Cold Weather Camping
No Bugs, No Bears
There are many reasons to go camping in the winter. It is less crowded. There are no bugs. You don't have to worry about bears. Not to mention the sheer beauty of the winter landscape. Cold weather camping does require careful planning and some special equipment, but it is well worth it.
Water to Snow - Drink fast!
What to Wear: Base Layer - Wicks moisture from skin, can also provide insulation.
There are a few materials that are really good base layers. You will want to choose the one based on the following factors. Price - you don't need to spend a fortune. Activity - If you are cross-country skiing then you will need less insulation than if you are ice fishing. Personal tolerance to cold - not everyone feels comfortable at the same temperature. The one fabric you want to avoid is cotton. Insulating fabrics work by trapping air in the fibers, but cotton fibers collapse as soon as they get the slight bit damp. Cotton absorbs water, making for good towels but poor long-johns. Wool on the other hand is a natural fiber that provides excellent insulating value even if it gets wet. The drawback to wool is that it is itchy. The high quality merino wool is not itchy, but is more expensive. Polypropylene is a very common material used for base layering. Like wool, it offers insulation while wet, and it can be found at reasonable pricing depending on the brand. The big drawback to it is that it stinks once used, earning it the moniker polypewpylene. There is also a fleece base-layer called power-stretch. This tends to be better suited to those who chill easily, or lower intensity activities.
This is a high quality merino wool long undershirt. It is more expensive that some polypropylene options, but merino wool is my preferred base layer and I feel it justifies the cost.
What to Wear: Insulating Layer - Does what it says, insulates you from the cold.
The layer worn on top of your base layer is the insulating layer. This is what provides the bulk of your warmth. Actually, more accurately, it traps the warmth given off by your body. Unless your are wearing battery operated heated clothing, which I don't recommend, your clothes don't provide any heat, but keep you warm by keeping the heat close to you. Once again, no cotton. Fleece is a great insulating layer, and you can find it in different weights. Also you can find some fleece garments for great prices. Down is a natural insulator. Some people swear by it, but unlike fleece it only insulates if kept dry.
What to Wear: Outer Layer - Keeps the wind and wet out.
The third and final layer in your cold weather clothing system is the Outer, or Shell layer. This helps keep you warm by keeping the wind from blowing away all that warm air trapped by your insulating layer. Also if the weather is snowy or wet it keeps your inner layers dry. The materials in this outer layer ideally should be vapor permeable. This means that the moisture your body gives off will pass through the garment to evaporate, but water droplets will not pass through the material thus keeping you dry. My favorite outer layer I've owned was the Precip by Marmot. It worked great and was so light weight. After several years though I wore the laminate off, but I got my money's worth out of it first.