Layering - A Winter Necessity
The beginning of this year brought in Arctic-like temperatures to Vermont and Upstate New York. Local news stations gave lists of the signs of hypothermia and frostbite, telling folks to stay inside if possible. Anyone that has lived in Vermont long enough knows that layering during this frigid time of year is essential to work and play outside. Whether you’re hitting the slopes or shoveling out from the latest Nor’easter, layering correctly makes all the difference.
This the layer that is next to your skin. The main goal of this layer should be moisture management. When the mercury drops below zero, sweat and moisture are the enemies. So, instead of reaching for your cotton t-shirt or undershirt, opt for something with merino wool. “Wait,” you’re thinking. “Isn’t wool bulky, not to mention irritatingly itchy?” Wool processing has come a long way, so not all wool is created equally. Merino wool fibers are also smaller than traditional wool and can be woven into thinner, performance fabrics to keep you warm and dry. The fibers wick moisture away from your skin and are able to absorb around 30% of their weight before you feel wet. Looking for another reason? Because of their natural, antimicrobial properties, Merino wool is highly odor resistant. So no matter how many runs down the hill you take or how many hours you spend mucking out stalls, at the end of the day, your base layer will not hold onto smells the way cotton or other fabrics would.
It’s all about trapping the air close to your body to retain heat. Here you have a few options. As with the base layer, you can go with more merino wool. Even when it gets wet, it will insulate you and keep you warm. If the conditions you’re heading into are cold and dry, goose down is a great alternative to wool. Like with wool, it is natural insulation and will keep you warm. It also makes packing easier since it can be compressed in a bag or suitcase to save room. The biggest drawback to goose down is that it doesn’t keep you warm once it gets wet.
You can also use fleece. Even when this fabric gets wet, it will still insulate to keep you warm, much like wool, but dries much faster. One drawback is that it won’t protect you against the wind the way other options would. If it’s particularly cold out, more than one insulation layer should be used.
The job of the outer layer is to protect you from the elements. Not wind, nor rain, nor snow should be able to penetrate this layer. But to that point, it needs to breathable enough to ensure proper ventilation to allow perspiration to evaporate. Depending on your intended activity, your outer layer needs could vary.
Sometimes the insulation layer (especially with a jacket) also comes with an outer shell. This is great for cold, wet weather situations, but can limit the layering options. Opt for a breathable waterproof or water-resistant outer layer if you are spending the day on the slopes. The waterproof option is great for those wet, cool days up on the mountain whereas the water-resistant is good for a day of snowshoeing on a light snowy day.
There are a menagerie of options to keep your extremities toasty and layering can apply to them as well. For the feet, merino wool socks in a well-insulated boot. Many winter and work boots will indicate an insulation rating and can be a great guideline to picking the right boot for the job or outdoor activity. A hat can trap the heat that would normally escape out of the top of your head (yes, your mom was right). Gloves and mittens keep your hands happy. If you need higher dexterity in your digits, opt for the gloves. If you’re looking to keep them extra warm, go with a mitten. Better yet, a thin glove can be worn under a mitten for extra warmth. Scarves and buffs can be worn around the neck to prevent the chill from creeping down your back.
We hope these pointers will help keep you warm when Mother Nature throws her worst our way.