What to Wear
This section could get pretty long ... we'll add new material here as it comes up. Feel free to ask us what might work in any situation. And give us your thoughts, too. Our customers know a ton of stuff that we don't!!
People often ask what to wear in a given situation, or if a particular item will be right for a certain activity. That type of question can be answered in a general sense, and that's what we’ll eventually try to do here ... haven't even started that material yet, SORRY! But before getting into various scenarios and the clothes that would work, there are some things that need to be brought up.
People vary A LOT in their tolerance to cold and to heat. In general (definitely there are exceptions!):
- A big factor is where you are from. Folks from the North are more cold-tolerant than those from the South, simply because they are more used to it. Zero degrees Fahrenheit (-18C) is seriously cold to a guy from Miami, but it's nothing special to a guy from Edmonton. But also, a guy from Maine will generally find -5F / -21C in Edmonton warmer than expected because Maine typically has a lot more humidity, and humidity makes the cold feel colder, just as it makes the heat feel hotter.
- Big people handle cold better, and heat worse, than small people.
- Fat people handle cold better, and heat worse, than thin people. Staying still in winter can be really difficult for people with very low bodyfat. I have been fat, and I have been very lean. It’s no coincidence that the coldest winter of my life was also the year I was my leanest. And weight loss makes a big difference, too. When I lost weight from one winter to the next, it made me quite a bit more sensitive to the cold. Once, I was surprised when a customer from Australia returned some of our wool, explaining that it just didn't keep him warm. I was again surprised when he ordered more wool from us a short time later. His further explanation was that he'd recently lost significant weight, and returned our wool before realizing that the weight loss had made him far more sensitive to the cold than before! And I knew just what he meant!
- Men usually handle cold better, and heat worse, than women. This may be simply because men are usually bigger. But I've read that men have “brown fat” cells across the back, and these cells seem specifically designed to create heat. A search for something like "brown fat heat production" will turn up some interesting reading.
- Children and the elderly have a tougher time with cold than young adults. And, speaking personally, it seems the change can happen relatively quickly. Somewhere around age 60, it seems common to become more sensitive to cold.
- Experience is also very significant. If you've already handled some cold, you know you can do it again, and confidence really counts.
- But also, cold tolerance varies a lot depending upon a given person's particular situation:
- Cold seems colder when you are tired.
- And it's worse if you are tired and not well-fed. Adding extra calories, and particularly extra calories from fat, will help you resist cold.
- Coffee can make you more sensitive to the cold, maybe because it dehydrates you.
- You'll handle the cold better after you've been out in it for a few days, and your metabolism cranks up.
- Three or four days without soap and water is like adding 10 degrees F (5 or 6 degrees C) to the temperature. I'm not sure how this works, but I think soap removes oils that would otherwise slow the loss of heat from your skin.
- Hair is effective against the cold. One day in January when I was 23, I turned a mane of shaggy hair into a crew cut and shaved my beard. I was shocked to find out how much warmth my hair and beard had provided! A beard, even a short one, will help to trap air around your face, particularly when you wear a balaclava. Shaving not only removes the beard, but also acts like soap and water, making your skin more vulnerable to the cold than if you just leave it alone. The thinning hair of an older person provides a lot less warmth than the thick hair of a youngster. People would say I still have a full head of hair (right?), but it is a lot thinner than it used to be and in the rain, it feels as if the drops are landing directly on my scalp ... which I guess lots of them are. Not so many years ago my hair made a big difference. I’m just trying to point out that how much hair you have ... how thick your hair is ... is another factor that influences how you experience cold.
- And of course, everyone knows about sitting still vs working hard, wind vs no wind, wet vs dry.
- Speaking of wet vs dry .... It’s a really good idea to avoid sweating in the cold. That’s not always possible, but if it is, it’s worthwhile. When conditions are nothing but warm, it doesn't matter much. But you don't want to be wearing sweaty clothes in the cold. And this is true regardless of what you are wearing. Moisture on your skin makes you more susceptible to the cold -- a breeze you don't really notice with dry skin is noticeable with wet skin. But even when the sweat has been absorbed by your clothing, the heat needed to dry the clothes is coming from you, and the faster the clothes dry the more heat you will lose. With its highly evolved biological structure, wool does a better job of trapping your heat and releasing your moisture than anything man-made. But, it is still much better to allow yourself extra time so you don't have to hustle to get somewhere ... and if you do have to hustle, try removing some clothing to avoid overheating.
Whatever you do, it's important to try on and test the clothing you intend to wear. Put it on weeks or months before you plan to use it, and make sure you can do what you need to. Walk some, climb, stretch, set up your tent, simulate if possible whatever you intend to do when you get out there, and make sure your clothes let you do what you plan to do. The “living room test” won’t really tell you much about how your clothes will perform in the weather, but you can test your freedom of movement without leaving the house. Clothes that are too big can be dealt with, and provide additional layering potential. Too small is a much worse problem.
In light of the above, we will present here some common situations, and suggested clothing for some hypothetical "average" person. Some of this material comes from our own experiences, some from outdoor professionals and WeatherWool Advisors, and some from our customers. If you have information you'd like to add, or a situation you'd like to see addressed, please let us know. Eventually this section could be pretty extensive, detailing many settings, conditions and activities. Please tell us about your experiences and what you've worn --good and bad -- for fishing, skiing, birding, hiking, smokejumping, hunting, photography, military, etc.
One other point. My own preference is to wear more lighter layers rather than fewer heavier layers. It seems to be both warmer and less bulky that way, and gives more possibilities if conditions change. But I'm not talking about a lot of layers, or heavy layers either. Even in pretty serious cold, one or two light, non-bulky base layers of Woolpower® (our favorite for the cold) or Icebreaker under one or two layers of WeatherWool is enough .... more than that is just too bulky.
WeatherWool is not yet offering baselayers, although we would love to because baselayers are critical. We recommend merino wool baselayers, regardless of conditions ... hot or cold, wet or dry. We regard Woolpower as the best cold-weather baselayers on the market. I experiment a lot with my clothing. For example, I deliberately wore plain old cotton street clothes as my baselayer for a couple of hours sitting on the deer stand, starting before first light. And it wasn't even cold ... 30F (-1C). I wore my original All-Around Jac over the cotton. I wasn't COLD ... I didn't have trouble sitting a couple of hours. BUT I surely knew I had the wrong baselayers on! Another time I wore my Woolpower over the cotton T-Shirt and cotton shirt. Wrong again! The wool needs to be against the skin to really do its job. If you are going to make the investment on WeatherWool to wear in cold weather, particularly in potentially serious conditions, please start with a good merino wool baselayer or two. If you know of a cold-weather baselayer better than Woolpower, please tip us!
Trekking / Thru-Hiking / Long-Distance Hiking: We've had some interesting email exchanges with trekkers ... and there is a lot of material so it’s on a separate page.
Rain: The wool can handle some serious rain. The problem with truly waterproof raingear is that it doesn't breathe. So if you are active at all, or if the weather is warm, you get wet from the inside even though the rain doesn't penetrate. That's a terrible feeling, being wet with sweat inside a garment that does not breathe. WeatherWool is not waterproof but if you wear a wool base layer (or no base layer) it will keep you comfortable in some very wet conditions. One of our trekkers had some good info on this you can read on the separate page mentioned just above. He didn't bring any rain gear and told us that although the wool did get kind of wet, it didn't matter ... not even when he was starting the day in damp wool. There is also a page about my own experiences wearing WeatherWool in the rain, in both cold and warm weather.
Canoeing ... or any situation where you might get dunked. If it's warm/hot weather, a dunking might not be a big deal. But if you are going to be in the cold and potentially getting dunked, you've got to wear all wool. If you take an unexpected swim on a cold day, and you're wearing nothing but wool, once you get out of the water, you can just go about your business. You can see me do exactly this by clicking over to our Youtube Channel. Wool does not get wet the way many people think ... get out of the river within 10 or 20 minutes and the wool will not be soaked ... the wool will be wet in the same way your hair is wet ... on the outside ... the wool only soaks up water very slowly. Once you are out of the river, the wool will shed the water and warm right up. That's one of wool's most important characteristics. Getting wet is something that happens normally to sheep, and Mother Nature has solved the problem.
We’ll fill this section out over time. Please let us know what situations you'd like to see discussed. Thanks for your patience.
15 December 2021 --- Ralph