The cold and snow won’t stop us from enjoying the outdoors. In fact, one of my favorite times of year to camp and/or hike is winter. No crowds, just us and nature. But before we hit the trails, we always ask: How are we going to stay warm?
Proper layering plays a key role in surviving the winter months. While insulation is important, staying dry is also vital. Cotton and other moisture-retaining fabrics in combination with sweating or wet snow can quickly cause major heat loss and put you at risk for hypothermia.
So what to wear?
The Base Layer – Moisture Management
The first line of defense against the cold is the Base Layer. This is the layer that is closest to your skin. Any type of synthetic material or merino wool works wonders. Merino wool is expensive but well worth it if you can splurge. It has natural moisture wicking properties, is breathable, buffers the skin from the air and is naturally anti-bacterial – meaning it helps with odor.
Synthetics (especially polyester and polyester blends) are also great. They are fast drying, easy to care for, and comfortable. They also tend to be cheaper than Merino Wool.
Don’t forget the feet and hands! It’s a good idea to throw in a pair or two of liner socks and gloves that are thin and quick drying.
Insulating Layer – The Heat
This layer keeps heat trapped close to your body. Natural fibers, such as wool and goose down are an excellent option. Goose down is especially great for very cold and dry conditions but when wet, it loses it’s insulating ability. Another plus side to goose down is it is highly compressible.
Another option is to revisit the synthetics, such as Thinsulate, Thermal Pro Polyester or Fleece. These are all light-weight, breathable materials that work great even when wet. I’ve also read that they have a higher warmth-to-weight ratio than wool.
We use fleece as our insulating layer for our shirts, but wear Merino Wool socks for our feet. We’ve used Merino Wool for winter and summer hikes, and I have to say, I’m very impressed with it’s temperature regulating ability.
Shell Layer – Weather Protection
This layer protects against wind, rain or snow. There’s a lot of options, depending on what you plan on doing. The most expensive and functional option is waterproof and breathable shells. These are great for wet, cool conditions. Shells that have laminated membranes offer the best performance.
A less expensive option are water-resistant and breathable shells that are great for light precipitation and high activity levels
Soft shells are excellent for breathability and most offer both shell and insulation properties. They are good for cold and mild weather.
In addition to body shells, consider waterproof boots, mittens that are waterproof and breathable, and a hat made of wool or fleece. Also, don’t forget that your insulating and base layers need to fitcomfortably under the shell, so it might be worth bumping it up a size.