Polar Explorer Eric Larsen; photo by Sam Bricker
1. Attitude Is Everything —People say they hate the cold. I think what they mean is they hate being cold. I agree, being cold sucks. I like being warm in very cold environments; you can do it, too.
2. The Polar Strip Tease — Getting too hot while on the move is the most common cold-weather mistake. Your body generates a lot of heat when you’re active. When you get hot, you sweat and moisture replaces the warm layer of air between your body and your base layer. Once you stop, you cool off very quickly. And shortly after that, you’re going to be really cold.
The solution? It’s best to start cold and then put more on after your heart is thumping hard from exertion. If you are already heavily dressed, ventilate and take off layers BEFORE you get warm.
3. Don’t Get Too Cold — There’s no such thing as cold weather, just not enough layers.
I divide them up into three basic categories: 1 – Wicking. 2 – Insulation. 3 – Wind protection. I prefer using a synthetic layer next to my skin as it has better wicking properties than wool. Below is a sample of my cold-weather layering scheme.
1. Base layer t-shirt (wicking)
2. Light base layer longsleeve (wicking)
3. Medium-weight longsleeve base layer (wicking)
4. Fleece jacket (not windproof; insulation)
5. Down sweater/jacket (insulation)
6. Shell (wind protection)
7. Expedition down puffy jacket (insulation)
I start with my basic “action suit,” which are layers 1, 2, 3, and also 6. Layer 4 is for really cold temps and lower activity level. Layer 5 is for in the tent. 7 is for wearing when I stop.
4. Big Down Jacket — I always carry a big down jacket as my ultimate back up should my body core temperature drop dramatically. Additionally, since I am generally dressed in as FEW layers as possible it doesn’t take much standing/sitting around until I start feeling a chill. Therefore, during short breaks or setting up camp, I immediately put on my down jacket to maintain a more constant temperature.
5. Eat, Drink And Be Merry — It can be hard to eat and drink in cold weather, but your body needs food for energy and to produce heat. Snack and drink regularly throughout the day (I try to eat every hour).
Bonus Tip — In winter, your margin of safety is substantially less than in warmer temperatures. Therefore, be mindful of how you feel, how cold you are, your fingers, and your toes. I constantly assess the conditions, how I feel, wind, etc. Every day and every situation is different. If your extremities start feeling painfully cold, it is generally time to stop and make changes.
Double Bonus — Wear a hat, a lightweight balaclava and Buff (neck gaiter) to keep warm. Take them off to quickly dump heat during times of exertion.