The key to staying warm in winter is to keep yourself from sweating too much. Proper layering ensures you’re comfortable on both blustery days and bluebird skies.
Choose the Right Fabric
The foundation of any layering system starts with the material. The first rule of layering for winter is to avoid cotton. Cotton may breathe, but it can’t insulate. The moment cotton gets wet with sweat it becomes useless at insulating, causing you to be colder. Not to mention cotton takes forever to dry, which means you’ll be wet longer. This can easily lead to hypothermia, even in mild weather. Instead, opt for merino wool or synthetic material for your clothing. Merino wool will keep you warmer, while synthetic materials are better at keeping sweat away with moisture wicking capabilities. Merino wool is naturally odor resistant making it an ideal option for multi-day outings. However, synthetic is often cheaper than merino. Blends are a new option as well, which combine the best of both worlds at around the same price as merino products.
Your Layer Arsenal
There are three basic layers in a system with a couple of add-ons. The most important layers are going to be your base, puffy, and wind layers.
For base layers, you want long underwear made of merino or synthetic material. Thicknesses vary from lightweight to thermal weight, with the ladder being the warmest. If you aren’t sure what you need, a mid-weight layer works well and can be paired with a synthetic t-shirt or fleece for added warmth.
For a puffy layer, look for something that will insulate, even if it gets wet. There are a lot of synthetic options out there that work overtime to regulate your body temperature. The technology is getting so good that the bulk is going away, in favor of a more performance-based jacket.
Keep wind, rain, sleet, snow and whatever else nature throws at you out with a solid wind layer. Items that utilize Gore-Tex technology generally set the bar for keeping the weather at bay. Breathability is another feature worth considering, otherwise, you’ll build up heat quickly. Just like your tent, this layer will need attention over time, so be sure to take good care of it and apply waterproofing when necessary to get more life out of your wind layer.
Protect Those Extremities
Your toes, hands, head, and face need protection just as much as the rest of your body. A neck gaiter is an awesome multi-tasker. You can wear one of these around your neck, on your face, or even as a headband. Balaclava’s are a heavy-duty way to keep the cold at bay. A beanie, gloves, and glove liners also offer protection. For extreme cold and wind, goggles can even prove to provide insulation and protection against the elements. Socks should be thick and wooly, silk sock liners provides added warmth, plus they prevent blisters.
Additional layers can only increase your ability to get warm in a cold situation. A performance fleece layer that is lightweight and breathes is not a bad option when you need a warm boost or you aren’t quite cold enough to warrant a puffy layer. A synthetic or merino wool t-shirt is also handy to increase warmth to your core. Gaiters are a great idea for those who play in deep snow. They keep your pants dry, and everything neat and tight should you find yourself wearing crampons.
Be Bold, Start Cold
The age-old saying for the backcountry says it all. When starting off on hike avoid the temptation of putting on every layer you brought with you. Instead, start a little cold. As you get moving your body will heat up and you’ll soon be toasty warm. Save your layers for when you stop and take a break on the trail, or on lengthy downhills where you aren’t working against gravity. The key is to hone your layering system so you minimize sweat buildup, which can cause you to cool off too rapidly. Alternate and combine your layers in different terrain and weather until you learn what works best for you. However, always pack more layers than you think you'll need for any winter outing. You never know if and when conditions will turn, so carrying a puffy and wind layer is essential for any winter adventure.
What are your tricks for a successful layering system? Let us know below!