Setting out for a winter walk you’ll need to make sure you’re properly dressed, but if you’re not then you’re from as much risk from overheating as you are from the cold.
You need to be comfortable..
This means that it’s no good whacking on that down jacket at the start of the walk, unless it’s -20°C out. You’ll soon start working out and build up a sweat. All well and good as you’ll be nice and warm for a while, but you’ll also over heat. When you stop you’ll rapidly cool down due to all the sweat you’ve built up, and you may well have difficulty in warming up again
This where the layering system comes in. The theory being that you always remain comfortable by either removing or adding a layer of clothing. Two thin layers are also warmer than an eqivelent single layer due to the trapped air in between functioning as an insulator. Modern fabrics work to remove moisture from the skin by wicking it away, preventing the sweat from cooling you down and so keeping you warmer.
At the beginning of the walk you should start off just a little cool, you’ll soon warm up once you get walking and more likely than not need to remove another layer. Then you stop, and start cooling so you put on an extra layer to warm up, before moving again and as you’re going to warm up, remiving a layer. And so it goes, all day long. Meanwhile the poor sap in the tshirt and down jacket can only be in three states – jacket on, jacket open and jacket off – and is likely to be either too hot or cold and have a miserable day out. He’s not even comfortable during the stops, as he’s built up such a sweat overheating that the sweat’s cooled him down.
Had he followed the layering principle then just like baby bear’s porridge, he’d be neither too hot or too cold.
The Base Layer. This is yer pants and a top. They don’t necessarily need to be thermal even in winter, especcially if you find you run hot. A decent thin baselayer and a Paramo jacket see’s me fine in most winter conditions when I’m on the move. The rule of thumb here is don’t wear cotton, go for synthetic or merino wool.
If you think it’s going to get really cold then long leggings or ‘long johns’ are recommended for the depth of winter, and are essential if you’re winter wild camping if only to keep warm when getting into your sleeping bag.
Mid – layer – Usually a fleece or similar garment. You may well need to wear this when it’s really cold, along with your shell garment. If you feel less cold, then like me you’ll find that you often need to put this extra layer on if you start working less hard, such as walking downhill after a long stop. Technically your trousers fall into this category.
Shell – This is your basic outer coat or leggings. It can be a windproof shell or waterproof eVent, GoreTex or Paramo dependign on the circumstances. If you observe hordes of walkers at Pen y Pass on a warmish autumn or even winter day, then you’d imagine it’s a crime not to wear your shell. It’s past October, so I have to wear a waterproof on the mountain all day or I’ll look like I’m not equipped.. I can’t understand how they get any further than Llyn Llydaw kitted out like that!
A good wind proof is worth every penny. More often than not you just need to cut out the wind as opposed to rain and a windproof is a much more comfortable and breathable way to do so, keeping your baselayer drier and you more comfortable in the process.
If you use Paramo waterproof shells, they are warmer than regular shells and I think they’re the equivelant of a regular shell with a mid-layer.
Personally, I don’t get along well with waterproof leggings so I wear waterproof trousers from the off. In winter I use Paramo Aspira trousers which are warm, padded in the arse and knee and, of course, waterproof.
Finally you’ve got your insulation, down jackets and the like. These are there as a warm over-layer for prolonged stops and you should be ok to stop for a long time before getting cold, or you need more layers! If you reach the point that you’re in all your layers and you still feel cold, that’s time to ring the alarm bells and get yourself warmed up (or off the hill).
Layering also works for the extremities. I find thin gloves under the thicker ones to be warmer and more versatile than just thick gloves alone. Same goes for socks, though here thinner liner sock also help to prevent blistering. Wearing a thin balaclava or hat under your hood also helps.
Get to know the layering system and what you’re comfortable wearing.
Base Layer – Synthetic Tee and pants.
Mid Layer – Mountain Shirt and Fleece
Shell – Windproof and waterproof shell
Overlayer – Down or Synthetic Belay jacket.
Extremeties – Liner and winter socks. Liner and winter gloves. Warm hat!
As always, there are some exceptions to the rule!!
Softshells – these act as both the mid layer and shell, but aren’t as waterproof as regulr waterproofs. They’re more versatile than just a fleece, and as they do two jobs they cut your pack weight down for no penalty.
Pile and pertex -Not so much in vogue these days, this system has been around for many years by the like of Buffalo and Montane. The idea being that you wear one thick layer and you can vent as needed to cool down. These are warm garments and you’d need extremely cold weather to get the best from them. Neither is pertex waterproof, but in the temperatures you’d expect to use these garments it would be too cold to rain.