Simple Clothing System: Winter Field Notes

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I spent the month of January trying different combinations of clothing from the Simple Clothing System. Here are a few field notes and observations:

Field Notes:
December 30. Temperature 20 degrees. Windy! Hiking

Top: silkweight baselayer, grid fleece, soft shell jacket.
Bottom: silkweight baselayer, grid fleece, soft shell pant.
Accessories: light fleece hat, fleece balaclava, soft shell gloves, Power Stretch liner gloves.

Observations:
In these conditions I was cold wearing these layers. The wind cut through the soft shell jacket. I would have been warm enough if I had layered my windbreaker under the soft shell jacket for increased wind resistance.

December 31. Temperature 30 degrees. Still wind. Hiking
Top: silkweight baselayer, grid fleece, wind shell, soft shell jacket.
Bottom: silkweight baselayer, soft shell pant.
Accessories: light fleece hat, fleece balaclava, soft shell gloves, Power Stretch liner gloves.

Observations:
These layers were warmer than needed in these conditions and I ended up removing hat and gloves. I could have done without the wind shell inside the system.

January 1. Temperature 20 degrees. Light wind. Nordic Ski
Top: silkweight baselayer, grid fleece, wind shell, soft shell jacket.
Bottom: silkweight baselayer, grid fleece, soft shell pant.
Accessories: light fleece hat, soft shell gloves, Power Stretch liner gloves.

Observations:
I got pretty heated up in this clothing configuration. Cross-country skiing generates far more body heat than hiking and I would have been better off with lighter layers. In the future for these conditions I’ll skip the grid fleece bottoms and wind shell jacket.

January 11. Temperature 30 degrees. Light wind. Hiking
Top: silkweight baselayer, grid fleece, soft shell jacket.
Bottom: silkweight baselayer, soft shell pant.
Accessories: light fleece hat, soft shell gloves, Power Stretch liner gloves.

Observations:
More wind resistance would have been nice. This combo was a bit cool. Add wind shell jacket within system. Legs were fine.

January 20. Temperature 0 degrees. Light wind. Hiking
Top: silkweight baselayer, grid fleece, midweight Polartech Alpha jacket, wind shell, soft shell jacket.
Bottom: silkweight baselayer, grid fleece, soft shell pant.
Accessories: light fleece hat, fleece balaclava, Gore-Tex shell mitts, pile mitts, Power Stretch liner gloves.

Observations:
This layering system is perfect for these conditions and activity level. I was warm without being sweaty or overheated. Pile mitts and shell mitts kept hands warm and comfortable.

January 30. Temperature -25 degrees. Light wind, gusting. Nordic Ski
Top: silkweight baselayer, grid fleece, midweight Polartech Alpha jacket, wind shell, soft shell jacket.
Bottom: silkweight baselayer, grid fleece, soft shell pant.
Accessories: light fleece hat, fleece balaclava, silkweight balaclava, OTG goggles, Gore-Tex shell mitts, pile mitts, Power Stretch liner gloves.

Observations:
I got very hot and sweaty in this combination. Particularly my arms. I was breaking trail in drifted snow and working pretty hard. I would have been comfortable hiking in these clothes but skiing generates way more heat. On my head I needed only silkweight balaclava, goggles and light fleece hat. I started with both my wind shell and soft shell hood on, but finished with them off. Goggles added lots of warmth but frosted up by end of ski, likely because I was sweating so heavily. Had to breathe out my nose to keep nose warm, which was a little awkward. All other skin was covered. Feet got cold in my light backcountry XC boots.

Winter Clothes
Winter Clothes: Clothing like this will take you from 30 degrees to 30 below. From top left: Patagonia Houdini Jacket, Patagonia Guide Lite soft shell jacket, Patagonia Lightweight Capilene Top and Bottom, Black Diamond Stance Belay Parka, ECWCS Level 7 Primaloft pants, Kuhl Klash soft shell pants, Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man Fleece jacket, ECWCS Level 2 Power Grid fleece bottoms, Patagonia R1 Pullover.

Conclusions:
The first and most obvious conclusion to draw from the above observations is that it is important to practice with your clothing system in controlled conditions before you take it out into the field for a real trip. All these observations were done right out my front door hiking and skiing in a small conservation park. In this controlled environment I was able to play around with different combinations of layers in varied conditions without any significant downsides.

Another obvious conclusion is that exertion level has an impact on which layers will be comfortable in a given set of conditions. What isn’t obvious is just how huge that impact is. Cross-country skiing or hiking with a pack sharply decreases my need for layers. I think it’s safe to say that heavy exertion reduces my clothing needs by the equivalent of about 30 degrees Fahrenheit, which is pretty shocking. Nordic skiing at 25 below zero I was badly overheated wearing the same clothes that kept me comfortable while hiking at around zero. This is a dramatic difference and something that I wouldn’t have realized if I hadn’t done these field experiments.

When it comes to handwear, the layering system that I outlined in an earlier post is working great. Some combination of Power Stretch liner gloves, soft shell gloves, fleece mittens and Gore-Tex shell mitts have worked in all conditions that I’ve tried them in from freezing to 25 below. Mittens come out as temps hit zero. Gloves function well for me in most temperatures above that.

For headwear I’ve settled on an equally simple system. A lightweight fleece hat, lightweight fleece balaclava, and silkweight balaclava have served well in all the conditions listed above. In windy conditions I wear these under the hood of my windbreaker or soft shell jacket or under both hoods if its really whipping. These lightweight fleece layers dry more quickly than wool or acrylic hats and offer more versatility as a system than a single, heavier hat would. In extreme cold, goggles offer critical protection to the full face.

At any of these levels of insulation it’s important to have supplemental high loft insulating layers on hand if you stop for a break. These high loft layers will add 20-30 degrees to an insulating system depending on activity level. In modest cold an insulated jacket is sufficient for sedentary warmth. At zero and below insulated pants are necessary.

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High loft insulation comes out when you stop for a break, or is worn to push your comfort level 20-30 degrees colder during start-and-stop activities like walking the dog.

 

Recommended Layering Combinations
Based on my experiments over the last month I’ve settled on the following combinations of clothes depending on conditions. These recommendations are for modest exertion in calm conditions.

  • If it’s windy, add a wind shell jacket under the soft shell jacket in all these recommended configurations.
  • If you’re on skis or snowshoes or carrying a heavy pack consider layering for 20-30 degrees warmer than ambient temperature.
  • If you get cold easily, consider shifting one level colder in these recommendations.
  • Pack high loft insulation to wear during breaks. Use of this insulation can push comfort levels 20-30 degrees colder for start-and-stop activities.

30 Degrees:
Top: silkweight baselayer, grid fleece, soft shell jacket.
Bottom: silkweight baselayer, soft shell pant.
Accessories: light fleece hat, soft shell gloves, Power Stretch liner gloves.
Sedentary Layer: High loft down or synthetic parka.

0-20 Degrees:
Top: silkweight baselayer, grid fleece, soft shell jacket.
Bottom: silkweight baselayer, grid fleece, soft shell pant.
Accessories: light fleece hat, fleece balaclava, soft shell gloves with Power Stretch liner gloves or Gore-Tex shell mitts, pile or fleece inner mitts and Power Stretch liner gloves.
Sedentary Layer: High loft down or synthetic parka. Down or synthetic insulated pants.

Zero and below:
Top: silkweight baselayer, grid fleece, midweight Polartech fleece or active insulated jacket, soft shell jacket.
Bottom: silkweight baselayer, grid fleece, soft shell pant.
Accessories: light fleece hat, fleece balaclava, silkweight balaclava, Goggles, Gore-Tex shell mitts, pile or fleece inner mitts, Power Stretch liner gloves.
Sedentary Layer: High loft down or synthetic parka. Down or synthetic insulated pants.

More Information:
These recommendations are part of a proposed Simple Clothing System that I’ve outlined in a series of posts on the Kitchi-Gami blog. An introduction and overview of the series can be found here. Topics of posts include: baselayers, lightweight fleece, midweight insulating jackets, wind shells, breathable rainwear, winter soft shells and high-loft winter insulation. Additional posts provide podcast resources, a suggested handwear system, and a supplement on clothes for warm weather comfort. A summary of the system with recommendations for each season is found here.

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