Getting Dressed for Winter Hiking
Your first cloth layer’s job is to wick sweat away from your skin, then dry quickly so you don’t get chilled. For this purpose, next to your skin try to wear long sleeve underwear made of wool or wool/synthetic blends, which dry even faster than common wool.
Some skin sensitive people, often complain that wool is too itchy. So, if this is your case, synthetic materials, such as polyester, might be your best option. Avoid cotton and silk underwear, as they instead of drying fast, will absorb moisture and your temperature could drop fast.
It is important that your base layer is snug because if it’s not touching your skin, it can’t wick sweat. That means your sweat sits on your skin until it evaporates, which leaves you shivering.
Followed by your underwear use an insulating fleece vest or pullover, and topped by a fluffy down jacket. This is your second cloth layer and it is the one set to trap your body heat.
It can range from lightweight fleeces and wool sweaters to full-on puffy down jackets; it just depends on the season. If the weather is rainy or damp, you can replace the down jacket with a rain shell, or layer a shell on top.
Most of the time your “insulation layer” should remain in your pack while hiking, so your body heat can escape and dissipate. But as soon as you stop moving, put it on so you won’t get cold as your sweat dries.
Your third or outer layer is the shell. Its job is to cut the wind and keep you dry. Its better to wear a waterproof/breathable shell. This way you can keep water out and at the same time it let sweat vapor escape, so you won’t get wet from perspiration inside your layering system.
Remember that when hiking in cold weather, the most important element is to keep your body’s temperature even. This is why the key to layering lies on regularly adding and removing layers to keep your body temperature stable.
Micro-environments or when elevation increases and drops constantly, you will be forced to remove and put on layers as the conditions require. The most critical moment of hiking in extreme conditions is when you stop to rest.
As soon as your body stops moving, it will stop generating heat, and this is when you need to put on your outer layer. Keep in mind that a fair number of people die from exposure every year due to exhaustion and the resultant hypothermia.
However, this doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the outdoors this time of the year. Take precautions and start with small hikes. I am pretty sure you will find a fascinating world outside.