Winter 101: what to wear for the cold and dark
Winter 101: what to wear for the cold and dark

Winter 101: what to wear for the cold and dark

Winter is a season for celebrating, says outdoors expert, Toby Cowern. Find out how to enjoy it while staying warm and well-seen. Illustration by Jessica Kwan

As autumn draws to a close, we set our sights on the extended winter months that stretch out before us. Winter is a magical time in this region, but it’s also something that does need to be prepared for, risks acknowledged, and safety concerns taken seriously. There are two main hazards to consider for winter. The cold and the dark.

Winter 101: what to wear for the cold and dark
In addition to wearing highly reflective materials, you may also want to consider some illumination devices, such as headlamps or LED lights worn on your person as well. Illustration by Jessica Kwan.

Be seen!

We’ll take ‘dark’ first because it is the simplest to address and quite simply rates as a priority, as it doesn’t matter if you’re dressed well and staying warm but can still easily get hit by a truck! Whenever you are in any proximity to traffic (Traffic will include snowmobiles don’t forget!) you will want to be as well seen as possible, at the very least wearing highly reflective materials, but may also want to consider some illumination devices, such as headlamps or LED lights worn on your person as well.

A simple rule is the faster you are moving the more well seen you needto be! For transport such as bicycles, illumination standards are clearly legally governed and enforced, but if out running, skiing, skating, sledding etc., it’s at user discretion. A huge range of budget priced options exist in this regard, so it is a case of being mindful while out shopping and picking up the items that work most effectively for you. As a specific point it’s a very good idea, at a minimum, to have one or two highly reflective vests kept in your car, and easily available, to use in case of a breakdown and you need to exit the vehicle for any reason.

Be versatile!

There are two distinct mindsets when it comes to clothing in the winter.

The first is typically in an urban environment where you will be moving from climate conditioned space to climate conditioned space with only limited exposure to the actual climatic conditions. In this case most people will be opting for a heavy insulative jacket, possibly insulated over-trousers or skirt, warm easy-to-put-on-and-remove boots and heavy-duty gloves and hat, that all go over your regular choice of clothing.

There is nothing wrong with this approach per se, but it relies on the fact you will not be exposed to cold and possibly windy conditions for any prolonged period. If you are planning to spend time outdoors, for any type of activity, or risk having prolonged exposure to outdoor conditions then the second approach is essential.

A versatile clothing approach is needed, as often it will be hard to know how active or stationary you will be over the course of your time outside, so the ability to manage the layers of your clothing system quickly and easily is important. The major compounding factors in a cold weather environment are:

The ambient temperature. The colder it is the faster you will cool.

Managing moisture. Presence of moisture rapidly increases thermal exchange. So if you are cold AND damp your body will loose heat up to 25 times faster than if you were dry!

This can be moisture accumulated by sweating (being very active and/or overdressed) or by weather conditions (Rain, wet snow, damp and misty etc)

Wind. As air passes over you it strips heat away from you at an alarming rate. If all three factors are present (cold, damp and windy) an improperly dressed individual can become very cold at an exceptionally concerning speed, measured in mere minutes, even in relatively mild cases.

The higher the windspeed the faster the cooling rate. Remember wind can be ‘self induced’ such as skiing quickly, or riding on a snowmobile at high speed

Winter 101: what to wear for the cold and dark
Outdoors expert Toby Cowern. Photograph by Donna Richmond.

All about layers

The clothing system principles we need to consider are the following.

Layering:  Put on many thin garments instead of a few heavy ones. The dead air spaces between layers add to the insulation value and provide greater versatility in controlling cooling.

Draw moisture away from the skin:  Moisture next to the skin will cool quickly and will greatly increase your chances of suffering from cold injuries. Use high wicking fabric next to the skin. Wool ‘loop stitch’ thermals are ideal for this type of environment but are by no means the only choice available. Cheaper synthetic versions can be highly effective and far less painful on the bank balance.

Breathability: These continue to pass moisture OUT through your clothing system and not let any moisture IN. All layers of your clothing system should be highly breathable (freely allowing moisture to pass through) and your outer layer should be waterproof, not allowing your clothes to become saturated in wet, snowy or damp conditions.

Blocking wind: Arctic air is normally dry in the winter, so the greatest cause for increased cooling is the wind. A thin, light wind proof shell will block wind, trap warmed air and shed moisture, but breathability is also essential otherwise moisture gets trapped and builds up leading to the insulation layers becoming damp!

With all the above the knowledge of managing the cold and availability of appropriate clothing in the region is exceptionally high.  Various items to fit a full range of budgets are available, but it’s very important to:

Heed the advice given.

Think carefully about what activities you are taking part in.

Dress appropriately for the actual weather on the day and activity level.

The winter offers a wide variety of fun and challenging activities. Make sure you get outside and enjoy it, but take the time to build a versatile wardrobe that will keep you safe, warm, dry and WELL SEEN!


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