Dressing for Winter Activities

Dry cold or snowy, windy or calm? A few minus or a freezing 20 below? Intense activity or taking a lunch break? Your winter gear needs to be flexible and protective so that you can stay warm and dry no matter what.


Layer upon layer upon layer

Dressing in layers is the way to go during winter activities. You need to be able to adjust your clothing as the weather conditions and your level of activity shifts. It breaks down like this: base layer, mid layers and shell layer. One mid layer, a fleece or similar can be enough. But you also want extra warmth during breaks or cold days (reinforcement layer) – clothing that can be removed during more intense activity, such as an insulated down jacket.

Base layer – transport moisture

The layer closest to your body is the base layer. Its function is to transfer moisture and excess heat to an outer absorbant layer and keep you dry while being active. Wool is a fantastic material for your base layer. Merino wool and regular sheep’s wool warms even when damp, breathes and functions well over many days without wash.

Synthetic base layers are also a good alternative closest to yout skin. One difference from wool base layers is that synthetic ones requires rinsing or washing often to function well and avoid bad odour. It is also better at transporting moisture than wool.

Cotton is an example of a material that is not suitable for outdoor activities. Cotton attracts moisture, but cools and chafes when wet. You should avoid cotton, especially in base layers.

Mid layers – warmth

The main function of your mid layers is storing body heat and are used to regulate your warmth depending on level of activity. When you start up an activity you usually wear your base layer, two mid layers and shell layer, but it doesn’t take long until you’re warm enough to remove one of your mid layers. Your first mid layer is usually worn all the time, and wool or fleece are great materials.

The additional mid layer, the reinforcement garment, is specifically for extra warmth when still or on really cold days, and is used to regulate heat. This garment is removed during more intense activity. This way you will retain your body heat when still and avoid getting sweaty when moving. A down or synthetic down (e.g. Primaloft) jacket is ultimate. It’s very practical if this jacket is large enough to fit on top of your shell jacket (easy to put on during breaks without taking your shell jacket off and loosing heat). It is also an essential safety item for subzero conditions and you are required to bring one at all times.

Girl wearing shell jacket over down puffer jacketGirl wearing insulating down jacket as an reinforcement garment on top of shell jacket
Reinforcement garment under shell jacket as part of mid layer
Reinforcement garment on top of shell for extra insulation during breaks

Your outer layer, also known as shell clothing, protects against wind and snow. It’s also used to regulate heat via venting zips.

Your shell jacket should have a proper hood and closures in the collar and around the wrists. It should also have a draw string in the waist and bottom of the jacket. By loosening these closures you can let out excess heat, by tightening them you will retain heat. A traditional parka (soft shell) works well for dry cold and wind, while a synthetic hard shell of Gore Tex type also works for wet cold. If you have to choose one, it’s a safer bet to go for a hard shell so that your shell doesn’t get wet if conditions are snowy. A draw back of a hard shell is condensation. The cold can make your body’s excess heat condense on the inside before transporting through the outer layer. The best way to avoid this is good venting possibilities in arm pits and around the neck, and staying vigilant venting as needed.

Your trousers also need to be a shell layer, so no insulation. They should be made of a Gore Tex style windproof, water resistant and breathable material with vents on the sides to release excess heat. It’s important that they have integrated gaters/snow lock.



Wool is the way to go here. You need two layers of socks, a thinner pair closest to your skin and a thicker pair on top. Preferably bring enough thin pairs to change each day, and at least two thick pairs.


Warm gloves in a windproof, water resistant and breathable material, usually with polyester insulation. Choose a model with a longer sleeve with closures, to be worn outside your jacket.

Layer upon layer also applies to gloves. Bring a thin simple pair of gloves that will act as a liner to your thicker gloves on cold days. They are also great for when you need dexterity during breaks, for example making lunch or coffee.


Bring two beanies, one thinner when active and one thicker for breaks or extra cold. It’s important that your beanie is tight over your ears.

Buff or scarf

If it’s very windy you definitely want to pull a buff or a scarf higher than the collar of your jacket to warm and protect your face.

A buff is a closed tube of fabric, often thick fleece, merino wool, synthetic wicking, or knit material, that you can slip on and off over your head. It’s more practical than a scarf, but a scarf works just fine too.

Sunglasses, goggles and sunscreen

Bring both sun glasses and goggles. It’s very important that your sun glasses have UV protection to prevent snow blindness. Goggles are for windy days when you need more protection. Sunscreen is essential for winter activities, since the snow is very reflective of sun light.