Layering your clothes to fish in cold or wet weather is a lot like making nachos. If you can make nachos, you already know how to layer.
Basic nachos only require two ingredients: chips and cheese, maybe some pickled jalapeños if you’re feeling spicy. Depending on the conditions, you might only need two layers for a day of comfortable fishing—a base layer and a shell.
Think of your baselayers as your chips. Just like you need a solid, crunchy foundation for your nachos, you need comfortable, breathable insulating layers against your skin. This is where Merino shines. While there are other options for baselayers, Merino is the Juanita’s of baselayers.
Think of your shell and waders as the cheese in this analogy. Just like you can’t have nachos without a complete layer of cheese coverage you need a good shell on the outside of your layering system to protect you from wind, rain, snow, and of course the river itself. Shells don’t have to be thick. In fact, they usually shouldn’t be. You want an even layer of cheese all over your nachos, but not a mountain of uneven cheddar. You want a shell that’s fully waterproof but also fully breathable. Your shell has to breathe for your layering system to work. That allows you to better control your body temperature. If the shell’s too heavily insulated or not sufficiently permeable, you’ll overheat.
Alright, that covers your basic nacho craving, or a trip to the river when the weather’s cool and mild, but we all know most nachos need more substance than that and layering really becomes important when the temperature drops and the weather gets ugly.
Between the chips and cheese, that’s where nachos get their real heft. What exactly goes into that thicker middle layer is a matter of personal taste. Some people like ground meat. Others prefer steak, or shredded chicken. If you don’t dig on animal flesh, maybe you spread a layer of black, pinto, or refried beans. Maybe it’s some combination of all the above. However you stack the mid layer of your nachos, that’s where the protein goes, the stuff that’s going to keep you full and happy for a while. If you’re a nacho master, you know how to adapt that middle to suit your immediate needs. Some days call for bricklayer nachos, others just a scattering of meat and veggies, but there’s no sin greater than overstuffed nachos. In nachos (and layering) you can have too much of a good thing. Go too heavy on your filler and that perfect stack of goodness turns into an overstuffed mess of soggy chips.
The midlayer (or layers) in your wading system plays a similar role. This is your insulation, the layer that will determine if you’re cold, cozy, or clammy. You want just enough heft to keep you warm without overheating. If you overheat, you sweat. If you sweat, you get wet. If you’re wet, you’re not comfortable. Err on the side of being just a little chilly when you start. As you walk, hike, and wade, you’ll probably warm up to the perfect temperature. You can always add another layer if you’re still cold, but once you sweat through your baselayer, you’re stuck with soggy chips.
Choose a midlayer that’s appropriate for the conditions of the day. If you’re not feeling too cold, go with something lighter. If you’re a bit chilly, select something thicker. If it’s properly cold, level-up with heavier insulation. And if it’s downright bitter out, wear more than one, always starting with the lighter layers closer to you, putting the heavier layers on top, and adding a shell on the outside to keep out wind and moisture. But remember, if you’re starting to heat up, shed a layer before you get sweaty.
Your baselayers (preferably Merino, aka Juanita’s) are the chips. They go against your skin.
Your shell and waders are the cheese. They go on the outside.
Any other fillings are your midlayers, and they go between the chips and the cheese (aka base and shell). Select midlayers appropriate to the conditions in which you’re fishing.
Remember that underlayering a bit is better than overstuffing. No one likes soggy nachos, or sweaty waders. You can always add a layer if you’re too cold, but once you’re sweaty, you’re wet.
Hopefully, this has helped you apply your nacho confidence to your layering expertise, cause if you can make nachos, you already know how to layer.