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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Pablo said...

Hi Jon,
Do you tend to wear different clothes for dry cold and wet cold or stick with the same? I'm trying more wool this year for wet cold but I think fleece might still be better for dry cold.

CresceNet said...

Gostei muito desse post e seu blog é muito interessante, vou passar por aqui sempre =) Depois dá uma passada lá no meu site, que é sobre o CresceNet, espero que goste. O endereço dele é . Um abraço.

Jon said...

Hi Pablo

Yes I do tend to use different clothes to an extent depending on dry or wet cold. The thing I am most likely to change is the outer layer though.

I love wool - I use merino base and mid layers and have a wool Swandrii. I'm looking at getting some Gallatin wool clothes from the States soon as well. I also use cashmere which has a good warmth to weight ratio.

Fleece is an excellent compromise as it is easy to wash/look after and can be quite tough. But you do need to be careful around fires with it!

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