It’s only October, but fall is already in full swing in many places and there’s sometimes a nip in the morning air. It might not be time to pull on your cold weather gear just yet, but it’s definitely a good idea to be digging it out of your storage locker and making sure you have everything you need ready for when winter arrives.
The layer principle is the key to keeping warm. That’s been discussed on here before so there’s no need to go into too much detail, but just remember two or three thin layers will always be warmer than one thick one. It’s also more flexible, and that’s vital if you’re planning to be active in the cold; sweating because you’re overheating can be disastrous. As well as your layers, though, you’re going to need a protective shell. A good outer layer will keep the wind, rain or snow away from the inner layers and let them get on with their job of keeping you warm.
The sort of outer shell layer you choose will depend on what you plan to be doing. In general, waterproof layers should be kept for when you’re actually being rained on or lying on wet ground or snow; even breathable fabrics usually trap some condensation, especially if you’re active. Check out our previous article on waterproof tactical coats for some ideas on how to stay warm and dry.
A windproof jacket is a good idea for all conditions. Cotton ventile or gabardine is lightweight, windproof and quick drying, and is available as a field jacket in a variety of camouflage patterns. A more modern alternative is a synthetic fabric like Cordura with a water-resistant treatment – the Vertx Smock is a great example. The Vertx is light, roomy and has some useful cargo pockets, and can easily be worn over your layer system to protect from wind and light rain.
In extreme weather, a parka is the ultimate in windproofing and insulation. Helly Hansen and 5.11 Tactical both produce some very good models, with the 5.11 Aggressor being a favorite. It comes with a waterproof shell and a removable fleece liner, plus it’s fitted with 5.11’s Backup Belt system for weapons, accessories and other gear. The detachable liner can also be worn on its own for extra versatility.
Don’t forget proper footwear either. Winter tactical boots are easily worth an article of their own but deserve a quick mention here, too. Wet feet are never pleasant, but in cold weather can quickly lead to trench foot or even frostbite. You need properly waterproofed boots, ideally with a breathable liner. Keep leather well waxed or oiled, making sure whatever product you use won’t damage the lining. In deep snow, gaiters are a great idea – they’ll protect your lower legs from dampness as well as making 100% certain no snow finds its way down your boots.
There’s a lot more to being properly dressed for cold weather than just putting a fleece on under your jacket and grabbing a pair of gloves, so start thinking about it now. Dig out last year’s gear and give it a once over. At the minimum, you need to make sure it’s all still serviceable, and some of it might be due replacement. Don’t leave it until the first snow is falling.