Thursday, February 7, 2013

Staying Warm On The Trail This Winter

It is easier to just tell you what not to wear when you go backpacking -COTTON. There is a phrase that I always use when discussing clothes with anyone who is interested in going backpacking.

“Cotton Kills”

And here is why: Cotton holds water longer than your synthetic materials like polyester or nylon. So when cotton is wet, it loses its insulating value. Unlike wool which will retain its insulating value even when wet. So if you must wear natural material, wear wool.
When water evaporates, the surface that holds the water, cools down. So if you have on cotton while hiking, and you get wet, you will need to dry that article of clothing out as soon as possible. The clothes protect you from the elements somewhat so if you are in wet clothes, you will cool off faster and could slip into a dangerous area called hypothermia.

Hypothermia:  is simply when your body’s core temperature is way lower than normal. A body’s core temperature needs to only drop a few degrees to be considered hypothermic.

Normal human body temperature in adults is 94–100 °F  (34.4–37.8 °C).
Sometimes a narrower range is 98–100 °F  (36.5–37.5 °C).

Hypothermia is defined as any body temperature below 95.0 °F  (35.0 °C).

So you can see that if you wear cotton ,due to cotton’s inability to let go of the water, you will be colder. Not only when it rains or you fall and get wet, but when you sweat while hiking, working at camp gathering wood and so on. Your best bet is to wear synthetic material. You will not find any cotton in my pack other than a few bandannas. I wear and carry polyester and nylon or other synthetic material when I am on the trail.
Now, Let’s talk layers: Using layers is how you are able to control your body’s core temperature and not get too cold or too warm. There is much room for debate on what to wear while on the trail. This is mainly because your body type, the forecasted weather, your elevation, part of the country and many other factors will help you in deciding what to wear. There are, however three basic layers to consider.

Base Layer:
Your Base Layer needs to have a level of insulation factor. Your Base Layer needs to have a wicking property as well. Wicking is the process whereby the fabric pulls moisture away from your skin allowing the moisture to evaporate without affecting the temperature of your body therefore not allowing you to get cold due to evaporation process. But don’t depend on hyour base layer to remove all the sweat you can produce. You will need to maintain your body tempurature by removing or adding layers depending on if you get too warm or too cold.

Insulation Layer:
This layer is just what it sounds like. This layer’s primary job is to insulate you from the cold. It can be fleece, down, polyester, nylon –but never cotton. Remember… Cotton kills.
You may need multiple layers based on the weather conditions. You may survive with only one layer of insulation. If the temperature is foretasted to really plummet, you may need to have multiple layers of insulation or even a layer of down. This is all up to you and your needs. In Georgia, where I do much my backpacking the coldest I have been in was 15 degrees F (-9.4° C) so I can limit my number of insulation layers. I am very hot-natured so I don’t need as much insulation as someone like my wife who is very cold natured. She freezes in the summer time as well.

Shell Layer:
Your shell layer is a wind/water-proof layer to keep out the water and wind. When shopping for a shell, remember to keep it light, folks. After all you will be carrying this layer with you unless it is raining while on the trail. My shell is a light and thin raincoat with a hood and works great for me.
Your shell can be used in place of an insulation layer if the weather is too warm for your actual insulation layer, but too cold to walk around in just your base layer. The shell is also good for adding extra insulation on top of all your other layers when the temperature drops below the expected. My raincoat has come in handier with keeping me warm that it has been for keeping me dry. I have walked around in my top base layer and only my raincoat because it was enough to keep me warm while I was working at the campsite. Then as I started to cool down at rest, I removed the shell and put on a layer of insulation.
This is how “Layering” works. You put on or take off layers to regulate your body’s core temperature. The process works like a thermostat in your home. If you get too cold, bump the thermostat. On the trail when you start to cool down, you add a layer. And visa-versa when you get too warm.
Oh one more thing, don’t forget about your hat. An insulated hat like a wool or fleece beanie will also help in keeping in heat or letting some heat escape. All of these layers can help with keeping you operating at a comfortable temperature while backpacking, so layer up or down in ways that meet your needs. Don’t worry about the other guy or gal since they might have different body types so their layering methods could differ from your own.
Layer in a way that works for you. Make the layers as light as possible because we like to Plan Right and Pack Light.

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