Thursday, 17 January 2008

Layering Clothing for Comfort and Survival Part Four

In this, the last installment on layering your clothing, I briefly look at the outer layer and those for the heads, fingers and toes!

The outer layer is the barrier to wind, rain and snow. The basic waterproof achieves its waterproofness through lamination, with greater repellency being achieved by heavier lamination. This hampers the fabric’s ability to breath. Greater breathability generally means less waterproof. Modern laminates provide an excellent compromise between breathability and repellency. Any waterproof should have sealed seams. This reduces leakage at the seams through the needle holes where the thread passes through.


As your core body temperature begins to drop, the body naturally starts to shunt more blood to the vital organs, resulting in constriction of the blood vessels in the extremities ie hands and feet first, then arms and legs. So no matter how good your layering system is, you still need good hat, gloves and boots. Both gloves and boots are available with multiple layers of insulation, windproof and waterproof fabrics.

In an ideal world your hat should be insulated, windproof and waterproof. Approximately 30% of your body heat is lost through your head. So it is an incredibly important part of your layering system.

Using an effective layering system tailored to your own comfort needs and body type, will allow you to experience the great outdoors in comfort no matter what the weather throws at you. It also means you are stacking the odds in your favour when it comes to your own survival.

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Monday, 14 January 2008

Les Stroud and Bear Grylls

What can I say - two very different approaches to the same subject, survival! I think that Les Stroud is great ( He spends 7 days out in a remote location lugging his own camera kit and filming himself. There is no camera crew (except on the first day) and no back up (except in an emergency) and he video diary's the jount, warts and all. If he screws up then he shows it. He is great fun to watch and very honest about what is happening. If you haven't seen any of his stuff then look out for him on Discovery Channel as Survivorman.

Bear Grylls is another thing entirely ( He caused a lot of controversy with a recent series of Man v Wild where he was accused of all sorts of fakery. His latest series at least acknowledges that he gets assistance, is occassionally provided with wild food for demonstration purposes etc. He is a likeable chap but I don't like his programmes. To me they are sensationalist and often promote dangerous courses of actions to the uninitiated. However, he is popular from a ratings point of view.

I do think that people have been extremely unfair to him. I do occassionally work behind the scenes in television and I know that there is a lot of 'fakery' going on in order to get the desired shot. This is not something that only Bear's production crew have done - others are just a guilty.

Like all these things, you have to make up your own mind. For me, it's Les all the way!

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Sunday, 13 January 2008

Layering Clothing for Comfort and Survival Part Three

The inner layer is mainly used for extremely cold conditions and longer term exposure. In a similar fashion to the base layer, its main job is to retain body heat and wick moisture away from the base layer. This layer should be snug but not too constricting.

The mid layer is another level of insulation that retains heat and transfers moisture away from the body. Wool, synthetic fibres or down make excellent mid layers. Fleece fabric requires less care than wool and down is an excellent insulator as long as it remains dry. All these fibres work on the same principle of trapping small pockets of warm air amongst the fibres. Synthetics outperform wool in terms of moisture control because they absorb very little water. Wool can absorb up to 30% of its own weight in water. So wool is not generally recommended for highly active sports.

A number of things need to be borne in mind when choosing a mid layer. For example, venting by way of zips for flexibility of internal temperature and properly fitting size. Pullover garments are an excellent choice with baggier sleeves to allow them to be rolled up. Zip necked T-shirts allow for good ventilation and keep the neck warm when zipped up. Again, the key is to have thin layers of air trapped between garments and not too much excess that will cause bunching, add weight or restrict movement. Too much space will push air out when moving and too large an airspace will be difficult for the body to warm up. Snug but not constricting is the key to all layers.

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Thursday, 10 January 2008

Layering Clothing for Comfort and Survival Part Two

The base layer is the layer next to the skin and is the most important element because it forms the foundation, or base, of warmth and moisture control. A damp base layer is the main source of body chill. Wet clothing against the skin will transfer heat away from the body, at a rate up to 25 times faster, than one that is dry.

Many of today’s base layer fabrics are made from artificial fibres. Some fabrics only wick moisture away from the body when in contact with skin. Others will wick from the microclimate between skin and fabric. Modern fibres are designed to dry quickly and used to suffer from odour retention. The newest fabrics are treated to reduce the odours left after prolonged usage. More traditional fibres are making a comeback with the ‘reinvention’ of Merino wool base layers. Merino is very warm and comfortable to wear and resists odours very well naturally without chemical treatments. An important aspect of base layers is that the fabric is lightweight and sturdy so it doesn’t restrict movement or be uncomfortable to wear. Base layers come in different weights and the one you choose depends on the level of activity, prevalent weather conditions and how you react to the cold yourself. People with poorer circulation will need a heavier base compared to those who “run hot”.

In general, lightweight base layers are for higher levels of activity and moderately cool temperatures. Medium weight layers offer the greatest versatility, warmth and wicking when undertaking mid-level activities or cooler temperatures. Heavy or expedition weight layers are used for higher warmth when activity is low. Since the base layer is the most critical layer, and largely a personal comfort level issue, having several weight options available is a good idea.

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Thursday, 3 January 2008

Layering clothing for comfort and survival Part One

Whilst out in the wilds, or your own backyard, your level of comfort and even your survival can depend upon your clothing. Why? Because you need to regulate your core body temperature and seeing as we, generally, don’t have fur, we need to use clothing to achieve this.

In the good old days, staying warm in cold or freezing conditions meant wearing so many thick clothes that it would be very difficult to move. ‘Michelin Man’ was order of the day! Luckily for us that technology has stepped into the breach and given us more options to help us maintain and regulate our core body temperature. The key to this regulation is called layering. The idea behind this is to combine clothing to optimise insulation, wind resistance, breathability, wicking, rapid drying, water repellency and durability without compromising your mobility.

The problem can be maintaining the desired level of comfort when activity levels vary and external temperatures change due to time of day or time of year. Early mornings are usually cold, but as the sun comes up and our activity increases, we tend to get warmer and sometimes too warm! Then temperatures once more drop as the day progresses. Throw in a stiff, chill breeze and things get more challenging. The key to dealing with such temperature variations is to use a flexible layering system. In the morning, you may well need to wear all your layers and then shed them as you warm up, and put them back on as you cool.
The number one rule for winter clothing layering systems is to never use cotton. Cotton absorbs moisture and does not dry very quickly and this moisture means loss of body heat. Cotton is great for cooling down the body in warm temperatures. Some people refer to cotton, perhaps unkindly, as cotton killer. Something to bear in mind when choosing your layers.

In Part Two I'll take a look at the first layer in this system, the base layer.

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