Last night we spent a little over 6 hours laying prone outside. It was a cold, humid night with temps going down to -14F (-26C). When daylight broke, we slowly packed all the gear and left after having observed our next project's HQ.
In these temperatures and laying still, it is crucial to have the right clothing. Layering is key here. Sure, you can have a big insulated parka jacket but this will only protect you so far, not to mention that you won't be able to move fast if you need to. Layering provides a warm microclimate where you body can move the natural warmer air trapped inside the layers around and still be agile and mobile.
We've written already about layering, however I just wanted to mention the basic idea of layering again.
Winter layering usually involves the following:
- Base layer: The inner-most layer. This layer is critical because it’s in direct contact with your skin. In colder temps this needs to be thick, and if you are not very active it has to be thicker still. I like the Patagonia Capilene 4 tops and Capilene 3 bottoms.
- Mid layer: Provides insulation and continues the transportation of moisture from the inner layer. This layer must be breathable regardless of whether you are moving or static. This way, warm air from the base layer can flow freely. For colder winters and if you are still, it's good to have a thick pile fleece. I like either the Patagonia R3 Fleece or TAD Shag-Master-Hoodie.
- Outer layer: Protects you from the elements and should allow air to circulate and excess moisture to escape. Depending on the level of rain/snow or lack thereof, this can be a full on hardshell (less breathable) or a softshell (more breathable but less water resistant). You can add insulation to the softshell as extra warmth. Or, if there is no rain or snow, you just go directly to the Insulated Jacket (see below). I like the Patagonia Super Alpine Jacket for full on conditions and the Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody for windy, snowy days. For the legs, I like the Patagonia Simple Guide pants or the Arc'teryx Beta AR pants, depending on temps and how wet it is.
- Insulated jacket: This goes ontop of everything. You can take it off when it's warmer and put it on when it's colder. This jacket shoud trap the hard-earned warmth of your body and keep it in. It's for when you are really static, you don't want to sweat. I like the Patagonia DAS Parka, simple, light and super warm.
It is important to mention that ALL these items must be synthetic since we want them to dry fast. Cotton and other natural fibers absorb water and take longer to dry. This may lead to hypothermia even when the temperature is not so cold.
Now, hands and feet. This is very important. Extremities get cold fast. On colder temps I go with a Patagonia Capilene liner sock under a pair of expedition weight Merino socks (heavy weight and super warm). Add a good pair of winter boots, I like La Sportiva for this.
Now the hands. You want to remain dexterous but you also want to keep your hands warm. On normal winter conditions, I usually don't wear gloves. However if it's colder, like last night, or wet I go with a mid level, GTX glove like the OR Gripper or the Black Diamond Pilot, and in full on conditions I wear a thin liner under a Black Diamond Enforcer glove.
Working in winter can be tricky, but if you do it right it can be a good thing. No one else is crazy to be out there, so you can take your time and properly recon your target.
Be safe and warm.