The 4 Layers of Cold Weather Clothing Everyone Should Know

Earlier this year I was contacted by Dale Lewis of Fortress Clothing, who introduced me to the best cold weather clothing I've encountered to date – Fortress Clothing. The boys and I did some testing at the tail end of last winter, but we decided to save the review for when folks started thinking more about winter preps.

Fortress winter clothing addresses a number of cold weather needs:

  • Staying warm when you get wet. Who hasn't gotten slopped by water or slush when out doing chores or even shoveling wet, heavy snow?
  • Staying comfortable in a range of temperatures. I hate it when you're going in and out of buildings and you work up a sweat inside and then get frozen clammy outside.
  • Having an extra layer of safety for power outages. When you're without heat for several days, your house may not freeze, but it sure isn't comfortable. This gear is light enough that you can wear it and still tackle day to day activities in comfort.

In this post, I'm going to quickly review the best tips for dressing for warmth, courtesy of the Field Manual for the U.S. Antarctic Program. Then we'll get into some more details about what makes Fortress Clothing a worthwhile investment for your cold weather safety and comfort.

How to Dress for Cold Weather

In general, the rule of thumb for living in a cold environment is to get lots of insulation between you and the environment, and to remove that insulation layer by layer when you get warmer. You need a clothing system that allows you to shed layers quickly and easily before you get damp from perspiration. Several thinner garments will serve this purpose better than one bulky overcoat.

The 4 Layers of Extreme Cold Weather Clothing (ECW) 

  • Long Underwear: Your first layer should be your long underwear. It should fit snugly against your skin and be made of a nonabsorbent material. This layer works by wicking away water and keeping your skin dry. Synthetic fabrics such as polypropylene work the best, whereas wool and silk are the best natural fibers. Cotton is a poor choice because it absorbs water and holds the water next to your skin where it will cool you off.
  • Mid Layers: The next layers are important because they serve to absorb the moisture out of your long underwear and transport it to the environment through evaporation. Once again, synthetics are best here, but wool is a good substitute. Shirts, sweaters, and trousers are what you will likely be wearing when you are active. Pay close attention to the fit, as the mid layers work by trapping air and preventing it from circulating and carrying away your body heat.
  • Insulation Layer: Thickness is warmth. For sedentary activities or extremely cold conditions, an outer garment with several inches of loft is recommended. Down, Polarguard, Holofill, Thinsulate, and Primaloft are the types of insulation that the USAP uses in the ECW gear. For personnel working in the Peninsula area it is important to understand that down loses most of its loft when wet and takes a long time to dry, so you must be careful to avoid getting down garments wet. Synthetic insulation is a better choice for working in potentially wet conditions.
  • Shell Layer: The most important part of your layering system, and the most used besides your long underwear, is your windshell. Studies conducted by Recreational Equipment Co-Op show that in still air, windshells worn over any garment can add up to 25 degrees F of warmth. In windy conditions, windshells can increase warmth by 50 degrees F or more. Personnel working in the McMurdo system are issued a windshell that is windproof but not waterproof. Because of the dry climate, the non-waterproof fabrics are superior because they allow your perspiration to escape more easily. Personnel working in the Peninsula area are issued a waterproof/breathable windshell because of the potentially wet conditions encountered there.
  • Accessories:  Conditions in Antarctica are frequently extreme. Remember that you need to pay particular attention to protect your head, neck, and extremities with layers comparable to your other clothing. If you be doing work that requires much use of your hands, consider requesting chemical heat packs for inside your gloves For work that must be done without heavy gloves or mittens (for dexterity), use polypro glove liners.
  • How Does Fortress Clothing Work as Cold Weather Gear?

    Fortress is a “base” or “mid-layer” cold weather garment that is designed to keep you warm – even when wet. It is designed also to be worn as a mid-layer/insulation garment (ie: underwear/Fortress mid-layer garment/outer shell appropriate for the conditions – typically NOT an insulated coat).

    The engineered polymer used as the insulation in Fortress clothing is hydrophobic – it repels water. Fortress doesn’t hold on to water, or the perspiration your body puts out. 

    Water is 25X more conductive than air, so if your sweat, slush, cow slobber or anything else stays trapped next to your skin, the heat of your body is channeled through that moisture away from you.

  • Some other winter clothing options claim to be both waterproof and breathable in one garment. These garments are typically 100% Waterproof and only 15% breathable. Once the pores in the garment are filled, they trap the dampness and you get cold.

    When you pair up Fortress clothing with a windproof shell (not waterproof, as noted above in the Antarctica recommendations), Fortress covers the wet conditions and sweat and your windbreak covers the wind, and you are covered in comfort. Fortress has been worn from -30°F to 70°F.

  • What Customers are Saying About Fortress Cold Weather Gear

    “I purchased the bug out bag, and was extremely satisfied. I used the liner when plowing my drive this winter and did not have to come in once to warm up. The compression sack that was included is perfect to store out of the way. Thanks Fortress clothing!” – Jonathan B.

    “Very impressed how well the jacket adapts from going from single digits to inside buildings with out sweating.” – Ken C.

    “This is singularly the greatest cold weather investment I've ever made. Don't even question its usefulness. Buy it now and be amazed. ” – John S.

    “After suffering with cold fingers while snowblowing our long driveway storm after storm here in Connecticut, I finally ordered your mittens. What a difference. I don't even need to use the heat packs that I used to keep in my gloves to keep my hands warm. Great product and look forward to what you will come up with next!” – Kevin B.

    “I have always had trouble keeping my hands warm until how. This mittens work really good down to 14 below zero. Thanks for a good product.” – Jim H.

    “Just wore the mittens (with a thin glove liner) in 10 F, with 25 mi/hr winds. This is the first time in my life (72 yrs) that my hands stayed warm. Thank you! ” – Herb D.

    No More Cold Feet

    A word about the booties, AKA Hot Socks. Fortress clothing Hot Socks are an insulating foot cover that can be worn inside as a slipped or outside as a boot liner. They are not designed for outside wear as a stand alone item. (The name is “Hot Socks”, not “Hot Boots”.) You can replace your existing boot liner or wear them inside a larger muck boot. I've been wearing mine around the house as slippers because they don't make my feet sweat.

mike lewis