When the season of renewal and new beginnings comes calling after a long winter, it’s time to get outdoors and have some fun in Michigan’s water wonderland. As temperatures slowly rise and the earth comes back to life, preparing for outdoor adventure can be a challenge thanks to wild weather swings, especially during springtime.
“Due to the pandemic, people are realizing outdoor activities don’t have to be scheduled. They’re taking the time to enjoy the outdoors again, even getting back to activities they enjoyed from childhood. But with that realization comes the question, ‘What do I wear?’,” says Kelly Sue Eccleston, soft goods buyer for Boyne Resorts, a Michigan-based, family-owned four-season resort with properties across North America, and Boyne Country Sports stores across Michigan.
Most people who regularly spend time outdoors have a healthy respect for the benefits of layering, which is typically learned the hard way — by not properly layering. In Michigan, a spring day can start with wind and below-freezing temperatures and evolve into a pleasant, sunny day in the 60s, so it’s best to be prepared and flexible if you want to maximize your time outdoors.
With the continual development of new performance and sustainable fabrics and technologies, the art of layering has evolved over the years — so what you’ve been wearing for hiking, kayaking, or other outdoor recreation the past decade or so may no longer offer the greatest benefits.
Eccleston says there’s a broad range of versatile options within each layering category to meet most needs. Of course, the most successful layering strategy isn’t based solely on weather — exertion level, type of activity, and whether your body runs hot or cold should also be considered.
To understand how a layering approach allows you to enjoy nature safely and comfortably, it’s important to understand the purpose of each layer. Eccleston advises to “start with the skin and layer out.”
This is the next-to-skin layer that’s the foundation of your outfit. It should keep you dry by moving, or wicking, moisture away from your skin — and staying dry is the goal, especially in cooler weather. Cotton clothing absorbs moisture, so it’s usually best to limit that fabric to outdoor activities in mild, non-humid weather.
According to Eoin Comerford, CEO of Moosejaw, a Madison Heights-based retailer specializing in outdoor adventure apparel and gear, layering is about warmth and versatility.
“For a base layer, there are many great wicking choices in synthetics and wool. Smartwool has wonderfully soft Merino wool options,” he says. Merino wool also has natural wicking and odor-neutralizing properties.
Adds Eccleston: “Lé Bent has base layers made from a bamboo-blended fabric that’s buttery soft, has stretch, and comes in multiple weights. It’s a great choice if you want to be active all day.” This fabric also boasts wicking and sun protection technologies.
While many people wear thermals (long underwear) as their base layer, Comerford notes that “as you get warmer and lose the layers” you may end up wearing just your base layer, so appearance should be considered. “Brands such as Kari Traa have bright colors and patterns that can be a nice change to base layer basics.”
While socks aren’t considered part of traditional base layering, Comerford and Eccleston agree that when it comes to comfort, a good quality sock is essential. Comerford recommends “buying Smartwool socks in bunches. Once you discover the joy of a good pair of socks, it’s hard to go back to cheap socks.”
The mid, or insulating, layer holds the body heat you generate to protect you from cold. Some of the most popular mid-layer options include down or synthetic-insulated vests or jackets and poly fleece.
Mid-layer bottoms are often non-bulky designs that can be worn comfortably on their own or layered. On a chilly day, an additional layer of insulation may be needed.
Comerford says the newest technology is in insulation. “We’re excited about The North Face’s ThermoBall Eco, which is a lightweight, packable synthetic alternative to down.” He also mentions the ongoing popularity of fleece, especially thick sherpa piles and athletic technical fleece.
As for pants, Eccleston endorses the men’s Radikl pant and new women’s Transcendr Legging from KÜHL. “Both are abrasion-resistant, water-resistant, super comfortable, and versatile, as they can be worn outdoors and for everyday wear.”
The shell layer usually has no insulation, but offers defense from wind, rain, and snow — all of which are possible on a Michigan spring day. There are a variety of quality outer layer options that are lightweight, breathable, and either waterproof or water-resistant.
Breathable garment technology is important for comfort, as it lets moisture escape. Depending on the weather, soft-shell jackets can be a great choice because they’re lightly insulated, breathable, and offer moisture and wind protection.
“If you want to be fully protected, you need to go with water and windproof,” Comerford says. “A good choice is The North Face’s Futurelight outerwear — it’s soft, lightweight, waterproof, and made from sustainable materials. It has the benefits of a softshell in a hard shell.”
Eccleston says “a lightweight, super packable shell with a hood that can be stowed in your pocket is ideal. Mountain Hardware has some great options.” She adds: “If you’re comfortable and prepared, you can stay out longer and do more.”
Boyne Country Sports