Dressing For The Cold

Fairbanks fashion differs from that of the fashion capitals of Paris, New York, or Milan. Here dressing for success means dressing for survival!

Folks new to Fairbanks will have to rethink the way they dress from the ground up. Your old sneakers and cotton socks will not adequately protect your feet from sub zero temperatures! Wool socks are much warmer than cotton, so change your socks first. Warm boot options include bunny boots, pac boots (Sorels), mukluks, insulated boots, and wool boots (Lobens). Wool felt insoles increase warmth and can be added to any pair of shoes/boots with enough room. Plastic bag vapor barriers over your socks are an effective way to increase the warmth of your footwear in an emergency.

Legs, Arms, and Trunk
Dress in layers – hopefully you have heard this before. Thermal long underwear is available in a variety of weights. Make sure you have several pairs so you can mix and match and have a clean pair now and then. In town you can wear cotton and silk layers, but in the outdoors you should stick to synthetics (polyester, polypropylene, etc.). Bulky outer layers trap warm air near your body – examples include flannel lined pants, wool pants or sweaters, and fleece with a puffy (fiberfill or down) parka on the outside. Fairbanks is rarely windy, but if you are in a windy area you will need a wind proof layer for every part of your body to reduce wind chill.

Gloves are needed when you want to perform manual tasks in the cold while still protecting your hands. In colder conditions, or over extended periods, mittens are better since they keep fingers together and trap heat more effectively than gloves. Avoid touching cold metal and liquids (fuels and alcohol) that can instantly freeze your bare skin.

Head and Neck
Are major areas of heat loss. In cold weather you will want to cover your neck with a scarf, balaclava, or neck gaiter. Two layers on your head are ideal in extreme cold; possibilities include a hat and a balaclava or a hat and a jacket hood. In extreme cold or wind, you will need to protect your nose and cheeks from freezing. Balaclavas, wind proof face masks, or scarves will all protect your face from the cold. A balaclava is an excellent survival item – we highly recommend you carry one in your backpack or coat pocket.


Winter is a beautiful season in Alaska. With proper clothing you can comfortably enjoy outdoor activities in the winter!

While active —When you are actively skiing or snowshoeing you do not want to overdress. You can quickly overheat and then get wet from sweat. You will not want to wear too many layers, but you may need to protect your ears, hands and other parts from the wind. You burn calories quickly in cold temperatures. If you're headed out for several hours you will need to stop to eat and drink. Keep a warm puffy (down or fiberfill) coat handy to put on when you stop for a quick snack. With a warm coat, you will not cool off too much during your brief stop.

Around camp —When it is extremely cold, it is difficult to stay warm if you are inactive. At night and in the morning, you generally want to be in your tent as soon as you cease to be active. Around camp you will want to wear many warm layers on every area of your body. Of course your head is very important - you will want two layers over your head as well as something to lock in the heat around your neck. Your feet and hands are the most likely to be cold – put another layer on your core (torso, head and neck). You will want very warm boots with a lot of insulation – especially on the bottom. You also need to keep the insulation in your boots dry - this can be done in several ways: you can keep the insulation dry to begin with by lining your boots with a plastic bag vapor barrier (this is very warm, but sweaty), or you may be able to remove the liners of your boots and dry them (somewhat) inside your sleeping bag at night (put dry wool socks in your boot liners to help absorb some of the moisture).

Anticipate Transitional times —In the cold of early morning you will want to wear most of your clothes. But as soon as you start moving (i.e., skiing) for the day you will warm up quickly and will want to efficiently take off extra layers to avoid overheating. Too many people don’t bother taking off (or later putting back on) that extra layer to be comfortable – but you will pay the price with sweat soaked clothing that is uncomfortable and can eventually lead to hypothermia. In the evening as the day grows colder - put on more layers before you get cold, and avoid becoming hypothermic!

Sensitive parts —Your body’s extremities are vulnerable to frostbite. Be sure to protect your sensitive parts with proper clothing [Windproof hat, face mask to protect your cheeks and nose, windproof underwear, windproof mittens, and warm boots that are not too tight].

You know that your head can lose a lot of heat —when you are cold throw on a hat/balaclava (or more hats). If you are active and hot, change your hat for a headband. Often just adding or removing a hat or something like a lightweight vest can be the difference between being just right instead of too cold or too hot. Cold weather clothing is a complex system because you need to balance varying temperature and weather, different levels of activity (heat output) and your own behavior with the clothes you have.

Cold weather clothing is a system: you need to develop a system that keeps you cool when you are active and you warm when you are not!

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