This is a letter written by my friend Chris:
“I’m writing this as a favor to Quel, I remember when she stayed at my place bundled up in 15 layers of heavy clothing (to include 2 coats) and I couldn’t help thinking that she would have had a much more enjoyable experience traveling in winter if she knew how to dress for it 🙂
There are some basic principles in dressing for the cold that if you follow, will keep you warm and dry even during the worst weather.
First of all, you should Wear garments that wick away moisture. Wool and silk make the best wicking materials, and should be worn next to the skin. The reason this is important, is that at times you will go through periods of activity where you may sweat. When you stop the activity and you aren’t wearing materials to wick away the sweat, then the sweat will start to evaporate and cool your body. This cooling process will accelerate quickly the colder it is outside and you may find the cold intolerable.
Secondly, you should wear loose clothes. This means that clothes should not be tight on your body, at all. Tight clothes can restrict bloodflow to your extremities, which means you will end up being cold. Also, loose clothes when layered properly creates tiny pockets of air that act as extra insulation to keep you warm.
Which brings us to the next point, layer your clothes appropriately. There are three main layers of clothes that you should be wearing. The first layer is the wicking layer worn next to your skin (1. Wicking Layer). The second layer put on should be for insulation, a soft, loose and warm fabric that will help keep the heat next to your body (2. Insulation Layer). Fleece is an ideal insulation layer fabric because of its natural behavior. If you need to add an extra garment to stay warm (or even remove a garmet to cool off) then it should always be in the Insulation Layer. The last layer is the protective layer, and this is what you would put on last outside of all your other clothes. Ideally, this layer protects you from wind and rain, thus it should be a gortex fabric that will repel water (3. Protection Layer).
Some other things you can do to keep warm include wearing a hat. 20% of your body heat is lost through your head, so a hat and a scarf around your neck will increase your ability to keep warm. Also, you should wear gloves. In extreme cold weather (-30 degrees celsius or lower) it is even more ideal to wear a thin “contact glove” under your normal gloves. You leave the contact glove on all the time while outside in order to prevent any flash fostbrite from the cold or while touching cold metal objects. If you cannot keep your fingers warm in gloves, then look towards wearing mittens instead. Mittens increase retention of bodyheat supplied by the fingers much better than gloves, so your fingers will stay warmer.
Wear the proper shoes. Normal everyday shoes are not good for long term exposure to the cold. Their soles are not insulated properly and cold will literally seep into your feet from the ground. Look for winter insulated shoes to wear in the cold.
Also, while not an issue most people associate with winter, snow blindness can occur because of the glare of the sun off of snow and ice. This will drastically affect your vision outside. Proper care should be taken in order to wear appropriate polarized sunglasses in order to prevent your vision being inhibited during the winter time.
Last but not least, some special considerations for you ladies out there. Please try not to wear any underwear that contains wires for support. This type of underwear naturally constricts bloodflow and may cause you to get colder, faster.
If you follow all of these principles then I am sure that you will be able to pack less clothes yet stay warmer (and drier) during your entire winter trip.
About the author: I grew up in Alaska and have experienced living outside in the bitter cold for winter survival training. Many of the lessons I learned, I have tried to distill to a few key ideas that will help you pack lighter, stay warmer, and enjoy your winter traveling the best you can. Stay safe and have fun out there.
Chris was one of my hosts in Belgium and I feel really lucky for having met him and for him becoming a very good friend of mine! ;D
Thank you for writting me this intelligent and useful article!