[Note: The folks at ABA have invited me to feature "outdoor tips" on the ABA blog, which I envision as topics related to successful birding that do not necessarily involve identifying birds, from clothing to gear to what to do in the field. People come to birding from a variety of backgrounds; some are already experienced outdoors-people but others may not be, and even outdoors-people love a good tip on methods or gear! It happens I came to birdng at a fairly young age but through other outdoor pursuits, and many of my posts will feature lessons learned while fishing, hunting, kayaking, backpacking, camping etc. that apply to my favorite: birding.]
With the onset of cold weather, I figured we’d start with a tip on keeping warm. Most birders are familiar with the concept of layering clothing, which leaves you flexible as conditions change. What too many people fail to realize, however, is that the base layer is more important than what you put on top of it.The base layer is the one next to your skin, a.k.a your “thermal underwear,” and performs two critical functions. First, it creates a layer of warmed air next to your skin that cold has a hard time penetrating, or more accurately, makes it harder for warmth to depart your body. Second (if it’s the right stuff), it will “wick” moisture away from your skin. To do this, it must fit snugly (not tightly), must be of a moisture wicking material, and must be of a weight befitting the conditions. Cotton doesn’t get it done; in fact, just say no to cotton in tough conditions, for all garments from underwear to blue jeans.
The upshot is, when you’re shopping for base layer clothes, make sure they’re not cotton and make sure they wick moisture. Different base layer brands use different ratings according to warmth, typically along the lines of light, medium, heavy and expedition weight. The expedition weight stuff is tempting, and that’s what I wear in extreme conditions, but most of the time it’s too warm for birding. Choose medium weight for an all around cold weather base layer – you can always add another layer on top.