Layering and Preparing for Winter Sports

Staying warm in the winter is a two-part strategy: Stay Dry and Trap Air. When we are out snowshoeing, hiking, skiing, camping, sledding, or enjoying the winter season in any number of other ways it can be a delicate balancing act between being cold, being warm, and being hot.

Lets get the obvious out of the way - being cold isn't fun. The natural inclination is to bundle up in as many warm things as we can think of. While this is a great strategy for sipping cocoa on the couch in front of a fireplace, it doesn't work so well outdoors.

Over-dressing in winter can be about as dangerous as under-dressing. As we move our body's generate heat. As we warm up our thermoregulatory systems kick in to help maintain that optimal body temperature (around 98.6°F). If our bodies exceed that level we begin to sweat in an effort to cool down via convection and evaporative cooling. If we sweat in our clothes, the clothes get wet, our skin doesn't dry and we continue to cool down. See where this is going?

Layers are the key to this balancing act. Here's everything that I wear while snowshoeing:

 

  1. Polyester noisture-wicking T-shirt (Under Armor)
  2. Polyester moisture-wicking underwear (Ex-Officio)
  3. Wool medium-weight hiking socks (Darn Tough)
  4. Polyester long-sleeve T-shirt (Arc'teryx)
  5. Polyester medium-weight long underwear pant (Duo Fold)
  6. Polyester medium-weight gridded-fleece shirt (with hood) (Patagonia R1)
  7. Polyester/Nylon water/wind resistant pants (Patagonia Mixed Guide Pant)
  8. Polyester light-weight gloves (100%, actually a MTB glove)
  9. Polyester light-weight balaclava (Mountain Hardwear)
  10. Polyester wind resistant insulated jacket (Patagonia Nano Puff)

Now some of this is fairly high-end clothing that most people don't have or even need. So here is the dirty little secret about what to wear - it doesn't really matter exactly what you wear as long as you can keep yourself dry (hence all the synthetic materials - cotton kills!) and can trap dead air (layers under a shell).

Think of your clothing like lines of defense against the cold. In order for cold weather to effect your body temperature it has to cool down every layer and the dead air space trapped between them. Once I start hiking I very quickly shed my outer jacket in order to prevent overheating.

And that brings me to my last tip on how to dress for winter sports. Well, its actually a combination tip: Start cold and don't be afraid to stop to adjust your layers. 

So you made it all the way to the end! ...Oh, wait, no. hold on a sec. My editor (aka that voice in my head) is telling me I should also let you in on what I carry with me since that will impact your dressing strategy as well.

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  1. Spare warm jacket (Mountain Hardwear)
  2. Camera (Sony A6300)
  3. Spare warm hat (wool)
  4. Mitten shells (Reddington/Kumbu)
  5. Insulated water bottle (REI)
  6. Emergency equipment (headlamp, chapstick, first aid kit, battery and phone cables, compass)
  7. Backpack (Osprey Skarab 24L)
  8. Food and Toiletries+trowel

having a spare warm hat, gloves and jacket allow me to adjust to changing conditions. Gloves not warm enough? Throw on the mittens. Friend isn't warm enough, hand them the jacket, etc. An insulated water bottle works better in winter than a bladder. Bladder hoses and mouthpieces freeze when exposed to cold temps and staying hydrated is just as important in the cold as it is in the heat. Lastly, I always have a few hundred calories of quick-digesting snacks with me to help boos through a slump on a long day and keep the belly-furnace roaring. 

What started out as a simple - here's my gear blog post has certainly rambled on! I want to impress again that it's not necessary to have all of these exact items for a good time while snowshoeing (or doing anything else). Everyone's strategy for staying warm will be different. Don't be afraid to experiment, Just Stay Dry and Layer.