Several thin layers of clothing are desirable. Air is trapped between the layers and this provides very efficient insulation. This system also allows for flexibility in adjusting to variations in temperature. Heavy sweating should be avoided as it wets clothing and reduces the value of the insulation. Try to keep comfortably cool by stripping the outer layers early if you get warm. Many older ‘bushies’ prefer woollen clothing for snow conditions as it is warm even when wet, compact to carry, and breathable. Synthetic clothing can be extremely good, but check for bulkiness and windproofness.
Synthetic underwear (polypropylene, chlorofibre) remains relatively dry even with heavy sweating, and is therefore an advantage in snow activities. String or mesh singlets are also good for snow walking as they trap a large amount of air in the mesh.
One or two light synthetic shirts/tops or light woollen jumpers worn over a skivvy or T-shirt give extra flexibility in temperature control. Heavy woollen jumpers should be avoided. Fleece jackets, although bulky, are light and dry quickly if they get wet. A windproof outer shell is required with some of these jackets to retain body warmth; others are reasonably windproof.
Long loose-fitting woollen trousers, below-the-knee breeches or warm synthetic pants suitable for snow can be worn. Breeches can be made by cutting off part of the legs of normal trousers (leaving at least 15 cm below the knee) and finishing the trouser legs with a split-case cuff secured with tie buckles or a strip of velcro. Some types of ski pants, e.g. stretch nylon or Lycra are not suitable as they provide insufficient insulation. Tight and wet jeans can be deadly in the snow, due to the ‘wicking’ effect greatly increasing heat loss from the body.
Two pairs of woollen socks provide the best combination, one light thin pair next to the skin, and a long, thick pair on the outside. Warm feet in the snow are important. Allow at least one pair of spare socks for wearing at night.
Two pairs of mittens are recommended—a pair of greasy-wool or closely knitted woollen mittens, and a separate pair of proofed-nylon, Gore-Tex or oiled japara over-mittens. Fleece mittens with a waterproof nylon outer are also available. Rubber dishwashing gloves are useful for situations where hands get very wet, such as building igloos, snow caves or shelters. They are also useful for activities which may otherwise require bare hands, such as tent pitching or stove lighting, but cannot be used alone for any length of time as they provide no insulation.
It is important to remember that up to 30% of the body’s heat loss may occur through the head. A suitable warm hat is essential for keeping the head warm. Fleece is generally considered best; although wool is very good, some people are sensitive to wool next to the skin.
Gaiters are used to prevent snow from entering the top of boots. They generally have elastic or drawstrings at the top and bottom, and a strap under the instep of the boot to prevent them from riding up. They are made of heavy proofed nylon, canvas or Gore-Tex.
Knee-length gaiters are an advantage in deep snow. Front fastening gaiters are suggested as better than rear, but Velcro and studs can be serviceable. Zip fasteners on gaiters are rarely satisfactory, as they become fouled with dirt. ‘Yeti’ gaiters, which fully enclose the boot and lower leg, provide superior waterproofing for boots, but are very expensive.
Good boots are essential. One-piece leather boots with a good tread are the best. Old boots and lightweight boots with Cordura, suede or canvas inserts are not suitable for snow walking since they are likely to leak, making your feet wet and cold. Wearing plastic bags between socks and boots is not recommended as it prevents ‘breathing’ and your feet become just as wet from your own sweat.
Boot proofing Boots should be warmed in the sun or in a warm room before and after applying the proofing. They should be proofed several times, starting a week or more before they are needed. Suitable proofing materials such as Sno-Seal or Nik Wax should be used.
Cordura/Gore-Tex bootees lined with wool or synthetic fibre can be very comfortable for camp use, but are expensive and probably a luxury except for extended winter trips. They can be sewn by a handyperson for a very reasonable cost.
The jacket should be made from waterproof, windproof but breathable fabric. Your jacket should be loose fitting and have a draw-cord hood. It should be long enough to sit on when being worn.
Overpants should be proofed nylon, oiled or dry japara or Gore-Tex. Overpants are essential for providing insulation for the legs in rain with strong winds. They should be large enough to put on over boots—some types have zippered legs to facilitate this. Models with full-length zips detachable at the waist can be put on without removing skis, which may be advantageous enough to justify the additional cost.