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I have read some articles/watched some youtube videos on dressing for the cold in the outdoors. Obviously there are varying degrees of cold from what we get in the UK hovering somewhere above zero to being in -20C in other places. I am a bit confused as all the suggestions are the same layering system - base layer, insulation, water/windproof. So how does what you're wearing differ at 5C, 0C, -10 and -50.

Do you wear more layers? Different types of layers? Or the same 3 but just better rated?

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    By wearing more layers and with better thermal properties? It's hard to know what the question is, since it already mentions these. There are many previous questions here about cold weather clothing. Sep 20 at 13:49
  • Well my question is whether those unfounded assumptions are correct. And to understand the detail about what one would be trying to buy.
    – Tom
    Sep 20 at 13:54
  • Just a thought — you don't need rain protection if it's very cold?
    – anatolyg
    Sep 20 at 13:54
  • @anatolyg true, but it's also effective against wind, and good for keeping snow off, that would melt when you warm up. In much of the UK (where I am as well as apparently the OP) our winters have mild wet spells and cold dry spells, thus we use wet-weather gear in winter and a rain-proof outer shell is likely to be a good idea on a trip. I've certainly had -10°C to +10°C on a winter trip of less than a week
    – Chris H
    Sep 20 at 15:26
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The layering system refers to technical properties, not to individual, single items of clothing.

  • base layer: something wicking moisture away from you
  • insulation: something keeping warm air around you
  • water/windproof: something keeping water and wind out

Those can be omitted when not necessary, combined, when relevant, or multiplied if needed.

For example, by around -20C, for snowshoeing, I'll carry several insulation layer (possibly up to 4 worn at the same time), and a larger insulated windproof layer that can fit over all of them.

Around 5C, hiking, most likely a single insulation layer, possibly a woollen sweater or a fleece, combined with a very waterproof shell is mostly enough (add a warmer layer for camp, such as a puffy)

The core idea of the layering system is to have pieces of equipment with specific properties, and that you can add or remove as needed.

Basically, if you're cold, add a sweater, if you're hot, remove one.

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  • Are those -20C 4 layers the same type/brand as 5C or would you go for completely different specialist ones that have different properties?
    – Tom
    Sep 22 at 7:55
  • Tom, the whole point of layers is you add them or remove them as you need to, so if the temperature rises by 10 degrees as you descend, you pop excess layers in your pack. Colder = more layers. Warmer = less
    – Rory Alsop
    Sep 22 at 7:59
  • to be specific, at -20, I'd carry a fleece sweater, a fleece vest, a synthetic puffy, and possibly an extra fleece jacket (one or 2 sizes larger so it fits). The synthetic puffy works as single insulation layer when it's 0, and the fleece sweater when it's 5-10. Those are mostly reused. For more extreme weather (-40) I'd use a dedicated very thick puffy that's useless with any other weather I'd use thicker layers, so those might not be as useful in other temperatures, but that depends on what you have (bottom line is that you don't need an outfit per temperature. There is a lot of overlap)
    – njzk2
    Sep 22 at 18:22
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For extreme cold, I will put more emphasis on the extremities. For example, I might add:

Thin gloves as inner liners to gloves or mitts.
Skull cap or headband under regular hat.
Thin inner sock under heavier outer sock.
Bandana, gaiter, or similar to cover neck and face.
Goggles for windy conditions.
Keeping hands warm is always my biggest challenge, and part of my strategy is to add a sleeve as extra insulation for arms.

Also, Chris H has some very good tips in the comment below:

Your last point is an important for especially for those of us with long limbs, and is also critical if windchill is severe: close up the gaps. I have a base layer with extra long sleeves and thumb holes, and I've made wrist warmers from old bike jersey sleeves, in both cases to wear under gloves and provide overlap with sleeves. Long socks allow tucking in the legs of thermal underwear, and with 2 pairs you can also tuck outer trousers in. Then gaiters can overlap with waterproof overtrousers, worn against wind/snow.

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    Your last point is an important for especially for those of us with long limbs, and is also critical if windchill is severe: close up the gaps. I have a base layer with extra long sleeves and thumb holes, and I've made wrist warmers from old bike jersey sleeves, in both cases to wear under gloves and provide overlap with sleeves. Long socks allow tucking in the legs of thermal underwear, and with 2 pairs you can also tuck outer trousers in. Then gaiters can overlap with waterproof overtrousers, worn against wind/snow.
    – Chris H
    Sep 20 at 14:49
  • @Chris H, I have done similar but didn't know how to explain it as efficiently as you.
    – Mike
    Sep 20 at 15:11
  • You can always edit any of my phrasing into your answer if you prefer it to your own
    – Chris H
    Sep 20 at 15:19
  • it's always been my observation that, no matter how thick your gloves are, I'll get cold hand and feet if my core is not warm enough (even if I'm not actually feeling cold, just not completely warm).
    – njzk2
    Sep 20 at 18:35
  • @njzk2 that's probably true, though I reckon it's possible to overshoot and sweat. Also cold not-quite-extremities don't help. Wrists are worst as I hint above but also ankles
    – Chris H
    Sep 27 at 14:56

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