Guest Author - Lisa Linnell-Olsen
When heading out for fun in the freezing temperatures, it is critical to be properly dressed. The best way to do this is to begin with the three-layer method for cold weather. Being properly dressed for winter fun not only ensures that you will stay comfortable and enjoy your time outdoors more, it also prevents cold weather injuries from happening.
When getting clothing for winter sports and activities, you need to look for items made out of silk, wool, and synthetics like polypropylene and capilene. Many clothing items may contain a blend of these items. These fibers will wick moisture away from your skin and maintain their insulating ability in the cold.
Always avoid cotton for winter activities. Cotton holds onto moisture and spreads it out, leaving a cold layer of moisture that will not insulate you. Your favorite cotton bath towels will show you this very well. When you towel off, they take the moisture softly and hold onto it. Then you put your towel away from you. If you are wearing cotton jeans or a cotton sweater outdoors, when you sweat or get snow and moisture on you, it will absorb and spread throughout the item and wrap you in cold, causing you to feel chilly and putting you at higher risk for hypothermia or frostbite,
Now we will go through the three layers you should be wearing. The first layer is your base layer. It should be lightweight and designed to pull moisture away from you. It will also provide some of your insulation. The base layers should be close fitting so that it can be more effective at pulling the moisture off of you. Your base layer clothing should be able to hold less that 1% of its volume in moisture. Good fibers to look for in a base layer are capilene, polypropylene, and silk, or blends of these fibers. I have a set of silk long underwear that I wear outdoors until about -20 ° F and another set of long underwear that are a synthetic blend that I use if it is colder. This is what I have found is most comfortable for me. However, you may purchase different brands or weights than I did, and will quickly learn what temperatures your different layers work best in.
Your next layer is your mid-layer, and is meant to provide the bulk of your insulation. It is still important that this layer be able to wick moisture away from you so that it can escape and evaporate instead of leaving you chilly and cold. This layer may be the bulkiest of your layers, or you may want to try wearing more than one item to make up your mid-layer. As your most insulating layer, your mid-layer will need to make use of air space as an insulator, working much like the insulation in your home. Good materials for your mid-layer include polyester fleece, wool, and synthetic items with some bulk to them. These items should be looser fitting than your base layer, as they will go over your base layer. They should still fit comfortably and allow for movement.
Your final layer is your outer layer. The function of the outer layer is to keep out water and wind from the elements, while letting body moisture escape. This layer will be the loosest fitting of your layers, but again, make sure that you can move easily and comfortable for winter activities. This outer layer may be the first one you remove when you begin to get too warm. Even though many outer layer garments are designed to wick away moisture rather than insulate, they still tend to hold in your insulative mid-layer warmth well. Being the outermost layer, they are also the easiest to remove. Good materials for your outer layer are almost all synthetic, including nylon and gore-tex. Wool and silk are not good choices for your outer layer.
You will also want to keep these ideas in mind when picking out gear for your hands and head. As much as 90% of your body heat is lost out of your head, so wearing a hat that is made out of good materials is an important part of your winter gear. Gloves and mittens are often designed with the three-layer method in mind. When you go shopping for winter items, you will notice how these items are made. A simple little pair of magic stretch gloves can make a good base layer for your hands, but will not keep your hands warm by themselves in winter sports.
There is a wide range of clothing items for each layer that is made today. Some items, like jackets, can be made and marketed towards people who practice a particular sport, such as ski jackets or snowmobiling jackets. Special features may be nice if you regularly practice one sport, but the basics outlined above hold true in each winter sport or any activity that takes place in cold weather.