During cold weather, wearing the right clothing can make the difference between pleasure and misery. The phrase “dress in layers,” is well used, but is still good advice. Layers of clothing help trap air around the body and insulate from the cold. Layers can also be taken off to adjust to temperature changes or physical activity. Clothing layers are broken down into three parts: inner, middle, and outer.
Inner layer: This is directly against your skin, and so it needs to be comforting to the touch. The traditional inner wear is cotton/polyester “long johns”, and are okay for situations where you won’t be working up a sweat. But if you are hiking, splitting wood, or doing other things that make you perspire, cotton will absorb moisture and hold it against your skin, causing you to chill or feel clammy.
Modern technology has produced new breeds of underwear that wick moisture away from the skin. The most common material used is polypropylene, which works really well. It is somewhat expensive, running between $10 and $25 per item. Polypro underwear is available at outdoor sports stores and catalogs, and available in several thicknesses.
Middle layer: This is your main insulating layer and needs to be fairly thick and fluffy to trap still air. This can be anything from a flannel shirt to an insulated vest. Wool is a good choice, as it insulates even when wet. Fleece has become widely available and is also an excellent choice
Outer layer: This is your first defense against the elements. In wet weather you want the outer layer to be waterproof. If it’s windy, the material needs to be tightly woven, such as nylon. There are plenty of coats on the market that will do both.
Miscellaneous considerations: Being hot headed is not just a metaphor. Over 40% of your body heat is lost from the head, so cover it. To me nothing beats a soft wool or polyester ski cap (I grew up calling them toboggans). When you don’t need it, you can stuff it in a pocket. Hands and feet are the furthest away from the body furnace, so they need protection. If you don’t need your fingers, mittens are best as they allow fingers to share heat. When working in water or snow, wear waterproof gloves. Layer your socks in cold weather. A thin polypropylene or silk sock covered by a heavy wool sock works well. Insulated boots may be needed if you’re outside for long hours in snow or rain.