Dressing for the Cold: A Primer on Layering Clothing

The experts at Under Armour offer advice on how to dress for those long, cold winter days.
Dressing for the Cold: A Primer on Layering Clothing
Layering used to be about cramming as many layers as you could underneath your coat. But things have come a long way since the days of cotton long underwear.

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We're now in the thick of winter, and come wind or rain or freezing cold, the workday must go on. 

Some of you, those who call the Northern clime home, are more accustomed to these winter cycles. (Although admit it, is anyone ever excited about minus 45 wind chills?) But those of you who hire employees from other states, or who contract work northward, might need a little help on the clothing front. After all, dressing for not just cold, but wind, is an art unto itself. Many of those who work outside have learned tricks of the trade through trial and error. Here, we spoke with Under Armour, a performance apparel manufacturer, about some of the ways you can prepare for cold weather. 

Bottoms up

Layering used to be about cramming as many layers as you could underneath your coat. But things have come a long way since the days of cotton long underwear. Today’s trick: compression layers. 

“We did a lot of background stuff with compression,” says Koby Fulks, outdoor marketing manager at Under Armour. “When you have compression, it keeps your muscles warm and your muscles work less. You can layer more effectively when you have a second skin.” 

It’s personal preference whether you choose natural fiber base layers, such as wool, or compression layers made of polyester and nylon. But remember that the base layer’s job is trapping heat and wicking moisture. So choose your base wisely. If you’re moving a lot, select a thinner base. Or, if you sit in the cold extensively, like you would when deer hunting, choose a heavy base layer. 

“The key is staying away from cottons,” Fulks says. “They’re not wicking moisture.” 

Smack in the middle

Next up, the mid-layer. Here’s where you add your insulation and windproofing.

Cater your mid-layer to your specific needs, and remember that the primary function of this layer is to trap and retain heat. Good choices for this layer are wind-resistant vests or perhaps a fleece layer. 

“Wind is a killer when it comes to heat,” Fulks says. “You can do that windproof layer on your mid-layer and your outer layer. I’ve even worn two sets of base layers in really extreme weather.” 

Keep weather out

Finally, on top of a moisture-wicking base layer and a mid-layer for heat retention and windproofness, comes your outer layer, which is where you add weatherproofing and durability. For many of you, this might mean a heavy-duty insulated work coat such as Carhartt, which is made from durable wax-duct canvas. 

“It’s like you do what you need to do there,” Fulks says. “Those are the pieces you can change out. If an insulated piece is too warm, go with just a windproof layer.” 

Extreme protection

As many can attest, the hardest parts of the body to keep warm are the extremities. Our poor fingers and toes. You can choose to layer gloves as well, especially if your job requires a lot of dexterity. Start with a windproof, thin layering glove and then add a work glove. If conditions require, you can even add a windproof glove layer on top of that. 

“I hunt with a liner glove and then I’ll buy a glove that’s a little bigger,” Fulks says. “I want the dexterity. I don’t want the warmth.” 

The key to all of this: choose your clothing based on activity level and expected weather conditions. Layering lets you remove clothing if the day warms up or the sun comes out or your activity level increases. Stay away from cottons, and invest in your clothing. It makes all the difference on those nasty weather days.


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