South Louisiana is not known for having very cold winters, but this year has been way different. We have had snow TWICE and a several occasions of freezing temperatures! It’s been almost a decade since it last snowed down here and I don’t think anyone was complaining about that. As outdoor guides, we try to help people get comfortable while being in nature. That included keeping them warm in winter months. There are a lot of people that are ill-prepared for such cold temperatures while we are paddling so we try to have extra gear on hand for them to wear.
Layering in the winter months is the key to staying warm while outdoors. What follows are some beginner tips that we use to help keep ourselves warm. We hope it helps keep you warm in the future.
Base layers are typically some type of moisture wicking material. The go-to for a lot of people is some sort of merino wool or synthetic material. It helps wick any moisture away from your skin. They can be very comfortable, once you find what works best for you. There are different thicknesses of a base layer, so choose your layer based on your level of activity. A super thick layer may not be your best bet if you are going on a tough hike in 30-degree weather. Think about a thinner base layer and go from there.
For the mid layer, think fleece jackets or some sort of puffy jacket. What you use will depend on what you will be doing. Again, there are a ton of options out there for mid layers. From this layer on out to the outer layer, I recommend some sort of heat releasing area, think zippers. If you start to get too warm, having zippers help release some of that heat but keeping you warm. The purpose of a mid-layer is to help trap the heat and keep it close to your body but you don’t want to get too sweaty so having an area where heat can escape is helpful.
This layer can be numerous types of options. Most people use some sort of puffy jacket as this layer. It can be down or synthetic material. If you are going to be in a damp/humid area then a synthetic material will work best because down does not hold in heat once it is wet. If you are in a dry cold, then down will be your best bet. This can also be a good wind protection layer, if chosen correctly.
You will often hear the word “shell” when talking about an outer layer. Think turtle shell, it protects form the elements. This is what the outdoor industry calls the outer layer. This layer is for any kind of wet and windy conditions. Most rain jackets act as a good wind shell as well. Depending on what you will be doing, this can also be a good insulating layer as well. If you are going to be in a windy situation but no rain, then a soft shell will be a good option. Soft shells are not waterproof, but some have a decent water repellency to them. It has some sort of lining in it that acts as a mid-layer and the outer material is wind resistant. It is usually a fleece material. If you are going to be in wet conditions, then a good rain jacket (hard shell) will be good. Many rain jackets have a zipper in the arm pit area, it helps release the heat that has built up over your activity. The hard shells don’t breathe too well though, so think about that when getting ready for a trip.
Always check conditions before you go out and layer accordingly. Many people only need a couple of layers. A base layer and a soft shell will be good in many situations. If going to an alpine region then a 4-layer situation might be needed. Find what works for you and you will be great. See you out there.