It doesn’t matter how cold it is outside, it’s important to remember to dress in layers for maximum warmth, especially if you expect to be outdoors for longer than a couple of minutes.
Before we get started, hats and gloves are a must. Two pairs of gloves – a thinner pair inside and heavier insulated gloves on the outside – will keep your fingers toasty. The same goes with your feet. Two pairs of socks – one thin and one thick – will keep your feet and toes warm. If it gets extremely cold and you have to be outside, battery-operated sock warmers or chemical hand/foot warmers may be an option.
During cold weather, you really must wear a hat, as you can lose a significant amount of heat from your head, face, ears and neck. A stocking cap that covers your ears can be accompanied by a scarf to keep your neck warm.
Now let’s get down to layers:
Long underwear is the best first layer. Remember, specific thermal or cold weather underwear that fits snugly. It should be made of a non-absorbent fabric like polypropylene or polyester. Wool and silk are good natural fiber choices, but avoid cotton because it tends to absorb water and will actually make you cooler as it evaporates. You want that first layer to move moisture into the second layer of clothing. Remember that there are different weights of this first base layer from ultralightweight to heavyweight. In warmer weather, the base layer should fit snugly. In colder weather, the base layer should fit more loosely to trap air that becomes another layer of insulation.
Next, you’ll have mid-layers. Shirts, sweaters and trousers/pants will be what you’re wearing. Synthetics are best for this. Pay attention to the fit. The mid-layers work by trapping air and preventing it from circulating and carrying heat away from your body. The looser your mid layers are, the more air you trap and the warmer you’ll be.
An insulating layer is third. This should be thick and ideally goose down. A synthetic down like Polarguard, Thinsulate and Primaloft are brand names tied to outwear that provides good insulation from the cold. It’s important to remember that down loses much of its insulating ability when it gets wet and takes a long time to dry. Synthetic insulation may be the best choice, especially if you’re working in wet conditions.
Finally, the outer or shell layer goes on top of everything. This is usually an outer coat and can include pants or overalls. What’s important in the shell layer is that it is windproof and water proof or water resistant. Windshells worn over any garment can add a significant amount of warmth. In windy conditions, windshells can make an impossible trek through streets or trails enjoyable…or at least not frosty when you get to your final destination.
So remember, when it gets cold, layer up. Not too tight or too loose. And remember that final shell layer to keep the cold wind away.