12 Tips to Help
You Choose Warm Clothes

In a 4 season climate, its nice to know how to dress warmly enough to stay comfortable outdoors. Here are some tips for doing so.

  1. Dress in layers.

    The more layers, the better. Dressing in layers of clothing does several things for you:

    • Layers fill up the space between you and your winter coat with insulation. An undershirt, a shirt, and a sweater each represent one layer. Your winter coat is yet another layer. The more layers of insulation, the better.

    • Layers tend to trap air better. If you have only an overcoat on, the warm air next to your body tends to leak out of the top and bottom of the overcoat as you make body movements. Layers help to hold this air in.

    • Layers allow you to regulate your body temperature more accurately. If you get too warm, you can always open up a layer -- starting with opening up the top of your overcoat and progressively opening up more and more layers as you get warmer and warmer.

  2. Favor natural materials.

    In my opinion, there is nothing warmer and lighter than a down overcoat. If you can, buy one that is rated to a certain temperature such as 20 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

  3. Don't get over-sold on synthetic materials.

    Synthetic materials often come highly recommended. Before you buy synthetic materials, however, be aware of the following:

    • Wool will keep you warm even when it is wet. I know of no synthetic material that will do this.

    • Natural materials tend to breath better. This can be critical when you start to work up a little bit of a sweat and need to evaporate this sweat so that you don't become cold later when you are a little less active.

    One exception is the value synthetics add as wind-breaking materials. It sometimes makes sense, for example, to have a pair of wool gloves (perhaps with leather palms for wear) covered by larger-than-your size mittens that have a nylon shell. This will keep your hands very warm.

  4. Be aware that you lose more heat through your head than any other body part.

    This can be very deceptive. Your head never feels cold. Why? Because your body sends more heat to your head than any other body part to protect it.

    Keeping your brain warm is so critical that your body will sacrifice any other body part before it will let the brain get cold.

    Just because your head does not feel cold does not mean you are not losing heat off the top of your head. Remember this forever! You will not feel yourself losing heat off the top of your head, but you are!

    The reason your feet and hands are cold is because you are losing heat in the head area. Why? Because hands and feet are low priority and your head is top priority.

    This is the body's system for rationing its limited heat supply. Because your head is given top priority when it comes to heat supply, it never feels cold even though it is in fact a giant heat dissipation module.

    Remember! Your head leaks heat. Plug the leak.

    If you will prioritize keeping your head warm, you will have won half the battle in keeping your body warm.

  5. The dumber your head-gear looks, the warmer it is.

    I was recently shopping at L.L. Beans. A man was looking at a bombardier hat with a leather cover and a sheepskin lining.

    A woman who appeared to be his wife said to him, "Forget it! You're not wearing it!" Grimly, he put it back. He had just barely started to look.

    The hat would have gone well with the character Jim Carey played in the film Dumb and Dumber. As dumb as it looks, it is also very warm.

    Yes, head-gear that dramatically alters your appearance is incredibly warm. The converse is also true. Cool-looking winter hats are just that -- a little too cool temperature-wise.

    Why do you think those Russian women wear those big fur hats when it's 20 below zero? Because fur is incredibly warm, that's why.

  6. Keep your feet warm.

    Your feet are in contact with the cold ground. You should wear well-insulated boots.

    Again, favor natural materials. Wear wool socks if you can find them and layer them if necessary.

    Sheep skin boots can also be quite warm.

  7. Keep your neck warm.

    A scarf around the neck or a jacket that zips up to your neck will do.

    There are 2 important reasons for covering your neck:

    • You want to leave as little skin exposed as possible. This is the obvious reason.

    • A less obvious reason is that you want to seal the top of your jacket so that air does not leak out of the body of your jacket. You lose a lot of heat when the top of your jacket is basically an open hole surrounding your neck. If you were a boat, you'd sink.

      Patch up the leaks wherever you can. Be sure to buy a jacket that has velcro seals on the cuffs of the sleeves so that you get a tight seal against the cold around your wrists.

  8. Prioritize! Decide in advance which body parts you wish to keep warmest.

    This was taught to me by a lady from Norway. She says that keeping your priorities straight will help keep you warmer. Some body parts are more important than others.

    Here is how I suggest you prioritize based on what I learned from her:

    • First, you want to keep your torso warm.

    • Second, your want to keep your head warm.

    • Third, you want to keep your feet warm.

    • Fourth, you want to keep your neck warm.

    • Fifth, you want to keep your hands warm.

    • Sixth, you want to keep your legs warm.

    By focusing on what is most important first, you are likely to stay warmer. Why? Because ignoring a very important priority area, such as the head, will make you cold very quickly.

  9. Make sure you don't sweat.

    If you get too warm. you sweat. This is very bad. If you sweat, you get wet. If you get wet, you get cold.

    How do you avoid sweating? Make sure you peel off your layers as you start to get warm. A very fast way to cool off is to open up your jacket. Another is to take off your hat.

    Anything that helps you to radiate heat will help you to cool down. Taking off your mittens turns your fingers into radiator prongs radiating heat. Taking your hat off turns your head into one giant radiator prong radiating heat.

    The key is to stay on top of it. At the first sign of excessive warmth, start opening things up. Usually this happens when you are doing something that causes you to exert yourself, such as climbing a hill.

  10. Keep your face warm by keeping the rest of your body warm.

    Yes, you can cover your face with a scarf or a face mask. Do so if it is cold enough and you have to. However, I find covering my face to be uncomfortable.

    I prefer to employ another tactic. I like to keep the rest of my body so warm that I can afford to lose warmth through my face.

    Think of it as a bank account. Warmth you preserve with other parts of your body can be spent on your face. Call this tactic saving face if you need an easy mnemonic.

  11. Wear long underwear.

    Besides providing an extra layer, long underwear saves your legs if all you are wearing are blue jeans.

  12. Buy a good winter coat.

    I've saved the best suggestion for last. Here are some of the features you want in a winter coat:

    • Make sure it features down insulation. In spite of commercial advertising to the contrary, there is nothing warmer than down -- in my opinion.

    • Make sure it is rated. My coat is from L.L. Beans. It is rated to 20 degrees below zero (fahrenheit). It is quite warm. You can do even better than this at a mountaineering store if you need to.

      Note that the ratings on coats are generally geared towards moderate activity. If you are planning on standing around gazing at the stars through your telescope, you may need to buy something that is even warmer.

    • Make sure it has a hood. This is important because it represents yet another layer. You should wear both a hat and a hood if it is very cold.

      Ideally the hood will stick out in front of your face just like the hoods of Antarctic explorers you see in National Geographic. This traps air near your face. The fur lining that lines the hood is a further air trap. A natural fur can provide a further benefit; it reflects heat back to your face.

      Unfortunately for warmth, the fur on my hood is cotton and acrylic.

    • Make sure that all openings on the jacket seal. This includes the top of the jacket and the sleeves. There should be a pull string that lets you adjust the waist so that you don't lose air out of the bottom.

    • Buy a coat that is long enough. I special ordered mine in a long size. The racks in the store did not carry one that was long enough to suit me.

      Ideally, I want a winter coat to extend far down on my thighs and the sleeves to reach down to my hands.

  13. Conclusion

    How you feel about wintertime is largely dependent on how good a job you do of keeping yourself warm. It's a modest ambition -- wanting to stay warm. But it is very important to your wintertime morale.

    ©Edward Abbott, 2003-2004. All rights reserved. Revised May 4, 2004.

    Questions or comments? Email me at ed@WebSiteRepairGuy.com.