Dressing for cold weather can be a challenge, but with the proper winter layering, you can stay warm all season long.
Dave and I have done our fair share of cold weather travel.
We’ve faced-30 weather skijorring in Alberta and we’ve been winter camping in weather so cold, the temperature fell completely off the thermometer. So, when it comes to layering for cold weather, we know what we are talking about.
Believe it or not, it is possible to stay warm and enjoy the outdoors during the winter. But the key is layering your clothes. We’ve learned the hard way about how to layer properly. So, we wanted to share our layering tips to dress for this latest cold weather from our years of trial and error.
It’s easier than you think!
A Winter Layering Guide
1. Base Layer
When it comes to learning how to layer for winter, the base layer is definitely the most important.
Think of your cold weather base layer as a second skin.
The key to a great base layer is to use a material that wicks the sweat away from your body. The more you sweat the colder you can get if it is not wicked away.
For your base layer material, we recommend Merino Wool. It is lightweight, breathes, and doesn’t smell making it perfect for wicking away moisture.
You want to make sure that it fits snug and is comfortable. Try to avoid cotton, as it actually holds moisture and can leave you freezing.
We prefer to go with natural fibers over synthetic ones like polyester. They both can accomplish the same thing, but we find the Merino Wool works a bit better.
We use the Icebreaker brand of Merino Wool and have found it to be the best after trying quite a few different base layers.
The mid-layer is all about retaining heat. Most people think that you need to wear a huge parka to stay warm. But the key is actually to layer for breathability.
For the more budget-conscious fleece is a good alternative. Although it doesn’t perform so well when it gets wet. However, down and wool work best for keeping heat in.
We alternate between these two mid-layers depending on the temperature and the activity we’re doing.
We find the down can cause overheating quickly if we are doing vigorous adventures. But, if we’re sitting on a snowmobile or tubing down a track, it’s perfect.
When we’re working up a sweat snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, we prefer wool.
For layering pants, we suggest wool or fleece. You can pack heavier weights for very cold days or lighter weights for days that hover around the freezing mark.
I love how wool keeps you warm but is also lightweight. It’s perfect for a walk on a balmy winter day.
3. Outer layer
Having the right outer shell helps protect from the harsh elements like rain, wind, and snow.
With the proper layers worn underneath, this top layer jacket keeps the wind from robbing you of heat.
You will want to look for something that is waterproof and breathable. We use Gore-Tex and have for years. it is durable and waterproof.
Remember that all of your layers should be breathable if this layering system is going to work. Don’t get fooled into thinking that bulkier is better.
4. Anticipate your body temperature
Having the right layering clothes is just the first half of staying warm in the winter.
The second part has to do with actually knowing how to regulate your body temperature by adding and shedding layers as needed.
The most important part of outdoor adventures is to never work up too much of a sweat. The biggest mistake people make is waiting too long to shed their layers.
A good rule of thumb is to start off with all 3 layers on, then as you START to feel a little too warm, shed a layer. As the activity increases and you are working harder, you should be taking off more layers.
Don’t be afraid to hike with just your base layers on. We have done this on several expeditions and it kept us warmer in the long run.
Just remember that once you stop, get those layers back on as soon as you can or throw on a parka to trap in the heat so you don’t get a chill. If you wait until you start shivering, it’s too late. You want to get those warm layers on before you start to feel cold.
When we are on an expedition or multi-day winter trek, we always carry a parka for these instances. Being able to throw on a heavy parka during lunch stops and rests helps us keep our energy up.
5. Protect your head, face and toes
We were all guilty of it as kids: we never wore hats and we rarely wore gloves, but keeping those extremities covered will help keep you warm.
It’s not a myth that all your heat escapes through your head, feet, and hands. And these parts of your body are often the first things to feel the cold.
Protect your Head
This is where you lose the most heat if you don’t cover it. We have found the best way to do this is to have 2 different types of hats.
One ultra-warm to put on when resting at camp or lunch and a light hat to wear when doing an activity.
We love Aviation or trapper hats with earflaps are our favourite for keeping us warm and a merino wool beanie is excellent for activities.
I used to always wear a dickie but the fleece always caused me to break out. I chose a Merino Wool Neck Gaitor from Minus33and it feels soft on my chin but keeps my neck warm.
I tend to really feel the cold in my neck and need that extra layer to finish off my layering wardrobe.
We always bring two sets of buffs. They can be great for keeping the next warm and to be used as a light hat or headband.
Keeping your feet warm can be the biggest challenge in winter, especially on those really cold days.
That is why the best solution is to layer your socks.
Liner socks – Liner socks are lightweight and small, but perfect for wicking away moisture. It’s important to keep feet dry to keep them warm.
Mid-layer socks – The mid-layer socks are thick warm wool socks that insulate our feet. Usually, this is enough and we don’t have to add any more, but when the temperatures get really cold, another outer layer is great.
Heavy Socks –If you are going to be in some extreme cold weather, the third pair of heavier wool socks will keep your feet toasty warm.
Winter Hiking Boots – For trekking and other activities a good set of Gortex hiking boots will fit all your needs.
Make sure to buy a size that accounts for the extra layers of socks. Tight boots will freeze your toes.
But you don’t want floppy boots either. Wear the socks you intend to wear on your adventures when trying on your boots.
More Insight: Check out this delicious orange spiced hot chocolate from when you come in from the cold!
Authors: Deb and Dave are in the top 10 travel blogging influencers in the world and they graciously provide great tips and travel advice for Optimyz and Silver Magazines. You can find them at Planet D.