Clothing For Hiking In Cold Weather, Layering Method, Tips And More!

As sellers of survival gear for many years, we have often been asked about proper clothing for hiking in cold weather, so we have decided to write this long and thorough article regarding this subject.

Before we will talk about clothing for hiking in cold weather, let’s talk about a few important points.
Winter trips, when prepared properly, are full of experiences and sights that are not seen on spring and summer trips.
Think about flood hunting in the desert, an endless flow of streams, snowy landscapes and more.
In order to leave and return safely from a winter trip and even a ski vacation, in your country or in various sites around the world, we recommend the following tips.

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Preparing For A Winter Hiking Trip

A successful winter trip depends on how we have prepared for it.

The challenges we expect during the trip include low temperatures, winds, fickle weather and short hours of light, and require special equipment and a number of skills to learn.

1. Take a trip with a partner or a large group – make sure that each member of the group has experience and skills that can be useful during the trip (navigation, choosing a walking path during floods, snow walking, etc.).
It is equally important to ensure that all members of the group plan the same trip, avoid splitting during the trip.

2. Familiarize yourself with the area you are going to, learn maps of the area and know alternate routes and forbidden areas.
In addition, check out a number of places where you can get help in case of emergency.

clothing for hiking in cold weather, winter landscape
Beautiful winter landscape

3. Talk to the local residents and get advice about the route you have planned.

4. Check the weather forecast, in many parts of the world the weather can change within a few hours from a sunny day to a snowstorm. Also, check for avalanches in the area.
In extreme cases, postpone the trip.

5. Check the status of the roads and access roads to the destination.

6. Leave a friend or relative with details about the trip including the arrival departure time, expected return, the number of people who took the trip, phone numbers and personal details of the participants on the trip.

7. Be sure to pack the basic items for the trip, and add more food and warm clothing in case something goes wrong.
In addition, make sure to pack equipment that is suitable for the nature of the trip, sensitive equipment can be stored in a waterproof container.

8. Cash can be especially useful for buying hot food or for paying for a place to stay In extreme cases, make sure to pack the money and especially the bills in a waterproof bag.

Clothing For Hiking In Cold Weather

First of all a hat.
A particularly large percentage of body heat is emitted into the environment through the head.
One of the simplest ways to increase the sense of heat is simply by wearing a hat.

Try it on a cold winter day and see how in this simple way it becomes less necessary to wear thick layers of warm clothing.

The next step after choosing the right hat for the trip is choosing the right clothing.
In cold conditions, it is recommended to dress according to the layering method.

The advantage of the method is that it allows the clothing to be taken off and worn according to the situation we encounter.

We will talk about the layering method more thoroughly but before that let’s talk about the basics in thermal insulation.

Basic rules in thermal insulation:

It is important to understand that usually, our bodies are warmer than the environment in which we travel in and that the heat which always moves from hot environment to cold environment, leaves the body to the environment in the following ways:

  • transportation – One of the ways our body loses heat is by a mechanism called transportation.
    In fact, the movement of air around our body (wind), takes away the heat our body produces. Wind power has a direct effect on the temperature we feel, so much so that the temperature we feel can be as low as 10 degrees or more compared to the actual temperature measured. This means that if we wear a thin windbreaker in a windy environment, it will be warmer for us, from a man standing beside us who do not have a windbreaker.
  • Convection – Another way of losing heat is simply by touch.
    Every time our bodies directly touch a cold object, the body heat moves to the object and causes us to cool down. In order to prevent heat transfer, a layer of insulation must be created between the cold object and the body.
    One way to prevent heat conduction is to use a layer of vacuum, as in thermos. A vacuum layer completely prevents the transfer of heat by conduction and the better the vacuum is, the better the thermos will keep the heat for a longer time. The most common insulation layer used against conduction is air.
    Creating a standing layer of air (ie, no air exchange in the layer), between us and the environment, by wearing a coat that traps air, will significantly reduce the state of heat transfer and cooling of the body.
  • Radiation – imagine a situation that on a cold winter day, the sun goes out for a moment through the clouds, the feeling that you immediately feel, a feeling of heat caused by the sun’s rays. Radiation is another way to lose heat, and our bodies just like the sun radiate heat out into the environment.
    The way to overcome heat loss as a result of body radiation is to wrap the body with special materials that can restore the radiation in the body. In this way, just like the sun hiding behind a cloud, the radiation will not go out into the environment and our body temperature will remain high.
  • Evaporation – Water is one of the substances that contribute most to the loss of body heat.
    Water is so important in the process of heat loss that one can actually imagine them as a heat magnet.
    Wherever there is water the environment immediately cools. The physical properties of the water lead to water being able to pump and store in them a lot of heat before they become vapor (think about the amount of time it takes to put water on the gas before the water is boiling). For this reason, just as our bodies get wet on a hot summer day or on a cold winter day, we will immediately feel a sense of cold, and the water simply absorbs the warmth of our bodies. The problem with being wet is so big because water continues to draw heat even when they are in a state of water vapor.
    Water is able to remain in a state of gas even when it is cold and even frozen (have you ever seen water vapor coming out of the freezer?) In this way the cold water vapor around us constantly touches the body and continues to pump our body heat.The most important rule regarding the preservation of body temperature is: the person who is dry is hot and the wet is cold.
    In order to ensure the warmth of our bodies, we must make sure that the air around us is as dry as possible, and of course to keep ourselves dry. This result can be achieved by using special fabrics and insulation materials that can prevent wetness, dry quickly and even filter the air out of the water.
    All this to ensure that the air layer close to our bodies will remain dry.

By understanding and using the principles according to which body heat is emitted into the environment, we can prevent the heat from passing from the body to the environment on a cold day, thus increasing the feeling of heat, while improving the body’s cooling rate on a hot summer day.

Clothing layering method (levels 1,2,3,4)

A method of clothing that allows us to deal with all the climatic phenomena that our bodies may encounter throughout the day is the “method of dressing in layers”.

This method, which is also called the onion method, allows us to peel off and remain only with the layer that is relevant to the weather we are in.
Even before we detail the different layers, we must understand three basic rules regarding the method:

1. The nature of the layers chosen shall be determined according to the conditions of the environment to which we are traveling.

In other words, it is important to understand that although in all whether we will work according to the same technique (ie, dressed in layers), the clothing pieces which were chosen for use at a temperature of minus 20 degrees will be completely different from the clothing pieces chosen for use at a temperature of two degrees.

2. The nature of the layers chosen will be determined according to the type of activity we are about to perform.
In other words, it is important to understand that although each type of activity will work according to the same technique, the clothing that was chosen for use during an active activity, such as skiing at zero degrees, will be completely different from the clothing chosen for passive activity such as observation or guarding at zero degrees.

3. The quality of the clothing and the quality of the insulation will be determined according to two criteria:

  • The lowest quality item – of course, it is always better to have the highest quality products, but this ideal situation is not always possible. In order to achieve the highest results, it is important to remember that, like links in a chain, one weak link is sufficient to break the entire chain. The insulation/evaporation ability and additional capabilities we will seek to achieve from our clothing specifications will be determined by the lowest quality item. For example, we may wear the most frizzy clothes you can find, but if the outer coat is opaque and will not let the sweat continue to evaporate, we will finally be wet. It is therefore recommended not to choose necessarily the best item but to build a clothing package which is the same in its capacity. On the other hand, based on an understanding of the nature of the activity before us, it is recommended to invest especially in the clothing item in which the maximum use is made. For example, a person who finds himself most of the time in a rainy environment, it is best to equip himself with a high-quality raincoat and compromise on the quality of the rest of the clothing.
  • The ability of items to work together – a system of layers of clothing working together to achieve the best result.
    Using the most expensive and advanced items will not guarantee a high level of performance. Sometimes, medium-leveled items that combine to achieve high evaporation and isolation results are preferable.
    Consider, for example, a basketball team made up of all the best players you can find, it is very possible that this team will lose to a team built of mediocre players who play better together and cooperate on a higher level. In the same way, when choosing a clothing system it is important to measure and ensure that all the elements of clothing fit each other in shape, size, the location of special fabrics and more.
    Only in this way will we ensure maximum enjoyment of the clothing we have.

Layers of clothing

The method of dressing in layers refers to three main layers and in extremely cold conditions, even four layers, of course, each person will determine for himself what extreme cold is, for some people extreme cold is around minus ten degrees Celsius and others extreme cold begins at five degrees.

In addition, when talking about clothing, it is customary to refer only to the upper and lower body.
This is not the case, proper clothing regards for all parts of our bodies, ie the palms, the feet and of course the head.

Although these organs use different clothing items, such as socks, shoes, and gloves, the guiding principles are the same and very important to implement them.

The most beautiful thing about the method of layers is that this method is suitable for use in hot areas
For example, people living in the desert are also dressed in layers (of course, layers suitable for warm environments).

The first layer (LEVEL 1) – thermal clothing

The most basic layer worn on the body is the BASE LAYER, which is usually called thermal clothing.
When we dress for cold conditions, the main purpose of this layer is to keep sweat away from the body as quickly as possible, thus preventing the sweat from cooling our bodies, as well as providing us with an initial insulation layer.

This layer has many other functions that can be read in detail in a separate article on the subject of thermal clothing.
The most important rules to remember about thermal clothing are:

  • Choose clothing that will not disturb or rub against the second clothing layer but will not be too tight and will interfere with movement and breathing.
  • The ability to isolate, remove and evaporate the sweat should be adapted to the nature of the activity and environment to which we are traveling.

Unlike a cold environment in which we will wear several layers, in a warm environment, we will usually suffice with the first layer only (the rest of the layers will probably remain in a bag or suitcase).

The big difference to note is that in the hot environment we want the clothing to allow the sweat to cool our bodies.
Therefore, many times we prefer a wide piece of clothing over a tight one, and in addition, we prefer a light-colored, long-sleeved shirt that will reduce the penetration of solar radiation into our skin.

Under extreme heat conditions, we will use more than one layer, with emphasis on the ability of the first layer to absorb sweat and keep it close to our bodies.
This will keep your body cool and will reduce the amount of fluids our body loses during sweating.

Second Layer (LEVEL 2 )- Isolation

The second layer we wear is responsible for creating a layer of insulation between our bodies and the environment, that is, a layer of “standing” air which prevents heat movement between the body and the environment.

This insulation layer is important in a hot environment as in a cold environment, but of course in each environment, we will have a different layer of insulation.

Cold environment

In conditions where our body temperature is higher than the ambient temperature, the transmission mechanism leads to the constant leakage of body heat into the environment, leading to a cooling of the body, and finally to a feeling of cold.

Creating a layer of standing air means that the insulating layer will significantly reduce the heat transfer from our body to the environment.

The insulation layer is measured according to three main components:

1. The thickness of the layer: It is simple to understand that the thicker the layer of insulation is, the more air trapped inside it.
In addition, the thicker the insulation layer is, the more we remove the external and cold environment from our bodies. Ie simply by adding an insulating material we will get a clothing which will protect better our body heat.

2. Air movement within the layer: The layer of air that is “trapped” inside the clothing and isolated between us and the external environment is a layer of hot air.

When we wear a layer of insulation (down jacket, fleece or any other garment) our bodies begin to warm the air layer that is inside the garment (which explains the initial cold feeling we experience when wearing a winter coat).

From the moment our bodies begin to heat the insulation layer, one of the most important challenges of the garment begins, how to keep the temperature of the hot air.

There are many technologies today that come to provide a solution to this challenge, which is proving to be very complex.
The ways between the technologies are different, but basically, the solution is the same and is to create a situation in which the air in the insulation layer “stands” and does not change.

3. Breathing and transition of moisture away from the body: The insulation layer, in order to be able to do its job, must allow the moisture that comes from the process of sweat and respiration of the body to continue moving away from the body.

Remind you that humidity and moisture lead directly to a sense of cold.
In fact, as the insulation layer works better, the standing air layer inside the insulation layer will contain more dry air, which in turn will keep our body temperature better than moist air.

A combination of these three capabilities enables the creation of very thin and light layers of clothing that provide the same level of insulation like thick and heavy layers.

Warm environment

In a particularly hot environment where the ambient temperature is higher than the body temperature, we will want to wear an insulating layer that will prevent heat from passing into the body.

Wearing a thin, airy layer above the first layer will create a layer of insulation between our bodies and the external environment.
The emphasis on this layer is:

1. The ability to filter and prevent the penetration of radiation – one of the biggest “enemies” in a warm environment is the sun. Wearing the second layer will prevent direct sun damage to the skin of your body.
This will ensure that your body sweat will absorb your body temperature and cause your body to feel cold.

When the skin of our bodies is exposed directly to the sun’s rays and the surrounding heat, the sweat of our bodies evaporates into the environment even before it can cool our bodies.
This causes our bodies to secrete sweat and lose important fluids.

2. Ventilation – Unlike a cold environment, in a hot environment we want to allow air to penetrate into the garment.
This in-motion air will help in cooling the body by using the transport mechanism, and will also insert new air into the garment instead of the “old” air that is soaked in the sweat of our bodies.

3. Extremely thin – the second layer in a warm environment will be as thin as possible and without the ability to capture air inside it. In fact, the only layer of air that we want is the layer between the outer layer and the inner layer.

4. Color – There are two versions according to which we prefer to choose the color of the garment to wear in a warm environment, one advocates dark colors that absorb the heat of the sun, raise the body temperature and thus promote excessive sweating.
Sweat that is created will ensure to cool the body to a lower temperature than the environment.

The second version, as can be found in the Sahara and Saudi Arabia, advocates wearing light fabrics as much as possible, thus effectively preventing the sun from warming our bodies beyond the ambient temperature.

Technology-wise clothes will use both versions, meaning that they will combine dark colors around areas of our bodies that have a high concentration of sweat glands or high sensitivity to heat, which encourages our bodies to sweat, while using light fabrics in the rest of the body to prevent further heating by solar radiation.

The biggest problem with clothing in layers in a hot environment is a feeling of suffocation and unpleasantness that results from sticky feeling and unpleasant body odors.

This feeling usually leads us to lower the layers and stay dressed in short clothes only, believing that this is better.
Nevertheless, it is hard to ignore the fact that the traditional clothing of people who live in warm environments consists of several layers that meet precisely the above rules, layers that help protect and isolate the body from the challenges in the hot environment.

The third layer (LEVEL 3) – Coat

The last and most externally worn layer is a windbreaker.
This layer acts as a buffer between us and the external environment and functions as a protective layer that prevents the various weather phenomena and external factors such as shrubs, trees, etc., from harming our bodies.

The two main coats today are Hardshell and SOFTSHELL.

HARDSHELL – This group of coats is designed to create around our bodies a rigid protection that completely prevents the penetration of all external climate factors that can be met such as snow, hail, rain, water, and wind.

In addition, this layer provides protection from other factors that can damage our bodies such as thorns, rocks, sandstorms and more. This layer, which can be treated as an armor, protects our bodies in the best possible way and keeps it completely isolated from the outside environment.
When selecting this external layer, we recommend that you check the following:

  • Breathing ability and waterproofness of the coat: It is very easy to produce a coat that will be opaque to the external factors to be exposed to our bodies, think about it, any simple plastic bag will prevent the penetration of rain and leave us dry. The challenge facing the various manufacturers is how to prevent the intrusion of water and wind, while at the same time allowing the continuation of the breathing process to which we have taken care of with the first layers of clothing.If we do not allow a continuation of the breathing process, we will finally find ourselves wet with excess moisture accumulated inside.One of the solutions (and perhaps the most famous ones) that are used is the GORE-TEX membrane layer.
    This layer makes it possible to produce a coat that meets exactly the needs we described, that is, it does not allow the penetration of climate factors (water, wind, etc.) into our bodies but at the same time allows a process of breathing and removing the sweat from the layers of clothing. In addition to GORE-TEX, there are many membranes today that are capable of preventing water penetration while allowing the breathing process. These membranes differ in their breathing ability relative to the ability to seal water, but generally speaking, the more breathable the coat, the less air/windproof and other climate factors it will be and vice versa.
  • Ease and flexibility of movement: Today there are many types of fabrics used in the production of coats.
    The cheaper fabrics use will indeed satisfy all the criteria we will be looking for in a HARD SHELL coat, but they will usually be heavy and cumbersome for movement. So when choosing an outer coat it is recommended to make sure that the coat is not too heavy and too rigid to move but just the opposite that is flexible and easy. The more lightweight coat we wear, the easier it will be to move, so the effort will decrease and we will get less tired and sweat less.
  • Functionality: The outer coat we wear was usually created for a specific purpose, such as skiing, snowboarding, backpacking, mountain climbing, urban walking and more. When choosing the coat it is advisable to make sure that its style and the accessories it comes with will be suitable for use in the different activities we are going to perform. For example, in a ski jacket, we will look for one that will be comfortable to wear along with ski gloves, while in the hiking jacket we will look for reinforcements in the shoulder area to protect the coat from constant rubbing against the backpack.

SOFTSHELL – This group of coats was created out of the understanding that most people do not need absolute protection against climate factors in nature but only to protect against the phenomena that they are exposed to.

This set of coats, by definition, will never be completely waterproof (if it was then it could be called HARDSHELL) but will provide protection against one or more climate factors.

Among these coats can be found various abilities of protection from wind resistance to varying degrees of waterproofness, a different strength of fabrics for protection against external objects and more.
The great advantage of this group is measured in a number of parameters:

  • Ease of movement – This set of coats is made of lightweight fabrics that are more flexible and comfortable for movement than the hardshell coat group, allowing for a higher user experience.
  • High Breathability – There is a claim that waterproof coats are sometimes too caulking for daily use by most users.
    Although the softshells are not waterproof, they provide varying degrees of water resistance (durability that is found to be adequate for most daily needs) and on the other hand, allows for a very high breathing ability.
    This resistance to water (of some coats) is so high that under certain conditions you can even go skiing in a softshell coat.
  • Visibility – The fabrics used in the softshell coats look more fashionable, so the user can enjoy a day-to-day coat with high technical abilities but without showing that he is in the middle of a trip.

One of the most important highlights in choosing the outer layer is to make sure that the coat does not sit tight above the lower layers. If the coat chosen is small enough for us, we may cause a situation where we will feel cold rather than heat.

In fact, if the coat is small, the first thing that will be caused is the crushing of the layers of isolation and the inability of the lower layers to capture air.

In fact, with our own hands, we will eliminate the purpose for which we applied layers of insulation.
The second and more serious thing that will be caused is the direct contact between the layers, this contact will cause our body heat to go into the external environment through the transport mechanism, leaving us cold, exactly the opposite of the result we were trying to achieve.

The fourth layer (LEVEL 4) – additional insulation

Sometimes in extremely cold conditions (which turn out to be individual to every person), three layers are not enough to prevent cold.

In this case, an additional layer of insulation is used, which is worn over the second layer.
This layer will usually come in the form of a coat made of brass / down or other synthetic materials and will retain the same emphasis on the second clothing layer ie thickness, preventing air movement, and high breathing ability.

HARD / SOFT SHELL is not to be confused with this layer because these coats have no real protection against climatic phenomena such as water and wind, and are usually weak and vulnerable when they come into contact with shrubs or any other obstacle we may encounter on the ground.

Hiking shoes

In most weather conditions and types of hiking in the winter, you can travel with ordinary hiking shoes, unusual cases to get special shoes are skiing and snowboarding, Alpine climbs and trips in deep snow or on ice.
When choosing our pair of shoes for a winter trip you may want to consider the following:

1. A trip in a wet and/or rainy environment: When preparing for a “wet” trip, it is recommended to wear waterproof shoes.

To ensure that the foot remains dry, it is also recommended to add a pair of Gaiters that will prevent water from entering the top of the shoe.

2. Hiking in a muddy environment: In order to reduce the chance of slipping and of course mud accumulation in the soles of the shoe, it is recommended to choose shoes with soles suitable for walking in the mud.

Such soles will be characterized by many grooves and spaces, which will reduce the amount of mud attached to the sole.

3. Hiking in a cold environment: Warm socks can help isolate the foot in a cold environment and on relatively short trips.

If you are preparing for long walks in a cold environment, for example, ski-trekking in the snow and sometimes even trekking in a cold and dry environment like the desert, it is recommended to equip yourself with a pair of shoes with an insulating material.

Gloves and socks:

These organs are the most sensitive to the feeling of moisture and cold, Be sure to be equipped with gloves suitable for the environment you go out (waterproof and/or isolated) and with breathing socks with the ability to isolate and evaporate sweat.

We hope that we helped you choose proper clothing for hiking in cold weather.
We wish you a nice and warm trip!

A related article that you might find as useful: best sleeping bags for traveling!

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