The key to staying warm when outside in cold weather is knowing how to dress properly. Back in my Army days, between being part of the Icelandic Defense Force, a year long tour in South Korea, and of course while stationed in Alaska with Survive Anything Co-Founder Matt, we were taught a simple and appropriate mnemonic to help us get it right, COLD. So let’s get to it.
The following rules apply whether you’re trekking in the mountains or going to a winter football game. The principles of staying warm are universal.
C –Clean, keep your clothing clean.
Aside from the obvious hygiene reasons, the insulating properties of your clothing decrease with the buildup of dirt, oils and grease. Dirty clothing gets matted down and doesn’t effectively trap air. It’ll also hinder the movement of moisture from your body out to the surface layers where it can escape, this will cause you to get wet.
If you’re going to be out for an extended period of time and have limited clothes to change into, a technique you can use is to dry rub. Take the clothes and rub back and forth as you would if you were using water to wash by hand. This will help to break dirt away from the fibers and open the pores back up. Also, shake out your insulating layers to help restore their loft.
O – Overheating, prevent it.
If you’re moving, you’re going to generate more heat, therefore you don’t need the same amount of clothing as you do when static. Dress down just before you start any strenuous activity. Otherwise your body will begin to generate more moisture than even the most high tech wicking, insulating and breathable fabrics can shed that moisture. This of course will cause you to get wet, and when you stop you’re going to feel it.
One way to mitigate overheating it to ventilate, unzip your jacket, let that heat and moisture out. Most modern outdoor clothing has ventilation zips built in, use them. Another technique is explained in our next rule.
L – Loose/Layers, this is how you want to wear your clothes.
Loose clothing traps air and that air is what insulates. Tight clothing also restricts movement and blood circulation.
Wearing layers not only helps trap more air, but it also allows you to customize your clothing arrangement to prevent overheating. When you’re getting ready to move, take off a layer or two. When you stop and begin to cool down you can throw those layers back on. We’ll get into layering systems in a future article.
D – Dry, prevent your clothing from getting wet.
I think we’ve established that we want to avoid getting wet at all costs. Regardless of the type of fabric, when your clothes are wet, their insulating properties decrease. Also, when you are wet your body cools faster.
Not only do you want to reduce the amount of trapped moisture produced by your body, you also want to prevent water from getting in from the outside. So avoid getting wet from the elements, either precipitation or snow sticking to the fabric, of course avoid water obstacles if at all possible. If you do have to cross water, minimize the amount of clothing that gets wet, and have a plan to get warm and dry when it’s over.
So what appears to be the common denominator here?
Do whatever you can to stay dry and select and wear clothing so that it traps the maximum amount of air possible, it’s that air that insulates and keeps you warm. If you or a person in your group does happen to get cold, check out the Hypothermia Infographic we posted a short while back.