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Dressing for Extreme Cold

Being prepared with the right clothing can make all of the difference between comfort and frostbite in winter conditions. Combat the cold, with these tips and gear from DSG Outerwear.

Parts of the country have just seen some of their coldest temperatures of the year yet, with the mercury dipping to 0℉ for the first time since last winter. Keeping warm in these extreme temperatures is different from taking a brisk jog in the woods when the thermometer reads a balmy 32℉.

Hunting, ice fishing, camping, snowmobiling, and even simply hiking in extreme cold can be quite a bit different. Being prepared with the right clothing can make all of the difference between comfort and frostbite, or even life-threatening hypothermia.

Here’s a high-level view of what you need to know.

Layer Up

Regardless of whether it’s 10℉ or -30℉, wearing the right layers is crucial. There are three basic ways to categorize layers: there are base layers, mid layers, and outer layers; some might consider a fourth layer, a waterproof shell, but oftentimes the outer layer offers this function as well.

The base layer sits next to your skin and provides insulation while keeping your skin dry by wicking moisture away from your body. The mid-layer should provide a thick layer of insulation between you and your outer layer, and the outer layer should provide additional insulation while also protecting your base and mid layers against rain, snow, and wind.

Keep in mind that while these basic observations are applicable in all conditions, precisely what base, mid and outer layers are practical will vary. For instance, you might need a thicker mid layer if it is very cold and a 100% waterproof outer layer becomes more important in soaking, driving rain - so attention to conditions is critical to both safety and comfort.

Base Layer Considerations


Let’s start with base layers. While your base layer should be made from wool or a performance synthetic like polyester and will provide some layer of insulation, its main function is to keep you dry. Wet skin is a recipe for hypothermia, so your base layer should be breathable and have wicking properties.

Fit is an important consideration here. Your base layer should be snug against your skin, but not tight (tight fits actually restrict circulation). The weight of the fabric is also an important consideration. Lightweight base layers are best for milder temperatures and mid and heavyweight temperatures for anything below freezing.

Don’t let your base layer carry the entire task of keeping you warm, though, because a base layer can also make you sweat, which is dangerous in the cold. If you can, go with a mid or lighter weight base layer and make up for the insulation with a heavier mid layer.

Mid Layers

With the base layer working hard to keep your skin dry, the mid layer’s most important function is to trap heat and keep your body warm. Insulation material and thickness play very crucial roles here. Three of the best options for mid layer materials are wool, natural down, and synthetic downs and fleeces.

Wool is an excellent insulator and remains warm, even if it gets wet. Natural down, like wool, is an excellent insulator but not as effective in wet conditions. However, synthetic downs and fills are better in cold and wet conditions.

Like base layers, there are basic ways to categorize the weight of a mid layer’s insulation, being light, heavy, and thick. While you can’t always trust the temperature rating of a jacket or bibs, you should reserve light mid-layers for temperatures above freezing, and mid and heavy-weight mid layers for the colder temperature below freezing.

Outer Layer or Shell

Your outer layer is your final wall of protection against the elements. Your outer layer will provide a certain degree of insulation, but it must also protect you against ice, sleet, snow, wind, and rain. Your outer layer should be entirely waterproof, yet breathable. This serves two functions; one is to prevent rain and snow from soaking you from the outside, the other is to allow moisture wicked away from your skin to escape.

Consequently, you’ll want to look for outerwear with either a durable, water-repellent (DWR) or fully waterproof, tested shells with taped, sealed seams. If you can’t stay dry, you won’t stay warm. Boot gaiters are another nice feature that will help to keep out the snow - if it gets in your boots, snow will melt and zap your temperature.

Some choose to complete their outerwear ensemble with a set consisting of waterproof, windproof, insulated jackets and pants, but a nice alternative is a pair of bibs with a built-in drop seat. The bibs rise higher on the waist, helping to keep cold air out and away from your midsection. Meanwhile, the drop-seat design makes it much easier to answer the call of nature when you’re actually in nature; the fewer layers you have to remove, the warmer you will remain.              

Full Coverage: Boots and Socks, Gloves/Mittens, Scarves, Balaclavas, Sunglasses/Goggles

Staying warm in extremely cold temperatures means making sure every part of you is covered. The following accessories are critical to ensuring full coverage - not only so that no part of you is exposed to freezing temperatures, wind, and ice, but also to prevent cold air from leaking in.

Choose warm, insulated boots with aggressive lug soles (and ice cleats, if necessary) for good traction and warmth. Two pairs of socks - a thin, silk inner layer to wick moisture and a thicker, wool boot sock - will help keep you warm and dry. Heated socks are also good for those particularly sensitive to the cold.

Gloves and mittens are also essential in sub-zero temperatures as any exposed skin can rapidly develop frostbite. It is also dangerous to touch certain materials (like glass and metal) with exposed skin when the temperatures are below 0℉. Mittens are good for keeping your fingers warm and “huddled” together; gloves offer better dexterity. Another alternative are flip-top mittens, with a pop off top that give you both advantages of better insulation and dexterity.

Keeping your neck and face covered is also a must. A hood will help, but you should also bundle up with specialized headwear, like a balaclava to ensure that your neck, cheeks, ears, and nose are adequately protected against frigid temperatures.

Finally, goggles and sunglasses, even though they won’t keep you warm, can be vital in the snow that accompanies freezing temperatures. You might think of them as “summer gear” but sunglasses, and to a more pronounced degree, goggles, can protect your eyes and the thin, delicate skin around your eyes from both windburn and glare which can cause snow blindness.                 

Stay Warm, Stay Safe with Women’s Bibs, Pants, and Jackets Designed by and for Women

Here at DSG Outerwear, we’re Doing Something Great. We know that freezing temperatures don’t discriminate, and that’s why we make outerwear and accessories, not just for women, but by women.

If you’ve ever gone into a sporting goods outlet only to be let down by a limited selection of fits and sizes, you’re going to love what you find here: jackets, pants, bibs, and cold weather accessories that are specifically sized and cut for women. These items are perfect for ice fishing, hunting, snowmobiling, or whatever winter sports you enjoy, and are even available in a unique assortment of colorways and patterns!

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