We all know that miserable cold and wet weather is going to be the theme of winter over the next few months, so you best get ready. The BMC's new series of Winter Guides will help you prepare for the worst. First off, let's take a look at what clothing you should be wearing and how you should layer it to prepare for the cold and wet.
It’s no secret that British weather is inclement and downright unpredictable. Blue skies in the morning can swiftly turn black, bringing in fronts of rain, hail and sometimes snow, all in classic UK fashion. No wonder we always talk about the weather!
Preparing for British weather starts in the dry, warm, and comfortable surroundings of your home. Don’t leave it until you’re in the depths of a storm to figure out what clothing you should be wearing.
The saying goes: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” And that’s why we recommend the tried and tested layering system for clothing. This classic package consists of a base layer, an insulating middle layer and a weather-proof outer shell. You can add more layers if you prefer, but the minimum is three if you want to be fully prepared for British weather.
He might need a few more layers. Photo: Shutterstock. © Halfpoint.
Simply put, this is the layer that will be next to your skin. Make sure it’s as close-fit as possible and not cotton, as its primary role will be to wick away (disperse) sweat or moisture from your body.
Man-made fibres are most common and are often used in conjunction with Merino wool, which brings together their best qualities – the great wicking abilities of synthetic fibres and the anti-bacterial properties of Merino wool. Stay away from cotton as it retains moisture, which means your undies will end up feeling damp and clammy. Let’s be honest, nobody likes that.
For the colder conditions of winter, you can choose a thicker base layer to provide extra insulation. But remember, if you're doing lots of strenuous activity you might begin to overheat. Everyone is different, so experiment until you find what's suitable for you.
We learnt from the pros. Photo: Shutterstock. © Andrew Fletcher.
The middle layer provides the main source of insulation and helps prevent the loss of heat. Fibres that trap air are most often used to retain heat, while breathability is also sought after to allow moisture from the base layer to escape easily.
Woven fleece material and synthetic fibre wadding are common materials, and sometimes thin down jackets or gilets are used as well, especially in winter. All have their advantages and disadvantages, but the good all-rounder is fleece, especially since it retains much of its insulating properties even when damp, unlike down.
In windswept and cold conditions, many people will turn to a soft-shell for a degree of extra warmth and versatility. There are different kinds of softshells with different properties, but generally this is a middle layer with some degree of wind and water resistance, but with good breathability. This allows you to dispense with the outer layer until full-blown arctic conditions arrive.
Even the best jacket is no protection for a faceplant. Photo: Shutterstock. © Jan Mika.
This is your main protection from the elements and allows your inner layers to function correctly when heading into the storm. Outer layers should provide a windproof and waterproof barrier to keep you warm and dry. Ideally, it will also allow moisture to escape, but the key is finding the balance between weatherproofing, breathability and, perhaps most importantly, cost.
Other useful features include a hood that allows for decent visibility, pockets that can be accessed while wearing a rucksack, and perhaps a pocket that is big enough to hold a folded map. If you’re also a climber, consider whether the hood will fit over a helmet and if the jacket allows for full freedom of movement.
Don’t forget about your bottom half either, because even the most expensive jacket will struggle to keep your entire body dry. Waterproof over-trousers aren’t usually a big financial investment and can provide a great deal of comfort, especially when on long hikes in the rain.
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We can't write a winter clothing article without mentioning the beauty of a huge duvet-like down jacket. When your body is working and perspiring hard they are not generally needed, but as soon as you stop, you cool down extremely quickly in cold conditions. For lunch stops on cold walks, or if you're thinking about heading to the crag to finish off your bouldering project while temperatures are low, they are invaluable.
Down is rated in two ways, on fill power and down quality. Fill power is basically how much space the down occupies, which translates into warmth as it traps more air. When comparing jackets, take note of the manufacturer; British and US manufacturers use different fill power ratings.
Down quality is graded according to the mix of pure down to small feathers, which can be expressed as a ration or a percentage. The purer the down the better, which effectively means you'll be warmer.
Make sure to look after your down items carefully, as they lose their ability to keep you warm when they get soaked. And sometimes they never fully recover.
Like we said before, this system has been around for many years already. If you don’t believe us, check out this article
from international Mountain Guide and Plas y Brenin staff member Rob Spencer, dated 1998!
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