We’ve Got You Covered: All You Need To Know About Winter Clothing

posted in: Winter Camping 4
Huskies In The Snow
Unlike these Huskies, we need to dress for the cold. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Winter Clothing: Getting It Right When It Counts

Dressing for winter takes some practice.

Yes, we can all wrap up warm, wear a hat and gloves and wiggle our toes when they get a little chilly.

But dressing well for an extended period outdoors in winter requires a bit more skill in clothing management.

Most people have no experience of real cold other than briefly opening their freezer (which is warmer, by the way, than where I like to go winter camping).

Until you go somewhere properly cold, you don’t fully appreciate it. There’s no way you can.

Then, once you are there, you have to re-adjust your thinking and your protocols for staying warm.

There are some basic principles you need to adhere so you don’t get too cold.

Your choice of clothing obviously plays a big part of this equation too.

On The Shoulders Of Giants + Distilling Our Experience

Key members of the Frontier Bushcraft Team have been working and playing in cold places for a long time.

We’ve built up experience of what works and what doesn’t. And we’ve been writing it down.

This isn’t speculation or theorising. It’s a synthesis of what we’ve learned from other experienced people – mentors, teachers, colleagues and companions – combined with our own hard won experience.

Even if you don’t want to haul a toboggan through the boreal forest for several weeks, even if you don’t want to cross the Hardanger Vidda by ski this coming March, even if you don’t want to bag some Munros in January, we’ve written a lot of useful information for the outdoors person who wants to get out and about in the winter.

We’ve gathered together the best of this material below.

Here is an anthology of 8 articles, with links to each one. There’s so much information and advice here, we could turn it into a book.

And maybe we should.

But in the meantime, it’s here for you to consume, digest and apply for free.

Also, every single article has a bunch of comments below it that also contain great questions, opinions and further advice, information and links.

OK, so let’s dive in…

How Cold Affects Your Body

Cold affects your body in a number of ways, some of which lead to loss of performance, some of which lead to injury (or even death)…

Cold Injuries

winkyintheuk-Frostbite-550The human body’s mechanisms for staying cool on an extremely hot day are powerful. The human body’s mechanisms for staying warm on a very cold day aren’t nearly as effective. An understanding of how your body is affected by cold will make you more capable in cold environments and help you avoid cold-injuries. Click through for 5 Things You Should Know About How Cold Affects Your Body.


Creeping-Death-424x550Every year people die of hypothermia or in hypothermia-related incidents. Hypothermia most commonly takes hold when people are not prepared for it. They are often ill-equipped or dressed in inadequate clothing. They do not understand the contributing factors; they do not recognise the signs and symptoms in themselves or their companions and they do not know how to remedy the situation before it becomes too late. Read more about Hypothermia and How To Avoid It.

Fundamental Principles Of Dressing For The Cold

Dressing effectively for the cold requires an understanding of some fundamental principles…

Understanding Heat Loss

800px-Apocalypse_vasnetsov-550x288Awareness of the risk of hypothermia is pretty good these days but still many people succumb to it. What’s often lacking is an understanding of the basic rules that govern the heating and cooling of the human body. This knowledge could make all the difference between an enjoyable trip and a survival situation. Get more info on Mechanisms Of Heat Loss.

Rules For Managing Your Winter Clothing: COLD or COLDER…

Huskies-Pulling-Sledge-by-Frank-Hurley-550x429Cold weather clothing makes winter activities and travel possible. Dressing correctly for cold weather makes you comfortable and is your primary defence against hypothermia and cold injuries. In addition to acquiring and wearing appropriate cold weather clothing, it is necessary to properly manage and care for your clothing. The acronyms COLD or COLDER should be etched on your brain. Read How to Dress for Cold Weather: COLD or COLDER… for more information.

Putting It Into Practice: Winter Clothing Choices

It’s all well and good understanding the principles of heat loss, how to manage your clothing and the costs of not doing so (hypothermia and cold injuries) but what clothing should you choose? Below are some handy guides…

Thermal Layers And Shell Clothing

shell-crop-550-320x550Clothing for winter in the northern wilderness must cope with a wide range of temperatures, from around freezing to minus 50 or lower. Your clothing may also have to fend off serious wind-chill, when travelling by snow machine or skiing across barren terrain such as the Hardanger Vidda in Norway. Your body core must be kept warm to prevent hypothermia and unless your core is warm enough, your extremities are more likely to suffer cold injuries. Read more about Thermal Layers And Shell Clothing.

Footwear, Handwear And Headwear

finger-glove-550Your extremities need special care and attention in cold environments. Your hands and feet are particularly affected by vasoconstriction. This reduction of blood flow to the hands and feet can have serious consequences. Lack of blood flow to your hands will stop them working properly, leading to a loss of manual dexterity. Think about some of the bushcraft or survival skills you might employ – using a fire-flash, preparing tinder or carving feather-sticks. How easy would they be if you could hardly move or feel your fingers? Get to grips with Protecting Your Hands, Feet And Head In Cold Environments.

Winter Clothing On A Budget

Trakker-jacket-ready-for-mushing_250pMany people want to make a journey to the Far North and some are put off by the anticipated cost of specialist clothing and equipment that they will need for this harsh but amazing environment. Until you’ve been, you’re not 100% sure you’ll want to go back again. Frontier Instructional Team member Barry Smith wrote this article based on his experience of outfitting for his first forays into the Arctic Circle. Find out more about Dressing For The Far North On A Budget.

Modifying Clothing For Your Winter Needs

Snow smock with fur ruffThe Swedish Army Snow Smock is a great windproof shell layer that Barry has used on trips up into the Arctic Circle. It’s a great value smock – hard wearing, cheap and functional. Having used this smock for some time, Barry thought that it could be improved. So he set about making a few modifications. We hope this demonstrates how, with a little ingenuity, you can modify existing items to suit your winter needs. Read about the 10 Simple And Easy Modifications that made this garment even better.

Let Us Know What You Think

We’re sure you’ll get a lot out of the material above. Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Plus, please feel free to get stuck into the comments below each individual article as it suits your ares of interest. We’ll be there to answer and assist. As will other readers.

PLUS there’s yet more related articles below…

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Paul Kirtley is Founder and Chief Instructor of Frontier Bushcraft. He has had a lifelong passion for the great outdoors and gains great satisfaction from helping others enjoy it too. Paul writes the UK's leading bushcraft blog. He is the author of Wilderness Axe Skills and Campcraft, as well as having contributed to several other books. Paul has been involved in teaching bushcraft since 2003. He is also a Canoe Leader, British Canoeing Level 3 Canoe Coach and UK Summer Mountain Leader.

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4 Responses

  1. Ross Gilmore
    | Reply

    Great compilation. Each of the articles contains valuable information.

    I think that one aspect of winter clothing that is often ignored is that winter clothing will differ depending on what you are doing in the woods, and your style of winter travel and camping. Asking what winter clothing one should wear is a bit like asking what type of clothing one should wear for work. The answer will greatly depend on what job you have.

    For example, there are many great clothing options if you are traveling using a toboggan and are camping in a stove heated tent. Many of those clothing options would be absurd if you are trying to carry all of your gear along with a week worth of food in a backpack and carrying it up a mountain. While a thick wool coat and a Ventile jacket offer great protection, and may be a good choice when using dog sled or a toboggan, their weight and volume is prohibitive if one is carrying all of their gear on their back. Mukluks may offer great insulation and comfort when traveling along frozen river beds, but would be a horrible choice if you have to strap crampons onto them and start climbing.

    • Paul Kirtley
      | Reply

      Hi Ross,

      It’s good to hear from you. Nice to see your comments on the Frontier Bushcraft blog.

      You’re absolutely right – there is no simple, single solution to winter clothing.

      I think I have more winter clothing items than anything else. From outfits for winter mountaineering in Scotland to ski touring in Norway to snowshoe/toboggan journeys inside the arctic circle, there is not a huge amount of overlap of clothing items. There is, however, a huge degree of overlap in terms of principles and experience in one environment, informs behaviour in another.

      Thanks again for your comment. Please pop in any time.



  2. Buzzard Bushcraft
    | Reply

    Great content a usual..
    Look forward to the book..

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