2L vs 3L (2-Layer vs 3-Layer) Fabric Explained

Travis GneitingApparel

When shopping for outdoor clothing you will likely come across the terms 2L and 3L. These terms are used to describe the construction of the garment. “2L” and “3L” refer to the construction of technical, often waterproof, fabrics commonly used in outdoor and performance wear. They stand for “2-layer” and “3-layer,” respectively, and each type has different characteristics, advantages, and common uses.

2-Layer (2L) Fabric:

  • Construction: 2L fabric consists of an outer layer (usually a face fabric like nylon or polyester) bonded to a waterproof and breathable membrane. This is then paired with a separate, loose hanging liner that protects the membrane and provides comfort against the skin.
  • Comfort: Generally lighter and more flexible due to the loose liner, making it comfortable for everyday wear and light outdoor activities.
  • Cost: Typically less expensive than 3L fabrics due to the simpler construction.
  • Use: Common in fashion-focused rain jackets and entry-level outdoor gear where extreme durability isn’t the primary concern.

3-Layer (3L) Fabric:

  • Construction: 3L fabric includes three components laminated together: an outer face fabric, a middle waterproof and breathable membrane, and an inner protective layer (usually a thin, protective fabric). This creates a single piece of material that’s durable and protective.
  • Durability: Generally more durable and abrasion-resistant because the membrane is sandwiched between the two layers of fabric, offering better protection in harsh conditions.
  • Breathability and Performance: Tends to be more breathable and better suited for extreme weather conditions. The direct bond between the layers can help wick moisture away more effectively.
  • Weight: While technology varies, 3L fabrics are often heavier than 2L but offer more protection and durability.
  • Cost: Typically more expensive due to the complex construction and the high-performance features.
  • Use: Preferred for high-end outdoor gear, such as technical climbing jackets, where maximum protection and durability are needed in harsh conditions.

Does 2L and 3L both have 3 Layers?

This can be confusing because both 2L and 3L have 3 layers they are just bonded differently.

2-Layer (2L) Fabric:

  • Outer Layer: The face fabric, is typically made from materials like nylon or polyester.
  • Middle Layer: A waterproof and breathable membrane bonded directly to the outer layer.
  • Inner Layer: Instead of being laminated together as in 3L fabrics, the third component in 2L fabrics is a separate, loose lining (often mesh or another lightweight fabric) that protects the membrane and adds comfort. This isn’t bonded to the outer layers in the same way as in 3L fabrics, hence the term “2-layer.”

3-Layer (3L) Fabric:

  • Outer Layer: The face fabric, similar to 2L.
  • Middle Layer: A waterproof and breathable membrane, as in 2L.
  • Inner Layer: A protective inner fabric (often a light, durable material). In 3L fabrics, this layer is laminated directly to the other two, creating a single piece of material.

Key Differences:

  • Bonding: In 2L fabrics, the protective inner layer isn’t bonded to the membrane and face fabric, whereas in 3L fabrics, all three layers are permanently laminated together, offering more durability and protection.
  • Performance: 3L fabrics are generally more robust, offering better protection and durability due to the direct bonding of all three layers. They are better suited for harsh conditions and intense activities.
  • Weight and Flexibility: 2L fabrics are often lighter and more flexible, making them more comfortable for everyday wear and less intense activities.

Choosing Between 2L and 3L:

  • For Casual Use & Light Activities: A 2L jacket might be preferred for its comfort, flexibility, and lower cost.
  • For Intense Outdoor Activities and harsh Conditions: A 3L garment offers the durability and protection needed for activities like mountain climbing, backcountry skiing, or extended exposure to severe weather.

What are the price difference between 2L and 3L Jackets or Pants?

2-Layer (2L) Jackets:

  • Lower Cost: Generally, 2L jackets are more affordable because they have a simpler construction. The manufacturing process for 2L fabrics is less complex, leading to lower production costs.
  • Price Range: Prices can vary, but you might find entry-level 2L jackets from reputable brands starting at around $50 to $150, with prices increasing for premium brands or additional features.

3-Layer (3L) Jackets:

  • Higher Cost: 3L jackets are typically more expensive due to their advanced construction and the higher-quality materials often used. The lamination process for all three layers is more complex and offers superior durability and protection, which adds to the cost.
  • Price Range: Basic 3L jackets from well-known brands might start at around $200 to $300, but prices can go significantly higher, even exceeding $500 to $700, for high-end or specialized jackets designed for extreme conditions.

Factors Influencing Price:

  • Brand and Design: Premium brands or jackets with specialized designs for activities like mountaineering or skiing might cost more.
  • Material Quality: Higher-quality membranes and face fabrics, which offer better waterproofing, breathability, and durability, will increase the price.
  • Features: Additional features like taped seams, ventilation zippers, and advanced hood designs add to the cost.


  • Budget vs. Needs: While 3L jackets are more expensive, they provide better protection and durability, which might be necessary for certain outdoor activities. Evaluate the conditions you’ll be using the jacket in and what features are most important to you.
  • Long-Term Investment: A higher-priced 3L jacket might be a better long-term investment if you need something that will withstand harsh conditions and frequent use.

Both 2L and 3L fabrics are designed to offer protection against the elements while providing varying degrees of breathability and comfort. The choice between them often comes down to the specific requirements of the activity, the desired level of durability, and budget considerations.