Extreme Cold Weather Work Clothing
for work in winter
Whether you spend whole or part days outdoors exposed to the elements, or in cold, unheated, covered spaces, here are some practical principles to apply to stay warm and work effectively without breaking the bank.
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Layering -- The idea of layering to keep warm is frequently misunderstood to just mean lots of layers, 3 cotton shirts for instance isn't going to do the trick, they are not the best material, they won't sit too comfortably on each other and give you far more laundry to do! Layering is about different layers doing different jobs. To be comfortable and effective in cold conditions, a little planning and strategic buying is more effective than simply throwing more clothes on.
Protracted and serious cold - Thick long underwear is best used as part of your layering system for extreme cold conditions rather than as a main insulation layer with year-round clothes on top. While it introduces extra insulation it also reduces somewhat the flexibility of dress for changing conditions and levels of exertion as taking off your underwear when overheating is not a very practical solution!
Synthetics or merino wool are the better options as they wick moisture away from the skin to outer layers and provide better insulation, cotton is best avoided, though is a safety requirement for some occupations - the only time you should consider using cotton.
Heavy weight cotton underwear - only recommended if required by hazard exposure to electricity or fire.
A bit of a warm-up - a thin extra base layer underneath, with your usual clothes on top for appearances sake can add significant warmth. There's also the advantage that this is a relatively cheap way of adding further insulation and of course because it's invisible to everyone else you don't need a whole range of colors or styles to go with your other clothes. Pick dark or light accordingly so as not to show through the outer layers.
Light-weight thermal underwear, easy care, non-bulky insulation for cold conditions
Women's | Men's
Foundation layer of silk - in a complimentary or contrasting color if partly visible, good insulation
Women's | Men's
The Outer or Shell Layer
- Direct protection from the weather,
this layer should be windproof and may be waterproof.
It could be simply a "shell" with no additional insulation
or it may have insulation built in. Jackets should always
If the cold is not so extreme, or if you wear extra layers when it is very cold, an uninsulated shell is a good choice as it can be worn year-round and as a waterproof in the warmer months too. Being static for any length of time in extreme cold however means that you'll need the shell layer to be insulated too. Waterproof isn't always essential if snow rather than rain is going to fall. Like the insulating layer/s the outer layer should have features such as draw-cords and cuffs that can close over the tops of gloves to prevent warm air being pumped out with movement.
Protect the Extremities - head, hands and feet, in-between bits, ankles, wrists and neck.
"When your feet are
cold, cover your head" - Inuit saying
When fully dressed in the winter, the head is the largest uncovered part of the body, putting on a hat is the first step to make a big difference to keep warm. The effect isn't as immediately apparent as putting on a coat so it doesn't feel such an obvious thing to do (unless you have cold ears!). The other good thing about a hat is it's as easy to take off again if you start to get too warm. A hat allows more freedom of movement and better vision than a hood, so have one as well, use the hood too for extra quick insulation or to shield from the wind.
Styles and materials. I favor synthetic materials over wool for comfort and fit, less itchy and less likely to go out of shape. A beanie type hat is very effective and should be able to be pulled over the ears or have ear flaps that can be folded up if not needed. A clean, plain shape enables the hood on your shell layer to be pulled over and fit closely, a bobble on top of the hat will give an air space that will make the combined insulation less effective. A personal favourite is a close fitting "windstopper" hat with ear flaps, small enough to easily fit in a pocket with a warmth far beyond its size and weight.
Balaclavas are very useful and versatile, they can be rolled up to work as a hat or pulled down to cover the face and neck.
can get very cold very quickly, fingers have
a high surface area compared to their volume which means
they lose heat readily while generating and retaining
heat poorly. Particular attention should be paid to
keeping them warm, they don't need to get very cold
before manual dexterity suffers which could impact whatever
it is you're doing. Sensor gloves allow
you use your touchscreen device without taking the gloves
off, so keeping you warmer and allowing you to get that
call for the next job all the quicker.
The issue with gloves when it gets colder is that the dexterity reduces as the insulation and thickness increases, despite what you may see claimed, there is no magical thin, ultra warm glove that is going to allow you full use of your hands down to minus stupidly cold, it's all a compromise.
RefrigiWear Insulator Mitt
Fiberfill insulation, cowhide outer
Carhartt Men's Waterproof Mittens
Caiman Utility/Iron Workers Gloves
Hi-Viz/Reflective, Long Cuff, Insulated with a tough outer layer
warmers - Disposable, refillable or rechargeable,
these can help your comfort levels significantly, one
for each hand works better than passing a single one
back and forth..
Feet - Insulation from the cold ground is as important as insulation from the cold air
Thermal insoles - Add to almost any footwear to insulate them from the cold ground at little cost while being invisible in terms of what you are wearing, they are no substitute for proper winter footwear however.Socks:
One or two pairs of thick insulating socks, wool provides the best insulation, make sure they are predominantly wool, 70%+, a smaller amount of synthetic material such as nylon or polyester helps durability, some stretchy material like elastane gives a snug fit and prevents them from falling down. Don't be tempted to wear too many pairs of socks and make your boots too tight, if you squash out most of the air, you will have lost the main insulator and they won't be so warm. Start with a thin inner pair, then a thick wool pair inside insulated footwear with an extra thermal insole if the boot sole lacks this.
Thermal socks: Men and Women's
Boots are essential in cold weather as they cover the ankles so reducing heat loss at a thinly insulated region. Thick insulated soles are as important as insulated uppers as a lot of heat can be lost through the only part of our body in contact with the frigid ground.
Rocky Men's Construction Boot
Steel toe, 1200g of thinsulate insulation
6" Steel Safety Toe Waterproof 400g Insulated Boot
Along with the head, the neck is often another often non-insulated region. It is also a region where warmed air can be pumped out and lost to be replaced with cold air requiring warming up again. Both of these issues can be addressed with a scarf or "neck gaiter".
A scarf must be worn correctly to get the best use
from it. An over-sized patterned cotton scarf loosely
thrown around the neck is of little practical use. Wool
or a performance synthetic material are needed and the
scarf should be worn under the shell garment and over
the insulating layer immediately beneath that so that
it restricts air movement as well as providing insulation
and preventing snow ingress. A neck gaiter is a neater
version of a scarf, a tube of stretchy insulating material
than can be worn like a scarf or pulled up over the
lower part of the face like the bottom part of a balaclava.