LAYERING your clothing for cold weather is hugely important, and an easy skill to get right once you’ve mastered a few tricks.
At Wild Parkin, we invented the DEW method for ensuring you understand what works and how you can make a layering system tailored to your needs.
DEW is simple, and reminds you of the three main principles for layering…
Although largely self-explanatory, let’s briefly go through the DEW method.
DRY: No matter where you are in cold weather, being dry is almost as important as keeping warm. As long as you’re dry, you’ve got a better chance of performing at your best. If you’re wet, and you’re in the cold, then you could be quickly heading into trouble.
EFFICIENT: When you’re layering your clothes, you want them to work efficiently. Not only do you want moisture to disperse well, you also want heat adjustments to respond quickly to removing or adding layers with ease.
WARM: This is the number one prerequisite when using layers in the cold. If your layering system isn’t keeping you warm, it’s not doing its job.
Where to start…
Thin material, low friction, snug-fitting. For many, this is the critical layer – you get this right and everything should fall into place quite easily. Get it wrong and you’ll end up being uncomfortable and cold.
Plenty of clothing manufacturers will point you straight to the expensive, ‘natural feel’ merino item with a list of features that are as baffling as they are nonsense.
Experience has told me that a cheap, synthetic, long-sleeved running top possesses all the qualities you want in a base layer – breathable, stretchy, lightweight and, most importantly, seamless. It’s designed to act as a second skin, so a lack of seams is vital.
It’s a good idea to find a running top with a high neck. Not necessarily to provide warmth, but to take a tip from water sports enthusiasts who wear wetsuits. You’ll notice many surfers wear ‘rash vests’ under their suits. These act as a sort of friction protection to prevent chafing – particularly on the neckline.
Here’s where combinations are the most important. Depending on the precise nature of the weather you’re facing, it’s the mid layers that are doing the hard work. It’s here where the warm air is being trapped and circulated – this is the engine room.
In most cold weather situations, I prefer a thick t-shirt over the top of the base layer. This isn’t some peculiar fashion choice – there’s serious reasoning behind it. When you have three or even four sleeves and you’re trying to do simple tasks like build the fire or prepare food, it tends to get painful around the elbows and forearms when you have your arms bent. Using a short-sleeved t-shirt over your base layer still traps heat, but allows your arms a bit more freedom.
Next comes another mid layer – usually a fleece here, the thickness of which again depends on the temperatures and wind chill you’re dealing with. The fleece will also move well over the sleeves where the material of the base layer is exposed, thus allowing for comfortable freedom of movement.
In harsher conditions, it’s worth considering an insulating layer over the fleece – this will allow the fleece to perform at its best. Down-filled or synthetic over garments work well on this layer as, more often than not, they are made from a smooth material that will also interact well with the fleece, much in the same way as the base layer. Imagine you’re effectively making a fleece sandwich with a couple of slices of slippy bread.
The most important layer of all is, essentially, the one that is forming the front-line barrier between you and the elements. That’s why making the right choice – judged by the environment you’re in and the conditions you’re facing – is vital.
It’s also about what works for you. Shell, soft-shell, insulated jacket – they’re all designed to face varying tests, so pick wisely using your knowledge.
In most hostile cases, I lean towards a waterproof outer shell that covers everything from my jowls to my upper thighs. Its versatility means nearly every scenario is catered for.
Other options I tend to go to here are – and this is often if I’m working or canoeing in heavy rain – a sturdy poncho or, for when you know it’s just cold you’re tackling rather than the wet, a soft shell.
Ponchos are a brilliant bit of kit to have with you, and I’ve used them in the past as a makeshift tarp. The soft shell also delivers plenty of flexibility without the mildly irritating rustling sound of some rainwear.
Another consideration is a belay jacket. A belay, brainchild of American climber Mark Twight, is a kind of static outer layer designed to help maintain your body heat during times of inactivity. It came to prominence in the early nineties and has since spawned some advanced technical pieces that are well worth a look.
There are probably dozens more possible combinations and ideas for good layering techniques, these are just my personal preferences which, really, is what bushcraft and the outdoors are all about.
There are no rules here, only guidelines that will help you learn what works best for you.