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Clothing layers, what to do for Winter?

2:59 a.m. on September 14, 2011 (EDT)
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Thinking about fall and winter, here in Alberta, and just bought a microfleece union suit (full body long johns).  But, what else should I be thinking about, so I can get out there in the cold months?  I have liner socks, and lots of thick wool socks but what is the most efficient system for a man that heats up quickly?

10:04 a.m. on September 14, 2011 (EDT)
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Wool   Wool   Wool.

Best is Merino wool.   Light layers work best.

By-the-way -- Did I mention "wool" ?

_________________________________________________________

Welcome aboard, Mr. Jewett.

                                                     ~r2~

1:06 p.m. on September 14, 2011 (EDT)
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Just like Rob says, wool is a good choice.

I have steered away from wool, except for a blended sock, as I find it too heavy.

Like yourself Miles I heat and perspire a lot and very quickly once exercising.  I find, for me, that the more open weave of synthetic materials works better for moisture transport away from my skin.

Say, in the snow and exercising a lot.

Feet - Socks, liners and then mountaineering, footwear depending on activity.

Lower Body - Underwear briefs, long LtWt bottoms, fleece bottoms

Upper Body - LtWt long sleeve Turtle neck 1/2 zip, fleece full zip vest, Fleece 1/2 zip pullover

Outer wear - usually ventable and or breathable (e.g. GoreTex), jacket with hood.

Hands - liners, Fleece mutant mit, Mutant Mit GoreTex cover

Head - wind stopper balaclava

1:43 p.m. on September 14, 2011 (EDT)
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Welcome to Trailspace Miles.

Most Efficient: Considering your location, I'd recommend a mid-weight layer of wool or fleece (R2 or the like) on top of the union suit, and then go straight to a down outer layer. Save your pennies and go for the highest quality down, with the best fabric shell, that you can buy; it will last you a decade or more of use with care and repair. Generally, do not get a down coat with a waterproof-breathable shell; it will not be able to dump your body moisture as fast as it needs to in some situations. Get your mid-layers from thrift shops if it means getting a better down coat.

Alternatively, a couple more wool layers would serve you well as an "outer layer" of sorts. Heavier, but maybe more in line with bush-thought.

Look for things with hoods. They are far more efficient than a tall collar and a hat, and that efficiency, in the coldest months, generally outweighs the versatility garnered by using a hat.

If you are very far north, maybe consider a Ventile outer layer for higher-output activities...

5:04 p.m. on September 14, 2011 (EDT)
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Cotton kills! Leave it at home.

I was decending Granite Mtn once and heard a woman's voice screaming and moaning on the snowfield above me. I looked up (I was going to tell her to keep it down I got kids with me, or maybe cheer the guy on for a job well done) when I saw the moaner in question running down the hill toward me yelling, "Its so cold! It hurts!" Evedently the sun-softened snow had soaked her cotton socks and chilled her little piggys.  She exited the snowfield, ripped her boots and socks off and began wringing the sopping socks out.  

She was right next to us so I asked her, gently, if she had heard of wool or polyester.  She had actually never heard of the benefits of anything-but-cotton fabric.  So, my ten year old and eleven year old gave her a sermon on the sins of cotton in the backcountry, complete with their own anecdotes of cold, wet feet after ignoring this law.  She was a convert. 

 

6:11 p.m. on September 14, 2011 (EDT)
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I like Mr.Robert Rowe's answer.  Thankfully, I'm not an itcher.  I can't wait to get out the wools.  Have a nice stack of Cashmere (and a couple Alpaca) turtleneck sweaters I keep finding at "luxury" dept stores on season-ending clearance for around $5 each.  And I still always grab for the one I found for a buck twenty years ago at a thrift store.  Pendletons for the day hikes.

Coincidentally, just last night, I hadn't seen an Alpaca scarf for years, so I obsessed on it until I got home and dug through some boxes and found it to great relief.

6:23 p.m. on September 14, 2011 (EDT)
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merino wool and synthetics both have the benefit of retaining their insulating properties pretty well when they are damp, so either of them are a good choice for winter.  synthetics tend to dry out a little faster than wool, which is worth thinking about if you are prone to perspiration.

in terms of 'heating up quickly,' the best thing you can do for yourself is arrive at a layering strategy that suits your needs.  part of that is the gear itself, and the best approach, in my experience, is to have multiple layers available.  in this case, you might consider having a very light synthetic fleece 'sweater' and a somewhat thicker fleece jacket or pullover available, topped with a shell or an insulated jacket, depending on conditions.  also, don't underestimate the need for appropriate headwear, gloves/mitts, feet (merino wool socks are really the best option for your feet in my opinion). 

the other part of that strategy, which is equally as important, is knowing when to add or shed layers at appropriate times while you are outside.  when you are in high-output mode (snowshoeing, skiing, hiking uphill), shed layers proactively so you don't overheat, wear lighter hat/gloves; overdressing is the number one cause for overheating, wasting energy, perspiring, etc., which ends up lowering your core body temperature AND leaving you less able to regulate your temperature because your layers aren't insulating as well when they are damp/wet.  when you are in a lower-output mode (belaying, waiting, stopping to eat), take the time to add layers so you don't get chilled; don't depend on the fact that you're warm from the high-output activity to carry you through a stop - it often leaves people more prone to hypothermia over the course of a long day out in the winter. 

7:14 p.m. on September 14, 2011 (EDT)
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Adding to Sage's "Cotton kills" is the "You sweat you die" adage leadbelly explain. Especially in frigid Alberta winters staying dry, both from your own sweat and wet snow, is paramount. I always reserve my warmest layers, (down jacket and heavy weight fleece bottoms), for untill I get to camp. Assuming you are snowshoeing or hiking into a site it is far more likely you will overheat and sweat then freeze. Later on that night it will be very difficult to both, dry off and retain your core warmth. I will often have on so little at the trailhead I'll be swearing at myself for how cold I am, guarenteed within an hour of snowshoeing I'm hot again.

To give you an idea, at least what works for me in Northern Ontario-

To hike in- lightweight synthetic top and bottom, wool sweater, softshell jacket, lightweight fleece longjohns, NF mountain bibs. (often even the softshell comes off).

In the backpack- heavyweight fleece pants and down jacket and a shell.

As soon as you get to camp, get off anything that got wet. It will suck. You might even have to stand there a bit to let the persiration on your body dry off. Once you are confident that you are fully dry, put on your warm gear, get a fire going and enjoy the paradise around you!

8:54 p.m. on September 14, 2011 (EDT)
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going from what Jake says, and i generally agree with the way he lays it out, "camp" for me in the winter virtually never includes a heat source at destination.  so i usually wear the same clothes while i'm dealing with dinner, albeit with a much heavier hat.  if i'm really cold, i'll drop the damp outer layers and put on the big down parka and thick pants (fleece or down) and drink a lot of hot tea.  whatever remains damp when i'm crawling into the sleeping bag at night, i drape the damp stuff over me inside the bag.  by morning, everything usually 'sleeps dry' and is warm inside the bag for the next day. 

9:19 p.m. on September 14, 2011 (EDT)
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I'm down here in the southeast US, so no bitter cold usually unless I'm at higher altitude and we have a nasty storm roll in during the coldest months. Sometimes it does, and sometimes we have wind chills below zero so that's what I plan for when necessary.

I love Patagonia's Capilene for a base layer, followed by wool midlayers, and a fleece jacket with a wind blocking liner for an outer layer coupled with a down vest. I also carry a shell for when the weather gets real nasty. Three pairs of wool socks and two pairs of gloves, a balaclava, and a backup wool beanie.

5:42 a.m. on September 15, 2011 (EDT)
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Mike,

I have several Capilene pieces.   Works OK for what they're supposed to do.  However; the "stinky-poo's" are a MAJOR issue.   MAJOR.

I'll probably use 'em 'till they self-destruct, on account of the $$ invested, and I'm so dang frugal.

Another reason I'd like to wring the necks of some of those idiots at "Backpacker" magazine, especially that "wookie", Dorn.   They are right up there, on my list with Gore-Tex and EVA.

                                             ~r2~

7:52 a.m. on September 15, 2011 (EDT)
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Like many other have said, layering appropiately for the conditions is key. A wool or synthetic base layer is key. Then a good midlayer, and then a puffy or thicker item to add in camp. The idea is to be cool to cold when you start hiking. When actively hiking in the winter I just wear a capaline 3 l/s and a columbia l/s hiking shirt. (the hiking shirt doesnt really add any warmth it just protects the cap 3 from pack strap rubbing), and just a pair of winter weight bdu pants.

Most people start out with too many layers on and they end up with a bunch of damp/wet clothes by the time they get to camp.

Everyone likes to say "Cotton kills" which i would agree is mostly true in any other season, however other than your socks and baselayer in winter this is a myth that just wont die. Do a little reading and research on cultures native to the arctic regions and guess what the common trend will be. Yep, that's right, cotton clothes. specifically the outerwear is cotton.  The caviot to this is you have to be 100% sure it will not rain, it has to be the heart of winter where only frozen precip will be encountered. Rain on cotton outerwear is bad, unless its waxed.

Cotton breathes better than anything else bar none, which is why it is used as outwear. Cotton doesn't require a temperature differential to work like goretex, it works anytime and even better in the cold. Cotton will prevent you from wetting out your inner layers.

I use a waxed cotton down jacket as my outermost layer in winter.

 

My typical layering scheme for down to -30F to -40F 

Head: Smartwool balaclava, smartwool beanie, hood from an old synthetic hunting jacket, goggles

Torso: Capaline 3 l/s, columbia l/s hiking shirt, 300wt fleece vest, polypro heavyweight top, pantagonia nano puff, waxed cotton down jacket (jacket gets swapped with ecwcs parka if wetter weather is expected)

Legs: synthetic boxer breifs, capaline 2 long johns,cabelas down long johns, winter weight bdu pants, ecwcs goretex pants.

Feet: smartwool liner, smartwool mountaineering socks(layer smartwool trekking socks if needed), down booties or TNF arctic pull ons.

Hands: Marmot stretch wrist gaitors, smartwool glove liners, OR pl400 gloves, OR Endeavor Mitts. Serius all weather gloves for hiking.

8:12 a.m. on September 15, 2011 (EDT)
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TheRambler said:

Everyone likes to say "Cotton kills" which i would agree is mostly true in any other season, however other than your socks and baselayer in winter this is a myth that just wont die. Do a little reading and research on cultures native to the arctic regions and guess what the common trend will be. Yep, that's right, cotton clothes. specifically the outerwear is cotton.  The caviot to this is you have to be 100% sure it will not rain, it has to be the heart of winter where only frozen precip will be encountered. Rain on cotton outerwear is bad, unless its waxed.

Cotton breathes better than anything else bar none, which is why it is used as outwear. Cotton doesn't require a temperature differential to work like goretex, it works anytime and even better in the cold. Cotton will prevent you from wetting out your inner layers.

I use a waxed cotton down jacket as my outermost layer in winter.

 

 Bless your little heart, Ken, for commenting positively about cotton.   You did so in a very precise manner, also.   Well done!

Since that MORON, whoever (?) he was, made that infamous " Cotton = Death Cloth" declaration ... legions of backpackers and hikers have sworn off of it like the proverbial plague.

FOOLS !!

I know better ... and, I am NO genius.

I'm going to do a well-documented thread on this, soon.

Stay tuned, doooods.   

                                                    ~r2~

11:47 a.m. on September 15, 2011 (EDT)
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I typically heat up a lot when I hike.  For my last long hike, I threw caution to the wind and abandoned layering almost entirely.  For walking, I wore an ancient poly-blend top, and FrogToggs jacket over it.  After a few miles, I would get hot enough to roll up my sleeves and unzip my jacket.  When I stopped for the night, I'd switch shirts to a dry, short sleeve poly top and put on a down vest.  My "hiking top" kept my feet warm at night and dried that way too.  This worked really well during days that were in the 30's and nights in the teens.

11:57 a.m. on September 15, 2011 (EDT)
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Just to throw this out there when it comes to your shell pit zips are an awesome thing to have. All of my shells have them and I will not buy a shell w/o. 

Definitely helps in the area of not over heating/moisture management. 

Layer wise I am a fan of Capilene(3) tops/bottoms and a fleece top, then the shell. 

For me a down sweater is great as long as I am not doing anything strenuous(around camp, etc.) Anything else I sweat like crazy.

First Ascent came out with a jacket that incorporates a down jacket with a shell. I have definitely been looking into it.

I like the Limeade:

http://www.eddiebauer.com/catalog/product.jsp?ensembleId=40146

12:21 p.m. on September 15, 2011 (EDT)
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Obviously, the ole "different strokes for different folks" adage applies here.

A plethora of opinions, here.

None wrong ... many right.   Whatever works for you.  

Why they make vanilla ice-cream .... and, chocolate ice-cream.

Re: "venting"

PitZips are wonderful.   Unzipping a shell when the body gets warm / hot is nifty.    Too bad most manufacturers have eliminated snaps on the placket of jackets.    When unzipping (to cool down) it would be nice to have snaps to partially close or open the front of the jacket.

Why has this occurred (the elimination of snaps)?    Weight?   Gimme a break!

I favor some of my old shells that have snaps.   In "Robert's Perfect World", a shell / top-layer would have PitZips, the obviously required placket zipper, as well as snaps.   NOT Vel-Cro !!    A pox on Vel-Cro !!   Hate that stuff  !!

                                           ~r2~

2:30 p.m. on September 15, 2011 (EDT)
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You are in Alberta. Ever take a look at or (better) talk to one of the Mounties who stand out there throughout the winter? They wear lots of fur - the tall hats, the buffalo full-length coats, etc. Then again, they are mostly standing around and not moving a lot, except to wave the traffic directions.

Anyway, the preceding posts are a mix of good advice and stuff that is just flat wrong. If you look at where the various posters live, you will find that a lot of them have never been in Calgary or Edmonton in midwinter. Banff ranks right up there among the coldest places I have ever been. As a result, the snow stays pretty well frozen, hence dry (makes for great powder skiing!). The east side of the continent (including Ontario) is wet, even in the coldest part of winter).

About cotton - there is cotton and there is cotton. Some cotton clothing will work in some conditions, and some will kill in some conditions. So blanket statements on both sides are half-truths at best. If you do not match the gear to the season, you will die. I grew up in the Arizona desert, wearing Levis and cotton shirts - for the most part, dry desert air. Great stuff, worked well for what we did, especially running around playing hard in 120-130F weather (10% or lower humidity). Pima cotton - best cotton fiber there is (the reservation I grew up on is where Pima cotton was developed). But during a certain part of the year we had a "monsoon" - lots of rain, and cold driving rain at that. Even though it was the Sonora desert, people died of hypothermia, thanks to some properties of cotton (especially cotton denim in pants and jackets) - cotton retains water, and the fibers collapse when wet. So no insulating capacity and lots of evaporative cooling. That's fine for the hot summers, where the moisture is from sweat, but not cold conditions with wind.

Someone above refers to work clothes and cotton as an outer layer. Take a close look at quality outer work clothes intended for cold conditions. First of all, your conditions in Alberta are dry and cold most of the winter. So the clothing does not get wet from the precip - the snow flakes just don't melt at -10C and below. Also a lot of the outerwear work clothing (think Carhart coveralls) is "waxed cotton", hence the fibers are covered. Very similar is "oilcloth". This is not your regular Levis or Wranglers. One big problem with the work clothes, though - they are really heavy (have to be, since they are intended for durability under heavy-duty usage).

The best approach I found for your winter conditions, not only for Banff and the Rockies back country, but even for wandering around town when visiting friends in Calgary, Edmonton, and some small towns, was a good layering system. In the coldest weather, a base layer of mid to expedition weight long johns (merino wool is excellent, Capilene is excellent - I have had none of the odor problems with Capilene that one poster above mentioned, even when spending several weeks of hard backcountry travel, important factor being good wicking properties); an insulating layer (merino wool pullover shirt, soft shell of some type, but several lighter components rather than a heavy bulky single layer of insulation), and an outer windshell - when the winters are as cold as Alberta usually gets, you do not need a waterproof outer layer. Assuming you are warming quickly because of heavy exercise skiing, climbing, etc, you might consider a vest. For pants in the intermediate layers, I use something like Supplex for its wicking qualities and wind resistance, or something like Patagonia's Alpine Guide Pant (several other companies make something very similar). As for the windshell, I currently am using a Wild Things shell. The Patagonia Houdini is very similar.

As an outer insulating layer that is light and breathable, down is very good. Remember, your coldest times are so cold that it is very dry, so no problems with soaking the down.

There are indeed times when you get a warm stretch, and there is the transition time in fall and winter, plus there is the summer. At that time you do want a waterproof breathable outer layer. Event breathes better than most Goretex, although Gore has just come out with a much improved wpb fabric. You will find that a good wpb jacket (hardshell) and bibs or salopet will be needed. In that case, you will want to shed a lot of the inner layers. On long ascents or ski tours, I often just go with light to mid weight long johns (separate top and bottom makes the adjustments easier) with the bibs and jacket over them. As you can see in my avatar (that was Antarctica), I am just wearing the long johns and bibs, no jacket.

The real key is layers that you can readily change. I know you said you got a union suit long johns. But you will find that separate top and bottom is more readily adjustable and versatile. Definitely do not make the mistake of getting an all-in-one suit like snowmobilers wear. They basically just sit on their machines, going fast enough to have an effectively high wind speed, no change in exercise level due to slopes (only exercise is twisting the throttle).

I suggest you go to MEC and talk to some experienced people there. There are some good mountain shops around as well in the big cities - Calgary, Edmonton, Banff, Jasper.

Oh, if you go across the border to BC, the climate there is much damper and the snow is much wetter, particularly if you go to the Coast Ranges. I did one backcountry ski tour in Garibaldi - lots of wet snow. The waterproof outer layer was essential. Cotton would definitely have increased the risk level.

4:00 p.m. on September 15, 2011 (EDT)
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+1 on pit zips.  I almost never hike with them closed, but I love the option.

I have to be careful when hiking or snowshoeing cold weather.  There's some disconnect between how I feel and how my body actually is.  I always feel hot, so I tend to want to feel somewhat cool when moving.  I'm quick to throw on additional layers when I stop, but when moving, I like to be on the cool side.  I was hiking the north shore of Minnesota just as winter was coming, and I evidently let my body temp drop too much, though I didn't feel out of any kind of comfort range, and I found myself with hypothermia and almost walking off a 100ft bluff into a kettle lake from the lack of complete cognition.  Matter of fact, I walked up hill on a side trail when I distinctly remember thinking, "That's the trail to the outlook.  I'm close to the car.  I want to keep moving down hill."  I knew where I was, yet I did the exact opposite of what I knew to do.  If you question why mountaineers walk off the sides of mountains, I now fully understand how it happens.  You can have a high level of awareness, yet you'll do something quite different.  Hypothermia is psychedelic in a bad way.

5:55 p.m. on September 15, 2011 (EDT)
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waxed cotton and oilcloth are definitely warm and pretty good at stopping the wind and keeping you warm & dry in anything but a steady, driving rain.  below freezing, that's not an issue.  but, as Bill pointed out, they are heavy, and breathability is an issue.  in effect, they are closer in function to a rubber or coated nylon rain slicker - virtually or completely waterproof, meaning virtually no moisture gets in OR out.   in my experience, better for hard work situations or hunting, endeavors that involve a lot of standing still in cold weather, but not so great once you're moving. 

8:10 p.m. on September 15, 2011 (EDT)
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Besides being more abrasion resistant than most fabrics and it takes fire retatrant treatments well, I can think of few instances where cotton is the best choice.

9:59 p.m. on September 15, 2011 (EDT)
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FromSagetoSnow said:

Besides being more abrasion resistant than most fabrics and it takes fire retatrant treatments well, I can think of few instances where cotton is the best choice.

 

Your comments caused me to pull out mine (waxed-cotton down jacket), and see what kind of condition it's in, since I wore it last Winter.

Care tag says ...  "Brush off mud when dry.  Sponge with cold water if needed.   Line dry.   Do not use soaps or solvent.   Do not iron."

Hmmm ....   Looks OK to me.   A little wipe with the damp sponge, and I'm good to go.   Might need an application of wax.   I have a tin of Barbour's, so I'll do that soon.   Apply the wax on a warm day, and let the wax soak and spread.

"Old school".   But, effective.

                                                  ~r2~

10:22 p.m. on September 15, 2011 (EDT)
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Good to have you back Bill S!I too have never had any odor problems with capilene and really like it.I always shop sales and have always paid way less for it over any merino wool garments, I also use and like wool in certain areas of my body.I do itch from some wool so synthetics are great for my personel use.There are very many strong biased opinions on any forum on the internet so to all those who partake in forums of this type just remember to do so with a smile.Take what you want and leave the rest.ymmv

8:45 a.m. on September 16, 2011 (EDT)
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side note on capilene: the only types of capilene that have persistent odor issues for me are the very thin shirts i wear in the summer.  capilene 1 has a different weave & texture.  it takes a while, 18-24 months, but they never fail to get smelly.  yet i have never had odor issues with capilene 2, 3, 4.   not sure what would explain that, except that i sweat a heck of a lot more in the hot/humid midatlantic summer, whereas i rarely drench the warmer layers.  

8:10 p.m. on September 16, 2011 (EDT)
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leadbelly2550 said:

side note on capilene: the only types of capilene that have persistent odor issues for me are the very thin shirts i wear in the summer.  capilene 1 has a different weave & texture.  it takes a while, 18-24 months, but they never fail to get smelly.  yet i have never had odor issues with capilene 2, 3, 4.   not sure what would explain that, except that i sweat a heck of a lot more in the hot/humid midatlantic summer, whereas i rarely drench the warmer layers.  

 That's interesting, I have only used Cap 2 or 3 and never had a big problem with odor. Could be the difference in the Cap 1 fabric?

5:21 p.m. on September 17, 2011 (EDT)
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To follow up what Bill said, there is a mix of good and bad advice here.  What you wear is location dependent.  My layering for Yosemite is synthetic briefs, Capilene midweight top and bottom, fleece jacket (in my picture at left), REI rainjacket and waterproof pants-Marmot Precips.  Headgear-full fleece balaclava or Turtlefur beanie. Liner gloves from OR, plus big mitts or gloves. Socks-Patagonia or similar synthetic.

I also have a pair of fleece pants, but rarely take them.

I have two parkas-TNF Nuptse for mild weather and a Baltoro (now called Himalaya) for colder weather. The Baltoro is Goretex with a full hood.

On the other hand, Canadians often wear wool with a cotton anorak (Empire Canvas Works makes great ones) for dry, very cold weather.  The wintertrekking.com website is down for maintenance, but when it gets back up, do there and read what Canadians wear in very cold weather. 

2:02 p.m. on September 18, 2011 (EDT)
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Change of Location, if that's OK.

I live in the PNW, (Western Washington) so for us the "Winter" months is less about snow and more about cold rain.  Even in the mountains it is very wet snow. 

I have several different types of "Rain Gear" some of it works better then others, but other than that I don't have much in the way of winter camping clothing.  Most of my heavy work clothing is cotton and I would not be caught dead in it out in the woods, or maybe I would! 

I have a fair amount of Polypro "Long Johns" that I use to keep warm in the spring and fall and if I am working outside in the winter they work great, but would they be good for winter camping?  I think so but have never tried it.  I am hoping to do the Coast Trail (Along the norther Washington coast - National Park) this winter, maybe December or January and would like some advice on what I should start looking at for gear.   Highs 40's to 50's lows in the low 30's most of the time.  Being right on the coast it rarely gets below freezing but it will be WET!  Both in rain and fog / frost. 

Any Suggestion would be great.

Wolfman

5:48 p.m. on September 18, 2011 (EDT)
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anyone know of a cheap source for Capilene 2, 3, or 4 long undies and tops?

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