If you’re heading off on a snow trip, a Tassie hike or a winter walk in the park, outdoorsman and cold weather adventurer Rodney Braithwaite has some cool ideas on how to stay warm.
I love this time of year. The morning air around Shepparton is cool and crisp while there’s snow falling in the mountains only a few hours away.
I come out of my summer hibernation and start to be active.
It must be the Tasmanian in me. I remember beginning my love of winter as a young child around the age of seven, hiking with my mum to see frozen waterfalls and snowy peaks.
I have built on these experiences over the years to have ridden horses across frozen rivers in mid-winter China at latitudes further north than Vladivostok, brought in the New Year camped at 3000 m in Japan at -25°C, and snowshoed frozen lakes in the magnificent Italian Alps.
Keeping warm and dry while pursuing your favourite winter activities is not as easy as just grabbing the nearest jacket from your wardrobe as you head out the door.
Whether you are skiing at nearby Mt Buller this season, cycling around Shepparton on a frigid morning or winter hiking through New Zealand as I have just done, you need to prepare in advance the appropriate clothing layers to wear to keep warm, dry and comfortable while pursuing your favourite winter activity.
Another serious issue faced while being active in the cold is overheating.
I remember packing up my tent in -23°C degrees in Japan, hiking off the side of a mountain with my crampons strapped on and heavily perspiring for hours. Being too hot in freezing conditions can be as dangerous as feeling too cold.
Here are my tips for selecting the correct layers on your cold adventures:
BASE LAYERS OR THERMALS
These keep you warm by fitting close to your skin, but don’t get them too tight or movement will be uncomfortable.
There are two main options here, Merino or synthetic. Merino offers comfort with natural breathability that allows changes in temperatures. When wet, synthetic base layers dry faster and can keep you warmer, but at the cost of overheating when you are more active.
Merino thermals come in different thicknesses depending on how warm you want to be. These are marketed as GSM. The higher the GSM number the thicker the fabric.
Base layers: Kathmandu Polypro $29.98 each, Icebreaker Oasis 200 Merino top $119.95, Mont El Gringo pants $189.95.
A fleece jacket is perfect here. I like a pullover quarter-zip for its comfort and not too thick.
The Polartec brand is still one of the original and best when it comes to fleece and makes a series of fleece materials for different conditions under a number of brands. Look for thumb holes for a better fit for your activities.
Before hitting the changeroom, you can feel the difference between materials by holding them in your hands. Select two fleece jackets on the rack and hold a sleeve of each in your hands. After 15 seconds you will feel a difference in the warmth being felt. This gives you a guide to how warm the material is.
Fleece jackets: Wilderness Equipment Coldsnap $69.95, Mountain Designs Climber $199.95.
A good waterproof jacket to keep you dry also offers wind protection. Some models offer zips for ventilation under the arms to let the build-up of heat escape.
There are many choices of materials in this category, from Gore-Tex, and Pertex to Hydronaute, to name just a few. A double zip will allow for movement in the lower body when active.
Rain jackets: Patagonia Torrentshell $179.95, Mountain Designs Cumulus $399.95, Mont Supersonic $649.95.
The higher the loft number, the warmer the insulation and more compact the jacket. However, the amount of fill in the jacket really determines the warmth.
Goose down is of higher quality than duck down, but comes at a higher cost. The major drawback with down is it loses warmth when wet, therefore many jackets have their down coated in waterproofing chemicals. In addition, many jackets are using water-resistant fabrics such as Pertex to protect the down from getting wet.
It is vital to get the right fit with an insulated jacket. Too tight and the down is compressed and offers no warmth. Too loose and you get too much cold airspace.
Synthetic insulation has caught up to down in regard to warmth to weight ratio. An advantage is that it can still keep you warm when wet. Look for brands such as Primaloft as a leader in this area.
Also keep an eye out for RDS or responsible down standards that safeguard the welfare of the geese and ducks.
Insulated jackets: Macpac Pisa $160.00, Mont Fusion $429.95, XTM Granite $599.99.
GLOVES AND SOCKS
When our feet and hands are cold many people put on thicker socks and gloves. While this is important, cold extremities can also be a sign of your body core not being kept warm.
It’s always a good idea to carry two pairs of gloves in case one gets wet. You can also layer socks and gloves with a thinner pair for extra warmth.
Looking for items with no cotton is important as cotton has no insulation properties and stays wet. Merino for socks would be my recommendation here.
Gloves: XTM Merino gloves $39.99, XTM Gore Infinium $69.99, Mountain Designs alpine gloves $149.99. Socks: Wigwam Hiking Outdoor Pro $24.95, XTM Razorback $27.99, XTM Sochi Ski $34.99.
TIPS FOR KEEPING WARM
Know your body. Our body shape, metabolism and even the food we have just eaten play role in keeping us warm. Are you a cold person? Do you wear jackets and jumpers before your family and friends?
If you are a cold person, make sure you select warmer and more layers when you are in the cold. Wear a beanie made of Merino or a warm synthetic material.
When you are selecting clothing, you must try it on. Leave clothes on for a few minutes. Feel the warmth. Do this during winter and not on a 35°C day in a Shepparton summer as you are about to leave for Europe.