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For some reason, I seem to end up as the cold weather expert on a number of other forums. While I've shared some of that expertise on here in bits and pieces, I don't believe I've put together anything comprehensive. With fall officially here and winter just around the corner, the time has come.

Whether you're out hunting, camping or just going for a walk outdoors, keeping warm and dry in cold weather is a challenge. There are a number of "systems" for keeping war and dry. In the Army, we were taught COLD:

Keep Clean.

Avoid Overdressing.

Wear Loose Layers.

Stay Dry.

All good advice ... in a generic sense. Keeping your body clean will allow it to optimally warm itself. Avoiding overdressing will keep perspiration to a minimum. Wearing loose layers allows pockets of air to form to aid in insulation. Staying dry helps avoid heat loss which is accelerated when the wind or cold air hits moist skin.

But what about more specifics? At 47 years of age, I've been working, hunting, camping and a hundred other things in temperatures as low as -30° to -40° for more than four decades. As stubborn and bull-headed as I am, I've still managed to learn a few things in that time.

Layering
In cold weather attire, there are three basic layers - the Base Layer, the Insulating Layer and the Environmental Layer. There may be other names for these layers, but most "systems" will be based on three layers.

Base Layer
The Base Layer is intended to "wick" moisture away from your body, keeping you dry. Cotton is one of the worst fabrics when it comes to wicking. Cotton is absorbent; it draws in moisture and holds it. Unfortunately, a lot of Base Layer-type clothing like underwear, T-shirts and the like are made of cotton. Many people end up wearing cotton base layers simply because it's what's in their dresser drawers.

Wool is perhaps the best natural fabric when it comes to maintaining its insulatory capabilities even when wet. However, wool also tends to hold moisture making it a less-than-optimal base layer. The moisture created by one's perspiration still rests against the skin when wearing wool.

Synthetic Base Layers, for the most part, wick moisture away from the body and into the Insulating Layer. While I'm something of a traditionalist, I've really grown to like some of the new synthetic Base Layers like Under Armour's Cold Gear and Basemap products. They're lightweight and do a fantastic job of wiking perspiration moisture away from the body. I like Cold Gear for times when I won't be particularly active - sitting in a deer stand, for instance - and Basemap for times when I will be more active - hunting upland game birds or hiking, for example.

Insulating Layer
The Insulating Layer, surprisingly enough, is meant to insulate the body from the cold. In extreme cold, it may make sense to wear two Insulaing Layers. It's also important to keep in mind that the Insulating Layer may well absorb the moisture wicked away from the body by the Base Layer.

While there are a number of synthetic fabrics intended as Insulating Layers, it's hard to beat good, old-fashioned wool. As mentioned earilier, wool retains nearly 100% of its insulating capabilities even when wet. As moisture is wicked away from the body, wool absorbs the moisture but continues to provide insulation.

Most synthetic insulating fabrics will resist absorbtion. This traps the moisture wicked away from the body between the Base Layer and the Insulating Layer. Trapped moisture tests the resiliancy of the Base Layer fabric. How long will it hold out against a layer of moisture sitting against it? Once most Base Layers are soaked through, they lose much of their wicking ability.

Environmental Layer
The Environmental Layer is meant to protect you against wind and precipitation. Both wind and moisture can cool your body very quickly. In a windy environment, windchill can drive down "felt" temperature by several degrees. The felt temperature will eventually rob your body of its natural warmth. This will hasten the onset of hypothermia.

Moisture, of course, can also accelerate the body's loss of natural warmth. The combination of wind and moisture can turn deadly in very short order.

Gore-Tex fabric does an excellent job of keeping moisture out. Outer shells made of Gore-Tex fabric do an excellent job of keeping moisture out. Typically, these may be marketed as "hard shells" or "soft shells". A hard shell is made of a fabric that does not fold as easily as that of a soft shell. Soft shells feel more like Neoprene (think wet suit) whereas hard shells feel more like a tarp. Hard shells generally have a greater resistance to wind and precipitation than soft shells. Soft shells generally allow for more flexibility and eash of movement.

Another important quality of outer shells, or Environmental Layers, is their ability to "breathe". A good Environmental Layer will prevent wind and water from getting in and also allow moisture to escape. Cold weather usually equates to lower atmospheric humidity. That means that cold weather can evaporate the moisture in your Insulating Layer relatively quickly - unless, of course, it's raining or snowing or the relative humidity is above the normal range.

So, if you're wearing a good Environmental Layer and your Insulating Layer has absorbed moisture it may evaporate if you stop producing moisture (avoid overdressing). If, on the other hand, your perspiration is trapped between your Base Layer and your Insulating Layer it will be more difficult for it to evaporate.

As something of a traditionalist, I'm not big on $800 hard shells as my outer layer. When I'm outside in the cold, I'm usually working hard around machinery or busting through the brush. Snagging an $800 coat and having to replace it is not in my budget. I've found that much of the more "advanced" Environmental Layer gear is a bit fragile for my taste. As a result, I tend to wear more "traditional" outer layer clothing. I sacrifice a bit of wind and water resistance as well as a bit of breathability but it tends to hold up to hard use a bit better.

If I start to perspire, I can shed my outer layer and allow the perspiration to evaporate. If it's raining or snowing, most of my outer layer gear is somewhat water resistant. I know when it's time to come in out of the rain.

Specific Gear
Now, let's talk about some specifics. Following, is a sampling of the cold weather gear that I use on a regular basis. In some cases, I'll mention specific brands - where I think it's important. In other cases, I'll be more generic.

Head Gear
It's been proven that we DON'T lose 90% of our body heat through our head - provided we cover our head as well as the rest of our body. However, many people head out into the cold with relatively lightweight head gear. Big mistake.

In very cold weather, I like a synthetic balaclava as my Base Layer. Wool beanies or stocking hats are a good Insulating Layer. I especially like the Army's wool Jeep Cap. Make sure it's made of wool. There are a lot of Acrylic knock-offs out there that don't work nearly as well. If precipitation is involved, I'll wear a Filson Upland Game hat. It's water-repellent and lined with Mackinaw Wool.

Torso Gear
As I mentioned, I like Under Armour Base Layers. Their Cold Gear is excellent for periods of relative inactivity. Their Basemap is good for periods of relatively high activity. If you're not familiar with either of these products, I recommend checking out the Under Armour website to understand the differences. Either way, they should be worn directly against the skin and fit snugly.

For my money, wool is the way to go for an Insulating Layer. For light insulation, I like Merino Wool. For heavier insulation, Ragg Wool is great. When I was in the Army, we were issued brown wool sweaters as a part of our cold weather gear. They had a collar and five buttons that ran halfway down the front of the sweater. You can find them at Army surplus stores for as little as $10.00. For that kind of money than can't be beat. Be sure you're getting the wool version, however. At some point, the Army replaced the wool issue sweater with an Acrylic sweater. The Acrylic is nowhere near as good.

For my outer layer, I like what I would call "hard use" gear (not Maxpedition). Last winter I bought my first Filson coat. If there was a "hard use" entry in the dictionary, Filson's Tin Cloth coats should be next to it. I bought the Filson Tin Cloth Field Coat. It is a shell with no lining. A good Insulating Layer is required for cold weather. The Tin Cloth is treated with Oil Finish Wax to increase its water-repelling qualities. The retail price on this coat was $350. If you spend time out in the elements in cold weather, it's worth every penny.

Prior to the Filson coat, I had a Carhartt coat. It had some water-repelling qualities but had nowhere near the ability to repell precipitation as the Filson coat or a synthetic hard shell.

Leg Gear
I use the Under Armour Base Layers on my legs as well as my torso. Occasionally, I'll add an under-base layer rather than wearing the Under Armour gear "commando". When I do wear an under-base layer, I've found nothing better than Ex Officio's underwear. Typically, I'll wear their boxer briefs under my Under Armour leggings. I like their underwear so much for outdoor use that I've gone to the boxers for every day use. They're truly an amazing product.

As an Insulating Layer, I like wool pants. There are any number of military surplus options if you're looking to save money. Just make sure that they are 100% wool and follow the care instructions. If money is no object, you can find some pretty pricey non-milsurp options out there. I have no experience with those.

My hard use philosophy extends to the outer layer for my lower half. I'm on my second pair of Carhartt bibs in 30+ years. They wear like iron, have a little bit of water-repelling ability and a good amount of insulation as well. As with my Carhartt coat, they won't repel as much water as hard shell pants; nor will they breath as much as the ultra-high dollar "tech" pants. They will, however, outlast several pairs of the tech pants in all likelihood.

Hand Gear
Fingers and toes, for most people, are the two parts of the body most susceptible to cold. Keeping them warm, especially during periods of low activity, is truly a challenge.

Almost without exception, my Base Layer is Manzella Max50 glove liners. Unfortunately, they seem to be getting harder and harder to find so I'm going to have to come up with a replacement. Until then, they are available a few places on the Web. I don't know all the details on these glove liners, but they flat out work.

Once again, Army surplus comes to the rescue with wool gloves that make a great Insulating Layer. Make sure they're 100% wool. There are other wool gloves on the market, but few as inexpensive as the OD green surplus "liners" from the U.S. Army.

Depending on the conditions, I may simply wear lined work gloves over my Manzella liners. If I'm cutting wood, or doing something else that's likely to destroy my gloves, the high-dollar stuff stays home and the inexpensive Tractor Supply stuff comes out.

On the other hand, if I'm sitting in a deer stand, keeping my hands warm and dry is near the top of my list of priorities. If your shooting hand is cold, numb and slippery, you're not likely to take home a deer. I've found that mittens with a Gore-Tex outer fabric and Thinsulate lining work well with the Manzella liners and the Army surplus wool gloves, if the weater's cold enough, to keep my hands warm and dry. I especially like the mittens with the tip that peels back to reveal a fingerless glove. That way I can free up the fingers of my shooting hand only when necessary and keep them toasty warm until they're needed.

Foot Gear
Feet, like hands, are hard to keep warm unless you're moving and keeping the blood circulating. However, the warmer you keep the rest of your body, the warmer your hands and feet will be.

Beyond that, I follow the same principles with my feet as with the rest of my body. I use synthetic sock liners, wool socks and sturdy boots. Fortunately, someone figured out that even people who treat their boots roughly need Gore-Tex. For cool to cold weather, I have a pair of Danner 452's. For colder weather, I have a pair of Sorel Conquests. If I know I'll be wading through creeks or streams, I'll occasionally throw on a pair of gaiters.

Summary
Layers are the single best way to keep warm in very cold weather. Keep yourself dry by wearing a Base (Inner) Layer that wicks away perspiration and an Environmental (Outer) Layer that keeps out precipitation. The layer in-between - the Insulating (Mid) Layer - should be sufficient to keep you warm and allow the wicked-out perspiration to evaporate.

My preferences include a synthetic Base Layer, wool Insulating Layer and a "hard use" Environmental Layer. I'll sacrifice a bit of water-repelling and breathability performance for durability given the nature of my outdoor activities. To each their own. Feel free to chime in with comments or questions.

Stay warm!
 
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This is a very good primer on staying warm. I was in a winter warfare battalion and we were taught this same philosophy pretty much word for word. This gets a vote from me for sticky!
 

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yes sticky! very good and detailed. thank you
 

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I have been told, and subscribe to the theory that you should be comfortably cool, not comfortalby warm (not overdressing).

Good post, Mud.
 

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Good advice, Mud. Here's something you didn't mention that keeps me warm: how to assemble all that good gear.


One thing that I try to do with my outer layer at least, is to overlap as much as possible. Heat seams to escape where the gaps exist, i.e. when I wear pants that come up to my waist and a coat that comes down to my waist, heat gets out more easily than if I wear overalls and a coat that comes to mid-thigh.

My cold-weather gloves have an inner liner that reaches past my wrist, then I pull my sleeve down over the top, then the outer glove shell goes over the sleeve and gets cinched somewhat tight.

If I'm wearing multiple pairs of socks, they alternate with my long johns, then the outer layer of pants (whether overalls or coveralls) goes over the outside of my boots.

Don't neglect to put a good wrap around your neck as well.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Thanks for the compliments, guys. The COLD acronym probably sounds familiar to the military guys because that's where it came from. This piece is a combination of my life's experiences in cold weather, including my time in the Army.

cce1302, those are excellent additions. Particularly if it's windy, any gap that exposes skin can cool you off quickly.

FWIW, I just picked up a pair of Cabela's Legacy Superwash wool pants on sale for $59. They're made of 24 oz. virgin wool - very heavy. Although I haven't had the opportunity to wear them out in the cold yet, they look to be of good quality and are quite thick.
 

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Thanks for the write up. I've got a few question on the insulating layer for hunting. Last year I used Under Armour or cheap thermals as my base layer, cotton pants and sweater as my insulator and off brand jacket and bibs for the outer.

This year I'm looking to change it up though. Plan on keeping the Under Armour as the base and scrapping the cheap thermals. Need an insulating layer. Just bought the ArticShield H4 insulated pants and jacket for my outer.

I need to find a good dual purpose insulating layer. My plan is when I'm walking to my stand or stalking to use my base and insulating layer only and keep my outer in my pack. Then when I get to my stand to put my outer on. Cotton is bad but whats good to replace it? Polyester? Fleece?

I've looked at the milsurp wool but don't know how well that will work for me. Regular BDU's? I've also looked at the Redhead Endura Suede:

Jacket: RedHead® EnduraSuede Jackets for Men | Bass Pro Shops

Pullover: RedHead® EnduraSuede 1/4-Zip Pullovers for Men | Bass Pro Shops

Pants: RedHead® EnduraSuede Pants for Men | Bass Pro Shops

Anyone have any better suggestions? Thanks in advance.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
nasty, I'm not sure why the milsurp wool sweater and pants wouldn't work for you. IMO, as I said in the article, wool is the best insulating layer. I'm not familiar with the Endura-suede products that you linked. Cabela's has some nice, heavy wool pants if you don't want to go the milsurp route. They're called the Cabela Legacy Superwash Wool pants and are on sale right now. They fit a bit small in the waist. I'd order an inch or two larger than your regular waist size. Pendleton makes some nice mid-weight wool button-front shirts. I also have a Filson mid-weight wool sweater that I like a lot.
 

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Nasty,

If you want cheap and warm, go to a military surplus store and but the old style wool thermal underwear and the extreme cold weather pants and parka suit. Don't forget the hood, either.

They consist of a thinsulate liner for the pants and parka and a cotton shell that is large enough to go over your normal clothes which should include a sweater. The parka is long enough to go below your butt and it can be tied around your legs with the elastic cord that is sewn into the bottom seam.

There is also a white cover that can be used in the snow.

Combine this with the rubber snow boots and a good ski mask and you'll stay plenty warm in all but the coldest weather.

If you want to spend more, there are plenty of good option out there that will probably do a really good job, but I really like the Carhartt insulated bibs and coats. They're very tough and warm. I'd avoid coveralls though. They tend to ride up if you reach over your head and you can't remove the coat or pants separately for washing or if you start to get too warm.

Whatever you choose, I suggest staying away from synthetic outerwear for hunting. In the cold they tend to make a crinkling sound that cotton, wool and even leather don't. It may not sound loud to you, but to animals, it's a big noise.
 

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Winter uniform for Houston Texas.
A t-shirt, fleece if it's really cold, and BDU shorts.



When the two weeks of winter are over, pack away the fleece and you've got your summer uniform.
 

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Ive spent A LOT of time in the outdoors, especially in inclement and cold weather. I do a lot of hiking on the Appalachian Trail and mountaineering on peaks as high as 14,000 ft, and many times you are miles away from anything resembling civilzation. Ive learned what to do, and what not to do from years of experience in everything from snow, ice, rain, and extreme tempertures.

1. USE LAYERS!
Start with a moisture wicking underlayer like UnderArmour.
Then your regular clothing.
Then your insulation layer.
Then your windproof, waterproof layer.

If you wear layers, you can adjust for comfort by adding or removing layers.

2. NEVER WEAR COTTON...EVER
Cotton holds moisture, and when it gets cold, it will rapidly cool down like ice. Cotton kills. Use materials that retain their insulation properties when wet, like wool. Many people think wool is not comfortable...you are wearing the wrong kind of wool. There are wool products out there that are softer than cotton.

3. When you stop, e.g. camping out, sleeping, etc. Shed the layers that you have been sweating in all day, and don some dry clothes. Even sweat damp clothes will suck every last bit of heat out of you...especially your socks.

4. Before retireing for the night, go use the bathroom. Going to sleep with a full bladder will cause your body to use energy and heat warming all that water.


Springer Mountain - Beginning of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia

 

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Many people think wool is not comfortable...you are wearing the wrong kind of wool. There are wool products out there that are softer than cotton.
You're right. For example, merino wool is incredibly soft and doesn't itch at all.

I have some merino wool socks that I wear in cold weather. Thick and soft with just a touch of elastic to help them stay up and hug your instep. They are so comfortable, I had to buy extra pairs because my wife like to wear them instead of slippers in the winter.

I bought them when I used to climb radio towers for work. 500' up on a cold winter day and I wore my work boots and those socks. They never got cold. The other guys spent hundreds on Goretex, thinsulate lined boots and were often complaining about cold feet.

The great part about wool is, it's even good in warm weather! A thin wool sock will absorb moisture from your feet and keep them comfortable far longer than a cotton sock will. They are also more durable. During my tour in Iraq, I wore the Army issue cushion sole wool sock the entire time. My feet were always comfortable and I had less foot problems than my buddies that thought I was crazy for wearing wool in the desert.
 

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One thing to remember is that not everyone can wear wool...some folks are allergic to it. For those folks, I'd recommend checking out Polartec products. They have some synthetic fleeces that work pretty well as an alternative.

Another alternative would be alpaca wool...for some reason some wool allergic are not as affected by the alpaca wool. Your results may vary.
 

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I just picked up 2 Army issue Arctic Mountain sleeping bags at an auction over the weekend. Can't wait to try them out!
 

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One thing to remember is that not everyone can wear wool...some folks are allergic to it. For those folks, I'd recommend checking out Polartec products. They have some synthetic fleeces that work pretty well as an alternative.

Another alternative would be alpaca wool...for some reason some wool allergic are not as affected by the alpaca wool. Your results may vary.
The number of people that are truly allergic to wool is actually very small. What most people have is a "sensitivity" to wool.

In my experience, that "sensitivity" is related to the fact regular sheep wool is very coarse and that's all they know. However, alpaca, merino, angora and musk ox wool is very soft and the sensitivity issue is either dramatically lessened or eliminated altogether with these finer wools.

Another possibility is the person is allergic to something else and the wool is contaminated with it. For example, cat hair or dander on a wool sweater is difficult to remove and wearing a contaminated sweater is like holding a cat all day.
 

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nasty, I'm not sure why the milsurp wool sweater and pants wouldn't work for you. IMO, as I said in the article, wool is the best insulating layer. I'm not familiar with the Endura-suede products that you linked. Cabela's has some nice, heavy wool pants if you don't want to go the milsurp route. They're called the Cabela Legacy Superwash Wool pants and are on sale right now. They fit a bit small in the waist. I'd order an inch or two larger than your regular waist size. Pendleton makes some nice mid-weight wool button-front shirts. I also have a Filson mid-weight wool sweater that I like a lot.
I've never worn any wool so I guess my real question is: How does wool hold up using it as an outer layer from time to time? To keep from sweating on the move I'd like to possibly remove my environmental layer. Also is any layer of cotton bad even if it's not touching the skin?
 

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How do the rest of you feel about acclimating your self to colder weather? I to have spent a lot of time in the cold. Aside from the great tips on how to dress properly I find one of the things I do now that I didn't do when I was younger and froze constantly, is to save my really cold clothes for really cold weather. It may sound silly at first but as the winter progresses I will allow my self to feel cold but not uncomfortable until the weather absolutely forces me to pull out the good stuff. Is this obvious or all in my head? Or can you really train your body to handle cold weather better as winter progresses?
 
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