While most of the world shivers at the thought of winter, down here in Australia we rarely need to worry about it. However, if you’re a lover of winter sports and regularly frequent the mountains, you’ve experienced just how cold and hostile the sub-zero temperatures can be. The freezing conditions on the mountains certainly don’t make for an enjoyable skiing or snowboarding session. After all, not everyone’s idea of fun involves frostbitten fingers. Thank god for thermal clothing!
In this day and age, we have the access to thermal clothing that is specially designed to be resilient, weatherproof, waterproof, and of course, ultra lightweight. Dressing up in thermal wear can prevent the cold from creeping into your bones while you have fun on the snow for as long as you like. But while today you can choose from a wide range of high-tech fabrics, it wasn’t always that way.
People in the past used to wear a variety of animal skins to keep themselves warm. And native people in Arctic regions still continue to do so, wearing seal, caribou, polar bear, wolf, and fox skins to protect themselves against the freezing temperatures. During the time of the earliest expeditions of the Arctic, explorers wore thermal clothing made of fabrics like wool and cotton. Unfortunately, although these materials are great insulators, they also tend to be heavy, especially when they get wet.
In fact, one such bad experience with wool was the inspiration for creating the down jacket. Eddie Bauer was an outdoors-man who in 1936 nearly died from hypothermia on a fishing trip when his wool coat got wet and froze. After surviving the experience he vowed to create the best winter coat ever which motivated him to design the first down jacket and open up his own clothing company. Today, modern thermal clothing is exclusively made of fabrics that are cleverly engineered to be light and water-resistant.
However, it’s not only wet conditions and low temperatures that are to blame. There’s also another often underrated factor – wind. People often underestimate the effects wind can have, but the faster the wind, the more easily a surface cools, making you feel a lot colder than the actual temperature of the air is. Because of this, it’s important that the outer layers of clothing are made of good windproof material rather than something that doesn’t protect you at all.
Although today we have a very different notion of thermal clothing than people in the past did, we can still learn a lot from them. As an old Inuit saying goes – “When your feet are cold, cover your head”. Even though this saying sounds funny, the head is definitely the most important body part to shield from the cold. About 20% of your body heat gets lost through the head, so make sure to put on a properly insulated hat before you expose yourself to any harsh winter conditions.