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what size jacket to wear

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Over the years I have been selling cold weather clothing I have surprisingly had many customers ask one specific question; How should I dress for this or that situation when it is cold?

So, I have looked to the bible of information that I have used for more years than I have had Wiggy’s, actually since 1971 when I first read Gerry Cunningham’s booklet “How to Keep Warm”, here is what he had to say on the subject. The section of the booklet is titled “The Science of Clothing”.

He starts out with the following; “Now let us discuss some practical means of adapting our clothing to accomplish the conditions necessary for cold weather comfort. There is no need to be cold.”


“Starting with the skin and the need to prevent body moisture from entering the clothing, the requirement is for an air space around the body so the moisture can evaporate and the vapor laden air can then move freely out of the neck opening.” When I was lost and walking through two feet of snow I was giving off lots of heat and moisture and even though the ambient air temperature was -20 F I had the zipper of my parka open at the neck line to allow the excess heat out and not that I thought about it the moisture too. That is one of the reasons I was dry when I was in the cooks tent and took off my parka.

He further states; “It will not force itself through the clothing if it free to leave by an easier method. Ventilating net underwear is the answer to the problem. They even make an ordinary suit of clothes feel better in winter. The propper type is distinguished by a 3/8th mesh about 1/8th inch in thickness and completely open.” This was my introduction to fishnet underwear and as it happens the fabric I use meets the description he has given. He concludes this segment with; “Start out right by keeping body moisture out of your clothing. Wear ventilating net underwear.”

While Gerry does deal with it as I do all layers of clothing should be lose fitting so the vapor laden air can move freely away from you. During the last maybe 100 years the advent of knitted first layers or base layers have been sold to the general public originally as long johns made from cotton and it was flat knits and then a waffle weave. When synthetic fibers came into being the long underwear was made with synthetic yarns. Then companies like Patagonia started calling this underwear “base layer underwear” with the wicking properties needed to move the moisture. While it didn’t work with cotton, wool or silk because they absorbed the moisture it did not work nor does it work now with synthetics because the synthetic material knitted on the same equipment just becomes a wall trapping your moisture against your skin. All of these materials accomplished the same end result, the wearer got cold because they had their own moisture in their clothing, in the worst layer that being the first one worn against the skin.

He also says and I quote;” It should be realized that efficient ventilation in this manner requires not only that ventilating underwear be worn but also that the outer layers of clothing are loose so the natural bellows action of clothing movement can pump lots of air freely through the layers. One very important side advantage of this method of clothing is that it automatically gets rid of the half pint of insensible perspiration produced ever 8 hours.” Of course the air he is referring too is moisture laden air.

My shirt worn over the fishnet top and parka was loose fitting as was my parka so this explanation states why there was so much frost on the outside of my parka as can be seen in the picture. The fact that the materials used to make the garments were NOT coated or laminated to a material such as goretex and the fact that the Lamilite is also vapor permeable allowed that moisture while in a vapor state to move freely out of my clothing.

When it comes to fabrics he says the following; “The choice of fabrics to contain the insulation plays some small part in your comfort also. Very thin nylons, although cold to the touch due to their good conductivity, have a very low heat capacity. They quickly warm up and actually absorb less heat from your body than does cotton which feels warm the instant you touch it but has a much larger capacity to absorb heat from your body. Nylon is also slippery, and this means less restriction in thick garments and less chance of getting bound up in a garment.” This observation on Gerry’s part explains why my sleeping bags are as efficient as they are. The nylon lining is not absorbing much heat and the Lamilite insulation is not letting the heat from your body out. While other companies sell “no sleep sleeping bags” that have nylon linings it is the insulation or so called insulation used in the bags that do not stop the heat from freely moving out of the bag.

In all my years of skiing I learned early on that my parka had to be loose fitting so I would rotate in the parka as it would slide around my body. Moving at 40/50 miles an hour you did not want your movements to be restricted. Also if the garment was form fitting it would not move even though it was made of nylon fabrics as the Head Ski and Sportswear company found out with their garments. The entire Haystack Mountain Ski school years ago busted zippers because the parkas were form fitting in other words to small. 70 denier nylon taffeta seems to me to be the best quality but all nylon works well.

Do you need rules to follow (?), if so here are a few.

  • 1-Thickness is warmth. All of the low loft or no loft materials will not retain the heat your body produces.
  • 2-Ventilate with fishnets which will prevent sweating.
  • 3-Keep your torso warm which will keep your toes and fingers war. However wearing mittens and Lamilite socks will aid the body dramatically. When all parts of the body are warm, they help the body in total to stay warm.
  • 4-Wear loose fitting clothing and I do not recommend knitted of fleece clothing. Both of the fabrics used to make these garments effectively trap moisture not allowing it to freely move away from you.
  • 5-Always buy a slightly larger fit.
  • I have been noting for the past several years the very flat quilted so-called parkas that the large branded companies have been selling as winter parkas on people. In almost all cases these people are too big for the parkas. They fit as tight as gloves so the people are most likely cold, as is evidenced when I see them in a grocery store or even when they come into the Wiggy’s store with the zipper closed to their necks.
  • Why because they are cold and their body moisture is in their clothing keeping them that way even in a store where the temperature is 70 degrees F.
  • There is a program on one of the history channels that shows how big projects are made and they refer to looking back in history to use the old technology to solve problems today. Well if not for Gerry Cunningham we wouldn’t have certain knowledge to fall back on today.

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