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What to Wear on a Construction Site: How to Dress for Cold Weather

What to Wear on a Construction Site: How to Dress for Cold Weather

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When the winter weather hits, construction workers face additional hazards like hypothermia and frostbite. The best way to protect yourself is to dress properly for extreme winter weather. Read our guide to dressing warm in cold temperature when you're working construction.

Who Needs to Dress Warm?

Working outside has its ups and down. You get fresh air and can enjoy the cooler months. Unfortunately, nice weather isn't permanent.

If you work construction year round, this extreme cold weather clothing guide is for you. Choosing layers and the correct fabric can make a world of difference when you have a long shift on a cold winter’s day.

If you live in a state like Florida or Hawaii, you likely won't need to layer up very much. If you live in Colorado, Minnesota, North Dakota, Maine, Wyoming, or another location where temperatures frequently dip below freezing, I urge you to continue reading.

When working outdoors, choose clothing created with the right materials designed to keep you warm. Below you will find a list of my favorite types of fabrics to wear when spending long periods in the elements.

Different Types of Material

different types of material to wear when it's cold and the pros and cons including cotton, fleece, polyester, wool, and down
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Wool

Pros

  • Strong
  • Warm and breathable
  • Stays insulated even when wet
  • Wind resistant

Cons

  • Bulky
  • More expensive
  • Slow drying
  • Sometimes uncomfortable and itchy

Cotton

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Breathable

Cons

  • It holds and traps  moisture to your skin which keeps you colder longer. In the hiking world, cotton in known as the fabric that kills.

Polyester

Pros

  • Breathable
  • Lightweight
  • Good for layering
  • Usually coated to expel water

Cons

  • Not super warm
  • Stains easily
  • Smells if worn too long without washing

Down

Pros

  • Provides amazing insulation
  • Lightweight
  • Can pack into small spaces
  • Long lasting
  • More environmentally friendly than synthetic fabrics

Cons

Fleece

Pros

  • Soft
  • Lightweight
  • Inexpensive
  • Quick drying
  • Easy to wash

Cons

  • Flammable
  • Develops smells quickly

Nylon

Pros

  • Breathable
  • Moves sweat from skin making a good base layer
  • Inexpensive

Cons

  • Not warm

How to Layer Clothes for Cold Weather

Things to Keep in Mind

When layering, it important to consider the three layers, and what each layer can do for you. This helps you choose clothing with the correct functionality and fabric. Additionally, by choosing three functional layers, you will stay toasty and warm while maintaining the ability to move quickly and perform well on your job.

Base Layer

The base layer or underwear layer serves to remove sweat from skin. In order for the base layer to work properly, it should lay against the skin so that it can effectively move moisture away from the body.

When choosing a material for a base layer, you have the option to choose a lightweight, midweight or heavyweight fabric. Lightweight materials quickly remove moisture and dry quickly however they lack insulation. Synthetic fabrics, such as polyester and nylon, are great lightweight material options. Midweight base layers, such as a wool polyether blend, incorporate the moisture wicking of a lightweight layer, while adding insulation. A heavyweight base layer gives you insulation and supplements a lighter base layer.

Middle Layer

After your base layer comes the middle layer. The middle layer captures and traps heat. Like the base layer, the middle layer should also work to move moisture away from your body. Fleece and wool are great options. You should avoid cotton as it traps moisture and takes a lot time to dry.

Outer Layer

The outer layer serves as a shell to protect you from the elements such as wind, rain, and snow. The outer layer should be  waterproof or water-resistant  keep water off your inner clothing. Waterproof material will keep you drier, while water-resistant can protect against light wind and rain.

The outer layer can also consist of a breathable or not breathable design. If you plan to exert yourself, it is best to have a breathable outer layer. If you sweat in a non-breathable outer layer, it will stay trapped inside and lead to a cold experience.

a snowy and cold construction site with a house being built
If you construction site looks like this, be sure to dress in multiple layers to stay warm. Photo credit: Discount Dumpster

Upper Body Clothes

Base Layer

Choose a lightweight polyester blend shirt, like this one for men or this one for women.

Middle Layer

Select a heavy wool sweater. This sweater for men, or this wool sweater for women are perfect for cold outdoor conditions.

Outer Layer

Purchase a waterproof coat that offers wind, rain, snow protection. Check this out for men and this for women.

Lower Body Clothes

Base Layer

My favorite base layer bottoms are made from polyester. Here are some for men and women.

Middle Layer

Choose a pair of midweight fleece pants. They come in men's and women's.

Outer Layer

Find quality work pants that are also waterproof and breathable. These are great for men. These work perfectly for women.

Feet

Always choose quality boots and socks. Cold feet can lead to your whole body being cold. Nothing is worse than icy toes.

Socks

When choosing socks, you should once avoid cotton. Instead, find a sock made with wool. Choose a thick sock and ensure it fits snuggly to avoid rubbing and chaffing. Crew socks guarantee the most comfort with boots. These are my absolute favorite socks on the market. You can also choose heated socks to give an added layer of warmth.

Boots

Choose a well-insulated, waterproof boot for the best comfort in the winter. Chippewa boots are American made and known for their superior products.

Foot Warmers

For those of us who have feet that just will not stay warm, you also use foot warmers or heater insoles. You can buy a simple pair of foot warmers for about $2.50 at just about any sporting or outdoor store. They will keep your feet nice and warm for up to eight hours.

Additionally, you can purchase a pair of battery-powered insoles to keep your feet warm throughout the day. Although the insoles are more expensive, they will last longer.

Hands

Glove Layering

When choosing gloves, you can pick between a fully insulated pair of gloves, or wearing both a lighter glove liner underneath a heavier pair of waterproof gloves. The glove liner should work like any other base layer and lay close to your skin to wick water from your hands. When utilizing a layering system with gloves, you have the option to remove a pair if your hands get too warm.

Hand Warmers

You can also add a pair of inexpensive hand warmers to your gloves to keep your fingers from freezing.

If your job allows you to wear mittens,  consider buying a pair. Mittens tend  to warm hands because your fingers create more heat for each other when they are touching. When they are separated by fabric, they are unable to feed off each other’s heat.

You should also avoid breathing into your gloves to try to warm up your hands. The condensation from your breath can gather in your gloves making them wet. Consider carrying a spare pair of gloves just in case they do get wet.

Hat

As a kid, whenever I went outside in the cold, my mom always said, “Take your hat or all the heat will escape from your head.”

I recommend buying a hat made from merino wool or fleece. Both feel soft, stay insulated, and have moisture wicking abilities. You can also wear a balaclava to cover the head and face. A balaclava also fits well under a helmet.

Other Ways to Keep Yourself Warm

Eat for Warmth

When cold, your body burns more calories than it does in warm temperatures. Consume high calorie, high fat foods before spending time in wintery weather to help your body maintain a good core temperature.

Cover All Exposed Skin

Wear a scarf. Make sure that your gloves meet the edge of your coat. Wear a mask on your face. Patch any holes in your clothes. Any exposed skin allows heat to escape from your body.

Stay Dry

Most importantly, choose clothing designed to keep you dry and warm. Have extra clothing in the event you do get wet.

Final Thoughts

Remember, working in bitter, cold without the proper gear not only leads to an agonizing experience; it can lead to serious health problems. Ensure your safety and sanity by bundling up appropriately for the weather.

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