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Skill Builder: Windproof, Waterproof and Warm

Dressing for weather makes any outing more comfortable.

By Ky Harkey

I remember the coldest day I ever spent in a park: I was a 14-year-old Boy Scout on a rainy November backpacking trip to Lost Maples State Natural Area. I can still picture the campsite perfectly. I guess misery has a way of creating vivid memories.

I suffered on that cold morning because I had broken the cardinal rule of dressing for the outdoors: I wore cotton clothing and I let it get wet. I’ve learned my lesson since that chilly morning, and with better preparation, I’ve felt warmer in colder conditions. It all comes down to protecting yourself from the wind, water and cold air around you.

Dressing for the cold starts with the base layer. That morning at Lost Maples, the cotton shirt and blue jeans I wore had been soaked from a night of rain. Wet cotton stays wet, and that moisture against your skin causes you to lose warmth much quicker than when you’re dry. When choosing a base layer, find clothing that is thin and made of a synthetic or wool fabric. Unlike cotton, these materials “wick” moisture (rain or sweat) away from your skin. The result? They can still keep you warm if they get wet.

On top of your base layer, your mid-layers insulate you by trapping your body heat and keeping it against your skin. Vests and lightweight or heavy jackets insulate your torso, while long underwear or fleece pants can keep your legs warm. Just like your base layer, avoid cotton on these layers — fleece or synthetic insulation is popular. Backpackers who are interested in going lightweight and compact can use goose-down insulation, but remember, down does not insulate when wet.

This approach of layering (rather than using a single large parka) allows us to make small adjustments to our clothing to help regulate our body temperature as it changes when we hike uphill or when a breeze picks up.

clothes

In the summer, a gentle breeze feels nice because it moves hot air away from our skin and encourages evaporation of our sweat, cooling us down. The wind has the same effect on us in the winter; it’s just not what we’re looking for when we’re already cold.

Outer layers should consist of rainproof/windproof jackets and pants that help protect from the elements. While a simple trash bag might keep rain and wind at bay as easily as a rain jacket, high-performance materials like Gore-Tex shield you while also allowing your sweat to escape, preventing an uncomfortable sauna inside your jacket. To complete your protection: Add small accessories like gloves, a wool hat or a balaclava ski mask. These are the very important outer layers that protect cold-sensitive areas like the nose, fingers and ears.

Winter is a beautiful time to enjoy the wild and scenic trails of Texas. By layering clothing and choosing fabrics wisely, we can still create warm memories on cold days — a luxury I missed that November morning at Lost Maples. Here are a few more tips I’ve picked up on many cold weather trips since then:
• Start your hike a little cold. You’ll warm up in the first 10 minutes and will avoid breaking a sweat.
• Zip lightweight gloves into the pockets of your outer layer so they will always be there when you need them.
• Keep a pair of warm socks in the bottom of your sleeping bag so you’ll always have toasty toes at night.
• Carry a small piece of a sleeping pad with you. This will prevent heat loss to the ground when you sit on that cold rock or bench.


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