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Travel & Holiday

Dressing for cold weather

Heading to cold climates for your vacation? Read these tips on what to pack to keep yourself warm and cosy
CATS Classified In The Straits Times - October 27, 2010
By: Sheila Lim
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Dressing for cold weather

If you intend to go on holiday in places with a cold climate, it’s important to know what to pack, otherwise you’ll be shivering and chattering, and feeling thoroughly miserable throughout your vacation. And if you’ve a taste for outdoor adventures, knowing how to dress could also make a difference between life and death!

Keeping warm and dry
Unlike animals such as polar bears, seals and foxes living in the wild, we humans do not have fur or blubber to protect themselves against the elements (wind, rain, fog, snow, sweat, cold, heat). So we have devised the “three-layer clothing system” to enable ourselves to function at peak efficiency in all kinds of environments and survive even arctic conditions.

The first (inner/base) layer wicks moisture away from your body, the second (mid) layer traps body heat to keep you warm, and the third (outer/shell) layer repels water and wind.

Heavy exertion even in extreme cold can lead to overheating and excessive sweating, and your clothing getting soaked. Because damp clothing has greatly reduced heat-retaining efficiency, it may no longer insulate you sufficiently once your body begins to cool down, and this makes you prone to getting chilled or even hypothermic.

The three-layer clothing system works on this principle: by removing some clothing layers when you feel too warm, and adding layers as you cool, you can regulate your body temperature, and stay comfortable and dry as the intensity of physical activity or weather condition changes.

Inner or base layer
The purpose of the inner layer is to draw sweat away from the skin and shunt it to the next layers through capillary action, or wicking, where it can eventually evaporate.

To do this most efficiently, the base layer should fit snugly against your skin so that it is in contact with moisture as soon as it exits your body. It should absorb less than one percent of its weight in moisture so that it dries quickly.

Lightweight base layers are used for periods of intense activity when the ability to stay cool and wick moisture away from your body is important. Midweight base layers are a little thicker and heavier. They wick moisture away from your body but also provide more insulation than lighter materials. Heavyweight base layers are used in extremely cold conditions.

Mid layer
The main purpose of the mid layer is to provide additional insulation and trap body heat. Multiple thin mid layers can be warmer yet lighter than one thick layer as air trapped between the layers serves as thermal insulation, facilitating adjustment in the level of warmth. Loose-fitting mid layers allow greater capacity for air circulation and removal of moisture (and heat).

Wool offers good insulation, with fairly good wicking properties, and has the ability to absorb moisture.

Fleece (natural or synthetic) is lighter than wool, provides good insulation even when wet, absorbs very little moisture and dries quickly.

Down offers good insulation and is not bulky when tightly compressed. However, it is expensive, thick, dries slowly and loses its insulating properties when wet.

Synthetic materials such as polyester and microfibre-based fabrics do not have as good a warmth/weight ratio as down. However, they are less expensive, provide good insulation when wet, dry quickly and absorb very little moisture.

Shell/ Outer layer
These are the outermost layer of clothing. Ideally, they should not let wind and water pass through from the outside to the inside, but let moisture pass through to the outside. That is, they should be breathable. While this is enabled to some degree by technologically advanced materials, even the best and most expensive materials involve some degree of trade-off between breathability and water and wind resistance.

Hard shell materials are waterproof and somewhat breathable. Their essential element is a thin, porous membrane that keeps water out but allows water vapour (evaporated sweat) through. Some clothing also feature adjustable vents positioned in areas where heavy perspiration usually occurs, such as below armpits and on the back, to facilitate the evaporation of sweat.

The term “soft shell” is increasingly used to describe garments with water-repellent coatings that block water and wind only partially. They are usually thinner, more breathable and comfortable than completely waterproof materials, and have wicking and insulation properties.

If you are going to be involved in vigorous physical activity, such as jogging, which would cause you to perspire heavily, avoid wearing shell layer garments unless their protective properties are essential. Instead, consider using sufficiently warm mid-layer clothes with some of the required mechanical strength or waterproofing properties of shell layer garments.

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