How To Stay Warm in Winter Weather

Have you ever found yourself outside and realized you just didn’t dress properly for the weather you’re in?  This happens more than you might expect, in fact, an average of over 1300 deaths per year occur due to “excessive natural cold” exposure (that’s how the CDC describes it, seriously).  Here is a chart of the most recent data.

QuickStats: Number of Hypothermia-Related Deaths. CDC archives

QuickStats: Number of Hypothermia-Related Deaths. CDC archives

So, don’t be on the wrong side of this statistic, learn how to dress properly when you are going out.

The name of the game is LAYERS!  Settle down, we are not making a cake, but if you live, you might get dessert.

Okay, as much as I love cotton, it really does fit nice and feel good on the skin, let me point out one very important thing about this versatile textile – It’s not for winter clothing!  Blue jeans are a bad idea.  What you want to consider when dressing for the cold is how well you will stay warm when things don’t go as planned.  To this end, you want to use material that will continue to insulate even when it gets wet (from sweat, water, melting snow, etc.).

Base Layer:  

baselayer_1Wool blended with synthetics takes the cake.  The advances in technology allow for some nice blended options for those who might not love wool.  Blend in a little Lycra for flexibility and Gore-Tex for wicking and you have an extremely comfortable, light weight, breathable, and most important warm base layer.  Pay attention to your range of motion when trying on tops.  You want the base layer to fit snugly to maximize the insulation benefit, but you don’t want to be restricted from comfortable free movement.  Wicking is the processes of the clothing pulling moisture from your body and allowing it to be evaporated away from your skin.  This is vital to keeping warm, if you skin gets wet and stays wet, you will increase your chance of hypothermia.  Wool does not wick as well as synthetic, but wool will absorb moisture to keep your skin dry and wool does not loose it’s insulation properties when wet.  This is why I lean toward the wool blend items, because they have many of the benefits of wool combined with the improved wicking capabilities of synthetic.  Don’t forget your feet.  A nice blended wool/synthetic sock is paramount to keeping your feet comfortable and warm, whether wet or dry.

Middle Layer:

fleece_top_1This layer is meant to add a small amount of insulation without really contributing to bulk.  Nylon, silk, or marino wool are good options here.  A simple long sleeve polyester shirt, or fleece vest is a good starting point for a middle layer.  When hiking or other heat producing activities are underway, you may want to remove your insulating layer and just go with your base and middle layers, remember to re-don your insulating layer when you stop and take a break from your activity.  Fleece is a great option for your middle layer, it’s warm, lightweight, and dry’s quickly if it gets wet. Many brand name fleece clothes come in variable ‘weights’ so you can select the best thickness option for what activity and weather conditions you are expecting.  Fleece is not a good wind breaker which is why it’s a middle layer.

Insulation Layer:

layers_2This layer is optional for most, but certainly necessary if you are going out in extreme cold.  Your insulation layer can be a thicker fleece, wool sweater, or down jacket.  For your legs, consider hiking pants or other non-cotton gear such as Nylon warm ups.  During dry weather activities, this layer will normally be set aside or in your pack.  When you stop moving – put this layer on to retain your body heat and minimize cool down.  

Shell Layer:

goretex_shellThe point – keep the wet and wind away from your skin (and clothing). Along with the base layer, this is a vital part of dressing for success in cold weather.  The shell will keep wind and water at bay, keeping you warm and dry.  Studies have shown that a windproof shell can add between 25 and 50 degrees F of warmth depending on the amount of wind.  Look for Gore-Tex® or Dry.Q® type shells that are breathable waterproof.  Going with traditional ‘rain slicker’ type polyurethane coated nylon is just too old school, unless you know what I did last summer, or you work for Sig H.


please take time to understand the weather you will encounter, and the clothing you need to stay warm.  You really don’t want to experience an ‘excessive natural cold’ event.  

Here is a contributed review of the REI© Taku Jacket you might like.


Comments are always welcome