Subtitle: How to Stay Warm.
*note, most links are to women's products, but that doesn't mean the technology isn't there in the men's stuff too.
Layer 1: V is for Vapor!
Your first layer is all about wicking away moisture. Depending on your activity level in the freezing cold out-of-doors, you could end up generating some sweat. This sweat held close to the skin continues to cool you long after your activity slows down, and can end up chilling you beyond the point of fun. A good base layer will suck moisture away from your skin and dry quickly, allowing you to stay nice and warm. It doesn't need to be super thick either, that's what layer 2 is for. Here are a few of my favorite "V" layer pieces.
Both are great at sucking away moisture, and I love the feel of the Columbia top - silky, and the Omnifreeze auto cools me when I start to sweat - Something I wasn't sure I would like in the cold, but it's pretty nice.
Another good option is a thin wool, or like my very favorite Mountain Hardwear baselayer top I can't seem to find anywhere online. It has an anti- microbial finish and thinner material at the sides where you generate the most heat. I bought it two years ago to climb the Grand Teton in, wore it for 4 days in a row and felt fresh as a daisy. I've worn it so much since then there are holes where the harness sits.
Your second layer is your insulating layer, trapping air between you and the cold environment and allowing your body heat to stay close to your body. This layer's thickness will depend on what you plan to do that day, and can even be two pieces of clothing (one in your bag for later when you stop hiking or ice climbing). If you don't plan on moving around much, opt for a thicker layer. If you will be moving hard, opt for thinner with warm layers in your bag for when you aren't moving.
Another favorite, not pictured, is the Eastern Mountain Sports Tech Wick midweight fleece.
Finally, I couldn't live without my down vest. This is the only one I've ever owned, but it rocks my socks. Marmot 800 fill goose down, water resistant, this thing will cook you in no time. It's great for layering and for keeping in the backpack as a backup.
Often I will skip this layer in pants, or incorporate it into the next layer (see below). Lately though, I am liking the lightweight Columbia Saturday Trail pants, with the Omniheat reflective dots on the inside. I bought these to wear at my cold indoor work location, then tried them with a base layer and rain pants on a mountain hike during the 2013 super CO cold snap. I was warm the whole time.
Your final outer layer should take care of the elements. If it insulates too, bonus, just don't get too hot. "Too hot" isn't something you normally think of when prepping for winter fun, but it is a common problem. As one very suggestive mountain guide told me, "Take it off, and put it in your mouth," - remove layers as needed and eat/drink more than you would normally when playing outside in the summer. Staying warm + cold dry air + added weight = burning more calories. Versatile layers are the most useful. A jacket with pit zips, or pants with zipper vents are good options for letting out extra heat. A hat is also something you can easily remove - you lose a lot of heat through your head so it makes for a good temperature regulator. If you get cold, you have two options: move more or put more layers on.
When I first start winter hiking, I wear my "Go Suit," which consists of insulated pants and a light weight hard shell jacket or water resistant jacket. It's cold to start with, but once I'm moving it's just right.
Skiing, where you still sit on the lift for longer periods of time, requires layers you can easily vent without having to stop to take them off.
Pictured to the right are the Columbia Sweet As Softshell - Super light weight, really only good to block wind, but I've found myself above 11,000 feet with this over my mid weight, hiking along until I hit tree line without feeling cold.
Second and third (center and right) are my hardshell jackets. The Columbia Compounder II and the Marmot Minimalist jacket. I've worn the later ice climbing, hiking and in the rain. The Gore-tex has held up well, and this jacket even saved my life one (long story). The Compounder features the Omniwick technology. Right now I can't really compare the two in wet conditions, but they both do a great job of keeping out the wind! A hardshell jacket like these, over some insulating layers can make for a great, light weight "P" layer option.
And don't forget the all important belay jacket! My long term belay puffy is this bright orange synthetic Marmot puffy that I don't think they make any more. I got the color orange so people could find me on a mountain (See very first photo in this post). Having a super warm puffy can't be underrated, I've spent a lot of down time with this thing on over my hardshell jacket, or belaying my partner on a cold day.
1. I look way short in this photo.
2. It's important that the hood of the jacket is big enough to cover your helmet too. Pretty much a jacket without a hood is not worth buying unless you have another jacket with a hood to go over it, or unless you are staying in town.
Whew! There you have it!
I am sure after this weekend of Columbia Omnigame fun I'll have more opinions on specific gear, but in the mean time, remember, you are a VIP!