Insulating for Cold Weather

10:11 a.m. on July 22, 2010 (EDT)
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Last year I began winter backpacking and had my first experiences with sub-zero temperatures.

The only time I remember being chilled was while descending Mt. Marcy (NY) with a winter storm blowing in bringing temp's several degrees below zero and strong winds. We ran out of water and did not want to stop, as darkness was closing in and we were only 2 miles from camp. I was wearing all of my gear and still found myself trying to walk faster and faster to stay warm.

I have been considering adding another piece of insulation to my cold weather kit, but I am wondering how much it will help. I wear a Under Armor ColdGear 3.0 (which I cannot recommend enough), a mid-weight fleece, a light down jacket (MH Nitrous) and a shell. While adding another layer under the shell does not inhibit motion and feels comfortable, the shell is already somewhat tight against my original configuration. I suspect my down jacket is compressing a bit when I add the additional layer. Will adding another layer actually help warm me anymore, or am I maxed out by the size of my shell?

For what its worth I am considering another fleece, or a polyester hoodie.

12:58 p.m. on July 22, 2010 (EDT)
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Wear layers. I wear a tshirt, with polypropelene long underwear shirt on top of that, with a wool or synthetic blend sweater on top of that, then a wind or waterproof jacket of something breathable like Gore-tex. Then as you warm up from exersize/walking you can adjust the layers by removal of the outermost ones.

Legs the same waylong johns, wool or nylon pants with a waterproof shell on top.

And a hat on your head ( I like the Balaclava knit wool hats) stops heat loss and good warm dry socks. I wear cotton next to my skin with Melino wool over them. And gaiter to keep the snow out of your boots and pant cuffs.

3:16 p.m. on July 22, 2010 (EDT)
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Insulation isn't the only thing you can do. Eat something, even if you aren't necessarily hungry. Metabolism is a heat-generating activity, so a recovery bar can do much to warm you from the inside out while you're still moving.

10:55 a.m. on July 23, 2010 (EDT)
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Are you sweating? If so you might want to ditch the down and go for more moisture wicking materials and more of them so you can add and subtract when needed. Sweat that can't escape will lead to your core temp dropping substantially and the layers you are wearing becoming less effective no matter how active you are. I just read the Under Armour write up and it says your garment is for low exertion activities and locks in heat. This would suggest to me that it doesn't wick sweat away which is what you need. I'd start there anyway mate, good luck.

3:47 p.m. on July 23, 2010 (EDT)
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Insulation isn't the only thing you can do. Eat something, even if you aren't necessarily hungry. Metabolism is a heat-generating activity, so a recovery bar can do much to warm you from the inside out while you're still moving.

This is a key step in staying warm.You can freeze to death in a -40 degree bag if not filling your furnace with fuel.When winter skiing and or camping i munch all day and eat well before bed.Also remember you can dehydrate just as fast in the winter as in hot weather.

The only thing i can disagree with is the act of wearing cotton as a base layer.It may feel good while dry but takes way to long to dry out once wet.I stay away from cotton altogether while skiing,climbing,hiking or mountain biking.In almost 40 years of playing in the out doors this has never failed me.ymmv

PS Winter camping is one of the most"quiet"seasons you can be outdoors in,just stay safe and enjoy.

3:50 p.m. on July 23, 2010 (EDT)
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Forgot to add one other thing.For me down has never been a problem and i live in the wet pnw,Oregon to be exact.

I prefer down over synthetic bags and jackets for winter warmth,still use wind stopper fleece for vests,jackets and gloves and hats.Lasts longer,stuffs smaller and keeps me very warm.Just invest in good down gear and you will be happy!ymmv

9:36 p.m. on July 24, 2010 (EDT)
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i'm guessing it's not as simple as just adding another layer.

down insulates by creating dead air space - the more loft you have, generally speaking, the warmer the down jacket or sleeping bag. if you wear a down jacket beneath a shell that's somewhat tight, it may compromise the warmth of the jacket.

down can also be compromised by moisture. if you're wearing a down jacket on a hard climb and perspire a lot, it can collapse the feathers and dramatically compromise their insulating properties.

some down jackets have a surface fabric that's highly water resistant and windproof, which can obviate the need for an exterior shell in sub-zero weather. mountain hardwear's sub-zero parka, for example. note that particular jacket has a thick down hood - very useful for staying warm.

i generally don't do hard climbing in a down jacket due to the perspiration risk, and i have done trips down to about 30 below - 70 below zero windchill. instead, i keep the down set aside for the tent, or for short excursions out, and layer wool or fleece under a waterproof-breathable shell. for base layers, i prefer a thick synthetic (patagonia R-1 for example) or wool (expedition weight merino wool) shirt. a fleece vest can add to warmth; after that, i go with a midweight (200 weight) or heavy (300 weight) fleece in sub-zero weather beneath a shell. rarely, i have worn both the midweight and heavyweight fleece, when it's really, really cold.

agree completely with the comment above about keeping your head warm. might take a fleece hat or two, a balaclava, or a windstopper fleece hat (or some combination of these options) beneath a hood to really get the job done, but keeping your head warm has huge benefits.

a key comment in your post - "we ran out of water." running out of food or water will absolutely affect your ability to stay warm.

the adirondacks are great in the winter - have fun the next time out!

5:51 a.m. on July 26, 2010 (EDT)
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..Will adding another layer actually help warm me anymore, or am I maxed out by the size of my shell?

For what its worth I am considering another fleece, or a polyester hoodie.

You are correct in your logic, Brendan, no additional insulating layer will help if the existing layers already make the shell snug. I get my shell parkas two sizes larger than my shirt size for this very reason. Likewise I size all my insulation layers based on where I intend to place them in the stack of layers, so nothing is squeezing the inner elements

As for choice of materials, I use both fleece and down for my mid layers. I usually bring both types on a given trip, but bias to more fleece on trips where I anticipate a fair amount of rain. I still bring fleece on really cold trips when it may snow but never rain, because it works better if you must wear insulation layers while toiling, and also as a safety measure, so I have something warm if I somehow get everything soaked.


10:27 a.m. on July 26, 2010 (EDT)
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You were dehydrating. Remember, just because it's cold/ and or wet outside doesn't mean you don't need to hydrate well. The body cannot metabolize food (and therefore create heat/energy) without water. Without water your body starts to shut down and you feel cold. It shuts down from the extremities first then to the core. Because its wet or cold you didn't feel thirsty and you didn't drink. You also didn't drink because you were starting to chill and didn't want to stop for water. It's a vicious cycle that can and does kill readily. You may have noticed that you weren't sweating a lot also even though you were pushing yourself (?). If so, all the layering in the world will not keep you warm.

1:21 a.m. on July 29, 2010 (EDT)
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Thanks for the replies and suggestions of layers, I am just getting back to a computer as I have been roasting on the beach in MD (over 100F this weekend).

It is tough to tell how much of my of the "coldness" was due to the hydration issue, I would think a good bit. Migolito, I wonder how dehydrated you have to be for the body to stop metabolizing food. I do know that I definitely avoid eating when to feel dehydrated, because it is just unpleasant to eat dry trail mix, clif bars etc at that point. Maybe an energy gel would be a good solution? Surely, melting water is the correct answer, but when you are close to camp sometimes you just make the decision to push-on, for better or worse.

Paully, I am going to check with UA about their product, being 95% polyester (5% elastane) perhaps I over-judged its ability to wick moisture.

With that being said I will tinker with the layers when things start to cool off again. I worked very hard not to sweat on my winter trips last year (what an oxymoron), but now I am reconsidering how successful I was. I think more experience is the important thing here.

11:14 p.m. on July 31, 2010 (EDT)
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Consider another midweight techwick layer over the underarmor.

The first layer or two aren't doing a whole lot of insulating because they are so close to your skin - they are more for wicking away moisture.

Instead of wearing your down jacket, save it in your pack for when you get to camp - if the down fill gets wet from sweat or water it will be useless.

Instead layer fleece and other breathable fabrics under your shell, stay hydrated, and eat lots.

Also something I didn't see mentioned - what were you wearing on your head and neck? If you lose heat through the neck areas without a balaclava or scarf, or even both, you'd be freezing because the warm air trapped in your layers is escaping. Also if your hat was wet from snow or sweat, it may have been time to replace it because it was not retaining heat well for your head. You lose a TON of heat through your scalp.

Despite what another user posted, I would highly recommend AGAINST using cotton directly against your skin. When cotton gets wet, it does not retain heat unlike many synthetic materials that can still retain heat when wet. Also cotton dries rather slowly compared with materials like polyester and polypropylene and fleece.

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