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The Importance of Layering

This past weekend I participated in an avalanche skills training course put on by the University of Calgary Outdoor Centre and the Canadian Avalanche Centre.  Part of this course involved a field day in which we snowshoed around the old Fortress Mountain for six hours practicing valuable skills such as transceiver recovery, probing and shovelling.  Although it sounds like the day would involve a lot of movement, unfortunately it didn’t.  A lot of standing in sub zero weather can equate to bone penetrating shivers and ice blocks for feet! However, fear not! Preparation and choosing what to wear for layers can help avoid the feeling of being uncomfortably cold and get you back to enjoying your winter adventure.


If you remember anything out of this post, remember this; NEVER WEAR COTTON.

The concept of layering is simple. You want to wear enough clothes to keep you warm, but you want to avoid sweating as much as possible.  But since we are all adventure seeking people we’re bound to sweat a bit.  In this case, you want to make sure that whatever is sitting on your skin is made of a material that is going to whisk that sweat away as fast as possible! You want layers because it’s easier to peel them on and off as your temperature preferences change.  Here’s a breakdown of the three key layers, what they’re supposed to do and materials that are good and bad for that layer.

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Most jackets have systems built into them to increase their breathability factor.  Things like vents and pit-zips can be really beneficial in getting rid of excess moisture from sweat build up. Another cool piece of technology that Columbia offers is their Omni-Heat Reflective technology (which I was trying a few pieces out for the first time this day). It is a breathable warming technology that is supposed to help regulate your temperature with little silver dots that reflect and retain the warmth your body generates.


For example, here is what I wore for my field day in the Avalanche Skills Training 1 Course  (which I highly recommend to everyone considering doing anything in the backcountry in the winter).

Base: Helly Hansen Dry Original baselayer top and Spyder Dryweb soft compression base layer bottoms.

Mid: Columbia Omni-Heat® heavyweight baselayer top, Columbia repellent Omni-Heat® liner from the Women’s Whirlibird interchangeable jacket and a MEC insulated down jacket (which has since been discontinued but something similar to this would be excellent).

Shell: MEC Gore-Tex Synergy shell and insulted snow pants.

I was also trying a pair of Columbia gloves outfitted with the Omni-Heat technology. I would normally recommend mittens as gloves tend not to keep fingers warm for very long, so I was especially excited to see how and if this Omni-Heat technology helped my heat challenged digits.  Along with a toque, scarf and thick wooly socks I stayed warm for most of the day.  Since the day was mostly comprised of standing around and not a lot of moving, based on my body chilled scale at the end of the day I’d rate my layering job a success!


I was also wearing my BIOM Terrain boots, which were great for snowshoeing as they still gave me flexibility and movement while keeping my feet as warm as they could be, given the circumstances.  My feet did freeze up at the end but that was because I fell into a tree well and upon resurfacing, snow had found its way into my boots making my socks wet. Some gaiters (which were in my backpack, doh stupid moment!) would have been helpful in this situation. Had that not happened, I’m confident I would have stayed warm all day long!


So invest in a good baselayer, and put some thought into the layers you stack on top, it will make a world of a difference the next time you’re playing outside all day! Stay warm out there!