This morning when I looked at the weather app it was -23C (-10F) and the wind was blowing. Some might call this a blizzard but in Alberta it is known as poor driving conditions. When it gets this cold and windy it is hard to keep warm when working or playing outside. Staying warm and dry is not for comfort, it is for survival. Becoming cold and wet can lead to frostbite, sickness, and death. The basic rule for keeping warm is to layer your clothes. Some Australian friends stopped over for tea, so I gave them some advice on how to dress for the cold.
- Working or playing in the cold often makes you sweat so the first layer, that is the one next to your skin, needs to be moisture wicking. My favorite warm wicking shirt is a Cloudveil long sleeved merino wool t-shirt that I bought at Costco. I also have a Wind River wicking turtleneck and some running t-shirts from the Running Room. These are both synthetic fibers. Silk is also wicking but is expensive and who wants to ruin silk by sweating all over it? The old slang name for long underwear is “woolies”. Sheep’s wool in general is wicking but it is also itchy (other than Australia’s Merino wool). I had a pair of socks made from Alpaca wool that were not itchy but Alpaca wool is not commercially available.
- Wear bottoms and tops! The base layer needs to be long underwear and a long sleeve t-shirt or turtleneck. Some people even wear base layer socks but when I try wearing two pairs of socks the outer pair always slides off and gets stuffed way down by my toes.
- Women’s clothes are not the same as men’s. It might be tempting to borrow bottom layers but keep in mind this is underwear we are talking about. Do you really want to share? Men’s bottoms fit totally different that women’s and are very uncomfortable when switched. (Don’t ask how I know, I don’t want to talk about it).
- Fit is important. Too small and the first layer will pinch and chafe. Too big and they wrinkle. The wrinkles in the wrong spot can chaff too. Its hard to scratch an itch or adjust a twist in your woolies through three layers of winter clothes with mitts on.
- The socks are important. Thick hiking or work socks are the best for really cold weather. They are almost always wicking and can have other elements like copper to help control odor. Pay the money for the socks, they are worth it. The other great thing about socks is that you can carry an extra pair in your pocket in case your feet sweat and get cold.
- T-shirts and jeans are common for a second layer. Button down shirts and carhartts work just as well.
- The next layer can be a hoodie (or bunnyhug if you are from Saskatchewan). The hood over a toque adds insulation if the wind picks up, the pocket is easy to get to, and it can work as an outer layer if the weather warms up.
- Boots. Traditionally the best cold weather boots have removable liners. When your feet get wet from sweat they get cold. If you have a second pair of liners then you can change liners and socks and your feet stay warm. Some boots wear holes in them above the heel at the back from changing liners so buy good quality ones. With technology advancing in this area there are some great new light weight insulated boots out there that are worth trying.
- Scarves. Wearing a long colorful scarf might help keep you warm while looking good but it can be a safety hazard. Wear a scarf that keeps your neck warm, blocks the wind from going down your coat and is lightweight and can be tucked in so it can’t catch on something and hang you. Cowboys wear silk scarves and tie them at the side. This stops the draft and is surprisingly warm for such a light material.
- Hats. Wool hats are refereed to as toques and keep your head warm. They are not often made of wool anymore. Fit is important, I once had an oversized toque that fell in my eyes as I got on a young horse. The horse spooked and I had to grab the reins and couldn’t of pull the toque out of my eyes. We ended up slamming into a metal fence. No one was injured but only by luck. Now I make sure the hat I wear does not fall into my eyes. There are other good cold weather hats but you cant stuff them in your pocket as easy when you are not wearing it.
- Lip balm. If your lips get chapped it is not just uncomfortable, it can be a health issue. Carry a little tube of Blistex in your pocket with your other EDC.
- Covering your mouth. Due to the amount of moisture that you breath out it is hard to cover your mouth without soaking the material you are using to cover. There are new materials out there that you can buy but the basic rule is that moisture against your face will make you cold. The Inuit use hoods that extend forward and have wolverine fur around the opening. They can see and their breath goes out but the moisture does not collect on anything. Keep your face covered as much as you can with a scarf and hat without completely covering your mouth. Ski goggles can help keep wind out too.
- Mittens and gloves. All things equal mittens are warmer because your fingers keep each other warm. Gloves are easier to work with. In deep cold water proof mitts with gloves inside are common. Again there are some great new lightweight mitts and gloves that keep your hands warm.
- Insulated coveralls. Another version known around here as skidoo suits is more water repellent. In the coldest weather these are the best for warmth while stating outside for hours. A good base layer underneath make them easy to move in and comfortable. Body heat is not trapped at your waist and can radiate further in the coveralls. Bib overalls with a 3/4 length coat over has a similar effect.
- Ski pants are not just for tumbling down hills anymore. There many brands of water repellent pants for both men and women now. They add weight but if you need to sit (or fall down a lot) in the snow they are worth it.
With all the new light weight warm clothing now, I wonder how our ancestors survived in cold weather centuries ago. Furs are really heavy, and wool is incredibly itchy. If they could get through the weather with clothing like that we should survive in our layers of light weight water repellent outerwear with no problem. My Australian friends checked the forecast and booked their plane tickets home.