When dealing with the elements, it is important to be comfortable against extremes of nature such as frigid temperatures, rain, snow, or other forces. While staying comfortable is important, the most crucial reason to choose the right cold weather apparel is because it can be downright dangerous and potentially life-threatening to have insufficient gear.
When it comes to the most important element of choosing this type of clothing, we have to start our cold weather tactical gear buying guide with the concept of layers. Anyone familiar with cold temperatures knows the impact of dressing in layers. Not only does it provide a more insulated level of warmth to keep you protected from frigid temperatures, it also makes your clothing adjustable since temperatures can change throughout the day. For instance, mornings tend to be colder than afternoons when the sun is out, so you may want to remove a layer to stay comfortable. It is important to note that each layer serves its own purpose, so you should know the basics when choosing this essential cold weather gear. Here are the three layers and what you need to know about each type:
The base layer is the layer of clothing worn closest to the body. The main purpose of this layer is keep moisture away from the body. For this layer, you want options that are moisture wicking to avoid an accumulation of perspiration that can create a wet, chilled feeling and even lead to situations of hypothermia. A base layer should be used to keep you warm and prevent moisture buildup against the skin. Of course, the degree to which you need each aspect will vary on the situation and activity. For instance, if you are planning on being exposed to temperatures below freezing, a thick wool base layer is the right level of protection from moisture while creating a thin insulation layer. If you are going to be warmer temperatures, a synthetic polyester blend will give you a lighter base layer while helping to absorb perspiration. Before choosing between light or heavy base layers, it is best to know more about the temperatures you will be facing on the excursion. In most temperature ranges, polyester blends are a perfectly acceptable solution. When dealing with negative temperatures, wool is the best base layer. The most important thing to remember about choosing a base layer is to avoid cotton at all costs. Cotton offers nothing in terms of moisture control because it isn’t fast drying, so it essentially traps moisture against the body leading to a potentially dangerous situation for regulating your body temperature. Cotton also offers very little in the way of insulation because it is too breathable and thin in general.
Many people wonder if they really need a base layer. The general consensus about a base layer is that you should have one in temperatures of below 30 degrees, as well as any activity where you will be sweating more than usual. Since it can be hard to know how much you will perspire while in colder temperatures, it is usually a good rule of thumb to go with a base layer, even if it is just a lighter one as opposed to wool. The main goal is to keep moisture away from skin. If you choose to skip the base layer, make sure your thermal layer is wool to absorb extra moisture. This level of clothing can be either individual shirts and pants or it can be a one-piece article similar to long john pajamas.
Mid Layer (also called thermal layer)
The thermal or mid layer is designed to serve the purpose of trapping heat close to the body. While the base layer is about keeping you dry by keeping moisture away from the body, the mid layer is about insulation. With a base layer to keep you dry and a thermal layer to trap in heat, you create an effective layering result to combat freezing temperatures. While you may think that a material needs to be heavy to be insulating, you should also keep in mind that you don’t want to be weighed down. Merino wool is a good choice because it absorbs moisture, traps in heat, and is relatively lightweight. Another good choice is polyester fleece which offers many of the same properties as wool at a more affordable price.
It is important to note that a thermal layer can be multiple layers on top of each other for maximum warmth and insulation. If you are going to layer the clothing, make sure you put the lightest material closet to the body with heavier materials over that for maximum insulation and comfort. This level of clothing is typically shirts, pants, vest, or even lightweight jackets as opposed to the one-piece long john style of a base layer.
Shell or Outer Layer
This layer is the outermost layer of clothing, and much like base and thermal layers, it serves its own unique purpose. The shell layer is your first line of defense against cold temperatures and concerning elements of nature such as wind, rain, and snow. It does little in the way of insulation on its own which is why the base and thermal layers are so important. The main object of this layer is to protect you from the direct impacts of nature such as wind, rain, and snow. There are a few materials especially well-suited to this purpose. The first choice is Gore-Tex which is designed to provide breathability while offering superior wind resistance and waterproof capabilities. Another good choice is a goose down filled jacket with waterproof materials. The goal of this layer is to protect you from wet conditions so make sure whatever option you choose, you have the power of waterproof exteriors to protect you. When dealing with colder temperatures, wind and water exposure can quickly become a life or death scenario if you aren’t prepared with the right materials for an outer layer.
While the three-layer system is the best way to ensure you stay safe and protected in frigid temperatures, leaving certain parts of the body exposed can be just as dangerous. The layering system applies to the main parts of the body, but you still need to protect areas such as your hands, face, feet, and head. Any good cold weather plan includes a hat, gloves, socks, and face masks to ensure total coverage as needed. When looking at hats, opt for beanies that sit close to the head to trap in heat paired with the hood of an outer shell jacket to keep out moisture and wind. For maximum protection from wind, a face shield is a great choice to protect yourself. When looking at socks, you want to choose merino wool because it absorbs moisture and provides insulation for this important area of the body. For gloves, look for options that are lined with wool or fleece for adding insulation, as well as waterproof exteriors and mobility features to make sure you have full control of your fingers for important tasks.