Clothing for Cold Weather

Giel Boles, Giel S. Boles



When in cold conditions remember the C.O.L.D. principle to keep warm.


Keep it     
Clean; remove dirt, debris, and anything that blocks air spaces
Avoid      
Overheating;  ventilate your space
Wear       
Loose; allow air to circulate
Keep it     
Dry; remove moisture from outside and inside

Human beings function best between 52-96 degrees F. (11-35 c)
For best results, implement the clothing layering system of three.

1. Base Layer: This layer is intended to remove moisture from your skin, also referred to wicking. An excellent material for this is a Thinsulate or spandex type material where it will wick moisture away from the body and still aid in keeping your body warm. The material should fit snug, but not tight, against your skin to allow wicking.

2. Insulation Layer: This is an intermediate barrier. The moisture from your skin can still evaporate and warm air is trapped. Wool is an excellent natural fiber which will trap warm air even if it is wet. Unfortunately, wool is bulky and gets heavy when wet.

DO NOT USE COTTON! When wet, cotton wicks heat away from the body 25 times faster than if the body was dry. There is excellent sportswear on the market such as Thinsulate, UnderArmour, etc. which is lightweight, wicks moisture away, and is very effective at trapping body heat.

3. Shell Layer: Gortex is an excellent material for this. It is lightweight, windproof, waterproof, and traps warm air, but yet breathes allowing the wicking of the body moisture to evaporate due to the micro fiber design of the materials and since the human perspiration molecule is smaller than the water molecule, it keeps water out (waterproof with breathe ability).

Openings in the garment allows excessive heat to escape. It clothing/coat does not have drawstrings, use the black silicone bands in your GSI Stay Alive kit or use the waxed cord in your Wilderness Stay Alive kit to tie around your sleeves above the cuffs and tuck your pants into your socks or boots. This will create warm pockets of air.

Fur trimming around your hood prevents the moisture from your breathing sticking to your face and causing cold injury.

For trousers, I prefer Columbia GRT Omni Dry. They are lightweight with pockets that are netted which allows water to drain. The cargo pockets on the side are just above the zipper line where the trousers can be converted to shorts at a moment’s notice. I like the zipper on the side of the leg so I can remove the bottoms without having to take my boots off.

Underwear: Many people have their own personal preferences I have worn briefs and boxers while in the Army rucking long distances under difficult circumstances. Personally, I will never use boxers again and briefs will chafe the skin. Good fitting shorts made from Lycra are good. They keep the skin from rubbing together causing irritation to the point it can stop you in your tracks.

Socks: I’ve always sworn by wool socks. I’ve tried other types of socks but have always gone back to wool. Wool keeps you warm even when it’s wet. To prevent blisters, many people wear knee-high nylon stockings next to their skin, then wear wool socks. The nylon stockings are so slick they keep the socks and boots/shoes from rubbing against the skin causing blisters. In extreme cold, wear two pairs of socks or, if needed and your footwear is large enough, three pairs of wool socks.

Headgear: Approximately 80% of a person’s heat is lost through their head and neck. A good quality knit cap made of wool is excellent along with other fibers that are on the market today that allows perspiration to escape such as Thinsulate, etc. The head protection I prefer is called the balaclava which covers the head, ears, side of the face and neck. It can be rolled up to be worn like a knit cap.

Inner Gloves: Also known as glove liners which work to wick moisture away from your fingers and they prevent skin from sticking to frozen objects, allowing a person to use their hands when dexterity of the fingers is needed.

Outer Gloves: Known as glove shells should be rugged leather or material that can take some abuse from the elements. Unfortunately, the glove liners and gloves combined have not always worked well in keeping my fingers warm.

Mittens: I have always been warmer wearing mittens. The trade-off is loss of use of your fingers, but in most cases it is well worth it. Mittens allow the fingers to move freely and touch each other which keeps the fingers warm in extremely cold conditions.

Boots: One of the biggest problems I’ve had with boots is they do not let my feet breathe enough. When your feet get wet it’s an invitation to cold injury or just down right misery. There are plenty of good quality boots on the market that allow perspiration to escape and keep water out. I’ve found that boots with vibram soles have worked best in extremely cold conditions where the tread does not get hard and cause you to lose traction.

Eye Wear: Wear sunglasses and/or snow goggles with UV protection. You want to avoid the sun’s ultra-violet rays from damaging your eyes and causing snow blindness.

To improve eye protection, cut small horizontal slits in a cloth, webbing, tree bark, etc. Rig the material using cord from your GSI Wilderness Stay Alive kit to keep it in place so you can see through the slits.