We have been getting a lot of questions regarding clothing and what to wear when heading out into the cold whether it’s for ice climbing, a skills course, or a mountaineering objective. Let’s talk a little bit about Layering and how to achieve a successful wardrobe for the cold temperatures.
In the Winter, it is all about managing or regulating your body temperature. Get too hot and you sweat which then freezes and puts you at risk for hypothermia. Get too cold and your at risk for hypothermia. It really isn’t as dramatic as it sounds but choosing the proper clothing makes a big difference between a good day out and a bad one. To regulate our body temperature, we use a technique called “Layering”. Layering allows us to put on layers or take them off to accommodate what our body needs. The goal is to stay at a comfortable temperature all day whether you are moving or at a break.
Before we talk about actual layers, we want to throw out some tips on what fabrics or materials to wear and what to avoid. We all sweat a little bit while we are on the trail at lower elevations or when we are climbing. It’s inevitable. The materials we choose to wear will make a huge difference in our comfort. Cotton is out of place in the Winter. It prefers warm Summer days with a cool breeze. When we sweat, even if it’s only a little bit, the cotton will absorb that sweat and never let go of it. All will be well when you are moving but as soon as you come into your break, that sweat will freeze in minutes and you will notice your teeth chattering long before anyone else in the group. Let’s avoid cotton completely. Some excellent materials that either wick away water, or retain their insulation value when damp are great options for cold weather pursuits. Wool, Fleece, Polyester, Techwick, and Goose Down make great choices.
Let’s start with the feet and move our way up…
FEET: Wool Socks (You should only need to wear one pair of socks). Leather or Double Plastic Mountaineering boots.
LEGS: Wool or polyester long underwear. Then you have the choice of wearing a softshell climbing pant or ski pant, OR you could wear a fleece or wool pant with a light goretex shell on top.
TORSO: Wool or polyester long underwear (I like to wear a techwick T-shirt under this layer). Then a light insulating layer (fleece jacket or light down coat). Then on top you can wear a heavy goose down or synthetic parka, or a heavy ski jacket. Finally bring along a hard shell jacket to block water and wind.
HANDS: You will need a ski glove, AND a pair of mittens. Mittens are much warmer than gloves. Thin liner gloves are optional.
FACE: Neoprene or fleece balaclava (face mask). A pair of Ski Goggles, and sunglasses.
HEAD: Wool or fleece winter hat.
There are many different variations on this system and you just have to work with what you own and what you find works with your body. This layering system works really well for me, but I have found that out through experience and spending many nights out freezing my butt off wishing I wasn’t wearing my favorite cotton t-shirt.
The goal is to have several layers here that we can take off or put on depending on what our body temperature is calling for. Perhaps we will only be wearing our base layer while we are on the move to stay cool, but when we get to a break, we will then need to put on a big warm parka to maintain our body heat so we don’t start to get cold. It takes ALOT of energy to warm your body up, so let’s keep it warm or comfortable throughout the day as opposed to getting hot, then cold, then hot, then cold.
That’s about it folks! Happy shopping and I hope this answers some questions you may have!