How to Dress for Warmth in Extreme Cold

There are two traditional modes of thought when it comes to staying warm. There are divided into the synthetic camp and the natural fibers camp. But I have pieced together a system (I had advice from others) that combines both and uses them to their strengths. I will also go over some of the things you can do if you are cast out into the cold unprepared.

And remember "cotton kills" in the wintertime so ditch the denim and cotton tee shirts. Poly underwear is expensive so I usually go commando underneath my fleece or just keep the tidy whities.

Also you need to add and shed layers as you get hotter or colder. Sweat will cause hypothermia faster than anything.

Firstly you need to know that there are 3 types of layers for staying warm.

1. The moisture wicking layer wicks sweat and damp away from your skin. It can also add insulation

2. The insulatory layers keep you warm.

3. The windbreaker layer sheds the wind and stops it from blowing through your clothing and is also your rain-barrier as well.

Basic Breakdown of Common Fabrics

1. Cotton and Raimi: Summer fabrics. They retain sweat and help cool you off in the heat. But they lost all insulation value when they become wet and also keep the moisture close to body where you don't want it.

2. Polyester or MIcrofleece: These are the best at moisture wicking and also add some insulation even when wet . Their cons are that they will melt from a campfire or other heat source and they really suck at shedding wind. Coats with polyester lining are still effective as long as the outer layer is nylon or goretex. Polyester and fleece also have the added value of being extremely cheap.

3. Wool - Wool is your insulation layer and also retains 70%ish of its insulation value if it gets wet. This makes it the jack of all trades. It also sheds wind better than Poly fabrics. But the wind will get through. But you can survive and stay warm by just layering wool over wool over wool. Its cons are that it can be extremely itchy and that it is typically expensive. You have to go the the sweaters, suits and dress pants of the thrift store that most of travellers probably cringe looking at.

4. Nylon or Goretex: do not add much insulation value but are excellent at keeping the wind and water from penetrating your other layers. Goretex is superior to Nylon but is considerably more expensive and the advantages are pretty negligible in my experience. Goretex can also trap moisture too much and cause trench foot for example. Ive got a pair of 150$ goretex boots id love to unload. Great for bivvys though.

5. Mylar: Those emergency blankets will save your life. Con incredibly creaky and holds in moisture.

Optimal Layering Technique

1. First layer: Panty hose and then polyester/microfleece. I like panty hose because they are thin, actually insulate pretty well and they don't restrict the toes like doubling up socks would. Got to be very careful to keep the blood flowing well to those little piggies in the winter time. The synthetics will wick moisture from the skin

So for feet I go wool over panty hose but you can use dress socks under wool. Just make sure you keep your toes circulated. Check them often and if they get red take of your footwear and massage your feet to get the blood flowing better.

2. Second Layer: Wool. The wool will wick moisture away from the poly layer and trap it there. Remember wool doesn't lose nearly as much insulation value when wet.

3. Third layer: Nylon or Goretex Jacket and parachute pants etc. Most rain gear is nylon so you get a double bonus of no wind and no wet. If you cannot get nylon add more wool to add heat and help shed the wind

You also need to shingle your clothing when you layer it. Tuck your fleece into your socks and your gloves etc here is a good video from OL Mitch at Native Survival showing how to do it.

Emergency Strategies:

Okay your mom just kicked you out of the house and you only had time to grab your cotton hoodie and your jeans. You are freezing. Here is what you need to focus on first on your way to the thrift store to buy/commandeer winter clothing.

1. Add insulation: Tuck your pants into your socks and your shirt or hoodie into your pants. Fill the empty space with newspaper or dry leaves. At least you now have a layer for warmth to get trapped into. I know it sounds weird cause its a natural product but Cardboard will keep you warmer than a yoga mat.

If You left the house in shorts you are either experiencing a freak weather phenomenon or a total moron. I dont know what to tell you really. But then again I guess i have been that guy on Cops you've all seen fleeing naked into the night sooo. JK JK> lol

2. Commandeer or purchase some panty hose. Boy or girl here. Football players used to wear panty hose for warmth so get over being macho. Its winter nobodies going to see it anyways. And its dirt cheap or easy to commandeer

3. Focus on warming your chest and core first. You can live without fingers and toes but if the cold gets to your heart you are going to go into hypothermic shock and lose bodily function much quicker. Plus if your heart is warm your overall circulation improves making your extremities take longer to die.

So if you can only afford one thing buy something to cover your chest...A synthetic coat would be best because it will allow you to commandeer other layers in an emergency situation where you can't get to a clothes pantry.

4. Commandeer a wool sweater and some wool dress pants. Umpire pants etc. The higher the wool content the better.

5. If they have dress socks of even better wool socks get those too. If not go to a Big Box store and commandeer the best thermal (highest wool content) socks you can get. They usually don't have cameras near the dressing rooms for legality reasons so it should be pretty easy.

7. You can now at least tuck your hands into your shirt until you can commandeer or purchase some gloves.

8. Lastly commandeer or purchase the microfleece shirt and pants for added warmth

The Get out of the Cold free card

If you are totally jacked and are in civilization dial 911 and tell them you are suicidal. Then tell the doctor you have a definitive and believable plan of how you are going to do it. Lay down on train tracks, etc. Dont say pills or you'll never get xanex or morphine again. They will take you to the loony bin and most of the time they can get you set up with warmer clothing before you leave. If they dont help you chances are a patient will if you are nice to them. They also might drop you off at a place that has social services.

Ok, I by no means know it all but i hope that some of that helps. I have tested this system down to 30 degrees and I still had to frequently remove layers from being too hot. But I had the advantage of being able to purchase things and have my wife crochet me wool stuff as well. Its not that expensive to get set up though. If you all have any advice, please leave it below so we can all keep each other safe and warm this winter.

I know most of the veterans will head south. But hopefully this will still be useful.
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Apr 25, 2013
Plymouth, United States
you know, you can probably just tell 911 you are about to freeze to death without having to go to the loony bin (hear some nightmarish stories from those places, wouldnt want to have to go unless i had too)
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I closed my account
you know, you can probably just tell 911 you are about to freeze to death without having to go to the loony bin (hear some nightmarish stories from those places, wouldnt want to have to go unless i had too)

Believe me I'm not recommending it unless the shtf. LIke its really cold and ur naked and have nowhere to go and no fire to build. Or gang members are holding you hostage inside of a grocery store (you use this trick and you fall off the grid due to privacy laws, the cops wont even know where you are). It literally saved my life from my meth-addicted psychopath of a daughter in law.

Its a tough one. What happens when the ER stabilizes you and dumps you right back out in the cold for not having insurance. It happened to an STP member just last winter. Got hit by a car, lost his gear and got dumped out into the cold from the ER. I'm not saying going to bug-house is a good idea. I am saying its a last act of desperation. If I was that desperate id go for a mandatory 72 hour hold and some free clothes rather than the generosity of a for profit hospital.

You may go for a ride for a couple days on some psych meds but for most of us it won't be the strangest trip we've ever been on.

Its a nifty but nasty last ditch effort trick to get yourself out of a bad situation. Ive only used it twice. Now I know better and to always be prepared. Ive got a bag packed and placed by the front door. And I never leave the house without appropriate protection.
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Cornelius Vango

Chaos Magician
Sep 25, 2015
Slab City, Ca
I thought the breakdown of layers was useful and relatively spot on, but you've only tested it down to 30 degrees? Obviously, windchill is a factor, but I do not consider 30 degrees to be anywhere near "extreme cold"... that's barely even cold.

If you're in a civilized place where you can "commandeer" these items, then you're not really in a survival situation at all.

Also, this chart is pretty useful for assessing threat of frostbite:

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Nov 4, 2018
Wow! Pantyhose who would a thought!! Great info. Thanks for the tip!!!

Deleted member 13433

I closed my account
I'm actually - well, maybe I am not surprised - that nowhere is fur mentioned.

I mention this because whenever you see the people of bone chilling places like Finland or Russia walking around on a typical nice -25 deg C day, they are all happily going about their daily routine with fur coats, hats, boots, etc... and they seem really really warm to me.

I actually have a legit fur hat, and it is like the warmest thing I own as far as head gear goes.

And yes, I realize there's many many ethical questions which come into play regarding fur for warmth, but then again there's many ethical questions to ask regarding the pollution which comes out of the factories making all the other gear, and how that impacts the enviroment as well....

But I do know that if I were going to be out in the cold for an extended amount of time, I would definately incorporate a heavy fur coat, mittens, hat, and possibly boots as well.

Again, my own sincere opinion based on how people do it where bitter cold is normal in their part of the world.


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Feb 23, 2019
New Jerusalem, Idaho
...whenever you see the people of bone chilling places like Finland or Russia walking around on a typical nice -25 deg C day, they are all happily going about their daily routine with fur coats, hats, boots, etc... and they seem really really warm to me.

...but then again there's... the pollution which comes out of the factories making all the other gear, and how that impacts the enviroment as well....

Good point about pollution in making synthetics, but I don't imagine merino wool production kicks up to many emissions, and it's better than synthetics, minus durability.
As far as the cold people of the world preferring fur, Idk if we can take that as a given. Give me the science of weight/heat/breathability and all the rest on fur, and maybe I'll be convinced. Have you ever tried a wool hat?
We gotta take into account what those other countries have available, and that they have a *history* of fur use, and this contributes maybe quit a bit. Synthetics are recent. If synthetics had been around as long as fur, who knows what the Russians would be wearing?


Feb 23, 2019
New Jerusalem, Idaho
Merino Wool
should probably be mentioned.
My understanding is that it's the best all-around body temp regulator. So if you gonna have a lot of temp climbs and falls, and moisture to wick, from either weather changes or an increase/decrease in physical exertion, this stuff is the single best bet for a base layer in any/changing conditions.
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Jun 13, 2021
If packability is a concern you'll need a down sleeping bag. They are pretty expensive but it's the one thing that doesn't really have a cheap alternative to. Aegismax on Aliexpress or try to find a more durable military down bag somewhere

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