Clothing System for Fairbanks Winter

 Student in winter gearManaging moisture is the key component to being comfortable in the winter in Fairbanks

The cold can be worse with the wind. It will make the cold feel colder. Please read the Wind Chill Chart (PDF).

The more active you are the less clothing you need, and the more moisture you generate

The layers of clothing that you want close to your skin (base layers) should manage moisture well. The most common materials for the base layers are; polypropylene, polyester or merino wool. Cotton is not effective in most winter clothing because it absorbs moisture to holds it against the skin instead of transferring it outward.

Mid-layers add heat retention and warmth to a thin base layers.They also should help to continue the outward movement of moisture.  Polypropylene, polyester and merino wool are also the most common material for these layers.

Shell layers provide wind and moisture protection. For most winter applications in Fairbanks a true water proof shell is not necessary. Many of the membrane breathable fabrics (I.E. Gore-Tex) freeze in the winter and don’t let any moisture through so the inside of the shell gets coated with water and ice making the user uncomfortable.

For active pursuits, like cross country skiing and snowshoeing, a Softshell jackets or pants provides the necessary protection against wind, but are much more breathable than a true waterproof membrane jacket. Softshell jackets are made from acrylic, polyester and nylon.  The key maintaining breathability in the cold is to use a tight weave of fabric instead of a breathable membrane to block the wind. Another solution for wind generating sports like cross country skiing and winter biking is to have a windproof layer on the front of the jacket or pants and a very breathable non-windproof material on the back of the garment that allows easy moisture transfer. 

For less active pursuits and for around town when it is -40F it is helpful to have a very warm insulted jacket that is sometimes called a puffy coat. Most puffy coats use either down or a lofty synthetic material to create dead air space which slows the transfer of heat outward and holds it against your body. Down insulation works well in the cold dry environment of Interior Alaska. It provides great warmth while still being light and comfortable. Synthetics parkas work well too, but are a bit more bulky to pack and a bit heavier. The advantage to synthetic insulation is that it is more reliably warm in conditions when it might get really wet.    

The hardest places to keep warm in the extreme winter cold are the extremities. Hands, Feet, and faces require special attention to make sure that they stay warm. 

Everyone's hands are different so it takes some experimenting to get your glove system right. One starting point is that mittens are warmer than gloves. If your hands get cold in gloves try mittens.  

For feet, as well, everyone is a bit different in their ability to stay warm. The most common choices for outdoor winter footwear are: Mukluks, Uggs, Bunny Boots (military surplus vapor barrier boots and waterproof) Sorels, and Baffins.  The level of activity is also a big factor what you decide to wear on your feet.  Some runner can wear a normal trail running shoe when out for an hour run at -20F. SmartWool socks are also recommended.

For active pursuits lightweight hats made of fleece, acrylic or wool work well. A balaclava, face mask, or neck gaiter can protect the exposed skin and ears on the face when out in extreme cold.

This write-up was provided by Outdoor Adventures.  Please feel free to contact us or stop by with any questions, or call 907-474-6027.  We are located at 519 Copper Lane, in a little white house next to the Honors House.

Local Outdoor Clothing Resources

Apocalypse Designs
Apocalypse is a local custom clothing and gear shop. They have been around forever and make gear especially for the challenges of Alaska’s climate. Most of their clothing is designed for extreme conditions so it isn’t as packable or climber friendly as the commercial gear but it is warm. The gear is custom so be prepared for higher prices and super quality.

Apocalypse Designs 201 Minnie St (907) 451-7555

Beaver Sports
Beaver is one of the larger outdoor specific gear retailers in Fairbanks. They have great clothes and gear for traditional sports as well as outdoor activities such as backpacking, climbing, water sports, biking, snowboarding, and skiing. Many of their employees are highly knowledgeable about the area and their technical gear is tailored to Alaska. Their prices are pretty standard for quality technical gear and they are pretty good at having seasonal sales throughout the year.

Beaver Sports 3480 College Rd (907) 479-2494

REI has a wide variety of outdoor clothing and equipment.  The knowledgeable staff at REI can help in the selection of quality outdoor clothing to make sure that you are comfortable outside all year long. This store also allows for free in store pick-up for online shopping, and provides a 10% divided for purchases by members at the store.

REI 19 College Road, Unit A (907) 456-5161

Big Rays Store
Big Rays is a local sporting goods store with a decent selection of basic winter wear and pack boots. Their outdoor clothing is mainly Columbia brand which has a good spread of high and low-end clothing. Big Rays also has a good selection of camping equipment mainly geared toward hunting and car camping.

Big Rays Store 507 2nd Ave (907) 452-3458

Goldstream Sports
Goldstream Sports is a local business which specializes in biking (both summer and winter) and XC skiing. They have good gear with a smattering of performance clothing and great customer service.

Goldstream Sports 711 Sheep Creek Rd (907) 455-6520 

Prospector Outfitter
Prospector Outfitters is a clothing store with some basic camping peripherals but no tents or sleeping bags. They have good winter gear and are starting to carry technical clothing. They have great customer service and a rewards program worth signing up for (they send you a card on your birthday for example).

Prospector Outfitter 1512 S. Cushman St (907) 457-7372 

The Woolly Rhino/ Frontier Outfitters
The Woolly Rhino carries high-end technical and casual outdoor clothing. You will get an honest price for a superior product that usually comes with an excellent guarantee. They are located in Frontier Outfitters in the Gavora Mall.

Woolly Rhino 250 3rd St. Suite 6 (907) 452-4771

Value Village
Value Village is a used clothing store which doesn’t have any real outdoor gear selection but they are great for getting cheap fleece and other cold weather wear and sometimes you can find a decent pair of skies.

Value Village 3027 Airport Way (907) 474-4828.