Keeping Warm and Dry in the Cold and Wet

by Louis Bignami

Part Three: Skin Contact Garments

In warm weather cotton wicks moisture off the skin and smells nicer than polypropylenes and such. It's still the choice in the tropics. In wet weather wool was the traditional skin contact material because it insulates some even when soaked.

However, mesh wool underwear works much more efficiently than solid when capped with pants or shirts which form small air cells on the skin. Since mesh only touches 2 or 3 percent of the skin area it feels dry even when saturated. Cotton or poly mesh is not as warm as wool mesh and warmth depends on the thickness of the trapped air layer.

Note that if you wear mesh under light, tight weave shirts and pants, insects can't bite through. Mesh shirts worn alone in hot weather permit maximum wind-chill cooling and shade some skin, so they feel cooler than going bare above the waist. So a mesh shirt and, in buggy areas, mesh pants seem basic for underwear outfits. Polypropylene and solid fabrics come in varied thicknesses which feel drier and warmer on the skin that than wool.

Other underwear options include silks which feel totally decadent on the skin and work well in all but the most frigid conditions, double-layer underwear sandwiches of poly and Thinsulate(tm) or poly and wool, Specialty underwear such as goose down fill work in very, very cold and dry situations. Standard poly underwear does the job here too if you just increase the thickness of your insulation layer.

Short and long sleeve/leg poly solids and mesh shirts and pants seem the choice for all-round skin contact garments. All wash easily, dry almost instantly and store compactly. You can even wear mesh under solids for extra insulation.

Keeping Warm and Dry: Part IV