How to choose clothing insulation?
Whether you're going hiking, biking, kayaking or hitting the slopes, you'll need to wear the right clothes to keep warm so you're not cold and miserable. Layers are the key, and this Buying Guide outlines the importance of the insulation layer. Just like the insulation in your walls at home stops warm air escaping in winter, the insulation clothing you wear traps your body heat so it doesn't escape and you stay warm.
What outdoor clothing do you need?
When you're trying to work out what outdoor clothing you need when hiking in Australia (or biking, kayaking, skiing or snowboarding), or what kids outdoor clothing you need before your next trip, remember that what's best for someone else might not be right for you.
The best clothing for you depends on your unique needs and preferences:
- The conditions you expect to face now and in future (rain, snow and temperature?)
- How much you feel the cold in general (if you're always cold go for the warmest gear)
- How often you'll be out wearing in your gear (once a year or on most weekends?)
- How active your adventures will be (will you be walking or working up a serious sweat?)
- How long you want it to last (just for a while or for years and years to come?)
If you're trying to work out what you should wear when snow skiing or boarding or what kids ski clothes you need to take to the snow, working out which gear to buy is easier when you break it down in into these five steps:
- A base layer - to draw moisture away from your body.
- A mid layer - to keep you warm.
- An outer layer - to protect you from the elements.
When you go inside you can shed a layer or two, then layer up again before you head back out.
In this Buying Guide, we'll be talking about the middle layer, which is your insulation. The insulation layer's job is to keep you warm, even in freezing cold conditions.
How layers keep you warm and dry?
Let's take a closer look at how clothing layers combat the cold and keep you comfortable:
- Wearing thermals gives you a base layer right next to your skin.
- It draws (or wicks) the sweat away from your skin to keep you dry.
- This traps the body heat so it can't escape and you feel warm.
- Ensures you can maintain a comfortable core temperature.
- The second layer goes over thermals and under the waterproof layer.
- This acts as insulation, trapping any heat that's escaped your thermals.
- It keeps the warm air your body emits close to you to keep you warm.
- The middle layer includes jumpers, fleeces vests, and tights.
- The last layer is the wind and waterproof one so you're dry and warm.
- Some jackets and pants are all-in-one middle layers and outer layers.
- Jackets with a higher rating are more waterproof and breathable.
- For clothes to be 100% waterproof, they must have:
- A waterproof layer that's breathable (so water can't get in but moisture can escape).
- Waterproof zippers (which are usually covered with a fabric flap) so water can't get in.
- Sealed seams (so water can't seep in through the stitching holes at the seams).
A beanie to keep your head and ears warm and stop body heat escaping from your head.
Headband or Ear Muffs
Can be worn instead of a beanie (if it's not too cold) to keep your ears warm.
Neckwarmer or Scarf
Keeps your neck warm when you're outside in cold conditions.
- Extremely lightweight and wind-proof with room to move around easily.
- Breathable and waterproof, but not fully waterproof because the seams aren't sealed.
A vest gives you more mobility than a jacket (if it's not as cold), but won't keep your arms warm.
Gloves that are insulated on the inside stop your hands' heat escaping so they're warmer. Vents allow air to circulate and moisture to escape the gloves so your hands stay dry. You can also have liners inside your gloves for extra warmth:
- Silk liner gloves are lightweight, breathable and keep you warm when wet.
- Touchscreen liner gloves keep you warm when taking photos and filming.
Tights & Leggings
Keep your feet warm while you walk around in the snow between skiing or snowboarding. If the inside is insulated they'll keep your feet warmer because heat won't escape. Look for the temperature rating to compare how warm different boots will be, and remember that waterproof boots will keep you drier and warmer than water-resistant boots. If you buy boots that are breathable the air will circulate so sweaty feet don't cause odours and bacteria.
Keeps you warm while you sleep, but be careful you don't cover up too much otherwise you'll wake up sweaty. Just wear thermals and an insulation layer (e.g. a jumper and tracksuit pants).
The material your clothing is made from determines how warm, dry and comfortable you'll be.
Clothing made from merino wool:
- Is a natural material so it's breathable, lets moisture out and a great insulator.
- Is extra fine so it's soft, keeps you really warm and lasts.
- Is great for hitting the slopes and hiking.
- Doesn't retain odours as much as synthetics and cotton.
Clothing made from synthetic, man-made fabrics like acrylic and polyester:
- Still insulates when wet and dries fast.
- Can have an unpleasant odour (even after washing), because body odour seeps in.
- Some have been given an antibacterial treatment to help with odours.
- Won't keep you as warm as down but will keep you warm when wet.
- Acrylic is a stretchy, close-knit synthetic that doesn't last as long as wool.
- Polyester is also called fleece and provides a lot of warmth.
- Is warm, lightweight and still keeps you warm even when it's wet.
- Isn't waterproof but doesn't absorb water (so it's not heavy when wet) and dries fast.
- Can be light or midweight, depending on how breathable or flexible you want it to be.
- Midweight is better in cooler conditions, as it traps more heat.
- Lightweight is great if you're moving around or climbing as it gives you more flexibility.
- Is a good option for a mid-layer if you're doing high-energy activities like skiing.
Clothing made from a mix of wool and acrylic fabrics gives you a good balance of comfort, warmth and lasting quality.
Clothing made from cotton:
- Is heavier than fleece (but not as warm).
- Is a natural material so it's breathable and lets moisture out.
- Can retain odours after you've washed it.
- Are made from the fluffy stuff that grows under the feathers of ducks and geese.
- Have the best warmth to weight ratio, so are lightweight and super comfortable.
- Give you the most powerful insulation but stop insulating if they get wet.
- Can be water resistant but can never be fully waterproof.
- Have a loft or fill rating which helps you work out how warm it will be:
- The loft rating is a measure of how much air the down will trap.
- The higher the number, the more air is trapped.
- Tell you how many grams of down are inside which also contributes to how warm you'll be.
- The higher the number of grams of down (which is generally in jackets with wider baffles), the warmer it will keep you as again more air will be trapped.
- The loft rating, baffle size and grams both contribute to your warmth. For example:
- A 700 fill jacket with small baffles is warmer than a 550 fill jacket with small baffles.
- But a 550 fill jacket with wide baffles and more grams of down may keep you as warm as a 700 fill jacket with smaller baffles.
- Lightweight down is good for travelling because it packs up into a small ball.
- A heavier jacket with more grams of down will be warmer in colder climates but bulkier.
- Goose down is generally considered warmer than duck down: the larger goose feathers trap more air and have higher loft ratings, but the quality of either down matters too.
- Look for RDS certified down, which has been audited by a third party, to ensure the welfare of the ducks and geese whose down is being used.
- You can also get synthetic fill, which tries to mimic the properties of down, and still insulates you even when it gets wet.
- Synthetic down doesn't have as a good a warmth to weight ratio, but it's more practical in wet conditions.
- Synthetic fill can also be made from recycled materials.
4. Activity & Conditions
What you need to wear depends on what you're doing and the weather conditions.
For example, if you're cycling you'll need to wear wind-proof clothing, otherwise the wind will make you feel chilly.
Choose what to wear based on the activity and conditions, and keep in mind:
- Beanie - needs to fit snugly for skiing and other high-speed activities so it won't fly off.
- Headband/ear muffs - suits milder weather (wear a beanie or balaclava in cold conditions).
- Balaclava - protects your face from sunburn and windburn in freezing, windy conditions.
- Scarf - wraps around your neck so better for staying warm when you're not on the slopes.
- Neckwarmer - won't fly off when you're skiing or snowboarding because it's a circle.
- Jumper - merino wool jumpers are good for low-to-moderate-intensity activities.
- Jacket - a down filling is best for cold, dry weather and low-energy activities like camping.
- Down doesn't suit skiing or snowboarding because it won't keep you warm if it's wet.
- Down is great for hiking in dry conditions because it's light to carry and wear, and can be squashed into a small size so won't take up much space in your bag.
- A jacket with synthetic insulation is bests for wet conditions because it dries fast and will still keep you warm if it gets wet.
- Gloves - waterproof gloves keep your hands dry if you fall, but if wool gloves get wet in the snow, your hands will feel cold.
- Gloves with a pull toggle or adjustable cuff can be tightened so snow doesn't get in.
- Glove loops you can put around your wrist make it easier to keep track of your gloves.
- Finger and palm grips allow you to get a better hold on things while wearing gloves.
- Gloves with built-in wipes for your nose or goggles come in handy on the slopes.
- Mitts/mittens are better suited to snowboarding than skiing with poles.
- Apres boots - are essential in slippery snow because they give you grip so you don't fall.
- Some have a cuff from the top down your calves to help keep water and snow out.
- If you're walking a lot, compare how heavy and comfortable different boots are.
The more active you'll be in your gear, the more important its breathability is. If the fabric doesn't breathe the moisture leaving your body has nowhere to go so you'll feel hot and sweaty, and your clothes can become a bit stinky.
When you're weighing up which insulation clothing to buy, think about quality versus cost:
- Synthetic fabrics are cheaper but won't last as long as natural duck or goose down.
- Down costs more than synthetic clothing as it has a better weight to warmth ratio.
- A good quality jacket is a middle and outer layer in one and will last you years.
- Keeping the kids warm and dry will keep them happier in the snow for longer.
When it comes to how much you should spend on insulation clothing:
- Think about how long you want it to last/how long it'll fit your kids for.
- Cheaper all-in-one insulation and outer layer jackets tends to be less waterproof, so you get what you pay for.
- If you want clothing that's comfortable for years to come, it's worth spending more on good gear.
Anaconda has insulation clothing to suit all budgets, and you can filter the gear by price on the left hand side so you only see clothes you can afford on the page.
Want to know:
- Where can you buy kids ski clothes online?
- What outdoor clothing stores stock women's clothing options?
When you go to the clothing section on the Anaconda website, select men's, women's or kid's outdoor or snow clothing. Then you'll see tick box filters down the left hand side of the page. Using these filters makes working out which snow gear to buy easier and faster because you can choose to filter what you see by:
- Category - so you only see cycling clothes, down insulated clothes, fleeces, gloves or snow gear.
- Price - so you only see clothing that's within your budget.
- Deal - so you only see all the clothing that's on sale.
- Size - so you can see the clothing that's in your size.
- Colour - so you only see clothing in the colours you like.
- Breathability - so you can see all clothing that's breathable.
- Moisture wicking - so you only see clothes that keeps you dry.
- Wind proof - so all the clothes you're looking at is wind proof.
- Water proof - so you know what's water resistant and water proof.
- Brand - so you can find specific brands like The North Face.