One of the most challenging things I find myself encountering during the fall and winter months is figuring out how to stay warm outside. I find this challenging because I am very active and spend a lot of time outside doing one of my many hobbies such as fishing, hunting, gardening, etc. Staying active and maintaining some degree of my hobbies throughout the winter months is ideal for me as it greatly helps my mental health and allows me to get some much needed vitamin D. It also gives me access to fresh meat/fish that I was able to get in the summer months.
Besides waking up earlier for hunting and feeling tired earlier due to the time change, I find it very hard to motivate oneself to get up from your comfortable, cozy bed and inject yourself into a freezing or below freezing environment for hours at a time. Most people would refuse the offer to spend a few hours outside in freezing temperatures even if it meant high quality food.
Spending time outside in the cold can be dangerous and definitely is a skill that you learn to handle over time. It is miserable and each time you learn from a mistake and strive to do better in order to be more comfortable out by the water, in the garden, or in the field while out hunting in the brisk mornings. I personally still find issues within my layering system, but know that the solution lies within a slight upgrade to my layering method.
I hope to teach you the general basics of staying warm in the winter and potentially save someone’s life in the event that they find themselves stuck outside during the winter or during an emergency. With some preparation it is possible to stay comfortably warm in some of the most harsh of winters, though it does take some preparation, money, and learning from past mistakes. Anyways, I will not linger on the subject anymore, below I will list things to consider when properly dressing for the weather
1. Check The Weather
First and foremost, it is important to check the weather prior to picking the clothes you should wear. This may seem obvious, but a 35 degree (Fahrenheit) day may not seem pretty cold as is, but if you throw in a 20+ mile an hour wind gust into the mix it can make your day pretty unpleasant. Assessing things like rain, snow, and overcast vs sun can have drastic effects on your comfort levels in the field.
It is important to note that even indigenous tribes of North America didn’t venture out too far from camp back when the weather was very bad or unpredictable. Which is a good rule to live by, don’t force yourself to be put in certain circumstances if you can avoid them.
The weather and its variables should have a huge impact on what you do and don’t wear or bring with you when preparing to deal with cold weather for long periods of time depending on your activities. It can mean the difference between a slight chill and potential frostbite or even hypothermia. These words may seem like nothing to someone who is used to seeing people wear shorts and Birkenstocks in the winter (which I witnessed others wearing during my college years), but if you are unable to reach shelter immediately or get to warmer clothes it can be extremely detrimental to your health.
I am not saying this to scare you, but as to point out the lack of preparedness of the common person here within the United States. Many people are worried about having the latest smartphone/technology or clothing items, but lack the basic necessities to keep them warm for long periods of time without external heating/cooling. It shows how disconnected we have become with reality and living with nature.
2. Understand The Layering System
After taking note of what you can expect of the weather for the day or coming days, I will now walk you through the basics of how to dress. Many people are aware that the more layers that you wear, the more insulation there is between your body and the external environment, making it less strenuous on your body to maintain its body temperature, thus keeping you warm.
Realistically, one can’t just wear 3 pairs of jeans or sweats and call it good for the entire time he/she is out in the cold weather. This is because it just isn’t practical to wear a lot of the same layers due to the thickness, material, and overall lack of comfort/function for the user.
The first layer(s) that people choose to wear is what most put on first in the morning, underwear and/or base layers. Base layers should include a bottom and top set. This layer is very thin and lightweight, though they do have some degree of insulating value. Many base layers are made from material that is moisture wicking and removes any sweat or liquid from your body and outside of the fabric, preventing the natural cooling effect. Base layers come in different variables in regards to what temperatures they are made for. Some variations are considered “lightweight” and for semi-chilly fall mornings vs heavyweight varieties meant for freezing or below freezing temperatures.
After the base layers comes the insulating layer. This layer is just some form of clothing/fabric that insulates your body from the external layer. It is very significant, but not all insulating layers are created equal as I will mention later in this blog. These layers are typically sweat pants for most people, though there are other options out there I believe.
The last layer is the external or “shell layer”. This is meant to be the durable exterior that comes in contact with the outdoors, so expect it to be tough. This external layer can also be insulating such as jumpsuits or bibs. I personally wear some durable jeans, but my method isn’t fool proof as I am not immune to things such as wind, water, or mud. These things will drain the heat from my legs and torso at a ridiculous rate.
These layers are pretty flexible and have a lot of room for version given your preference and circumstances, it is just important to have an idea as to why you wear what and the purpose that they serve for you. It is always better to have extra layers that you don’t need than rather than to need them and not have them.
3. Understand Your Body
Once you understand the concept of how to dress properly, it is important to understand how the human body acts under cold conditions. First, do note that your body’s main focus is to keep its torso and vital organs warm as to be able to deliver blood to the essential body parts and keep basic function. To do this it pulls blood from your extremities which is why your hands and toes usually get cold first.
To combat this it is important to keep your torso and head warm. Warm socks and gloves do help a lot, but they alone are not the core solution. Beyond this fact, do understand that if you plan on moving a lot outside your body will naturally heat up due to the increase in activity/burning energy, creating heat. Though this heat will warm you up, it can also cause you to sweat with all your layers on making you susceptible to cooling down very quickly. That is why if you are active it is best to wear fewer layers than if you were to be just sitting outside in one spot.
Speaking of sitting down, during the winter the uninsulated ground is very draining in terms of energy. It will take all of your heat and make you cold. I encourage you to have some form of insulation between you and the ground as to prevent this from happening as it can ruin your time outside.
4. Evaluate the Quality of Your Layers
As I mentioned earlier, not all layers are created equal. Once you have your first basic setup let’s be honest. It’s not much, but it’s all you got. You most certainly are warmer than without your newly discovered layering system, but once you find the negatives of your system look into the more expensive merino wool or bison wool blends of clothing as they are worth the money typically. They keep you warm wet or dry, they are moisture wicking keeping your even warmer over time, they naturally have antimicrobial properties, which prevent smell after days or weeks of use.
They are also natural and better for the environment. There are many things to love about wool rather than the price of the clothes that they cost. Within every layering system there will always be pros and cons to everything, but do try to avoid the gimmicks and just make small worthwhile upgrades when/if you can as it is better to buy one quality item than 10 cheap one from my perspective.
Good boots and mittens also go far, especially if you can get some nice leather insulated boots or knee-highs that are water proof. Good mitten systems are usually buckskin/leather mittens with a wool liner inside or accompanied with a thin wool “base layer” glove.
5. Consider Other Products
I have taught you all that I know beside one thing… and that is the importance of hand warmers out in the field. Hand warmers and other gadgets can be a life saver in the field, but it is important to note that many of them aren’t perfect and have their drawbacks, but when used correctly can definitely help you rather than hurt you.
Learning how to dress during the winter for function rather than comfort is an important skill and investment to learn as you get older. It can help keep you safe during the unexpected while traveling during the winter or if you are like me and choose to go out to rural areas for fun during some rough weather.
Do be careful when pushing the boundaries and listen to your body. Always leave extra socks and layers in your car or in your backpack/pack if you are out and about. I ALWAYS have an extra pack of wool socks, pants, and jackets in my car during the winter. I even have a blanket for myself and to insulate the ground if I need to change a tire or something. These skills are important and should be taught in school, but alas we live in an era where common sense isn’t common. I hope you learned something new and will consider upgrading your winter wardrobe for function rather than fashion!