Staying warm in winter with layers

Whether hiking for a few hours, skiing for the day, or heading to the backcountry for some winter camping, the biggest challenge you will face is likely the most basic: staying warm. When it comes to staying warm in winter outdoor activities, everyone seems to have their own tricks and techniques. If we missed one below, we encourage you to add your own. Most winter outdoorsman will agree that dressing right, staying active and knowing your limits are the three main facets of dodging hypothermia and staying warm for any winter activity.

Dress right – layers rule

Having the right gear does not necessarily mean buying several new outfits, but rather using what you already have efficiently. The best way to insure you will be warm enough for a range of activities is to layer your clothing. You always need some sort of baselayer depending on how cold and active you will be, and a shell that balances the ability to block wind and rain with breathability so you don’t overheat and get drenched in your own sweat.


Baselayers insulate your skin while also wicking away excess sweat. Merino wool is my personal favorite because wool stays warm even when wet while also minimizing odor. Synthetic baselayers, because they are hydrophobic, pull sweat off your skin and dry faster than wool, are less expensive, but do not intrinsically fight odor. Cotton baselayers are not recommended because cotton absorbs moisture which means it will inevitably conduct the cold, not insulate from it.


Mid-layers add insulation. If you’re sweating a lot on your adventure a mid-layer of synthetic fleece insulation is recommended to provide additional wicking to keep you warm and dry. The hydrophobic nature of Polartec’s fibers naturally wick excess moisture away from your skin. Wool works well as a mid-layer and since it isn’t next to skin, doesn’t need to be constructed with superfine (< 19 microns) fibers. When it’s extra cold goose or duck down is the ultimate insulator. In damp conditions, Primaloft is recommended because it maintains loft when wet. [caption id="attachment_29701" align="aligncenter" width="848"]Hiking a windy ridge for freshies wearing Red Fox's collection of Freeride shells. Hiking a windy ridge for freshies wearing Red Fox’s collection of Freeride shells.[/caption]


On the outside you need to choose a shell according to the weather conditions you expect. Ideally you will have two to choose from, one that is windproof and highly breathable but only moderately waterproof. This is for aerobic phases of a trip, and you don’t expect any precipitation. There are plenty of softshell options, from tightly woven proprietary blends of nylon, polyester, and spandex or laminates like GORE-TEX WINDSTOPPER.

If you are expecting precipitation, especially rain, you’ll want a hooded shell made from a laminated fabric like GORE-TEX Pro or Dry Factor. Gore uses PTFE and Dry Factor uses PU laminated to a tough outer shell. The laminate blocks water seeping in, but allows water vapor to pass through. Breathability in exterior fabrics is also a necessity because it allows sweat and vapor to escape and prevent you from getting soaked from your own moisture. Fabrics such as Gore-tex, Wind Stopper, and Dry Factor are excellent shells as they are weather proof AND breathable, blocking the weather outside and maximizing the heat you retain around your body.

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Merino baselayers
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Down, Down, Down
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