Winter Warmth

From JayC

Disclaimer: This article is presented with sub zero winter temperatures in mind. The clothing described herein (especially the outer layer) will not provide adequate warmth if they become wet, and are entirely too warm for anything other than outdoor activities in below freezing temperatures. An article describing my experiences with spring/fall clothing will follow if Steve feels this one is good enough to post.

Extreme Winter Warmth (on a realistic budget)

After almost 20 years of frozen feet, frostbit hands and many outings cut short I finally came up with a system that keeps me (and all my extremities) warm at temperatures down to -40 degrees centigrade. Active or stationary, night or day this clothing system keeps me comfortable for days at time. Of course this isn't the only way to stay warm, but it has proven itself more than adequate under all the conditions old man winter has thrown at me.

The system is simple. WOOL, DOWN, and POLYPROPYLENE and only WOOL, DOWN, and POLYPROPYLENE. Under no circumstances should any of your clothes be primarily composed of cotton or denim. And of course the other rule of thumb: if in doubt go a size larger than your regular size — especially with your boots.

Base Layer

Your undergarment (the layer next to your skin) should be polypropylene (or thermal). While not having much in the way of insulating value it serves a much more important purpose - wicking moisture (sweat) away from your skin. It adds an important dimension to your outdoor experience in that you can work in extreme cold wearing your heaviest garments and then stop. On a cold day try chopping wood for half an hour in cotton long johns and you best winter duds and then pause for half an hour. If your aren't frozen I'll bet you soon will be. Now try it in a good set of polypro. Not cold for a second eh? Good. I learned it the hard way having snow shoed 5 miles into an abandoned cabin only to almost freeze to death while gathering firewood. I haven't touched cotton long johns since.

What you want.

1. Polypropylene top and bottom (either 100% poly or 50% poly/ 50% wool)

2. Polypropylene sock liners (critical! wear these inside your heavier wool socks)

3. Polypropylene gloves (wear inside your mitts)

Mid Layer

Here you can get a little creative. I like to wear wool trousers and a wool pullover shirt. If its really cold I will wear two wool shirts. Socks should be at least 60% wool and as thick as can be. Don't wear two pairs of socks as the outside sock will be too tight over the inside one destroying the insulating value of both. Wear one set of socks that are sufficiently warm (I had a really hard time finding the right type of sock - but finally settled on the Alaska style by Wigwam).

What you want.

1. Wool top and bottom.

2. Heavy wool socks

Outer Layer

This is where things can get expensive if you aren't careful. Ever notice that those guys who work jobs outside day after day in the freezing cold all wear the same type of jackets and snowpants? You know the style. The type with the canvas duck exterior that you would need a chainsaw to cut through. Go on over to your working mans clothing store and start looking. You want your snowpants to be the bib style (unless you like cold kidneys). Get the insulated type. Now for the parka. Look only at those that are down filled, reach almost to your knees, have a snap on hood, and feel like they weigh 400lbs. Kind of narrows it down eh? I paid $250 Canadian for the bib and parka. An "official" mountain climbing parka with all the same features (except for the durable exterior) costs $450 at the local sporting goods store. That's for the parka only!

What you want

1. Down parka

2. Insulated bib style snowpants.

Make sure you treat your outer layer with heavy duty scotch guard (the one with the blue/green lid) as this will provide a certain degree of water repellency.

Other Stuff

Don't forget boots. I prefer the snowmobiler style that come almost up to my knees. Get a pair that's rated to at least -75 degrees Fahrenheit. In boots rated to -40 my feet would literally get cold in the truck on the way there! Don't forget to get your boots a full size larger than your shoe size - that airspace is what keeps your tootsies warm. A set of snowmobiler mitts (I like the type with thinsulate insulation) and a wool toboggan should finish your set up.

What you want

1. Boots rated to at least -75 degrees

2. Large heavy mitts

3. Wool toque

A word on Camouflage

You have probably noticed that your best choice for your outer layer (bib and parka) aren't available in any tactical colours. If there is snow on the ground there is only one colour that counts — white. Go to your local surplus shop and look for the military NATO white parka and trouser covers. They are durable, easy to clean and inexpensive. They will also turn a small amount of moisture. If you simply can't find this item, consider improvising a cover from a white bedsheet.

Wow that's a lot of stuff. Probably nearly $500 to buy it all at once. Remember though, that same parka you stand outside ice fishing for 9 hours in can be the same one you wear while shoveling your driveway. You need a set of boots anyway so why not spend a few extra bucks and get a good pair? Just knowing I'm not going to freeze all day lets me actually look forward to my winter excursions. Looking forward to going out in the winter means you do go out in the winter. That means you practice during the winter. Practice may one day mean the difference between life and death.

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