What you wear can make all the difference between having an amazing winter adventure or a disappointing – even dangerous — one.
Winter camping enthusiasts say it’s all in proper layering: you burn up energy and get warmer as the day goes on, so being able to shed a layer or two is critical to staying dry, and that’s the key to being comfortable and safe.
We chatted with MEC to cobble together our top 8 rules for safe, comfortable winter-wear:
1. Avoid wearing anything cotton
It holds moisture, which is the last thing you want. Opt instead for synthetics or — if your budget allows — merino wool. Both wick well, which means they draw moisture away from your body to the garment, where it evaporates more easily.
2. Start with a good base layer
That means long underwear top and bottom. MEC recommends a mid-weight – or T2 weight – made either from synthetic material or merino wool. Mid-weight is good for all but the harshest of conditions.
3. Add a warm, mid-layer
On the bottom, this means a soft-shell pant. It’s got some give to it and will afford protection from the wind. If it’s super cold, you might start with a fleece pant and add a shell pant. Up top, a fleece or wool sweater are good choices.
4. Finish with a shell layer
Either a soft shell or a Gore-Tex jacket will help retain the warmth you’re generating. Make sure it’s wind- and water-proof and that you can move around easily in it.
5. Dress for your individual body temperature
Depending on whether you’re a “cold” or “hot” person, you may want to add a fourth layer up top. A light fleece vest is ideal. It’s easy to pack away when you start getting warmer on the trail.
6. Don’t forget your head and neck
MEC recommends a light synthetic or wool toque for your head and a buff for your neck. A buff is a bit like a tube, but it’s super versatile. You can put it up to protect your chin or whole face, like a balaclava. And buffs offer excellent heat retention, wind protection and moisture management.
7. Gloves, mitts and socks are the final items
Again, go for light synthetics or wool. Mitts keep you warmer, but gloves give you more dexterity, so choose between them based on what you prefer.
8. Pack a puffy jacket in your back pack
You may want/need it when you stop for a meal on the trail. You can shed it once you get going again.
The top layering no-nos?
The biggest clothing mistake people make is overdressing. If you’re standing at the trail head at the start of the day and you’re perfectly comfortable, you’re overdressed. You should feel a bit chilly, because once you get going your body will warm up quickly and you’ll soon be overheated.
The second major mistake? Paying too much attention to outerwear and not enough to your base layer. Always choose good long underwear and socks.