We already know that body heat is derived from food from the podcast on cellular respiration. The more you eat, the more energy you consume which will then later be released in the form of heat. Additionally, the two largest consumers of calories in your body are your brain and your and thermoregulation- keeping your body at that homeostatic or same temperature of around 98.6 degrees.
If you are not dressed properly your body will be burning through your energy to stay warm and keep you warm. And to be dressed properly, you need to layer.
I will break down layering into three categories. For temperatures in the 30’s, temperatures in the 20’s, and temperatures in the single digits. Layering will be further broken down by feet, legs, torso, and head.
Now for some background information. I was not too invested in layering growing up. I didn’t go out much in winter except for sledding. I had waterproof bibs for that and some old moon boots. My first memorable experience being out in the cold and being cold was during the Bill Clinton inauguration events on the National Mall in 1993. There was a massive concert series at the Lincoln Memorial. I was outside all day waiting to see the King of Pop. I had on jeans with those waffled cotton long underwear underneath, white cotton tube socks, and probably a sweater and ski jacket with some basic gloves. I was really cold.
Later that summer I went on a trip to South America. We had to be prepared to climb the Cotopaxi volcano. I again employed the same layering techniques. I was wearing a pullover jacket I picked up from a friend and a newly purchased wool hat from a market in the Andes. I would have frozen my arse off if I had not been so hot from climbing to a volcano. A bunch of people on the trip had these ‘base layers’ from a brand called Patagonia. They were warm during and after the climb. I was intrigued. I wanted some.
Skip ahead several years later. I got a job in a fly shop and began fishing in the winter. I had access to new clothing materials and plenty of time to experiment with materials and layers. I began camping in the cold and so on, either sleeping in my care or a tent. After the fly shop, I spent several years at an outdoor retailer. My favorite season was winter and my favorite place to be in the store was in soft goods. I looked forward to helping others layer and be warm and safe for their winter adventures.
After a decade I have my layering system down (no pun) and will share it with you.
Some things to think about.
- Fly fishing in the winter has us standing still for a long period of time (the fish are cold and holding and stand there with them) thus we are not really moving and releasing heat
- A base layer is the layer next to your skin, the thinnest layer, one of the only layers when in 30’s
- The 2nd layer goes over base layer, use when in 20’s
- The 3rd layer goes over 2nd layer, use when in single digits
- 4th layers is the outer layer, it is in contact with the air and weather
- You need to protect exposed skin too
- Don’t wear cotton, ‘cotton kills’ was the motto at that outdoor store
- Cotton absorbs moisture and holds onto it and when the sweat cools, it lowers your body temp
- Down is the best insulator as your body heat charges the air spaces and creates warmth
- Down is measured in ‘fill’ or the amount of feather density per given pocket of stitching
- Down is useless if it gets wet, the plumes stick together and there is no space for warm air
- There are synthetic down products on the market to avoid that problem
- Wool is the most versatile natural insulator. It maintains its insulation when wet, absorbs moisture, and will hold onto it and keep you warm
- Cashmere is lighter than wool and warmer. Alpaca has the same properties but both cost more
- Fleece is a synthetic material derived from petroleum. It maintains some insulation when wet
- You lose most of your body heat through your head as there are loads of blood vessels
- Layering makes it difficult to de-robe to go to the bathroom
- You lose about a quart of water an hour from sweating
- Sweat should go from skin to base layer to next layer and so on until it is transferred off your skin, like a bucket brigade moving water from source to fire
- Layers should have static cling or an electric charge to pull the water off your skin (don’t dry with dryer sheets)
- Several layering products exaggerate your body odor
- Don’t look at just the fly fishing companies for layering, look at ski and snowboard, hiking, ice climbing, and other winter sports brands. They all have creative people working on new products to solve the same problems anglers face- staying warm and safe in the winter
- The wind will make you colder, wind chill is a human created scale that is only applicable air blowing over human skin. Your outer layers should all be made of wind-proof materials. These are non-bulky so don’t think because its thin it won’t keep you warm
- Wear more layers than you think you need, you can always take off layers if you are hot. If you go out and don’t have enough, you will be cold all day and put yourself in danger
- Bring backups if you partner forgets something or one of you get soaked
- Everyone reacts differently to cold. Some are not as susceptible as others so you should experiment to find what works for you.
I will be assuming you are wearing waders and fishing in the water, from a boat, or from shore. When you are standing in water the cold water will suck the heat from your body.
Again, I will go over layering based on body parts, starting with the feet, then legs, torso, head, hands, and skin.
- Merino wools socks
- Look for reinforced toes and heels to protect against abrasion
- The taller the sock the more insulation
- I prefer one with tight elastic bands so they stay up
- Some people wear a sock liner as a base layer against their feet. No issues with that except they may cause your feet to be too tight and loose circulation
- Feet are the least used body part when wade fishing and therefore will be cold first as they are motionless and in cold water
- Use the hot packs to heat your feet (an exothermic reaction –chemicals react to oxygen, begin to rust, and let off heat) caution they don’t come loose and bunch up under your foot, get the ones with adhesive
- Wash your socks inside out
- Brands- I prefer smartwool hiking socks and the northface makes a pair too. Orvis sells a 3 pack that is a good deal
- Remember that ice forms on felt soles and becomes dangerous to walk. Rubber boots do not get the ice buildup. Studded boots offer an extra amount of traction on ice.
- Underwear should be synthetic. Throw some gold bond powder in there for good measure
- Base layer or a thin ‘next to skin’ layer made of synthetic or wool. Tuck the ankle portion of base layer into your socks. Wrap athletic tape over top of sock to keep tight but not cut off circulation. Will prevent base layer from coming out
- 2nd or mid layer of synthetic or wool. 200 weight fleece. Bit heavier weight to provide more insulation
- 3rd layer or heavyweight. Most likely 300 weight fleece Not so thick that you can’t bend your legs and climb stairs or roll over a fence
- Some pants come with stirrups. I find the stirrups comes loose and bunch up on my heel
- Some companies make 3oo weight fleece bibs that cover your torso and your legs. This keeps a draft off your skin if your shirt creeps up
- Synthetic pants over all layers to hold wallet etc and to wear when you take off waders. Tom goes into gas stations in his bibs
- Waders go over all of this. Breathable waders do not have insulation so you have to layer underneath. They will allow you to transfer moisture form layer to layer and out of the wader membrane. Neoprene waders provide insulation and thus you can wear less layers underneath
- I prefer Patagonia silk weight as my base layer, a pair of 686 snowboard pants for mid weight that I picked up at a ski store clearance, and Orvis bibs or the old blue Gallatin action wear 300 polartec as heavy layer.
- Base layer should be a short or long sleeve t-shirt, tucked into underwear to keep out draft
- 2nd layer should be long sleeved fleece or wool. I prefer a zip neck with a collar (to allow me to open or close to regulate heat) or a turtle neck to cover more skin, tucked into 2nd layer of pants
- 3rd layer should be a heavy fleece or sweater. I often wear two 3rd layers of increasing insulation and then a sweater over
- Sweaters should be tightly knit to keep body heat in. Loose knit will let wind through if you wear this as your outer layer
- I often wear a down vest over my 3rd layer, it keeps torso warm while allowing arms to be less bulky
- Some ice climbing layers have a crotch strap to prevent riding up and thumb holes
- Look for shirts with a thumb hole in cuff, this will allow you to extend your layer and prevent the sleeve from riding up
- Your outer layer should be weather proof. A bright color will make you easier to find if you run into trouble and people have to find you
- Your two options are a down or a shell. I travel with back up shells and down.
- Down is good when you are not moving a lot, if you move a lot you will let off heat and you will get too hot. These jackets provide insulation so you might not have to wear so many layers underneath. It should have a weather proof or resistant coating
- Shells are just that, a shell. Waterproof and breathable jacket or fleece soft shell material. You need to layer underneath and let the shell protect you from rain, snow, sleet, and wind. Look for ones with extra zippers to the inside, these allow you to release body heat if you get too hot –as when you are doing a lot of walking. I look for a shell with hand warming pockets and a powder guard –which is an internal band that closes to prevent snow from entering the jacket if you fall. It keeps the draft out. I also like an articulated hood. Shorter jackets are made for wading in deeper water.
- I wear Patagonia silk weight as my base layer(s), I have some under armor but that stuff stinks after a while, Patagonia R2 fleece as my mid layers, one of which has a hood, thumb holes, and crotch strap, and an Orvis polartec 300 blue fleece top. I have a variety of wool, cashmere, and alpaca sweaters.
- If you lose most body heat through your head, you need to protect your head
- A neck gator is a tube of material that you wear over your neck. It will keep the cold and wind off of your neck and add an extra layer of warmth. Longer gators can be pulled up over your face to protect your mouth and cheeks
- A balaclava is a hood with an opening for your face. It should cover your neck and be long enough to tuck into your outer layer
- A good hat is probably the most important layering item. It should be tight fitting and provide insulation to keep body heat in and wind out. Tight wool or wind blocking fleece. Your ears should be covered but hopefully not enough to mute sounds around you.
- I have often been warm enough that I have to take off my hat for a while. Don’t lose it if you do
- Most hats do not provide shade for your eyes, some winter hats have them. I have worn a visor over my winter hat to shade my eyes
- I wear a lighter beanie hat when its in the 30s’, more technical hats when colder
- Yellow polarized sunglasses when its dark and or snowy. Clear when its too dark to wear glasses.
- I have a turtlefur wind-proof neck gator, a Patagonia balaclava, and a variety of hats. When its bitter cold and windy I wear my Mountain Hardwear windstopper hat, if its mild and sunny my Patagonia platypus hat, and a variety of random wool hats as cold weather protection and backups.
- Your hands need to be protected but you also need to cast and retrieve line and tie knots
- If you are layered properly you should be warm enough that your fingertips stay warm
- Bring several backups for when yours get soaked
- Ice will build up on your fingers as you strip in line
- The wrist should be tight to keep out snow and cold
- A palm grip is nice but not required
- There are a lot of gloves out on the market now
- Fingertip less – expose your finger tips
- Convertible – fingertip less with a fold over mitten
- Semi –covered – gloves that have your pinky and ring finger covered (fingers not being used) and others exposed – stripping fingers
- Mittens –cover all your fingers which are touching inside
- Mitts – fingers are grouped in 2 and 3 and are covered
- I wear mitts when getting to and from the stream and put them in my pack when fishing
- I wear fingertip less gloves. I like wool and windproof fleece. Tight grip on the fingers is important
- My back up fingertip less gloves are wool and from the military surplus store and sell for under $5
- Hot packs will warm your hands. Its an exothermic reaction (the chemicals react and let off heat)
- I prefer the toe packs as they have adhesive and you can put them on the back of your hand
- If your fingers are too cold (i.e. you get a hook in your finger and don’t know it) take off your gloves and put against body in layers or put on mittens.
- My go-to gloves are the Patagonia windproof fleece gloves, my backups are fingertipless wool or old Orvis windproof fleece (but the fingers are too lose and let in cold air). I wear North Face Gortex mitts for complete protection. I have relegated my convertible mittens for walking the dog.
- The less exposed skin you have the better off you are. Protect your skin from cold, wind, and blowing precipitation
- Dermatone is the only skin care product I wear in the winter, it prevents wind burn. Blowing ice and snow and wind will destroy your skin and protects from sun reflecting off snow and ice.
If you need to warm up, get out of the water and exercise, get your blood flowing. Jumping jacks, pushups and crunches are great ways to get your heart rate up and move blood to your extremities
- Loose boots will allow more room for your feet and promote circulation and keep your feet warmer
- Alcohol lowers your body temperature, it causes your blood vessels to dilate and you lose body heat
- Alcohol inhibits anti diuretic hormone which makes you urinate more. You will get dehydrated and have to expose your skin to the cold more often
- Caffeine is a diuretic and will make you urinate more often
- Eating snow will cool you off if too hot but don’t do it if cold
- If its below freezing your beverage will freeze solid. Get a shell with a water bottle holder on the inside.
Layering check list