Some Lessons About How To Dress For Frigid.

Four layer system for cold weather. Of course, there are pants. Credit: Outdoor Gear Lab
Four layer system for cold weather. Of course, there are pants.
Credit: Outdoor Gear Lab

Last February, we spent a wonderful long weekend in Quebec, visiting the lovely city’s Winter Carnavale and skiing at some fabulous ski resorts (Mte. Ste. Anne, Le Massif de Charlevoix) and dining in a little village of Baie-Saint-Paul.  Delightful.  If you  ever want a Euro-type ski experience close to home, Quebec is the place.  The only cloud was that on those days, it was thrillingly cold, ranging from around at least -20 F up to 0 F.  So we layered up.  We noticed that while we initially kept more or less warm, we soon found ourselves working up a mighty sweat under all those layers.  We had clearly over-dressed, and we paid for it by becoming uncomfortably chilly after a few runs.

So, we decided to learn about layering.  Sure, we know about “cotton kills” and “wet wool is warm” (thank you, Navy basic training), but we weren’t up on the newest thinking.  We consulted the following sources, and, after reviewing the advice from experts, realized we had made some mistakes in our enthusiasm for warmth.

How layering is supposed to work. Credit: BassMegeve
How layering is supposed to work.
Credit: BassMegeve

As you are well aware, it’s all about layers.  Consider this:

Base Layer–This is what used to be called long underwear.  The new performance materials are designed to manage your sweat level, wicking it away from your skin. Thin wool underwear is still a classic.  We all understand that the days of waffle weave are gone.  Check.

Mid Layer–Over your underwear, you will place a classic fleece, a thin wool sweater or one of those puffy, lightweight, squishable puffy jackets, depending on how cold it is and your activity.  The point here is insulation, that is, creating an air space that will create a barrier to cold air.

Insulating Layer–You thought the Mid Layer was insulating, you say?  Yes, if it is moderately cold.  When you get to cold, cold, you are going to need some more.  This could be a light-weight jacket (the squishy kind mentioned above), a fleece jacket or a perhaps a thin vest, depending.

Outer Shell–A “hard” Outer Shell is your wet protection.  A water-resistant top, like Gore-Tex, sheds moisture and keeps you dry while allowing the moisture inside to escape.  A “soft” Outer Shell is basically a wind jacket that can also serve as a rain/snow buffer in more moderate temperatures.

Head Gear and Accessories–You have to let your head breath. Most of your body temperature will exit through your head, so you have to let some of it out.  We all seem to get by with just wearing a helmet in moderate condictions,  When it goes really cold, a thin nylon skull cap underneath your helmet might make a lot of sense. You will need a neck-up gaiter, face mask or a Balacalva to protect your throat and face.

That said, where did we go wrong in our frosty day in Quebec?

  1. We had on too any layers.  Base, double insulating layers, vest, “hard” outer shell with down liner, which was yet another layer.
  2. We had too much head gear on.  Helmet, fleece skull cap, Balaclava, neck-up gaiter, scarf.
  3. We didn’t take the time to change or have dry replacement clothes to unlayer.

All lessons learned.  Ever happen to you?

Here are some links to expert advice about layering.

REI Expert Advice On Layering

Outdoor Gear Lab Layering How-Tos

EVO Dressing For Backcountry

Sierra Trading Post Layering Guide

Here’s a video from Sierra Trading Post you might find interesting.

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