Choosing the Proper Layers for ECW

Whether you're a member of an emergency response team or working out in the cold for an extended amount of time, preparing for ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) could mean the difference between staying safe and putting yourself at risk for frostbite or hypothermia. As you get dressed to head out, you'll need to methodically choose every article of clothing you pull on. By properly laying your clothes, you'll have a far more warm and comfortable outdoor experience.


It's crucial that you pay attention to types of fabrics that your clothes are made of, as they can greatly affect the amount of warmth you're able to conceal. One rule of thumb is to leave cotton out of the equation. As an absorbent material, cotton will soak up sweat and cling to your skin. We can't have that. Instead, opt for polypropylene items. This synthetic fabric works great in ECW. Natural fibers like wool and silk are also really good insulators.

First Layer

This layer, and those thereafter, should not fit tight, but fitted to your body. Opt for polypropylene long underwear so it stays put beneath the other layers. Again, no cotton long johns here! Non-absorbance is vital in this layer.

Second Layer—Mid

This layer is also significant, as it works by trapping cold air and moving it away from your body. The fit of these items is important. Here, you'll put on waterproof trousers, and a synthetic fabric shirt and sweater.

Third Layer—Insulation

We need a solid amount of thickness to really insulate the body from the piercing chill of ECW. If you do not expect to get wet, down jackets and parkas are a wonderful option. However, they can become heavy and unconducive when wet. Use synthetic fabrics if that will be the case.

Fourth Layer—Shell

This is the final layer for your body. The wind shell will ideally help seal everything up in a nice bubble of warmth. These jackets significantly increase the percentage of heat concealed in the layers, making them necessary additions to your getup.

We also have the outer extremities to consider, all of which have their own layering systems.


You'll already have a pair of long underwear at this point. If you'll be working and need functionality, flannel lined jeans aren't a bad choice. They'll keep the cold off for a while but will absorb wetness. These will really depend on your working environment. Otherwise, opt for waterproof synthetic pants. These will keep your dry but may provide a limitation on mobility.


If you anticipate using the boots you already own, make sure you have boot liners inside them. Otherwise, invest in a new pair that's a size larger than your normal. This will allow for more room once you've slipped on a thick pair of socks. It's also important that the boots are insulated and have thick soles. These qualities will help keep water from seeping into the boots.


If you're going to be using your hands frequently throughout the day, you may need to slip some glove liners into your pair. If the weather is too frigid for just one pair of gloves, layer them. With liners in your regular gloves, slip larger mittens overtop. These will keep the warmth concealed inside.


Pull on a baklava as a base to cover to ears, neck, and majority of your face. Bomber or trapper hats, as well as parka hoods, can be fitted over to offer a snug and well-covered layer on your head. Wool and silk work well here, but synthetic will help with sweat management.

One consideration here is to always check weather conditions before heading out. The days' highs and lows can seriously affect the effectiveness of your layering. Dressing for -20-degree weather is much different from 0. Approaching ECW is a strategic endeavor that, when planned correctly, will give you enough comfort and protection to get your job or mission completed.