ATTENTION: ANY OF THE BRANDS CAN BE SUBSTITUTED FOR SOMETHING CHEAPER. It’s the layering system that matters, not the brand or how much you spend. Budget friendly items are totally acceptable. And wool and down can be replaced for synthetic products if you can’t afford them.
There are a lot of things that can kill you in the outdoors, but the thing that gets most people is the cold. Nothing is more sneaky than becoming hypothermic. It sneaks up on you quickly and before you’re even aware of it you begin to lose dexterity in your fingers. That loss of dexterity turns into one of those times you can’t seem to get fire. You’re tired, feeling sleepy, and you laydown to ride out a storm and never wake up.
The top two things that kill people are cold and trauma. And becoming cold is 100% preventable and all about choosing the right clothing for the adventures you’re planning. Short of falling in a creek, what you carry to stay warm should be a little overkill for any weather you might run into.
In survival training, the first priority of survival is shelter and clothing is your first line of shelter from the weather. So before you plan a trip, you need to plan your clothing, how you will pack it, and what is the worst case scenario that I might find myself in if the weather turns bad.In survival training, the first priority of survival is shelter and clothing is your first line of shelter from the weather. So before you plan a trip, you need to plan your clothing, how you will pack it, and what is the worst case scenario that I might find myself in if the weather turns bad.
So lets jump in and talk about all these layers you’re going to need for temperatures -10 degrees F and above. Keep in mind that this is geared towards survivalist and bushcrafting minded type outdoorsman.
Layer 1 – Shell or Waterproofing Layer
IF you get wet, that is typically when you get hypothermic. So preventing yourself from getting wet from external sources is of paramount importance. You need to prevent yourself from getting wet inside your clothes from sweating as well. When it comes to conditions that are below freezing, goretex based products can’t be beat. They are breathable and shed rain and snow very well. But where do you start on goretex outfits? Well I can’t help you there, they are all pretty good and there is an ENDLESS amount of options. So I’ll just tell you what I currently use and another cheaper options I’ve used in the past.
Fjallraven- Ovik Eco Shell
Layer 2 – Insulation Layer (Puffy Jacket)
This layer is one that is usually going to be sitting in your rucksack and saved for when you’ve stopped moving and need to keep warm. I recommend down jackets over synthetic and while many people swear by synthetic jackets, I have always preferred down to synthetic every time. Down just can’t be beat for warmth and packability, and I don’t rely on this layer for when things get wet or when I’m moving a lot. I rely on wool for when wet weather is going to be an issue, because its bomb proof, durable, and beats all the properties of synthetic materials in my opinion.
Though many would argue with me, as a bushcrafter, wool is always your go to layering fiber. Synthetic materials DO NOT DO WELL AROUND FIRES! And since a solid outdoorsman is usually living around a campfire regularly, I think you’re best suited choosing a fiber that is resistant to sparks. Remember to keep your down jacket away from fires as well, one little spark is all it takes to put a massive hole in your expensive jacket. Same goes for your shell as well! Don’t wear synthetic products next to the fire, PERIOD!
Layer 3 – Wool Anorak
This is my most used piece of outdoor clothing and is considered the most important part of the layering system for bushcrafters. This piece of clothing will hold all your valuable items such as phone, wallet, saw, and other little handy tools you want to keep close at hand. Enough can’t be said about having one and once you buy one, it will become your most used piece of outdoor clothing, I can guarantee it. I won’t get to deep into the woods about why wool is a superior fiber, I’ll just redirect you to Weatherwool’s website for the science of why wool is superior and let you decide for yourself. As far as my favorite choice, for me there is no other choice but weatherwool. I own 3 of their anoraks, a mouton vest, scarf, fullweight pants, mouton hat, beanie, and I plan to get more. Its just the best quality outdoor wool clothing you can get. Hands down. A distant second would be the Lester River Anorak, which I’ve also owned in the past but sold because its just not as good as weatherwool.
The Science of Woolen Fibers
Lester River Anorak
Layer 4 – Wool Sweater
For another layer to add underneath my anorak for when its really cool out, I like to add a wool sweater. Each layer progressively adds more and more heat retention to the system and since I only layer wool on my skin directly, then of course a wool sweater is a great option for adding one more layer. There are a million options for wool sweaters, so I’ll just tell you what my favorite one is.
Wool Sweater Hoodie
Layer 5 – Base Layer
Good base layers is the literal foundation of all cold weather clothing systems. You can’t have a good cold weather clothing system, without the fabric closest to your skin being warm. And there are so many options available out there on the market, but very few options when it comes to the type of base layer I use. New to the market in recent years is Yak wool, and it far outperforms any other type of wool available in the world in my opinion. The higher an animal lives in elevation, usually the warmer its wool is and yak’s live at the highest elevations of all wool producing animals. Living in the highest mountain range in the world, also equals the warmest and highest quality woolen fibers as well. Yak wool is softer, warmer, more breathable, and outperforms other wools in every single aspect. And since using Yak wool baselayers from Kora Outdoors, I have never wanted to use anything else. I have an entire drawer of base layers that never gets used now. The only other things I’d recommend other than a wool base layer, is UA Level 4 cold gear. Though it pales in comparison to wool in the long term field use, it is marginally warmer. But it gets stinky really fast, and acts as resistance against you when moving long distances due to spandex like material in the product.
Kora Yak Wool
Level 4 Under Armour Cold Weather Gear
Layer 6 – Wool Socks
There is a treasure trove of info out there on socks. So I’ll keep it short and concise and just tell you what I like. In really cold conditions, I wear one thin wool sock to transport moisture away from my feet and one thick one over that. Always remember to bring several changes and weights of socks with you on extended trips. You need to change your socks regularly! The brands I like are listed below. But Darn Tough is hard to beat because their socks have a lifetime guarantee. Wear them out and get a brand new pair. Hard to beat that warranty and they stand behind it too!
Layer 7 – Gloves
I have two main options when it comes to gloves. And as usual I prefer natural products over synthetic ones. Leather and wool is tough to beat, so when its going to be cold my Hestra Guide Gloves are my go to option most of the time. They are pricey, but I’ve owned mine for many years and they still look brand new with lots of use. Totally worth the investment! They have removable wool liners so that you can dry them out next to the fire. The exterior is made of a supple but tough leather that functions well for tending fires and grabbing hot pans. It also works well when doing lumberjacking type work and dealing with cutting tools. You can remove the wool liner and just use them as 3 season work gloves as well. For when its only cool out and I’m not doing much work, I use fingerless army issue wool gloves. They allow me dexterity with my fingers and don’t get in the way when manipulating electronics.
Hestra Guide Gloves
Army Fingerless Wool Gloves
Layer 8 – Underwear
All you need to know about underwear, is that synthetic underwear get stinky fast and wool underwear doesn’t get stinky nearly as fast. I wear wool underwear a 100% of the time in the outdoors, I save synthetic underwear for athletic stuff back at home. Here are the brands I like best:
Layer 9 – Neck Gaiter and Face Mask
The neck is an area where large amounts of blood flow close to the surface of the skin, resulting in greater exposure to the elements. The more you insulate the neck area the warmer you’re going to be. The neck gaiter is highly effective in doing this and definitely worth the investment.
When temps get extremely low, I may go with a face mask. When choosing a mask, be sure it has a vented area for the nose so that the moisture from your breath can escape. You don’t want ice accumulating on the inside of your mask, especially while you’re sleeping.
Kora Neck Gaiter
Seirus Face Mask
With such an abundance of gear available on the internet, I know it can be a struggle to find gear you can count on when you need it most. I hope this info helps you in your search…and remember, if you are able, adopt the, ‘buy once, cry once’, philosophy and you’ll be glad you did.
Thanks for reading!