Why care about dressing for cold weather?
Cold temperatures mean changes in the way we approach hiking. While winter hiking can be awesome, (it can be just as fun as hiking in the summer if you’re prepared), there are things you’ll want to do to keep yourself comfortable and safe on the trail. Just because it’s cold outside, doesn’t mean you have to be cold while hiking. Here are some awesome tips from the US Army’s survival manual, FM21-76 (Department of the Army Field Manual) related to dressing for cold weather, and keeping warm on the trail. Excerpts are indicated in italics.
General guidance for dressing for the cold
The body tends to maintain an average temperature of 98.6 degrees. In warm environments, the body absorbs the heat; in the cold, body heat is lost to the surrounding air. Clothes in cold climates then should serve one purpose – to keep body heath from escaping by insulating it against the cold outside air. Clothing of the normal layer type, put on or removed as needed, helps to control body temperature. The inner layers of insulating clothing hold warm air in, while the wind resistant outer clothing keeps cold air from penetrating the clothing and carrying heat away.
Some important facts about clothing and its relationship to you
- Tight clothing reduces the zone of still air near your body and prevents free circulation of the blood.
- Sweating is dangerous because it reduces the insulating value of clothing by replacing air with moisture. Also, as the sweat evaporates it cools your body. Avoid overheating by removing layers of clothing and by opening your clothing at the neck, wrist, and front enclosure.
- Body heat melts snow if you kneel or sit in one place for a length of time and will cause your clothing to become damp.
- Hands and feet cool more quickly than other parts of the body and require special consideration. Keep your hands under cover as much as possible. They can be warmed by placing them next to the warm flesh under your armpits, between your thighs, or against your ribs. Feet, because they sweat more readily, are difficult to keep warm. However, you can be comfortable by wearing shoes large enough for you to wear at least two pairs of socks, and by keeping your feet dry. A warm double sock can be made by putting one pair of socks inside another and filling the space between them with a layer of dry grass, moss, or feathers.
Things like wool and hybrid synthetics are being marketed as game-changing fabrics. Keep in mind that the same concepts of layering and perspiration from the above tips still apply. Those new blends of fabrics provide benefits like odor and weight reduction, and comfort when dressing for cold weather.