Dressing in appropriate layers for different conditions is a simple idea that has been used successfully for thousands of years. Knowing the attributes and shortcomings of traditional natural fibers and the materials made from them is an interesting and useful area of knowledge. Combine that with the huge variety of newer high-tech materials that outdoor enthusiasts have at their disposal now makes it easier than ever to explore areas we might normally think of as inaccessible.
Willow and I work and play within two major temperature zones: “cold” and “not cold.” We treat this quote by arguably the World’s Greatest Living Explorer, Sir Ranulph Fiennes as a self-evident truth: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.”
Layers, Use Them
I first experienced this zone differential during my SCUBA diving training in the form of thermoclines. It’s quite interesting and sometimes shocking to move down in the water column mere single digit feet and abruptly go from, say, 60 degree water to 40 degree water. In the SCUBA world, water temps below 70 F are officially considered “cold” especially since water conducts heat away from your body about 25 times faster than air does. Not 25 percent, 25 times. 70 degree water might be nice on a hot summer day but it is slowly, quietly sucking the heat from your body and you will become hypothermic and possibly die if you stay in too long. That’s why we use wet or dry suits. I have three temperature zones for SCUBA; not cold, chilly and cold. For my “not cold” dives in Mexico or Southern California in the summer I wear a relatively thin, dual-thickness (5-3) wetsuit. The torso area is the thickest at 5mm and the arms and legs are 3mm which also helps with flexibility. From Monterey and farther up the Pacific coast I usually use a tri-thickness wetsuit (8-7-6) as well as a hood. I’ve dove in Monterey when the surface temps are in the low 50’s and that tri-thickness suit works great. When you head to a deep dive site like Ballbuster, which bottoms out around 106′, the temps can drop into the 30’s and that enters my “cold” zone and my wetsuit does not cut it as well as my Pinnacle dry suit so that comes out of its bag. The gist of all this is that, with the right clothing for the conditions you can stay comfortable.
Willow and I both enjoy visiting colder climates but don’t like to be cold. Her fur coat keeps her comfortable down into the 40’s F before she lets me know she’ll put up with the indignity of her Ruffwear coat. Willow is a girlie girl and a little doggie fashion at least helps mitigate some of her displeasure at not being naked and carefree. Fashion means nothing to me. I bypass what is “fashionable” for My Style the definition of which is “what is comfortable and whatever works for the conditions.” Some of my clothing is new and quality, some of it is older than me and still going strong.
My standard outfit is usually cotton-based – jeans and t-shirt style. In warm(er) and dry(er) climes cotton is a good material. Down into the breeze-free 50s I can just put a cotton hoodie over a cotton t-shirt and be comfortable. Add in a little breeze or wind and I can just throw on my simple Arc’teryx Beta AR shell or my Mountain Hardwear Snowpulsion Insulated Shell. Below 50 F though and I start entering my “chilly” range. Cotton starts to not cut it anymore and wool takes its place. The first wool garment I reach for is one of the half-dozen or so Pendleton shirts I inherited from my grandfather. If it is dry and not windy that is usually all I need. A little wind or drizzle and one of the shells goes over that and I stay dry and toasty. For a thicker wool layer I reach for my L.L. Bean Norwegian Fisherman’s Sweater. I end up wearing it so often my sister is sick of it, actively hates it and wants me to get rid of it. Not. Gonna. Happen. Far too useful for my needs to toss it. I’ve been comfortable in freezing conditions wearing that sweater under the Snowpulsion shell. For sub-zero temps, especially when trying to sleep in the Tacoma’s camper shell, I have been known to wear my drysuit’s liner which is, essentially, a polar fleece onesie.
Please take this as our personal invitation to practice your own layering combinations as you head out and explore someplace new on your own adventure.