Last updated: February 08. 2014 12:02AM - 399 Views
Steve Roark Tri-State Outside

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With these harsh cold snaps we’ve been having, staying warm has become more of a challenge. Wearing the right clothing when getting outside can make all the difference between a pleasant outing and misery.

The phrase “dress in layers” is used by moms the world over, but is still good advice. Layers of clothing help trap air around the body and insulate it from the cold. Layers can also be taken off to adjust to temperature changes or physical activity. Clothing layers are broken down into three parts: base, middle and outer.


This is directly against your skin, and so it needs to be comforting to the touch. The traditional inner wear is the cotton/polyester “long johns,” and is okay for situations where you won’t be working up a sweat.

But if you are hiking, splitting wood, or doing other things that make you perspire, cotton will absorb moisture and hold it against your skin, causing you to chill or feel clammy.

Modern technology has produced new breeds of underwear that wick moisture away from the skin. The most common material used is polypropylene, which works really well. It is somewhat expensive, running between $10 and $25 per item. Polypro underwear is available at outdoor sports stores and catalogs, and available in several thicknesses.


This is your main insulating layer and needs to be fairly thick and fluffy to trap still air. This can be anything from a flannel shirt to an insulated vest. Wool is a good choice, as it insulates even when wet. Fleece has become widely available and is also an excellent choice


This is your first defense against the elements. In wet weather you want the outer layer to be waterproof. If it’s windy, the material needs to be tightly woven, such as nylon. There are plenty of coats on the market that will do both. Make sure the hood is good quality and can be pulled tight around your face to keep out a cold wind.


Being hot headed is not just a metaphor. Over 40 percent of your body heat is lost from the head, so cover it. To me nothing beats a soft wool or polyester ski cap (I grew up calling them toboggans). When you don’t need it, stuff it in a pocket.

Hands and feet are the furthest away from the body furnace, so they need protection. If you don’t need your fingers, mittens are best as they allow fingers to share heat. When working in water or snow, wear waterproof gloves.

Layer your socks in cold weather. A thin polypropylene or silk sock covered by a heavy wool sock works well. Insulated boots may be needed if you’re outside for long hours in snow or rain. A scarf or neck gaiter will help keep out bitter cold winds.

You won’t like it at first, but when you’re hiking it’s best to start feeling cold. As you walk your body will quickly build up heat and warm you up, whereas if you start from the car dressed warm you will soon be sweating, which is bad and can lead to chilling.

Steve Roark is the Area Forester in Tazewell, Tenn. for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Forestry Division.

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