Not wearing proper clothing or layering correctly while traveling in a snow-laden environment could lead to cold injuries and death. As a survival instructor for the military I find myself in these environments often and teach others how to effectively travel in them. In the lists below I will note the things that I typically wear and why.

Winter Clothing and Footwear from a Military Survival instructor
Typical weather of the survival training area during the winter months.

I follow the basic principle of wicking, warming and weather layers. The purpose of the wicking layer is to keep moisture from accumulating on the skin and to allow it to evaporate if at all possible. Above this we wear a warming layer. This is the layer I’m going to remove depending on the amount of work I’m doing to ensure that I don’t sweat. Finally, we have our weather layer. This layer will typically be on at all times as I don’t want to get the under layers wet. The layers I usually wear when instructing are a Patagonia or Crye combat shirt as my wicking layer, Beyond Clothing A3 Alpha Sweater as my warming layer and a Beyond Clothing Wind Shirt or a Beyond Clothing A6 Rain Jacket depending on precipitation as my weather layer.

In weather above 15 F I wear no thermal underwear and wear either Crye Field or Crye Combat pants. If the weather drops below 15 F I may opt for thermal underwear in addition to the Crye pants. I find that I tend to sweat too much if I wear thermals in weather above 15 F. Another consideration is also the amount of precipitation that you have. If the temperature is hovering around or near freezing and the rain is staying rain, you find yourself in a very dangerous environment. This is what we call “prime hypothermia weather”. In environments such as this I’ll opt for a full Gore-Tex ensemble of Beyond Clothing A6 Rain Jacket and Rain Pants.

The shoe and socks makes up perhaps one of the most crucial pieces of the picture. If your feet sweat too much you’re likely to sustain a cold injury of some type. I’ve seen multiple approaches but in my experience I’ve found what works best to be one pair of quality thick socks such as winter weight smartwool socks (or equivalent, darn tough are great as well) with some type of full grain leather boot and gaiters. The reason I recommend one pair of socks is that if you begin to layer socks to try to keep your feet warm it ends up doing the opposite. With 2-3 pairs of socks on, your feet have less room in your boot. This compresses your feet and reduces blood flow. As blood flow slows within your feet you’ll find yourself much colder than you need to be. Hence, wear one good pair. You can mitigate this by getting a larger boot size, but I prefer the one sock approach.