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The Cold Facts on Riding Comfortably

Published in the March 2011 Issue Published online: Mar 27, 2011 Feature Jesse Ziegler
"Any outer clothing you would wear while snowmobiling should undergo extensive testing. Here a jacket is being tested in a Gore laboratory.
"Breathability in clothing means letting the moisture out and keeping the elements - snow and wind - out as well.
"This shows where heat is created by your body as it works harder and harder. Its at those hot spots that you want your snowmobile gear to allow moisture (sweat) to escape.

Dressing properly for the conditions is one thing, but dressing for your body's unique needs and characteristics is the best way to stay truly comfortable on your next ride.

With today's gear, you can customize your clothing to not only match the temperature, but even your riding style, tendency to sweat and maybe even what you had for breakfast. In the end, it's all about comfort. The more you learn about your body's needs, the easier it is to find the perfect gear combo to make your ride rock.

Humans like to be comfortable. It's in our nature to seek out moderate temperatures, mild humidity levels and to keep our skin dry. It's a survival instinct as well as a personal preference.

The most important factor contributing to your comfort level is your micro climate-an invisible, very thin layer of protective air which surrounds you wherever you go. Its management is vital to your comfort and survival in the world's most extreme conditions. We are most comfortable with a micro climate temperature around 90 degrees F with a relative humidity of 30 percent. 

In general, those conditions will keep you comfortable, but what's good for your hands isn't always good for your core, shoulders or feet. In cold weather, our arms and legs can be up to 45 degrees colder than the rest of our body-without any discomfort. To effectively control our micro climate, we need to understand what our bodies want and need and then dress accordingly.

 

Know Your Body

Head-In the coldest conditions you can lose more heat through your unprotected head than your entire body can produce. This effect is multiplied if your head is wet-essentially radiating body heat straight up and out.

Torso-Your torso is like a continent. It can be cold and wet in one spot and warm and dry in another. For instance: your shoulder and lower back regions are particularly sensitive to excessive cooling and require extra protection from the cold.

Hands-Your hands perspire (sweat) almost constantly and are left out on their own in extreme conditions. If that's not bad enough, your body reduces blood flow to them as it cools. It's no wonder they are so prone to freezing. If you can keep your hands comfortable, the rest of your body generally follows suit. Keeping them comfortable and dry is critical so they can work for you.

Legs-Your legs make up about 30 percent of your body. That's a massive surface area to focus on in your effort to gain maximum comfort.

Feet-Along with hands, your feet are on the top of the list for the most neglected, abused and sweaty body parts. Your feet sweat roughly one-quarter cup of moisture a day per foot while at rest and up to a full cup during activity or when overheated. If your footwear isn't engineered for maximum breathability, this moisture has nowhere to go. Cold, wet feet are enemy No. 1.

 

Micro Climate Influencers

Environment-The environment is out of your control. What you can master is its effects on your body by optimizing and protecting your micro climate. This means specifically dressing for activity and conditions and being prepared for the unexpected. As a rider you are often faced with life-threatening conditions.

Equipment-Your outerwear, gloves and boots are not just fashion statements; they're functional equipment that is the front line of defense in your active outdoor mission. Staying out longer and in maximum comfort is a reality if you leave the truck prepared. After all, looking good and feeling great are better than just looking good. Controlling all aspects of micro climate variables is key.

Body Type-Since body types are as different as personalities, it's wrong to assume one piece of gear is right for everyone. Individuals with greater muscle mass are generally warmer than those with less bulk, which explains why women tend to get colder more quickly than men. What does body type have to do with you? Check it out:

Physical Condition-Physically fit individuals experience less heat strain (less overheating and excessive cooling cycles) and are less likely to perceive discomfort from the same amount of activity than people who are not so well-conditioned. Being fit means your micro climate is more consistent over a wider range of activities and temperatures.

Activity Level-Your body produces heat as it works. If you're stationary, you'll feel colder than if you're moving. Move too much and your body will warm to the point that its cooling mechanism will kick in and you'll start to sweat. Sweat almost always leads to discomfort because water is a very good conductor of heat. If you're wet, you'll have a hard time finding the comfort balance.

Perception And Sensitivity To Elements-People's individual perception of comfort in identical conditions and in identical garments can be as much as 10 degrees apart. So, while your riding buddy puts on a balaclava at 15 degrees F, you might feel OK without one until 5 degrees. Knowing yourself is an important part of maintaining maximum comfort levels.

Micro Climate Control-Weather conditions are chaotic, people's bodies are different and people's brains are different. This is not an easy stack of variables to contain. By wearing the proper layering systems such as outerwear, helmet, gloves and footwear, riders can manage moisture, control heat transfer and protect themselves from the environment inside and outside their clothing.

Moisture Management-Dry = Comfort. It's that simple. When sweat stays on your skin, it immediately begins to cool and so will you. Bodies are giant radiators looking to maintain proper temperatures. Moisture-wicking, breathable gear keeps you dry from the inside out by allowing this moisture to evaporate as soon as it forms.

Heat Balance-Being comfortable is a matter of balance. The amount of heat your body produces has to match the amount it loses. Wearing the right clothing system and layers in conjunction with appropriate levels of insulation for your chosen activity is key to maintaining comfortable body temperatures.

Weather Protection-Outdoor gear must be versatile yet specific. In order to create a protective barrier between you and nature's forces, optimal clothing systems are made up of specific layers that work together to ensure proper breathability, waterproofness and, if necessary, insulation. Staying comfortable, dry, warm and happy is no accident.

 

Suit Up And Ride

For experienced riders, dressing properly isn't usually a problem. If this isn't your first rodeo, you've gone through the motions and can use your experience to know what to wear for a great ride. Even so, understanding what you're asking your gear to do can help even the oldest powder hounds ride in maximum comfort.

The first step is to find out who you are (a high-activity rider who sweats a lot, a groomed-trail cruiser who needs maximum insulation, etc.) and dress accordingly. Everyone is different-that's the most important thing to remember. Next, pay attention during and after your ride and have layers on hand to swap out. Soon, you'll be your own personal gear expert.

Need a place to start? Check out these riders' gear combos of choice.

Carter Gerdes, Togwotee Mountain Guide:

Outerwear: Valdez Parka, Togwotee Bib, Arctic Boots, Summit Glove

Base and Mid Layer: Aggressor Pant and Shirt, Inferno Pant and Jacket in ultra-cold conditions, Revolt Jersey

Brad Story, Backcountry Legend:

Outerwear: Valdez Parka, Togwotee Bib, Adrenaline Boots, PowerXross Glove, Klim Tekvest

Base and Mid Layer: Aggressor Pant, Aggressor Shirt and Revolt Jersey

Nate Zollinger, World Champion Professional Hillclimber:

Competition Outerwear: Revolt Pullover, Free Ride Pant, Adrenaline Boots, Inversion Glove

Competition Base and Mid Layer: Aggressor Pant and Shirt, Klim Tekvest, Summit T-shirt for layering

Gabe Bunke, Cross Country

Racing Champion:

Outerwear: Tomahawk Parka or PowerXross Pullover (depends on temperature), Free Ride Pant, Adrenaline Boots

Base and Mid Layer: Klim Tactical Short, base layers vary widely based on temperature but I love to use the Summit T for layering; if it is a bit colder I switch to the long sleeve Summit T.