Essential Clothing for Traveling in Extremely Cold Weather

Mappingmegan

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Traveling is a fun and exhilarating activity, however if you're not prepared for the weather, you might find that you've effectively ruined your trip. And with snow storms hitting the US this week, there's never been a better time to brush up on your knoweldge of proper wear for cold weather.

The weather is the single factor most likely to positively or negatively affect your travels, though it’s also one of the things most travelers take for granted, and people quite often find themselves caught off guard.

Checking the weather forecast for your destination before you leave is essential to ensuring you are packing appropriate clothes, and you shouldn't make assumptions as to what you believe the weather is going to be. I mean it’s always going to be warm in Texas right?

Always check.

If you're traveling during winter, or to destinations that experience extremely cold weather conditions, make sure you have the following items of clothing with you.

A Weather Proof Winter Coat

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While this may seem intuitive, the right winter coat is imperative to have an enjoyable and safe cold-weather adventure. You won't want to pack just any jacket, you need to think about temperature protection as well as range of motion.

For instance, if your outer layer is so fluffy that you can’t even move your arms, it's probably not be the best bet for traveling. Or, if you're traveling north of Canada you may want to invest in a coat that has a waterproof outer layer.

A cold weather coat should be able to withstand both the rain and snow. It should contain thick insulation and an outer shell that keeps you and the insulation dry.

Don't make the mistake of thinking that the winter coat you wear at home will be enough to get you through winter everywhere. Normal winter coats don’t have enough resilience against the elements, and probably won't stand up in subzero temperatures. The risks of not organizing a coat that has been specifically designed for the extreme cold are hypothermia and frostbite. 

Thermal Layers

When you venture out into the cold, you need to dress in layers to ensure that you have the right level of protection from the elements. Sometimes a single jacket or pair or paints won’t cut it, even if it it's thick or rated for cold temperatures.

Thermal layers that are tight against your skin and insulated provide the most protection from the cold. You want to make sure your base level is made from moisture wicking material, to wick moisture away from the skin.

Avoid wool when you're buying your thermals and go for synthetic material; wool does well when it comes to insulation, but it also holds water, so if you do get wet, you'll stay wet, and your clothes will become heavier. For this reason too, stay away from cotton.

Moisture wicking is also important for maintaining warmth, as it will wick away any sweat while you're active, and it's much easier to stay warmer when your body is dry underneath your clothes.

The other great thing about dressing in layers in general is that if you become too warm, you can remove a layer to make yourself more comfortable easily.

Weatherproof Boots

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The winter months can throw all sorts of unpleasant surprises your way. From snow to sleet to ice, you need to be ready for it all.

Walking around in extremely cold weather conditions is no easy feat, especially if you don’t have the right equipment. Waterproof foot apparel is an absolute must, and you need to make sure you buy shoes that have extra traction so that you don’t slip and fall.

Waterproof boots keeps your feet both warm and dry, as there's nothing worse than having to go through a whole day with wet feet; this can also lead to serious health problems like trench foot.

You should aim for boots that cover well above your ankles; if you're walking through areas that are very wet, and you step into a dirty puddle or the like, high boots will present less risk of water flowing in through the top.

For this reason too, when you're wearing your boots out in the field, have your waterproof trousers come over the top of them instead of tucking them in; this creates an extra layer of protection from water getting in.

Long Wool Socks

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You need to take care of your extremities when you venture out into extreme weather, and fingers and toes are often the first parts of the body to experience frostbite.

One of the best ways to protect your feet is to invest in a pair of thick wool socks. This type of sock is perfect for keeping your feet toasty and warm on even the coldest of journeys.

In cold, wet weather, cotton athletic socks just won't cut it. When it gets wet, cotton loses all insulating properties, so you may as well not be wearing anything on your feet at all.  Wool, especially super-soft merino wool, is a great insulator unlike cotton.

Wool can absorb a high amount of moisture, and dries quicker than cotton, but it's also less prone to retaining odor. Be aware though that if you buy low grade wool to try and save money you might find it ends up being itchy. So we advise you invest in high quality products like Merino wool.

Don't Stay in Wet Clothing

It’s important to remember not to stay in wet clothing. You’ll want to change wet clothes as soon as possible and let them dry. Wet clothing is a common factor in cases of hypothermia; with an air temperature of 5 C (41 F) and wet clothes, your heat loss may be double the rate it would be if they were dry.

If it’s extremely cold, place the clothing you’ll wear the next day inside your bed with you. This is a great trick, as the bed (or sleeping bag if you're camping) acts as insulation that keeps both you, and your fresh clothes warm. When you get up, those clothes will be nice and warm for you to change into.

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Megan is an Australian Journalist and award-winning travel writer who has been blogging since 2007. Having visited 100+ countries across all seven continents, Megan’s travels focus on cultural immersion, authentic discovery and incredible journeys. She has a strong passion for ecotourism, and aims to promote responsible travel experiences.

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