Last week, parts of Utah saw record cold temperatures. In Capitol Reef, the temp dropped to a record low of just 28 degrees Fahrenheit. The previous record, set in 1970, was 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Regions in higher elevations experienced extreme cold, including a record-breaking 6 degrees Fahrenheit at the Bryce Canyon Airport.
While the average daily high in Capitol Reef in October is 66 degrees Fahrenheit, it isn’t unusual for cold fronts to blow winter weather into the region this early in the year. And even on the days when the temperature is warm and comfortable in the afternoon, early mornings, evenings, and the overnight hours may feel more like the dead of winter than mid-Fall.
Dressing for the weather is a must for any outdoor adventure. The right winter clothing will not only keep you comfortable, but also safe, whether you’re hiking, horseback riding, or otherwise enjoying the natural beauty of Southern Utah.
Skip the Cotton
Your favorite cotton long sleeve t-shirt, warm hoodie, joggers, or leggings might sound like the perfect way to stay cozy on a blustery day. But while these may be perfect for staying warm while you’re lounging around the house, they have no place during your outdoor excursions.
When you’re hiking, biking, horseback riding, or doing any other physical activities outside, you need clothing that wicks moisture away from your skin. Without wicking fabric, rain, sweat, and any other moisture will cling to your skin. When cool air blows through, you’ll be left chilled. Your body will cool faster than usual, which can leave you at risk of hypothermia.
If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “cotton kills,” you might already know that cotton doesn’t wick moisture away. Instead, opt for synthetic fabrics or wool, both of which will help get water and sweat away from your skin and evaporating quickly, which will help keep you warm.
Dress in Layers
Now that you know which fabrics to choose and which to avoid, it’s time to learn how to layer those fabrics.
Layering your clothing serves a number of purposes. During the Fall, it makes it easier to adjust to changing temperatures throughout the day. With the right layers, you can dress warm early in the day, shed layers as the day starts to warm, then add them again later in the day.
Layering also helps you stay warmer in freezing temps. Start with a warm, wicking base layer. This layer is designed to wick sweat away from your body. Then, add a middle layer. This layer should be as warm as possible, as it is there to lock in your body heat. A fleece sweater or down jacket is a great choice. Finally, add an outer layer, which should help keep the elements out (more on choosing this layer next).
Add a Waterproof Outer Layer
Your chosen outer layer is just as important as that wicking base layer. The outer layer of your clothing should be waterproof. Even if the weather doesn’t call for rain, a waterproof layer will lock out the elements, like wind or snow.
The weather of Southern Utah can be unpredictable, with rain showers, sleet, or even snow blowing in unexpectedly. If you have a waterproof layer, including a hood, this will keep your other layers dry, which will ensure that you stay warm and comfortable, no matter what comes your way.
Cover Your Extremities
When you’re planning your layers, don’t forget that you’ll also need to cover your extremities. A warm winter hat on your head and gloves or mittens will help lock in heat. On your hands, gloves or mittens are essential for preventing frostbite in sub-zero temperatures.
If there’s a cold wind blowing, a scarf or Buff can also keep your nose and face warm and protected, and warm the air you’re breathing, which will help keep you more comfortable.
Pack Extra Socks
There are few things worse during a long hike than suffering through wet socks. Whether they’re wet from sweat, crossing a river or creek, or from rain and snow, they’ll leave your feet cold and uncomfortable, making it difficult to enjoy your day.
Packing a few extra pairs of socks can help turn your day back around. Just make sure that your socks are wool or synthetic rather than cotton!
Know the Symptoms of Exposure
Even if you feel as though you’re prepared for the elements, surprise storms, delays on the trails, or other bumps in the road may leave you colder than expected. That’s why it’s important to know the symptoms of cold exposure so that you can warm up or seek treatment fast.
Cold exposure usually starts with confusion, dizziness, and, of course, shivering. You may suddenly feel very tired. Sometimes a person’s skin will take on a white, gray, or yellow tint. If frostbite is beginning to set in, your skin will become numb and get a waxy texture.
If you can’t seek medical attention or get to a warm place fast, the best thing you can do is remove any wet clothing, bundle up with as many layers as possible, and otherwise warm your body as best you can.
Planning a Winter Outdoor Adventure
Even if you’re someone who hates the cold weather, planning a Fall or Winter visit to Southern Utah is always a good idea. In the nearby national parks, you’ll get to experience landscapes that few visitors ever have the chance to see. Plus, you’ll get to enjoy popular tourist destinations with very few crowds.
With the right gear, you can enjoy a safe, comfortable, fun visit, no matter how cold the weather gets.