable. The worst weather is often a long way from the safety and respite of the car or civilisation: this isn’t the Alps where a hut is just round the corner!

      Photo by Hamish Frost

    How to layer for Scottish winter climbing

    There are plenty of different approaches on what to wear for Scottish winter climbing layers. Some people forego the traditional layering systems altogether when climbing in Scotland but most people have a pretty simple system that combines a baselayer, midlayer(s), a shell jacket, and a belay jacket; whilst on their legs they’ll wear baselayer tights or slightly thicker legwear, and then shell pants. The damp weather of Scotland is worth particular consideration, and so down jackets are generally not recommended as belay jackets, and you are usually better off with a synthetic jacket.


    The primary job of the baselayer is to wick sweat away from your skin; this works to keep you feeling warmer as cold sweat next to your skin quickly leads to feeling chilled.

    A baselayer pant worn underneath Soft or Hard Shell pants is the standard climbing legwear system, though some will wear baselayer pants, Soft Shell pants, and waterproof pants. Fleece leggings are ideal baselayers and we make some of the best available.

    Photo by Hamish Frost


    A midlayer is there to keep you warm, but not so warm that you overheat. Which midlayer or midlayers you choose will depend on the conditions and whether you tend to feel the cold or not.

    Deciding between a fleece midlayer or synthetic jacket as a midlayer is a key decision: fleeces are very comfortable and breathable but they’re not very effective if they get wet and provide very little wind or weather resistance. A synthetic midlayer provides more wind and water resistance, but they are often not quite as breathable as a fleece, and for some people provide too much insulation.

    Photo by Hamish Frost

    Shell Layers

    The job of this layer is to keep the weather out while letting you move freely, and it must also survive the rough treatment of winter climbing. Shell legwear must keep out the weather while surviving the rough treatment that results from wearing crampons.

    Photo by Hamish Frost


    The insulation layer is your booster layer to trap heat whilst in-active such as at a belay or lunch stop, or whilst on the go when the mercury plummets. At Mountain Equipment we have over 50 years of expertise in insulated clothing. Your main choice here is between down or synthetic insulation. Down is warmer for its weight than synthetic but does not function as well when wet; modern blown-fill synthetics, such as our own POLARLOFT® Featherless, offer wet weather performance with some of the comfort of down. If climbing you should size your insulation layer so it can be worn over all your other layers.

    Photo by Hamish Frost

    Dave MacLeod's Scottish Winter Layering Guide

    “Get your layers right and it can make the whole experience of Scottish winter climbing so much more enjoyable.”

    The goal is to have maximum storm protection, without sacrificing freedom of movement, but also at the minimum weight possible.

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