Google what to wear in winter and you will mostly get pictures of fashion trends. Great if you want to look amazing for your instagram page while you strut down the street to the coffee shop but not helpful for people who actually have worthwhile things to do outdoors in the cold weather, be it leisure or work activities.
Being properly dressed for whatever you intend to do outdoors is key to staying healthy. Even if you are not planning on venturing far from heaters, it is still wise to be prepared for the possibility that you could end up being outside for longer than you expected. Every year in the UK we hear about people being caught unaware by snow; walkers being lost overnight or drivers having to abandon their cars and walk. Remember it does not need to be freezing or snowy to get hypothermia.
Here is our practical advice on to what to wear to stay warm when you need to avoid the very real risks of hypothermia and frostbite.
The golden rule is to layer your clothing effectively. Why? Because you want to trap lots of tiny pockets of warm air all around your body, you don’t want that warm air to easily escape and let cold air near your skin. Proper layering also allows you to manage your own comfort and body temperature as you can add or remove clothing according to changes in activity to avoid getting too sweaty.
As a minimum, you should be looking at roughly 4 layers on your body: a thermal and moisture wicking base layer against your skin, a middle layer, a waterproof layer and a windproof layer. The last two are often combined in modern day coats designed for proper protection from the elements. Don’t forget the accessories as well – no, not a statement necklace – we mean warm and waterproof coverings for your head, neck, hands and feet.
Make sure your layers are comfortably fitting, not too loose (won’t retain heat) and not too tight as you do not want to restrict blood flow anywhere – your circulation is your personal central heating system.
Cover your exposed bits
While the idea that you lose most body heat through your head has been debunked, the fact still remains that any part of the body which is exposed to cold will lose body heat. This will make you feel colder and it could begin to lower your body temperature.
Pay attention to your extremities – your head, hands and feet. Layer your feet coverings as you would for the rest of your body. For your head and hands, look for hats and gloves that are insulated and waterproof. Make sure your gloves are suitable for whatever job you have in mind, if they hinder you, you’ll be tempted to take them off. Don’t forget to wrap up the other bits where cold draughts, water or snow could get in, such as necks, wrists and ankles.
Don’t Get Wet
Water is your enemy as it will chill you far quicker than air. Make sure you have protective waterproof layers, especially footwear. Unless well maintained, many older items of clothing that started life as waterproof might not be any more as the protection diminishes with use and washing.
It’s not just external sources of water in rain, ice and snow to be wary of, your own sweat is also moisture and equally capable of dampening your clothes and causing a chill. Look for fabrics with wicking properties as they will wick moisture (sweat) away from your skin, especially for your base layers next to your skin. The best materials for this tends to be man-made fibres, although wool is also good. Avoid cotton close to your skin as it tends to absorb sweat and not dry quickly.
And don’t get that down filled jacket wet. Dry down offers brilliant protection against cold and wind in dry conditions, but when wet it will clump together and lose those insulating properties as well as taking a long time to dry.
Beware of Wind
Wind can significantly reduce how the air temperature feels to exposed skin, this is often referred to as wind-chill, wind-chill factor or simply the ‘feels-like’ temperature. The stronger the wind, the faster you will be cooled by it. The lower the air temperature, the more impact the wind will have. Even if there only seems to be a light breeze when you set out, conditions can change very quickly so make sure your outermost layers are able to keep the draughts out.
Finally, sunglasses can be useful, not only against the glare that snow can produce but also to help shield eyes from strong winds.
Sorry, we have not got beautifully staged photos of expensive gear we think you should buy (mainly because no-one’s paying us to do so). Whatever our tastes, styles and lifestyle requirements are, modern materials, technology and competition means there is a massive choice of clothing to keep us protected and comfortable. If you can’t find something that you like and is still functional, you should probably stay in.