I’m one of those people whose internal thermostat is set a little higher than some. You may think this would be an advantage and I suppose at times it is. The problem is that I start to sweat once I get moving, so the moment I stop I get chilled quickly. Moisture quickly wicks heat away from your body. The trouble is compounded because places where a person tends to sweat are also the places that lose heat the fastest, such as the head, feet, and core.
A rule that I have learned to live by when outdoors is “stay comfortably cold”. Exactly what does that mean? Easy – I remove layers so I feel cool, but not cold, when starting out. When your body is cool, you are less likely to sweat and therefore less likely to be cold when you stop. After you stop moving, it is time to put on additional layers to stay warm!
Another set of guiding principles (likely originating in an army training manual) can be remembered by the acronym COLD.
C – Keep Clean – (This includes your skin and your clothes). Clean skin helps your body thermoregulate normally. Clean clothes retain their insulation value (and stay waterproof ). Oddly enough, the most important items to keep clean are your socks! Clean dry socks keep your feet healthy and help keep your entire body warmer.
O – Avoid Overheating. If you overheat you sweat. If you sweat you are wet. If you are wet, you are COLD! (See D). Moisture from sweat does two things. It lowers the insulation ability of your clothes. As sweat evaporates, your body cools (a desired effect in the summer heat, not so much in the cold).
L – Wear clothes in loose Layers. Layering has two advantages. First it allows you to add or remove layers to maintain a comfortable body temperature and there from you avoid OVERHEATING (see O). Your head and hands are very good heat sinks. Getting too warm? Lift your toque over your ears, remove gloves. Too cold? pull your toque down to cover your ears and pull up your scarf to cover your neck. It is really amazing how much you can control your body temperature in these two small spots.
Secondly, several loose layers provide more insulation than one thick layer because they are able to trap air between the layers. This ‘dead air space’ keeps you warm. Loose clothing and footwear allows for good blood circulation which helps to keep your extremities (fingers and toes) warm.
D – Stay Dry. Keeping dry is critical to staying warm. Inner layers can become wet from sweat (caused by overheating) outer layers can become wet from snow or frost that melt from body heat. Despite your best intentions you may get wet. Worse case scenario – you fall through the ice and get totally wet. If this happens it is of paramount importance to get into dry clothing as soon as possible. If you don’t you could find yourself in the dangerous medical situation of hypothermia or frostbite or both (I will touch on these in a future post).
There are a couple of ways to dry out clothing in the winter. If temperatures are below freezing, hang clothes where they will freeze and then flexing and shaking the clothes will help remove some of the moisture. If clothes are only slightly damp from sweat, hang them in your tent to allow air to circulate around them. They should dry out fairly quickly. Heat sources, especially fire, should be avoided with modern synthetic fabrics as they will melt or burn. Wool is still considered a very good insulating layer and will retain its insulation value even when wet.
Whether your winter activity be snowshoeing, running, making camp, or hunting, following these simple principals will help keep you warm and happy through even the most miserable conditions. The number of layers required will definitely depend on your activity levels. Running or shoeshowing, for example, require fewer layers than hiking in the same temperatures. In fact I can happily be running in – 25 °C (-13 °F), in our nasty Canadian winters, and still be comfortably warm with a thin insulating layer and a wind breaking layer. Conversely, if I am still-hunting on a similarly cold day I will need several more insulating layers, many of which I will put on after I have arrived at my stand. In cold weather your body is burning calories just to keep warm. Eating and drinking regularly in the cold will help keep you warmer as well. The best part about outdoor activity in the cold weather is a nice hot meal at the end of the day – and the certain deep sleep that follows.
Keep warm and have fun on your next cold weather outing.