You’ve heard of dressing in layers when it’s cold outside, but layers won’t keep you warm unless you have the right layers. When you layer correctly, you’ll be able to stay out for several hours, unless the temperature is severely cold. Layers not only keep you warm, but they allow you to peel a layer off if you start getting hot. You don’t want to sweat, as the moisture removes any dead air space in the woven fibers—it’s the dead air space that keeps you warm. Having the proper head coverings, along with mittens and boots, also help keep you warm.
Socks and Boots
Never wear cotton socks. Cotton is one of the worst materials for warmth. Wool socks will keep your feet much warmer. If you prefer, you could wear a thin pair of polyester socks under the wool socks as long as they don’t make your feet too tight in your boots. If you’re going to be out for a long time because you’re going skiing, hunting or taking a long winter hike, you might want a boot with a felt liner in it for some extra protection.
Hats and Mittens
Mittens keep your hands much warmer than gloves since all of your fingers are in the same compartment. However, sometimes, you need gloves. A good pair of convertible glove mittens solves all of your problems. A mitten top fits over your fingers. Slide it off when you need the dexterity of gloved fingers and put it back on when it’s time to warm your hands.
Wear a loose-fitting knit hat to keep your head warm. A ski mask works well, but a balaclava that covers your head and neck is even better.
The Inner Layer
The layer closest to your skin is the wicking layer or inner layer. Never use cotton, especially for long-johns. The cotton absorbs the moisture instead of wicking it away. When it absorbs the moisture, the woven fibers collapse, which means they no longer hold air. The air is what keeps you warm. Additionally, wet material against your skin will make you feel cold. Long-johns—tops and bottoms—should be made from a synthetic fabric.
A Second Base Layer
If it’s severely cold or you plan to be outside for several hours, you might wear a second base layer. It could be another layer of long-johns or even a lighter flannel shirt and sweat pants, as long as they’re not made of cotton. The lighter this layer is, the better, so that you are able to move freely, even with two additional layers.
The Middle Layer
This layer holds the warmth in. A wool sweater or even a fleece shirt with a high neck is perfect for the middle layer. They are lightweight, so they don’t make you feel claustrophobic in all those clothes. You may want a middle layer for your bottoms, though many people just skip it, especially if they add a second base layer. If the temperature is severely cold, you may reconsider skipping the middle layer unless you have that second base layer.
The Outer Layer
The outer layer provides protection against the elements in addition to keeping all that warmth inside. Thinsulate pants that are wind- and water-resistant are the best choice, especially if you are hiking in deep snow or plan on sledding for a few hours. Jeans are one of the worst types of pants to wear when it’s cold as they don’t protect you at all.
Your jacket should also be wind- and water-resistant. A fleece lining helps keep you warm if temperatures are severely cold or you plan on being outside for several hours.
Bring an Extra Set of Clothes
If you do plan on being out for several hours, such as on a snow machine or out hunting, where you can’t get back to camp quickly, keep an extra set of inner and mid-layers with you. Put them in a waterproof bag. If you should break through ice or run into a swampy area that’s not entirely frozen, you’ll be able to change into dry clothes.
You should also keep waterproof matches and some fire starter in a separate plastic bag that zips shut. If you had to build a fire to warm up, you would be able to. Dryer lint stuffed in toilet paper tubes is compact and lightweight, and it lights easily. You may not always be able to find dry grass or pine needles to get a fire going quickly.