Q. Dear Gear Guy. My Scout leader says that when hiking in the winter you should always wear wool because it keeps you warm even when wet. But I am allergic to wool. Any ideas?
—Sneezy Scout Parson, Havelock, N.C.
A. Your Scout leader is right about wool being a great insulator that keeps you warm even if it gets wet. But lucky for you, there are plenty of synthetic fabrics that work just as well — and they are often more affordable. Every clothing brand has its own name for it, but most are made with some type of polyester fabric. They are all pretty similar in that they wick moisture away from your skin and keep you warm when wet.
For winter hiking, you should always dress in layers. Start with a tight-fitting, synthetic base layer (a.k.a. long underwear). They come in a wide a variety of fabric thicknesses. The lighter weight is best for outdoor activities where you sweat a lot; heavier is better for colder conditions. Layer over that with a thicker fleece sweater or jacket and if it’s windy or raining/snowing, your top layer should be a water-resistant shell jacket.
Here are a couple good synthetic base layer options: