For most winter activities, the dress code is the same. Most people tend to overdress or underdress for their outdoor adventure and often forget that the goal is to stay warm AND dry – not only from the elements but also from sweat. The trick is to dress in layers.
Layers are a wonderful thing, not just a fashion statement. Overdressing results in sweating – which is a big no-no in winter. Sweating in sub-zero temperatures is very dangerous. If you have been sweating and then take a break or slow down, the moisture can begin to freeze, making it very difficult to get warm again.
When starting your adventure, the best practice is to dress so your body feels chilled at the beginning. Eventually, your body will get used to the chill, and, especially if doing physical activity, your body will warm up. If you still find yourself shivering too much, you can always put on another layer and, of course, discard a layer if you find yourself overheating.
Now, how many layers should you wear? You’ll want three layers, a next-to-skin base layer, a mid-weight insulating layer, and an outer shell layer; it is also important to avoid cotton for all layers, but more on that soon.
For a base layer, wear something lightweight, next-to-skin, comfortable, and warm even when it gets wet. Keep in mind that wool is an excellent option for a base layer, so your body temperature stays regulated. Other suitable materials for base layers are silk and various synthetic material that wicks moisture away from the body. The base layer is an important first step to dressing for winter and often gets overlooked. If you hate winter because you’re always cold, adding a base layer to your clothing mix will probably help change your mind.
Your middle layer traps air, which keeps you warm; the more air you trap, the warmer you’ll be. Natural or synthetic materials design for this purpose and are breathable are ideal. Middle layers should also allow the transfer of moisture and wicked through the base layer to continue its journey away from the body. Goose down, fleece, and wool are good options of material for the middle layer.
Other clothing items you’ll need are:
- Sunglasses (to protect your eyes from the sunlight bouncing off the solid sheet of white around you).
- Gloves (recommend bringing two pairs).
- Helmet (for fat Biking).
- Pogie (for fat biking) is not required but is a more convenient way to keep your hands warm.
- Heat packs
Your outer layer is designed to protect you from the elements. It should be durable and breathable and protect you from the wind, rain, snow, and branches. Something simple like a windbreaker, rain jacket, and winter jackets designed as “outer shells,” which tend to be more durable. Also, this layer should be waterproof. Fabrics like Gortex are perfect for this layer. Keep in mind that the outer layer isn’t designed to be thick or warm (as this is what the middle layer is for).
A huge, mega no-no is using cotton. The reason for this is because once cotton gets wet, it stays wet, making your garment heavy and damp and resulting in you becoming very cold, shivering, and miserable.
Footwear depends on the activity you are doing. Skiing, for example, requires specific ski boots. However, for hiking, snowshoeing, and fat biking, light winter boots or even waterproof hikers (paired with gaiters) are perfect.
For ice fishing, rubber or leather boots are the way to go. Both have their pros and cons, however. While rubber boots are 100% waterproof, they are not as warm. Leather boots are very warm, but eventually, your feet will get wet and cold. Also, if you are ice fishing, consider purchasing a bib to help keep you warm and dry – plus, you can buy one with lots of pockets to hold your smaller gear and tackle.
Wool socks are another must. Often, people don’t put much thought into what socks to wear, but this is another important clothing item. Wool socks are a great insulator, can absorb a high amount of moisture, keeps their insulating properties while wet and, on the flip side, dries much more quickly than cotton or other synthetics.