3 STEPS TO LAYERING FOR COLD WEATHER
The secret to staying warm while active in cold weather is simple. If you can keep your skin dry, your blood moving, and the elements out; a day out in the cold can be a fun adventure instead of a miserable cold slog. Following from the rule above, there are three main components to a layering system – a layer to keep you dry (base layer), a layer to keep you warm (mid layers), and a layer to protect you from the elements (outer layer).
- The base layer: The most important thing to staying warm in the cold, is staying dry. This means you don’t want to get soaked from sweat. Your base layer is there primarily to keep you dry, not specifically for insulation. Base layers are typically made of either merino wool or synthetic materials, both of which are designed to move moisture away from your skin, and allow it to evaporate without cooling you off. Conversely, cotton is known as a terrible layer to wear in the cold because it does the opposite – it holds moisture in its fibers where they can freeze, and cool your core temperature.
- The outer layer: Your outside layer is all about keeping the elements out. When cross country skiing, the most important elements to keep out are the wind and snow. This is why most jackets are made with some sort of wind stopper material. This type of material blocks that cold wind you experience when you go around that corner, or find an open space with a nice view. Most of these materials also have a water repellant coating (DWR), which helps keep that snow from soaking into your jacket. Unlike many other winter sports, cross country skiing is consistently high energy. If we go back to the idea that the most important variable in staying warm is staying dry, we soon realize that sweating means we will soon be cold. This is why most xc-ski jackets have built in breathable panels. This combats the sweat in two ways; 1) they allow some heat to dissipate before we start sweating, and 2) if we do start sweating, it has a place to escape. The ability for a jacket to breath is why avoiding a hardshell jacket (ie. Gortex or similar) in the wintertime is a good idea. Having a hardshell simply means that you sweat more, and there are less places for that sweat to go. Instead, it leaves you soaked and (worst case) can condensate and freeze on the inside of your hardshell jacket, and cool you down even more. Note, the exception to this is if you are skiing somewhere where the weather is warm enough to result in rain rather than snow.
- The mid layers: The final layer (or layers) to consider are the middle ones. For many people, these seem like they should be the most important, as they are the ones that keep you warm. However, if you’ve found a great system for your base and outer layer, this part is the easy part. Something synthetic or wool, and something that is reasonably breathable. Remember, if this layer doesn’t breathe, and doesn’t wick the moisture away from your base layer, it ends up stuck here and we end up getting cold again. It is always best to wear a series of thinner mid layers rather than a single thicker layer as it allows you the ability to tailor your temperature fairly precisely by adding or removing one or more of those layers. On the other hand, with a thicker layer, often your only options are to be either too hot or too cold.
One common trap that many people have trouble with is that starting outfit. Often it will seem tempting to begin with a few extra layers on as you haven’t warmed up yet – but this will mean that you’re wanting to shed several of those layers only a few minutes into your ski and this, in turn, means that you’ll either be carrying all of those layers pointlessly or you’ll ski on whilst overheated, which leads to wet clothing and freezing issues.
If you should continue to ski whilst overheated, you will begin sweating heavily into all of those layers fairly quickly. This may not be a huge issue immediately, but should you soak out your clothing and then stop for lunch or a break you’ll find that all of those layers of damp clothing will turn to layers of ice fairly quickly – and that will take an enormous amount of energy to defrost before you could possibly be warm again. Instead, while in the car park getting ready, wear a few extra layers like a skirt, larger gloves, etc. that you can take off and throw into the car right before you hit the trails (you’ll also appreciate these when you return at the end of the day).
Obviously, whilst the basics will remain very similar, different individuals will use different combinations according to their plans for the day, how quickly they warm up, how much they feel the cold, or how long it takes them to cool down again after they stop moving. The key is to experiment a little and find the system that works best for you. If it works for you, then it’s the right combination.
Of course, if you are still unsure, come in and spend some time talking with some of our experienced staff to see if we can help find a system to fit you.