Cold weather is one of humankind’s oldest enemies. For thousands of years, we’ve been trying to keep ourselves warm as the winter tried its best to freeze us. One important thing that we’ve learned in that time: Not all winter garments are equal. Sometimes, you need a basic winter work jacket to break the chill. Other times, you might need the biggest and baddest winter parka that modern outdoor wear has to offer. Often, you’ll need something in between the two.

In this article, we’re going to talk about how you can keep yourself warm and protected from the cold of winter. We’ll devote specific attention to the different levels of warmth protection that today’s winter gear has to offer and show you the basics of how to make the right choice for you.

Finding the right warmth level

First, the bad news: There’s no universally accepted system for rating the protective qualities of a piece of outerwear in cold weather. Certain manufacturers might offer a “cold weather rating” system for their garments, but these rarely translate from one manufacturer to another, and no single rating can tell you everything you need to know about a jacket. Instead, you’ll need to think about the specific demands of your cold-weather activities. Take factors like these into account:

  • Will you be exposed to precipitation such as rain, snow, or sleet?
  • What will be the average temperature range of your working conditions?
  • Will you be moving around and getting exercise or mostly standing/sitting still?
  • Are the temperature conditions you work in likely to change significantly throughout the workday?

Each factor plays a significant role in determining which kind of winter workwear is right for you. While there are rating systems for the warming power of various insulation types, you’ll have to consider them in context with the many other elements that play a role.

Choosing an insulation type

The insulation type that you choose will have a big effect on how warm your workwear is. The first choice is whether you’ll go with fleece or thermal insulation:

  1. Fleece is a man-made material that is typically made from polyester fibers which is a very similar material to wool fabric. Because of this, it shares many of the same characteristics. You’ll find that fleece apparel is breathable, has a low absorption rate, is quick-drying, lightweight, and affordable.
  2. Thermal insulation is a great option as it helps to trap small pockets of warm air close to the body, keeping the warmth from escaping outside of your clothing. It’s also quite breathable and allows for temperature stability, so you won’t need to layer your clothing items.

Either choice can provide great protection, although today’s outdoor workwear is often made using synthetic insulation because of its superior performance in wet conditions.

Understanding gram ratings

Gram insulation ratings are the most common system that you’ll see used to rate the warmth of different winter outerwear models that use synthetic insulation. A gram rating is expressed with a lowercase letter “g,” but it doesn’t simply measure the weight in grams of the item’s insulation. Instead, the gram rating is the weight in grams of a one-meter by one-meter piece of the insulation in the jacket. Heavier gram ratings mean a warmer type of insulation.

Thus, if a jacket has a gram rating of 90g, that’s not because the insulation inside the jacket weighs 90 grams. Instead, a one-meter by one-meter piece of its insulation weighs 90 grams. That’s a relatively light piece of winter insulation, while heavier winter jackets often feature gram ratings of 200 grams, 300 grams, or more.

The magic of layering

Of course, there will be times when you’ll need more than one level of warmth. You might go to work when it’s 25 degrees outside, but it’s warmed up to 50 degrees by lunchtime when the sun is out. Dressing in layers is an excellent way of keeping warm in the winter, and it also allows you to keep multiple levels of warmth available for when you need them. Rather than wearing one heavy parka, you might wear multiple lighter layers that can be added and removed as needed.

Typically, a layering system will also use a moisture-wicking under layer to control sweat. If sweat dries on your skin in cold temperatures, it can steal heat from your body, so this is an important layer that shouldn’t be overlooked. Adding a moisture-wicking layer can be the secret sauce that keeps you comfortable all day long. Some outerwear models are available that build multiple layers into one garment. Lower layers are constructed using a zip-in or snap-in system that allows them to be added, removed, or worn by themselves. These can be a great option if you’re looking for an all-in-one model.

Whether you’re working or playing, the warmth of your body is what keeps you going when you’re outside in the cold. By looking carefully at your needs and doing a little research on the many models of winter outerwear available, you can make the right choice for keeping yourself warm and comfortable all winter long.