Cold On The Outside Warm On The Inside

2015-01-02 17:48:54.000 – Ryan Knapp, Weather Observer/Meteorologist


So far this shift week (which started on Tuesday instead of the typical Wednesday this week), temperatures have yet to rise above 5F/-15C. Although cold, it is kind of expected this time of year where 30 year daily average temperatures are right around 5F/-15C for nearly the entire month. With this kind of cold, it sometimes takes more time to dress up in the various layers to go outside than the actual time we are outside to do our weather observations. So what do we wear to go outside to brave the cold of the summit? Well, let’s start from the bottom and work our way up.

For the feet, thick wool or synthetic socks I personally go with Darn Tough socks.One misconception is multiple layers of socks will keep you warmer. This works to some degree but typically what causes your feet to be cold are poorly insulated boots or other parts of your body not being insulated properly. For instance, if your core is cold, blood will be pulled from your extremities to keep your core warmer, therefore making your feet feel cold. For boots, I use Vasques Snowburban Ultradry boots. When looking for a boot you want something with good insulation, waterproof, and something with a high collar to help keep snow from easily entering your boot. To help prevent snow from entering my boots while hiking I will use a gaiter but on the summit, I don’t typically fuss with this as snow is typically scoured off the physical summit where I do most of my work.

Moving up to legs, I use a mid-weight or heavyweight long underwear. If I am going to be out for longer periods, I might throw on an additional pair of fleece pants but typically I just put on a pair of water/windproof pants.

Moving up to the torso, I wear a synthetic shirt or two depending on thickness and/or amount of time expected to be outdoors. Next would be a down jacket followed by a water/windproof shell. If really cold, I may layer an additional fleece jacket under my down for added warmth.

For hands, I use a liner glove followed by either a glove or mitten. If doing an activity that requires individual finger movement (like taking photos), a glove is necessary but if looking for overall better warmth on your hands, a mitten is the better way to go. And mittens make it easier to throw and hand warmer in when necessary.

For the face, I use first use a Seirus face masque followed by a balaclava. The first masque has holes in it and acts as a buffer between my mouth and balaclava allowing for easier breathing and for air to escape out rather than up into my goggles causing them to fog. For the top of the head, synthetic beanies of various thickness or warmth ratings depending on conditions work well. For goggles, I wear pairs that are well ventilated, have a large amount of foam insulation on the outside to separate them from my face, are double lensed, and have a comfortable fit on my face. I don’t care what their anti-fog coating claims are, when you are in the fog, your main problem is rime forming on the outside and ice from breath forming on the inside. So I don’t buy expensive goggles that claim they will do this, that, and everything in between. I look for the cheapest pair that meet the criteria I listed above so I can wipe them and scrap them as needed without worrying/caring about scratching them. Finally, after layering all of these, I do a touch and sight check to make sure I have no skin exposed since the gap around the edges and the nose are two locations I have seen countless hikers get frost nip/bite on.

So this is a quick rundown of how I gear up to go outside. If you are gearing up for a winter hike, you will likely need to modify some parts of this list, and pack several other items. A minimum rundown can be found here or by doing a google search for “winter hiking gear list.” Additionally, seek out forums, the Hike Safe website, talk to frequent outdoor enthusiasts, experts, or guides, read online reviews, talk to people at info desks near your destination, or visit retailers that sell outdoor gear. The internet is a wonderful place at times, but sometimes talking to another human with experience can make a huge difference.


Ryan Knapp, Weather Observer/Meteorologist

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