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A Northerner's Guide to Staying Warm

By Sir Gilth, Warlorld of Black Guard

collage of warm clothes and winter fun in them
All the ingredients for a warm winter event.

Greetings, Hearthlight! Sir Gilth, Warlord of Black Guard here to talk about a topic near and dear to my cold Northern heart. I’m from Tir Asleen up in the mundane state of Vermont. If you haven’t heard already, our realm will be hosting an event Oct 11-14 that we’re excited about, but we know it can also be pretty chilly at night up North as we get into the late fall. Many of us dress like Vikings for a reason - it’s cold and wet so much of the year. It’s also fun - we get to layer and wear lots of pretty wool things. Whether or not you’re a Viking, we have some tips and tricks to share on How to Stay Warm at Hearthlight Events.

Get Comfy, Stay Comfy

If you’re cold, wet, thirsty and starving, it takes SO much more energy to become warm, dry, hydrated and full. The more you can stay warm, stay dry, stay hydrated and fed, the less work it takes to be comfortable. Ok, just stay how I am to start with, that’s easy enough, right? Let’s take a look at how to make it happen…

The Mitochondria is the Powerhouse of the Cell

As warm-blooded mammals, humans produce our own heat and don’t solely rely on outside sources of heat to stay warm. The way we produce this heat is through the calories we eat. So staying warm starts with eating enough calories for the activities we’re doing in the temperatures we do them in.

Often at Hearthlight events, participants are more active than their mundane lifestyles. The increase in walking alone! And then you throw multi-hour battles into the mix and the energy expenditure really adds up. Then you factor in the temperature and we’re at a serious caloric deficit to mundane life.

Most nutritional guides for outdoor winter activities like hiking or camping recommend at least double the usual recommended calories (think 3-4k if not 5k) ( Breathing in cold weather also requires energy and water to adequately moisten the air for your lungs ( so you need extra water and extra calories just to breathe!

If you’re fighting, you’re gonna need a ton of calories and a ton of water. Be prepared!

Don’t just eat 3 meals. You need to eat frequent, balanced meals and snacks. Carbs for quick energy, fats and proteins to keep the furnace going. You’ll even want to eat at bed time (and possibly a snack during the night) to make sure you have enough calories to keep staying warm.

And remember, anything you bring into your body is going to reach the internal temperature of your body. If you bring in something warm, it will increase your overall temperature. If you bring in something cold, it will decrease your overall temperature. Hot drinks, hot foods are good (as long as you don’t overheat/sweat too much) and ice water is bad.

  • Calories = heat

  • Hydration keeps you breathing

  • Hot food/drink = hot body

A Less Good Hala's Article about Fabric

Wool,silk,fur hat
Staying toasty warm in my furry cap.

Everything you need to know about fabric, you can learn from Hala's article.

Linen is good for wicking moisture and easy to dry with a heat source.

Wool is good for being warm. It's a good inner layer because it is very thermally efficient. Also a good outer layer because it can repel moisture and is still warm when wet. Also good for socks because of its moisture managing properties.

Fur is nice for fashion and warmth. Most fur is not as thermally efficient as the wool for its weight. Some fur, like beaver or otter, makes great hat trim for warmth. Shearling is good for lining shoes for squishy comfort and for warmth.

  • Linen wicks moisture

  • Wool is warm even when wet

  • Fur is snazzy

Ogres and Garb are like Onions

So you’ve managed to make all this great heat, now how do you hang onto it? Well, the best way to stay warm is by creating little protective pockets of air that act as a shield against the outdoors trying to steal your precious heat. One way to create these shields is with layers.

wool to keep you warm
Wool long johns, socks to go underneath and wool hats and winingas to go on top.

Starting with a base layer like longjohns, adding a few layers on your core through tunics and dresses, and then topping it off with hoods, cloaks, and hats will keep you warmer than one warm outer layer alone. This also allows you to adjust your layers to your temperature and activity level - it’s easier to take off your wool tunic if you have a linen tunic underneath. You can also mix-and-match levels of warmer/cooler items. For example, I often wear a linen tunic and wool hood when it’s starting to get chilly but isn’t cold enough to really bundle up. This keeps me from sweating and risking chilly moisture ruining my nice temperature.

wool hood
My linen-lined wool hood is great for adding warmth to my head and torso.

One of the paradoxical things about layering and these air shields is there’s an optimal thickness for each part of your body to provide the best thermal efficiency before the bulk of the layers makes them more trouble than help. The body part that receives the greatest benefit for each added layer of bulk is the torso - so wearing a vest or cloak will make you warmer than all the many layers you might wrap around an arm or a leg. Your head also loses a lot of heat due to its shape and location, so a hood or hat will keep you warmer than adding mittens or another pair of socks. (

One of the other advantages of layers is if you manage them correctly, they’ll also help with moisture levels. Water is much more efficient at transferring heat than things like skin or cloth on their own, so if you have water on your skin, it will draw the heat from you into the environment. When it’s hot outside, that’s a good thing. In the cold, not so much. So inner layers that wick water away from your body and outer layers that prevent water from getting into your skin are key to staying warm.

Stay on top of your layers throughout the day. You’ll need more layers on first thing in the morning to maintain the heat from your bed before you have breakfast and restart the furnace. As you increase in your activity, you’ll want to remove layers before you get too sweaty. Then as the sun sets, you need to put on fresh, clean, dry layers.

  • Layers are your air shield against the cold

  • Layers pull the water out and keep it out

If You Like Piña Coladas and Staying Out of the Rain

Dry clothes and bodies are much warmer than wet ones, so a major part of staying warm is staying dry. Remember “Heat loss from a wet surface can be up to 25 times greater than a dry surface (due to the higher density of water)” ( Making good fabric choices and layering them appropriately can help with that. Having an outer layer that keeps the water out and inner layers that help reduce moisture on your skin will help keep you dry.

brown linen tunic
Linen dries quickly when hung up and left in the sun, so it's a great tool for layering.

What about the clothes you aren't currently wearing? Keeping those in a watertight bin or at least off the ground can keep them dry. And if your clothes do get wet, as long as there is sun for part of the day, hanging your clothes in the sun can dry them pretty well (especially when it's linen)! At the worst, be sure to hang your wet clothes up to dry indoors. Balled up wet clothes in the bottom of your gear bag will get gross fast, so even if you're not planning to rewear them, do yourself a favor and let them air dry as much as possible before stowing them.

If you don’t have any good sunshine, natural fabrics can be dryed by heat sources (like a fire) more safely than synthetic fabrics, but be safe and keep an eye on your clothes, especially if you are wearing them. Watch out for glowing embers landing on fabric especially by bonfires. They will often melt a hole in synthetic fabric and can even with enough time catch fire even to natural fabrics.

You’ll also want plenty of warm, dry shoes to wear so you can keep your feet warm and dry. I prefer waxed leather shoes and warm wool socks.

Keep Changin’

Ok, so you know what to wear on your body and when. But you can’t just have one good outfit and call it a day. Unfortunately, because of how important it is to stay dry and because of how your body produces moisture you’ll need multiple sets of clothes for every day to always be wearing clean, dry clothes. Likewise, multiple pairs of shoes for a multiday event!

wool kaftan
My wool kaftan is a great last layer to add at night when it gets cold. It is also made of a thick, water-repellant wool that keeps me dry in the snow.

Not only will you need clean, dry clothes to put on, you’ll also want to adjust the clothes you’re wearing throughout the day so that you are an ideal temperature (not too sweaty and not to cold). This can often be accomplished by bringing layers with you throughout the day, especially if you’re leaving camp before sunset and won’t return until after. Remember: it’s easier to stay warm than to warm up again. So if you lose heat after sunset it’ll be way harder to regain the warm no matter how hot the campfire might be. To be clean, dry, and warm after dark, it’s best to have an after-dark set of clothes to wear separate from your day clothes.

In addition to extra clothes in camp, it's good to keep a set of mundane clothes in something waterproof in your car. That way if everything in your tent gets wet or dirty you always have some warm, dry clothes to wear to leave site, either for good or in an emergency (like taking someone to the hospital or to buy more wood/rope/tarps/pizza to survive the storm).

  • Keep your clothes dry, on and off your body

  • Change when your clothes are wet

  • Dry wet clothes as much as possible

Ain’t No Rest for the Cold

So you’ve been eating plenty, stayin’ dry, stayed out late partying because you were toasty warm, but now you have to go to sleep where the warmth of mead, fire, and company are no longer. What’s the best way to keep warm so you can sleep?

Don’t wait until bedtime to prep your sleeping space. Making sure you have a warm, dry place to sleep should be one of your first priorities when you arrive on site. The best ways to stay warm while sleeping are similar to other times of day: make heat, trap heat, control moisture.

As mentioned in the section on nutritional needs, make sure you have consumed enough calories (not just liquid calories) close to bedtime. You’ll need calories to make heat all night long. Having a ready-to-eat snack like a protein bar by the bed if you wake up cold in the night is a good option, but so is eating another snack after dinner close to bedtime. And as usual, stay hydrated.

sheepskin rugs at store
One of my favorite things is using a sheepskin as a thermal barrier. You can get creative about sourcing these...they sell these at my local wholesale club!

The heat that you produce needs to be contained, and that’s where your bedding comes in. If you are sleeping on the ground, be sure to have insulation between you and the ground. This can be a separate ground blanket or a high-tech insulated pad. If you are on an air mattress, make sure there’s insulation between the mattress and the ground AND you and the mattress. The pocket of air inside the mattress can be good for holding hot air...but if you’re not careful it will be a great way to quickly dissipate all that body heat out into the earth/air. Same principles apply if you are sleeping on a bunk of cot, but you’ll have an additional air pocket between you and the ground. Using an extra blanket to drape down between the cot and the ground will prevent air from moving under you (and taking your body heat with it).

For the bedding itself, the more you use fur/wool for your not-sleeping-bag bedding, the happier you’ll be from a fabrics perspective. These fabrics help manage moisture and keep you warm. If you’re using a sleeping bag, remember that sleeping bag “ratings” are all about “you can be in this bag and not die at this temperature.” The “sleeping comfortable” rating for bags is generally a considerably higher temperature. Also, these standards changed pretty dramatically in 2017, so take a look at the ways new standards can help you find a bag based on true comfort ratings!

What should you wear on your body while you sleep? Some people swear by sleeping naked (and maximizing contact with the air they’ve trapped in their bedding), others wear a clean pair of longjohns (separate from their daytime longjohns). I find sleeping in wool thermals, wool socks, and a hat (that are all fresh and clean and/or only used for sleeping) to be the most effective. The hat really makes a difference, and if you have a slightly oversized hat, it can double as an eye mask in the morning to give you some extra Zzzs. Win win!

hand and toe warmers at store
Never be cold again!

If you are someone who struggles to produce your own heat, no matter how many calories you eat, I’ve also used hand/toe warmers like the chemical packs you can get at the grocery store. Putting one or two of these in the bottom of your sleeping bag can get the bag up to temperature faster with something other than your own body heat. Again, staying warm is easier than making warm!

One thing that is often tempting when it’s cold is to try to breathe your warm breath into the blankets/sleeping bag. Avoid this temptation! (or have a separate scarf to breathe into). Your breath is moist and can put moisture into your bag and reduce its effectiveness. Don’t do it!

  • Produce heat. If you don’t make your own, store bought is fine.

  • Trap the heat (and the air).

  • Start dry and stay dry.

Put It All Together and What Do You Get

Now that you know the principles of how to get warm and stay warm, how are those principles applied to making real-world garb choices? Here are a few sample outfits so you can see the principles in practice. Remember, my wife Lady Aelis and I have gathered and made garb over many years, so your garb will likely be different.

Every piece of garb you have that is a little bit warmer and thoughtfully chosen will make a difference. Often just adding a wool blanket and cloak pin will keep you warmer (and help you look fancy too!). With this blanket cloak and a chunky wool hat (is that naalbinded? You can’t tell from far away!), you can dress up a warm-but-less-period outfit!

After reviewing these outfits, think of one or two things you can add to your garb that will keep you a little warmer at your next event.

On to the outfits!

There are many gender expressions among Hearthlight participants as well as the cultures we represent in our garb. For different keep-warm strategies, I’ve divided things into dress-wearers and pants-wearers as well as fighters and non-combatants. I didn’t have a dress-wearer combatant on hand for photos, but the combatant strategies and the dress strategies merge just fine.

Dress Wearer - Daytime - Non Combatant

Goals of this outfit include staying warm and responding to changing conditions. If it’s sunny and cool, you’re just as likely to risk sweating if you can’t take on and off layers. This outfit uses flexible layers and lots of linen and wool to manage temperature.

apron dress outfit with hat
A hat and a wool apron dress on her core keep her nice and warm.

Bottom layer: long johns and wool socks covered in long, warm socks.

Dress layers: linen underdress and overdress to help move moisture and trap air in the layers of skirts. A wool apron dress provides a good outer layer of warmth and moisture management. During the day often a wool overdress is too much with the wool apron dress, but if you run cold, bumping up the number of wool layers can help.

Why do you wear these weird wool sundresses? As far as we can tell it’s to keep the core warm. And the thermal efficiency of core heating is much greater than, say, wearing mittens and a linen dress.

If you find you are getting chilly, you can add a hat, shawl, and mittens to this outfit to increase the warmth a little at a time.

Dress Wearer - Nighttime

Dress wearer at nighttime uses similar principles of layering, but adds more wool to the mix and additionally heavy over-layers like a coat or shawl. This is also a good time to break out the furs if you have them - both for sitting on and for wearing!

This shawl is really just a nice wool blanket with some fringe, but if you wrap it right, you get a great fashion accessory that is also lovely and warm.

wool mittens
Linen-lined wool mittens - mittens keep your hands warmer than gloves.

You can see how layering changes the look of this outfit while also providing versatility in layering to adjust your temperature depending on your activity level / changing weather conditions.


Pants Wearer - Daytime - Fighter

(Linen layers with a wool hood, linen layers with wool tunic and linen hood, wool blanket)

The name of the game here is flexibility. You want to be able to generate and maintain heat at the beginning of the day to adequately warm up - and not damage your muscles. You also want to keep from overheating due to wearing too many layers or bad choices in fabric. And lastly, you need to keep warm when your activity level decreases (especially when you are sweaty and things get colder as time passes).

fighting underthings
Underarmor, wool socks, wool hat, wool winingas, leather gloves

Base layer uses classic athletic compression gear to manage heat and moisture as well as providing compression to help keep your muscles safe in the cold (science is out on whether this works or is just a placebo...but it makes me feel better so I do it!). I also wear wool socks because they keep me warm and dry.

Then I mix and match linen and wool tunics and hoods depending on the conditions. I usually wear linen pants. If it’s very cold and snowy, I’ll go all-in on wool. But often the activity level of fighting is enough to warm me up and I start shedding layers.

Wool winingas are great for keeping snow off your legs and also add extra warmth. A wool hat can also be nice.

Having wool on the sidelines like a wool blanket cloak is essential for not getting cold during pauses in the fighting. If you’re stopped to eat, drink, or listen to the next set of rules, be sure to get that cloak on and stay warm!

Pants Wearer - Daytime - Non Combatant

daytime non combatant look
Wool hood over linen layered tunics, wool pants, wool winingas

Pants wearers who don’t fight or for times of day aren’t fighting will need to stay warmer than those who are fighting, but will still need to manage moisture and variable temperatures as they fluctuate in activity level and adapt to changing weather conditions.

Again we start with wool longjohns and wool socks.

Layers of linen are good for managing moisture. I also included wool pants in this look.

I often will wear just a wool hood rather than a wool tunic if it’s medium cold. The hood does a good job of keeping my core warm while not letting me overheat. This is also often a “transitional look” between a comfortable just-linen daytime to a slightly cooler evening.

Complete the look with wool winengas and a nice wool hat.


Pants Wearer - Nighttime

Wool under layer, linen middle layer, and wool over all. I’ll also include wool cloaks and coats at this stage. And if it’s really cold, I’ll wear my silk-lined, beaver-trimmed wool hat to be really toasty.

Appendix - Items Included in the outfits

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