There’s a saying that goes “be bold start cold.” Now, I have no idea where it originated, but I first heard it while in the military during winter warfare training, in Alaska no less. Like many sayings, this one sounds like it’s filled with wilderness machismo and conjures all kinds of sadistic thoughts when heard for the first time, especially while already dealing with plenty of cold, in Alaska.
As it turns out, “be bold start cold” isn’t a challenge or an uncomfortable act at all. It’s merely the way a trail is started when the temps are lower than preferred. When the season changes for the colder, hikers, trekkers, and backpackers are quick to layer up, sometimes a little too quick. The balmy warmth of the summer sun has us spoiled and we hate to loose it. However, once autumn, and eventually winter, hits some bust out all the layers and put them to work, before the trail is even started.
One thing a lot of backcountry athletes forget is that the body warms up with more movement, especially when working it over hills and mountains. When too many layers are worn, however, there’s sweat, a lot of sweat. It could be argued that sweat will happen regardless, but why soak your most important layers and render them useless. Remember, wetness has a really hard time drying in the cold. And when you stop moving, that wetness gets really cold, which is the complete opposite intention of clothing in cold temps.
This saying is a reminder to start a little colder than you may prefer, and allow your body to warm itself naturally; this will preserve your layers, prevent over heating, and keep you moving comfortably on the trail. You should still have your heavier layers packed in your bag in case you started too cold, but they will be safe in your pack and your thinner and closer layers will be dry and comfortable against your skin.
In cooler autumn temps I will usually start with a long-sleeved shirt over a t-shirt, and if it’s cooler I’ll add a fleece, and I’ll keep a jacket and that same fleece (if it’s not needed before) in my bag. In winter, depending on temp and condition, I may start with the t-shirt, longed-sleeve shirt and fleece, gloves, and beanie, and hold the jacket in my bag along with a few other items like a neck warmer and thicker gloves. As I move I’ll gauge my temp against the outside temp and judge whether or not to add a layer or strip a layer.
The real name of the game is just not to over dress in the beginning. But, to each their own, you be the judge and do what works best for you and the conditions on your trail. It’s a tried and tested method to keep you centered and ready to rock anything that comes your way.