The most versatile way to dress for winter walking is using a layering system, which involves using a number of layers to trap air and provide insulation. The advantage of wearing various layers is that you can regulate temperature more readily than if you wear just one or two thicker layers. On many British mountains you start walking close to sea level and by the time you reach 1000m the temperature may have dropped by ten degrees Celsius and the wind will have increased in strength. So you need to be able to adjust your clothing accordingly.
If you start walking close to sea level and later reach 1000m the temperature may have dropped ten degrees C
There are three principal layers:
- to wick moisture away from the body and prevent the body from feeling cool.
- the insulation layer, eg. fleece or synthetic insulation.
- the waterproof layer, which should be both waterproof and breathable.
Look for the following features when next shopping for some winter outdoor gear:
A long sleeve garment with a zip collar is most versatile. Do not wear cotton, it has no insulating properties when wet. The usual choice is synthetic versus natural Merino wool.
May be more than one garment. Two thin fleeces will be more versatile than one thick one. A high collar can be adjusted to keep the wind out. A chest pocket is useful for carrying navigation tools. Cut should allow freedom of movement. An elasticised hem and cuffs will keep the wind out.
Good quality breathable fabric e.g. Gore-Tex, Polartec NeoShell, eVent.
- Cut should be articulated for freedom of movement
- Should be long enough to protect the back
- Hood should come far enough forward to protect the face
- A wired visor will keep the hood away from the face
- A chest pocket for map and compass is useful for navigating in poor weather
- Designs are either trousers or sallopettes. Sallopettes are warmer and offer more protection
- Cut should be articulated at the knee and seat to allow freedom of movement
- Reinforcements on the seat and knees will prolong their life
- A fly and drop seat allows calls of nature to be answered
- Most body heat is lost through the head so a well fitting wool or fleece hat is essential, covering your ears.
- If the weather is particularly bad a balaclava gives your face more protection.
- In warmer conditions a headband will keep your ears warm.
- A fleece neck gaiter is also very useful.
Down insulation can be too warm for most UK applications
Down V synthetic insulation
- No gloves will stay waterproof, so it is worth carrying a number of pairs.
- Mitts will be warmer but less dexterous than gloves - an important consideration when handling an ice axe or a compass.
- Have a thin pair for low level walking and a thicker pair for to wear on top for higher, colder conditions.
- Carry a spare pair for really cold conditions or if your first pair(s) gets wet.
Down insulation can be too warm for most UK applications. In addition, it loses its insulating properties if it gets wet - which can be quite an issue in our maritime climate. Fortunately, there are a now many lightweight synthetic alternatives that are worth considering as an extra layer.
Bruce Goodlad is an International Mountain Guide with experience from Antarctica to the Himalaya. He is most often found climbing and guiding in the Alps, where he runs the Mountain Adventure Company
. He is passionate about sharing his love for the mountains and mountain adventures including climbing, mountaineering, biking and skiing.
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