Layers smartest way to stay warm in cold

Dressing for the occasion

Posted: Friday, October 19, 2001

Keeping warm during the long winter months may not require a lot of attention for those who plan to camp next to the fireplace until May. But many Alaskans will spend time out in the elements. For those who do, there are right and wrong ways to dress.

For the active outdoor enthusiast, Alan Reitter, of Wilderness Way Outfitters in Soldotna, one statement best describes the wrong way to dress.

"Stay away from cotton," Reitter said. "A lot of people still use cotton underwear as their first layer. Cotton is very absorbent, but it holds moisture."

This, of course, is a bad thing to have directly against skin, Reitter said. He suggested using capilene, a polyester-based material, instead of cotton for liners.

"Polyester picks moisture up and transfers it from the warm side to the cool side," he said. "Depending on the type of activity, the type of long underwear you use should be measured in weight. The more aerobic, the lighter the weight. For ice fishing, you probably want expedition-weight capilene."

For those who might be opposed to having man-made cloth against their skin, Reitter said there are also natural alternatives that can work well as a first layer.

"Silk is good, if you want the feel of a natural material against your skin," he said.

The next layer of protection should hold dead air next to the body, preventing heat from escaping. Reitter suggested using fleece as an insulator. Fleece, like capilene, comes in varying weights and wicks away moisture.

"Virtually all fleece is made of some level of polyester," Reitter said. "When you're doing something really active, you can use less bulk. Cross-country skiers can wear lighter weights than snowmobilers."

For outerwear it's a good idea to have something waterproof and breathable. Reitter suggested Gortex or other type of air-membranes.

Covering the extremities -- the head, hands and feet -- is the most important part of keeping warm when out in the chilly air.

"The head is the number one place for heat loss," Reitter said. "So you should wear a hat."

He suggested something made from fleece that will hold heat and expel moisture. Wearing a balaclava -- stocking cap with neck attatchment -- allows for flexible covering that can be adjusted to fit minimal or maximum warming needs.

"For snowmachiners it's nice because it keeps your whole face covered," Reitter said.

A double layer is good for warming hands and fingers.

"I like using a shell-type mitten, then a wind stopper underneath for dexterity," Reitter said. "For skiing you might be able to get away with just a pair of wind stoppers."

For feet, he said the most important concern is keeping them comfortable and dry. The best solution are socks made with merino wool or some wool-blend.

"Socks come in a number of different weights, as well," Reitter said. "For extremely cold situations, you might want to use a liner that encapsulates heat and keeps moisture away from the feet."

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