Dress for Winter Weather Success!

19 12 2011

Wallowa Mountains Backcountry Experience

The idea of sliding, bounding, or otherwise trekking through a snow-covered landscape is appealing to so many of us, even though we know the reality: it’s COLD out there! The best way to ensure that your winter adventure is fun is by wearing the right clothing. Here are some of our suggestions for dressing for winter-adventure success.

Oregon snow is generally wet, so the main idea is to stay dry. Synthetic fabrics such as poly-propylene, Capilene, and Polartec fleece are designed to keep moisture away from the skin and to stay warm if wet. Natural fibers, such as wool and some silk blends, do the same. Cotton does not have these properties, however; in fact, it retains water and gets very cold when wet. For this reason, in the winter, we tend to avoid wearing cotton all together.

The other general rule is layering. We put out a lot of energy when playing in the snow, which means we will sweat. It is good to think ahead about this, and be prepared to stash warm layers away during physical exertion, so they’ll be dry when you decide to take a rest. As someone who likes to climb mountains in the snow, I generally wear a thin base layer and a wind- or water-proof shell during an ascent, and then put on my down coat and hat near the top. For the base layer, I prefer something that fits relatively close to the skin, like your classic “long underwear.”

Wearing good socks is also important. My all-time favorite socks for adventuring are knee-high Smartwools because they have the warmth of wool, but also have synthetic, stretchy fibers blended in, so they keep their shape, are soft, and durable. The thickness of sock depends on the fit of your boots. If you have space, you can wear a thin, liner sock inside a thicker sock, but if your boots are snug, choose a sock that allows you to move your toes for circulation.

Boot choice may be a whole other article, but here are a few tips. Generally, you choose the right boots for the activity. What is important: a fit that allows your foot to flex and your toes to move for circulation; waterproofing if you are in contact with wet snow; and durability & warmth. Leather hiking boots, with a waterproof coating such as SnoSeal, or Sorel boots, can work for snowshoeing, especially if you cover the tops with a waterproof “gator.” This keeps the snow from going down inside the boot. Gators can also be helpful over x-country ski or ski-touring boots, if you are travelling through deeper snow.

What you put on top of your base layers also depends on your chosen activity and the weather. For pants, if you are going to be exerting yourself and potentially sweating a lot—such as x-country skiing, snowshoeing, or back-country skiing or boarding—a lighter-weight waterproof shell on the bottom is probably enough. If skiing with chairlifts, sledding, or winter camping, heavier, more insulated waterproof snow pants are the way to go.

For the top, outer layers, I usually pack the following, and decide at the trailhead, based on the weather: a warm fleece or wool jacket or vest; a down or synthetic “puffy” coat; and a waterproof “shell” jacket. Even if you don’t choose to wear all of this at the beginning, it is usually a good idea to stuff them in your pack. Winter weather can change quickly, and it is always good to be prepared.

As for accessories, you will want a heavy, waterproof pair of gloves or mittens; a tightly woven or lined hat that covers your ears; something for your neck, if your other layers don’t cover it; and a visor, sunglasses, or goggles to keep the snow out of your eyes. If you plan to go really, really fast, a helmet may also be in order.

In your backpack, it is a good idea to carry the following items for an all-day outing: extra socks and gloves; water in a container that won’t freeze; hearty snacks; your extra layers; fire-starting apparatus; and your basic first aid/survival kit. If it is a wet-snow day, placing these items inside a large Ziploc or garbage bag is a good idea. Bringing a thermos with something hot in it adds a luxury you might not have thought possible on a snow adventure!

The key to staying comfortable in a winter setting is preparing before you go out. If you are heading out on a trip with the River House Outdoor Program this winter, know that we have a closet full of winter clothing for participants to use. Sorting out gear is something we do during Pre-trip meetings. If you are heading out on your own, there are a lot of great places to gather winter gear, new and used. Locally-owned shops include SportHill (http://www.sporthill.com/), Backcountry Gear(http://www.backcountrygear.com/),  Berg’s (http://bergsskishop.com/), Boardsports (http://www.myboardsports.com/), and Tactics (http://www.tactics.com/). Second-hand stores Buffalo Exchange, Play-it-Again Sports, Goodwill, & St. Vincent DePaul often have good finds. At REI and Cabela’s you’ll find anything you could possibly need; and, next October, remember the Ski Swap. Stay warm!

Written by: Jessica Land

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