Extreme Layering: Cold-Weather Clothing

Our testers faced raging blizzards, pounding hail, frigid temps, and 60-mph winds to select these top clothes.

Extreme Cold | Extreme Heat | Extreme Rain | Extreme Versatility

Insulation | Shell | Pants | Baselayer | Booties | Gloves

INSULATION

Rab Ascent
One game tester used this super-puffy 650-fill down parka in lieu of a sleeping bag in Colorado's Pawnee National Grasslands. Even though temps dipped below freezing, he reported snoozing soundly inside his bivy sack with the Ascent (plus a soft shell draped over his legs). Supple Pertex shell fabric makes the Ascent water and wind resistant, breathable, and stuffable down to football size. Large, zippered handwarmer pockets offer plenty of storage, and a generously insulated, detachable, wire-brimmed hood sheds snow without blocking vision. And the price is right. $185; men's S-XXL, women's 8-16; 1 lb. 15 oz.; rab.uk.com. Reader service #101

Extreme Cold | Extreme Heat | Extreme Rain | Extreme Versatility

Insulation | Shell | Pants | Baselayer | Booties | Gloves

SHELL

Cloudveil Koven Plus
Remember Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man? We found his jacket. It's made from Schoeller's
C-Change, a "bionic climate membrane" (according to the manufacturer) that automatically adjusts breathability based on the temperature inside and out. (Think of a flower opening up in warm temperatures and closing in cold.) Sounds like sci-fi, but it works. "Water beads off this thing like olive oil on hot Teflon," said one tester. "It's breathable enough for hard, uphill snowshoeing but felt warm when I was standing still in a blizzard." Other features we liked: the welded seams (reduces weight and bulk), micro-fleece body mapping on the torso and shoulders for extra warmth, and the two-way stretch panels under the arms. Plus, it's decked out with burly mountain-shell standards: powder skirt, pit zips, adjustable hood with chin guard, large handwarmer pockets, and cinchable cuffs. Testers reported that fit is perfect for winter layering: The shoulders and arms are roomy enough for a lightweight puffy parka underneath. The hood accommodates a helmet but also snugs over bare heads without any fabric gaps. $440; men's S-XXL; 1 lb. 5 oz. (M); cloudveil.com. Reader service #102

Extreme Cold | Extreme Heat | Extreme Rain | Extreme Versatility

Insulation | Shell | Pants | Baselayer | Booties | Gloves

PANTS

ARC'TERYX Kappa AR Pant
"My butt never got cold, even when I was sitting in the snow for hours waiting to see a wolf or hiking across a frozen lake in 35-mph winds," reported a staffer who wore the Kappa AR pants in Alaska last March. Credit the Primaloft insulation and breeze-busting Windstopper shell fabric. Full-length side zips allow for unlimited venting when you're on the move. While the Kappas are not technically waterproof, they reliably shed wet snow and drizzle. $259; men's S-XXL; 1 lb. 10 oz. (M); arcteryx.com. Reader service #103

Extreme Cold | Extreme Heat | Extreme Rain | Extreme Versatility

Insulation | Shell | Pants | Baselayer | Booties | Gloves

BASELAYER

The North Face Omen Power Stretch
Silky smooth on the outside and fleecy soft on the inside, the Omen is our hands-down favorite layering piece for winter. The four-way stretch polyester fabric is powerfully warm for the weight, but also breathable and quick-drying. "The wicking was incredible," said one tester who wore it all winter while climbing and backpacking in Arizona and Utah. Flat-lock stitching prevents chafing under backpack straps, and a sturdy front quarter-length zipper permits some venting. The tightly woven, smooth outer face resists snagging, and the tall collar and interior zipper storm flap seal out chill gusts, helping the Omen double as a mid or outer layer in milder temps. $129; men's S-XXL, women's XS-L; 10 oz. (men's M); thenorthface.com. Reader service #104

Extreme Cold | Extreme Heat | Extreme Rain | Extreme Versatility

Insulation | Shell | Pants | Baselayer | Booties | Gloves

BOOTIES

Sierra Designs DriZone Booties
These hightops are our favorite winter camp shoes, thanks to a generous helping of 750-fill down, elastic cinch cords around the ankle, waterproof/breathable shell fabric, and ridged plastic soles that grip packed snow. $70; men's S-XL, women's S-XL; 14 oz.; sierradesigns.com. Reader service #105

Extreme Cold | Extreme Heat | Extreme Rain | Extreme Versatility

Insulation | Shell | Pants | Baselayer | Booties | Gloves

GLOVES

Outdoor Research Criterio
During backcountry ski trips, winter treks, and long hours of ice climbing, these gloves kept our fingers warm (synthetic EnduraLoft insulation), dexterous (leather palms), and dry (Gore-Tex). The women's version is called the Ritual. $89; men's S-XL, women's S-L; 5 oz.; orgear.com. Reader service #106