layer up!

Oh, its gonna get cold. My cabin up on Dartmoor has no mod cons (like central heating or insulation) and with just an open fire we get a whole three or four degree advantage over the outdoor temperature. This means we dress for the outdoors indoors. We get quite used dressing sensibly as a result! With temperatures due to drop  below -10 in the run up to Christmas it is even more important that we dress well.

For recommendations on what to buy as layers for winter then scroll down to the bottom of this posting


good for the dry minus 10s: thick wool watch-cap, merino buff, bamboo base layer, woolpower mid layer, lundhag fleece, british army bivi jacket, merino liner gloves, boiled wool outer gloves, heattech long john under windproof trousers, angorra wool socks and insulated boots. Ventile smock in back pack.

Clothing creates a micro-climate around our body that allows us to continue to function and stay comfortable. Your clothing should protect your body and help maintain its optimal temperature even when the outside conditions are very cold, very hot, or very wet. Treat your clothing as your primary shelter. Experience has shown that the best clothing system for the outdoors is the three-layer method. Three layers of clothing allows for maximum heat retention and cooling efficiency in all weather conditions as well it being very adaptable to rapidly changing conditions. However, as a bynote, I would add an extra over-insulation 4th layer to go on top in very cold environments.

Being active in the outdoors causes your body to generate heat. When you are feeling cold the creation of heat is a good thing, but as in all aspects of life too much of a good thing can be bad for you. As your body continues to generate more heat than it gets rid of, it can overheat and start to sweat. If allowed to continue, excessive sweat will saturate the clothing next to your skin and reducing its ability to keep you warm. Besides feeling wet and clammy, when the temperature cools or you become more stationary (rest) then you will become sold or hypothermic. It must be mentioned that in some cases waterproof clothing and boots can promote cold injuries as they allow for the build-up of moisture within them that can in turn turn to ice.

As a consequence of cooling your core body temperature can start to drop and even if it does a only little then your efficiency physical and mental ability can drop rapidly. When your body cools it begins to burn calories at a higher rate. In the arctic you need two or three times as many calories to stay warm as you do in temperate climes.

The ideal layering system gives you flexibility in maintaining the proper body temperature. By adding or subtracting layers you can adapt what you are wearing to the ever-changing conditions you experience. While exerting yourself, you can strip off layers to help you stay cool and prevent sweating. I know that with enough energy reserves and a thin windproof layer I can go out and do hard physical activity in VERY low temperatures. But when you lessen your level of exertion or stop for a break it is important that you layer up to prevent your core temperature from dropping too far. It can only take minutes, if you are cooling rapidly, tired and hungry for hypothermia to start setting in and contributing to the making of unnecessary mistakes. If the wind comes up you may choose to throw on a wind-breaking layer so that air does not penetrate your clothing.

The bottom line is you want to sweat as little as possible and your want to stay dry as much as possible. The three layers system allows you to do this.

Elements of the Layering System

The 3 layers of clothing system consists first of an inner layer specifically designed to quickly wick moisture away from your skin and toward the outer layers of clothing. This layer is commonly composed of various synthetic materials or fine wool and is relatively thin like a t-shirt. Avoid cotton base layers like the plague as they trap moisture and cool you down more than keep you dry and warm. When it is warmer or you are exerting yourself and producing a lot heat, you can wear this inner layer by itself in order to stay cool and dry.

The middle layer is the main insulation layer so will normally be your thickest. Its main purpose is making dead air space. This captures the heat from body and prevents it from escaping into your surroundings. The middle layer is made up of wool, down, or synthetic insulations like fleece or pile. The thicker or loftier the layer the greater its heat retaining ability. The middle layer should be loose of fit to allow circulation and movement.

The outer layer is a proper windproof shell that prevents the wind from penetrating into your insulation layer and robbing it of heat. The outer layer should normally be waterproof too (as moisture is your foe) but should also allow the moisture that is being wicked away from your body by the inner and middle layers to escape. In very cold, dry environments you might want to dispense with a fully waterproof outer layer and stick with something that is just windproof – this helps moisture escape rather than condense within the layers.

This layering system can be extended to the legs aswell (leggings, main trousers and overtrousers) one of which might also have lofted insulation in colder temperatures. The same goes for hands. Mitts are the warmest type of glove but dexterity suffers so having a fine liner glove then a normal glove or mitt and then an over mitt of a robust, water and heat resistant material. Even with footwear wearing of a liner sock, a main sock, then a boot (ensuring that things are not too tight as poor circulation can lead to cold injury). Even consider layering for your face, neck and head with snoods (buffs), balaclavas and hats.

Do all of this and you are set for REALLY cold temperatures but can adapt as these change.

The professional wilderness guide Paul Kirtley has much experience in frozen environments and has shared this in some excellent blogs that go into more detail on the matter here, here, here but not here – go check them out.

The Basics of Regulating Body Temperature

  • Because of the dangers of wet clothing due to excessive sweating, it is better to try and keep your body temperature a little on the cool side. Cool and dry is far better in a ‘survival’ situation than hot and wet.
  • With a little experience you will learn when to put on and when to take off clothing in order to keep your body at its most efficient operating temperature. Try to think ahead and adjust your layers accordingly.
  • For example, during a hike in cold weather you may find yourself to be hot from the heavy exertion of climbing a mountain. When you stop for a break you run the risk of cooling down quickly, especially if you have been sweating. Do no wait until you are chilled before putting on another layer of clothing. You will want to trap some of that heat before it escapes into the surrounding environment.
  • If the weather is warm and you are about to start heavy exertion that you know will warm you up, do not wait to become overheated before removing some of your clothing. Think ahead and strip down a little as a pre-emptive strike against overheating.

Tips for Regulating Your Body Temperature

If you find yourself overheating you can safely regulate your body temperature in a number of ways that include:

  • removing your hat
  • loosening the clothing from around the neck area, pulling up your sleeves to expose your arms, unzipping your outer layer to allow cool air in
  • removing articles of clothing
  • reducing the intensity of your efforts or taking a break
  • drinking cold water

Conversely, if you find yourself cooling too much you can:

  • add a hat
  • batten down the hatches, so to speak, by closing off all areas where air can easily circulate out of your clothing – usually the neck, wrists, waist, and ankle areas.
  • add additional clothing to your middle insulation layer
  • wear all three main layers for maximum protection against the cold.
  • drink hot liquids and eat high calorie foods

As you can see, by wearing layers of clothing, each layer with its special purpose, you can fine-tune the micro-climate you create around yourself. This gives you the ability to safely experience a wide range of climate and activities.

Go chill out somewhere.


If you plan to buy winter layers then take a look at these


Mid Layer

Top brands also to consider for base, mid and outer are:


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