Cold Weather Gear Essentials

When you think of cold weather gear, you may imagine mountain climbers risking hypothermia in the snowy heights of Everest or Arctic explorers battling frostbite with layers of dense clothing. But cold weather can be much more subtle and sneaky than that. That’s why it’s important to have the right tactical cold weather gear on hand when you need it.

A good cold weather gear ensemble starts with a moisture-wicking base layer. It can be made of synthetic fabrics like polyesters, or it can be soft and nonitchy merino wool. Wicking helps your body stay dry, which keeps you warmer for longer. Fit is also critical; your base layer should be snug enough to wick away sweat and keep the cold air out, but not so tight as to constrict circulation.

The next layer up is an insulated jacket. This can be a parka or an outer shell garment. Parkas are great for below-freezing temperatures and sedentary activities, but if you’re going to be breaking a sweat in the extreme cold, you can add a puffy jacket for extra warmth. Puffer jackets can be made of down or synthetic fibers, and should have a good amount of insulation to retain warmth.

You’ll want to finish your cold weather gear outfit with gloves, a hat, and ear warmers. The gloves and hat should have a lot of insulation, and be water-resistant or breathable to prevent overheating and condensation. Ear warmers will keep your ears warm and comfortable, while a balaclava will help protect your face from the cold.

A pair of thick, rugged boots will provide protection from the elements. Be sure to get a size larger than you usually wear, so your feet can fit inside thick wool socks and boot liners. Boots with good traction and sturdy soles will also keep you secure on icy or snowy terrain.

A wind shell is an essential part of your cold weather gear, and can increase your warmth by 25degF or more. It should be windproof and have good breathability, which will let your perspiration escape if you’re working up a sweat. For cold, dry conditions, a windshell can be a lifesaver. Personnel near McMurdo Station, for example, get a windproof/waterproof GORE-TEX parka and pants, which are issued directly by the Army and not available to the general public.


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