Bundling up is best way to beat cold

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When the mercury hovers at or below zero degrees, forget about style. What you wear can be essential for survival.

When getting dressed, "insulation is your friend," said Pat Slaven, a textile researcher at Consumer Reports. "Whatever you can put between you and the outside to deaden the air works."

Start with a thermal shirt for a base layer, said Annie Short, senior women's outerwear merchandise manager at Wisconsin-based Lands' End. Look for one that absorbs body moisture to keep your core warm, such as the brand's Thermaskin heat shirts.

Next, adding a synthetic layer like a Polartec fleece pullover will help trap heat. These materials are light so they won't add much extra bulk or weight to a person's frame. A fluffy wool sweater, cashmere or fur (faux or real) are other options.

Before heading outdoors, grab a coat that's wind- and water-resistant. "Down is of course nature's best insulator," Ms. Short said. She suggests one that's temperature rated and, for extreme cold, has a high down fill-power (600 or above). Lands' End temperature rates its kids' coats differently than adult outerwear because children have higher metabolism rates and, as a result, don't shed heat at the same rate as older people.

"In general though, everybody from kids to adults should dress in layers so they can stay warm and safe as conditions change throughout the day," Ms. Short said.

Outerwear with synthetic fillers work well, too, Ms. Slaven said. "They're just heavier."

Coats with box or baffle silhouettes are better at blocking the cold than those with pillow or quilted constructions. In the latter, frigid air can creep through the thin stitching patterns, causing a person's body temperature to drop.

People also should keep moisture management in mind and seek out garments that wick sweat.

"If you're outside and you're exercising, you want to get that perspiration away from you," Ms. Slaven said. "Water transmits heat and cold faster than air does, so if you've gotten wet that's going to cool you down a whole lot faster than being dry."

Because a lot of the body's heat escapes through the head, wearing a hat is a must. Also go for gloves with lining, such as fleece or cashmere, and a wind-blocking outer layer, such as leather, a densely woven fabric or nylon.

"You want something to trap air inside and prevent wind from blowing through," Ms. Slaven said.

The key to shoes in the cold is finding ones that keep feet dry. Boots that are waterproof are the best bet. Pair them with thick wool socks for ultimate warmth.

The good news is that it doesn't have to cost a lot to dress safely for severe weather.

"You don't need the most expensive down," Ms. Slaven said, and a lot of these items are available at local outdoor retailers, department stores or online.

And even better news? Spring is less than 50 days away.

Dressing for extreme cold

■ Wear a hat

■ Cover face and mouth with scarf or knit mask

■ Go for sleeves that are snug around the wrists

■ Mittens are warmer than gloves

■ Dress in several layers of loose-fitting clothes

■ Wool, silk and polypropylene are better inner layers than cotton

■ Perspiration increases heat loss; remove extra layers if you start to sweat

■ Don't ignore persistent shivering: it's a sign to go inside

Tips from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov)

Sara Bauknecht: sbauknecht@post-gazette.com or on Twitter @SaraB_PG.

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