Harrogate Hills Guide to Warm Winter
Many people have heard of layering when dressing, or are somewhat
familiar with the concept, but there are a few key things to know
when dressing to ride in the winter, or do anything outdoors for
that matter. Riding is by no means a sedentary sport, it is aerobic
and causes one to perspire. This makes it all the more important
to dress properly in colder weather, indoors or outside.
Dressing using layers
If you're too cold, too hot, or too wet, it's hard to think happy
thoughts, let alone enjoy what you are doing. Dressing in layers,
instead of one bulky, do-everything garment, can help prevent uncomfortable
and potentially dangerous situations, such as hypothermia. Layering
is the relatively simple concept of dressing in a way that allows
you to adjust to a wide range of conditions.
To provide an optimum working environment, your internal systems
try to maintain a thin layer of warm (30° to 33°C), still air around
your body. If the surrounding environment was constant, and your
life was void of activity, this private micro-climate would be all
you would need.
But once you step outdoors, you run the risk of knocking your micro-climate
out of whack because of physical activity, wind temperature, and
moisture, which can create conditions too extreme for the body's
mechanisms to adapt to.
Wearing several layers of varying weight and fabric allows you
to maintain an optimum micro-climate during periods of physical
exertion, as well as during times of inactivity.
The inner layer (aka underwear) is the most critical because it's
the one that's in direct contact with your skin. Underwear must
transport body moisture (sweat) away from the skin and disperse
it to the next layer where it can evaporate. Why? Water is a very
good heat conductor. A wet garment against your skin can draw heat
away from your body twenty-five times faster than a dry one. Even
in conditions above freezing, this rapid heat loss can cause a dangerous
drop in your body's core temperature, leading to hypothermia.
Synthetics such as polypropylene and polyester now dominate as
the materials of choice for this layer. Synthetics are light, strong,
and absorb very little water. The fact that synthetic materials
such as these absorb very little moisture allows them to draw the
moisture away from your skin, thus reducing the amount of heat loss.
Inner layers are available in light, medium, and heavy weights
to meet the demands of different activities. Lightweight for aerobic
activity where sweat dispersal is paramount. For more stop-and-go
activities, midweight underwear provides both moisture control and
insulation. Heavyweight underwear is best used in cold conditions,
where you're relatively inactive. Finally, the inner layer should
fit snugly but not be restricting.
Since this layer is most important it might well be worth the investment
in some synthetic long underwear. Any that are made from polyester,
polypropylene or another synthetic are appropriate. Outdoor stores
usually have a variety that are designed to 'wick' away moisture
from your body, keeping you dryer and warmer. Campers Place (Newmarket),
Mountain Equipment Co-op (Toronto), or Marks Work Wearhouse, are
all places to find such long underwear.
Note - anything cotton is probably the worst thing you can wear,
particularly if you wear it close to your skin since it absorbs
and holds moisture.
The mid-layer provides insulation and continues the transportation
of moisture from the inner-layer. To slow heat loss, this layer
must be capable of retaining the warmth that is generated by your
body. Wool and synthetics are well suited for this purpose because
the structure of the fibres create small air spaces that trap molecules
of warm air.
As far as moisture management goes, synthetics have the upper hand
because they absorb little water, allowing faster evaporation. Wool
absorbs up to 30% of its own weight in water, leaving it heavy and
difficult to dry. Synthetic fleece or pile garments (pants, jackets,
pullovers, and vests), as well as being lightweight, are very durable
and require less care than wool.
The outer-layer protects your micro-climate from the elements.
It should also allow air to circulate and excess moisture to escape.
Choose on the basis of what you plan to do, where you plan to do
it, and what you plan to spend.
For dry conditions, a breathable (uncoated) wind shell may be all
you need. If you expect conditions to be more severe, a waterproof
(coated) rain jacket might be adequate, but often coated raingear
will trap moisture inside the garment making it uncomfortable and,
over a long period, soak your insulating layers. A variety of breathable
waterproof layers are available for those venturing out and who
want the warmest combination.
That said, there are no miracle fabrics. Under heavy exertion,
your body simply produces more water vapour than any fabric can
disperse. The result can be a build-up of moisture on the inside
of the garment, leaving you wet, clammy, and cold. Strip off a layer
or open any ventilation zippers before this happens, and you'll
be a happier rider.
It's estimated that up to 50% of a person's total heat loss occurs
through the head. This is because your body considers the head to
be a rather important extremity and therefore pumps a hefty volume
of blood to it, keeping it warm and your brain thinking clearly.
Subsequently, your head acts like a radiator, letting heat escape.
This puts a strain on the rest of your system because your body
must now use additional energy to rewarm the blood as it recirculates.
A good wool or fleece hat will not only slow heat loss through
your head, it will also make your hands and feet feel warmer because
of the improved circulation. In extremely cold conditions, nothing
protects your face or keeps in heat like a full-face balaclava or
a neck gaiter.
Hands and Feet
In its effort to keep your head and your body's vital organs warm
in cold conditions, the heart reduces blood flow to the hands and
feet. These areas do not generate much heat on their own, so some
insulation and protection from the elements is needed. Mittens are
warmer than an equivalent pair of gloves because the whole hand
contributes to the warming process. The trade-off is that mitts
inhibit dexterity. Gloves are good for activities that require independent
As with the rest of your body, a layering system will work best.
Thin polypropylene glove liners and socks are available at outdoor
stores. They make a huge difference as they will draw moisture away
from your skin. They can be worn inside any gloves and are thin
enough to fit inside riding boots.
For insulation, wool is the preferred material and provides the
best balance of moisture management, warmth, and cushioning. The
addition of a polypro liner sock will speed up moisture transport
from the feet to the outer wool layer. You can forego liner socks
by purchasing thicker single socks made from a wool / acrylic /
stretch nylon / polyester blend.
Socks should fit snugly. If they're too tight, circulation can
be restricted and your feet will get cold. Conversely, a loose sock
can slip or bunch up, creating pressure spots that can lead to blisters.