The clothes you wear should make a statement. When you dress for extreme cold, that statement should be that you’re warm, comfortable, and ready for some winter fun. If you plan on hiking, skiing, cycling, or simply enjoying a day out in the snow, you need to stock up on warm, reliable winter clothes. While it’s common knowledge that you should wear layers when it’s cold, it’s not enough to simply throw on an extra sweater. There is a science behind layering your clothing. If you do it successfully, you create an outfit that keeps you warm and dry without hindering your movement. Dressing for extreme weather doesn’t have to be complicated, but you need to learn how to do it right. Before you head out for your next winter adventure, make sure you check out our guide on how to properly layer your clothes for cold weather.
The Importance of Layering
In order to layer your clothing successfully, you need to know what each layer is and why it matters. Cold weather is no joke. If you’re unprepared, it doesn’t take long before you risk getting frostbite, hypothermia, or other dangerous conditions. Even if you’re safe from extreme medical circumstances, you still don’t want to deal with stiff fingers, windburn, or other uncomfortable experiences. Properly layering your clothes helps protect you from harsh winds and wintry precipitation. It also prevents sweat from freezing in your underlayers, keeping you dry as well as warm. This is particularly important since damp air and materials transfer heat more easily. This means that being cold and wet makes you lose body heat much more quickly than if you were cold and dry.
In addition to keeping you safe in colder temperatures, layered clothing makes your entire outdoor experience more convenient and comfortable. When you have multiple layers on, you can dress up or down throughout the day to better suit your circumstances. For example, climbing a hill in direct sunlight is going to warm you up fast. When you stop to take a break in the shade, though, all that body heat can quickly disappear, leaving you uncomfortably cold. Layers make it easy to shed an outer coat when you get too warm and bundle up again when you get cold. This also makes moving in and out of buildings far more convenient, since you can quickly shed your outer layer and stay comfortable in the heated space.
Your Base Layer
The first step of learning how to properly layer your clothes for cold weather is understanding how to choose the perfect base layer. The main purpose of this bottom layer of clothing is to transfer moisture away from your skin and provide a comfortable foundation for the rest of your outfit. As such, your base layer should consist of breathable materials that feel soft and comfortable against your skin. Long-sleeved undershirts and tights are the most common types of base layers. Synthetic materials such as polyester or nylon work exceptionally well for these pieces. Merino wool is also a warm, breathable option. There are many different kinds of base layers, so make sure you choose pieces that fit where you’ll be and what you’re going to do. For extremely cold temperatures, your base layer should be a little heavier to provide extra insulation. No matter what you choose, make sure your base layer is both snug and comfortable. High-quality thermals for men and women will hug your body to wick away moisture without restricting your movement.
Your Middle Layer
The middle layer of winter clothing serves as extra insulation. It puts more space between you and the cold weather while also helping you retain body heat. When considering what to choose for your middle layer, make sure you keep both the material and its thickness in mind. Fleece and down provide excellent insulation, but they don’t hold up as well in damp conditions. If you know you’re going to experience rain or snow—or if you plan on working up a sweat—wool or synthetic options will probably work better. Puffy jackets allow moisture to evaporate into the air, keeping you dry throughout the day. As you look for the perfect middle layer, remember to consider pants as well as tops. Insulated pants, such as those made from wool or fleece, will help warm your legs and keep you at your best all day long. Whichever materials and pieces you choose, make sure your middle layer allows you to still move freely. It should also sit comfortably beneath your outer layer.
Your Outer Layer
Also known as the shell layer, your outer layer of clothing helps keep out the worst of the wind, snow, rain, and ice. To help you stay dry, your outermost clothing should be both waterproof and breathable. Some outer layers are merely water resistant. While these options might be cheaper or easier to find, they don’t offer as much protection from precipitation. Only choose water-resistant layers when you know conditions will be mostly clear and you have access to nearby shelter. However, at the end of the day, waterproof pieces will always be a safer bet. Waterproof materials are also windproof, which is another invaluable part of staying warm and safe in wintry conditions. Once again, make sure you consider pants as well as coats. Cold, wet ankles are both unsafe and uncomfortable, but shell pants help protect your legs as you trek through heavy snow.
Your base, middle, and outer layers play a vital role in keeping you warm, but they only cover your body. You also need to pay close attention to the accessories that cover your head, face, hands, and feet. If you spend any significant time in the cold and wind, you should invest in a good face mask. Whether you choose a simple half mask or go all-out with a balaclava, these accessories will help diffuse incoming cold air and keep your mouth, nose, and throat warm. Waterproof gloves or mittens are also essential. These should be able to keep both the cold and wet out while also allowing you to handle ski poles, shovels, or any other equipment you need while you’re outside. Finally, don’t forget your sturdy, waterproof boots and thermal socks. Keeping your feet warm is a vital part of retaining body heat and staying comfortable in extreme temperatures.