Saturday 29 April 2023

Managing Clothing To Stay Comfortable On A Cold Day In The Cairngorms

Top of the Fiacaill a' Choire Chais

On the cold day out in the Cairngorms described in my last post I needed, as so often, to adjust my clothing frequently to stay comfortable – that is, to regulate my body heat so I never felt too hot or too cold. Now when the weather conditions vary – sometimes windy, sometimes not, warmer temperatures lower down, colder ones higher up – and exertion does too – climbing steeply, resting, descending – this can be impossible to do perfectly but by paying attention to how your body feels and altering your clothing to suit it is possible to never feel uncomfortable for long.The key to this is to have several layers that fit over each and have options for ventilation.

On this trip I set out in a cool breeze in intermittent sunshine with temperatures just above freezing (the snow was wet in the car park) on a roughly 600 metre ascent to the Cairngorm Plateau. I was wearing a thin merino/polypropylene long-sleeved base layer, thin but tightly woven wool shirt (EDZ Merino Wool Flannel Shirt), and a cotton windproof jacket (Klattermusen Loride - my review here) that is much more breathable than a waterproof. On my legs I had tough, heavy-duty softshell trousers (Keela Scuffers). As the occasional sunshine was in my eyes I also wore a mesh baseball cap with a big peak (it also kept my hair, which needs trimming, out of my eyes).

On the Plateau

On the ascent I soon started to feel hot and unzipped my jacket, undid the top buttons on the shirt, and unzipped the thigh vents on the trousers. I was then just warm enough until I reached the big cairn at the top of the Fiacaill a’ Choire Chais where the temperature was well below freezing and the breeze stronger. The trouser vents, shirt buttons, and jacket zip were all quickly closed, and the baseball cap swapped for a warm double-layer beanie, a very old Craghoppers one with a 50/50 wool/acrylic outer and a polyester microfleece lining. My hands were cold by the time I’d done all this and unwrapped and eaten some chocolate so I also dug out my old Pertex/pile Buffalo Mitts. These provide almost instant warmth and whilst you can’t do much with your hands with them on they can be taken off and put back on very quickly. Mitts are warmer than gloves too as they keep your fingers together.

Stob Coire an t-Sneachda & Cairn Lochan

Dressed like this I headed over Stob Coire an t-Sneachda and up Cairn Lochan. The wind came and went. My temperature went up and down. The mitts and hat came on and off – stuffed into my jacket pockets when not worn.  My jacket hood went up and down too as the wind occasionally cut through the beanie.

On Cairn Lochan

On Cairn Lochan the east wind was much stronger and colder. I had a longer break here, just west of the summit for a bit of shelter. Here I donned a light synthetic insulated jacket over my other layers (Outdoor Research SuperStrand Hoodie – my review) and pulled up the hood. With four layers on my body and three on my head I was warm enough while I ate a sandwich, drank some hot ginger cordial, and wandered as near as I dared to the edge of the cliffs to look into the depths of Coire an Lochain.

When I set off I kept the insulated jacket on as the wind was strengthening and light snow was falling. I expected I’d need to remove it after ten minutes or so but in fact kept it on almost all the way back to the car as the wind grew colder and colder. I did lower both hoods but that was it until I was on a level with the car park and starting to feel a little too warm.

On the descent

At no point during the walk did I get sweaty so my base layer stayed dry. I did feel chilly occasionally, but clothing adjustment soon solved this. If I’d had longer stops I’d probably have put on the down jacket I had in the pack. I also had waterproofs in case of wet snow or, lower down, rain. They would have added extra warmth too if needed. In particular the overtrousers would have added a windproof layer for my legs and I did think about putting them on during the descent as I could feel the occasional gust of cold wind through my trousers.

I also had liner gloves, Primaloft insulated gloves, and waterproof overmitts in my pack along with a Paramo Cap and spare socks. In case of a very long stop or even a benightment I also had a bivi bag, a bothy bag, and a short closed-cell foam mat. 

I've given brand names of the ckothing I wore for those interested. There are of course plenty of alternatives that also work well.


  1. Hi Chris - a year or so ago (cant recall exactly) you commented on how impressed you were with a pile/pertex jacket which you had not worn for a considerable time. How would such a jacket have performed on a day such as described here. Cheers Paul.

    1. Hi Paul, it would have been fine. Cheers, Chris

  2. Good to see you using the old Buffalo Mitts, we wore jacket and mitts a few times this winter on the dry days, had the jacket for 20 years now and starting to show its age.