Our goal is to improve basic understanding of the fundamentals to ensure a better performance decision-making in our outdoor activities and to stay safe.
Where to go?
When to go?
What to wear?
What to take (and what to buy)?
What to eat and drink?
Who to go with?
How to train and prepare mentally and physically?
This is a problem because we have little practical experience when we are in a situation where keeping dry and staying warm is totally dependent on us. When we do not have a warm and dry place to escape to.
The Inuit and other indigenous populations did not have a problem like this. KDSW is part of their everyday lives. Their very lives depend on it. And their very survival shows the depth of their knowledge.
They learned in multiple ways. Not only did they make their own clothes they made the material they used to make their clothing. They had an intimate knowledge of the material and the environment they live in. The essential piece of gear they took to insure their survival was not a spare jacket but a sewing kit where they could fashion or repair a garment when needed.
They captured the experience of their elders and learned from them by a long apprenticeship.
Today, we buy our clothes. We spend most of our time in climate-controlled environments (home, office and car). We have limited experience in the outdoors where the heat to keep us warm is provided by us.
We gain Information from friends, colleagues, social media and those that profit from making clothing but the result is an overwhelming amount of information that is difficult to find answers to the above questions. What is found is often contradictory. There is no structure to guide us.
Keeping dry and staying warm is a complex task because it depends on what is going on in three areas where each is changing over time. Knowing how these areas interact (the theory) is essential to learning and decision making.
The food and water you take and consume, fitness and health, training and preparation, your activity level and your physiology and how your body responds automatically, your energy stores and how fast they are being depleted.
Temperature, precipitation, and wind and how these change, and the time of day, sunrise and sunset, the terrain and the duration of exposure.
What are they made of, how they are designed to work, what they do that is unintended and how they work together (layering).
Learning these fundamentals is not enough and neither is experience. We too easily jump to conclusions and we do not have the means of testing our conclusions. We quickly learn that what works in one place and time does not work in another. We learn that there are no simple rules to follow.
Sure, not wearing cotton is good advice but I have a ventile (cotton) parka which I can wear in some circumstances. And cotton is comfortable in hot weather and is quite comfortable in our climate controlled environment. And I have worn cotton outdoors before without a problem? So for some, wearing cotton is not a problem at all, most of the time.
Our approach is to build a foundation to accelerate learning on the hill. Learning on the hill involves the ability to assess a changing situation, foresight to plan ahead and project consequences, being able to adapt and improvise when corrective action is necessary and doing it in a time-frame that will make a difference to outcome, and lastly, and being able to reflect on each and every experience.
We know a lot more than the Inuit in the arctic. Our chances of survival in the arctic though is near zero. The Inuit learn the skills of survival through the stories and history from their elders and leaders in the community. They learn through a long stepwise process of apprenticeship.
We can not duplicate what they do but we can adopt some of their techniques to build a foundation of continuous learning. We also tell stories, we look back in time and explore the evolution of our learning. We explore how to ask questions, how to experiment and to have a healthy scepticism of our conclusions. We learn how to reflect on our experience and learn how we can be ready to adapt and improvise when necessary.
The foundation is built in a five steps:
The science, evolution and history of garments that keep you dry and warm (waterproof technologies, insulation technologies and the evolution of designs over time)
How garments are made (fibers, yarns, textiles and the making of garments).
How you produce heat (physiology, metabolism, activity level and duration, and nutrition and fitness)
Everything about keeping warm and staying dry moves (i.e. changes over time, sometimes slowly and others quite times dramatically). The study of both disasters and successes in the mountains illustrates the dynamics of keeping dry and staying warm.
Putting all these together–reading the garment, performance layering and outfitting.
With all this said, keeping dry and staying warm is personal and is different wherever you are and what you are doing. There are no hard and fast rules. This foundation should help you learn from every experience.