The phrase “Frostbite Sailing” has the ability to spark imagery of flying snow, howling winds and icebergs floating across the Sound to dismantle fleets of sailing dinghies. While that probability remains minimal, we all share a vested interest in dressing appropriately for the weather we’re likely to encounter on the protected bays, rivers and harbors where we sail in the winter. Whether you’re racing Dyer Dhows, Lasers, Interclubs or JY15s, you’ll need to layer up for ultimate protection and performance. So, where to start with all of this layering business, and what do all of these high-tech names really mean?
Let’s start at the inside out, meaning base layers. The best base layers these days are a highly technical mix of synthetic fibers that repel water. These are often referred to as being hydrophobic or “afraid” of water. In actuality, it’s the water that’s afraid of the fabrics, as the outer surfaces of these layers have an innate ability to repel and disperse water. Many of these garments also have a thin microfleece interior surface for added warmth and comfort.
Magic Marine’s Thermo Layer Pullover and Pant are made with a super stretchy blend nylon, polyester and spandex. They’re completely seamless, lightweight and wonderfully warm. With a thin microfleece inner layer, they’re also perfect for crossover use for snow sports.
There’s also a great product from Zhik called the Hydrophobic Spandex Fleece collection. Available in both top and pant for men and women, this sleek technical base layer features Zhik’s “Titanium” outer layer that reflects heat, coupled with a hydrophobic fleece inner layer that traps heat and keeps you dry.
SLAM’s Australian design studio came out with the Thermalite Top, a paneled lycra and spandex outer surface and microfleece inner surface combined with a tight seal waistband to keep everything in its place and your body heat trapped close.
Gill can never be forgotten when it comes to sailing gear, and they enter this mix with their Hydrophobic Top. Using a polypropylene and elastane blend of materials, Gill is able to achieve a super lightweight and super warm base layer.
Moving out from the base layers, are mid and outer layers. For cool to warm days, you might want to wear some microfleece/neoprene garments between your base layers and spray gear, whereas on the cool to cold days a thicker neoprene or metalite mid layer between your base layers and drysuit may be warranted. Metalite is less breathable than microfleece, but it’s better at keeping you warm.
Sea Gear’s Hot Top is an ultra-thin metalite neoprene top with flatlock stitching and a lycra collar for added comfort and overall mobility. It’s a perfect mid layer for a colder day. Sea Gear’s Metalite Pant is the pant version of the metalite top. Its .5 mm neoprene shell adds more warmth, and the metalite lining cuts down on wind chill and keeps more water out. Couple that with thicker neoprene on the seat and knees for added protection, and you have a great pant worth the investment.
SLAM’s Skiff Pant adds a inner nylon layer to their metalite pant. This prevents the metalite from sticking to the skin as it is prone to do, and adds some durability. Zhik’s Microfleece Pant and Skiff Suit comprise a unique line of neoprene by Zhik. They’re made with 1mm neoprene for added warmth, and the lack of metalite allows them to breathe a little bit. A thin layer of thermal fleece on the inside of the neoprene adds a little more warmth and makes the garments a little more comfortable.
Zhik Orspan Top
Zhik Orspan Top
For colder days, you might want to wear some thicker neoprene such as the Zhik Superwarm Top, or go full-length with their Skiff Wetsuit. All are super flexible and perfect for keeping chill and wetness at bay. Also check out Zhik’s Orspan Top. Amazingly water repellent, this 4-way-strectch, 3-layer fabric has a highly breathable membrane. Water beads and rolls off this top like it was made of metal.
Magic Marine’s ASY Front Zip Wetsuit is made of 3mm neoprene with 4mm panels over the core for extra warmth where it counts. The interior of has a plush thermal liner which is soft against the skin and provides extra insulation. Taking the zipper off the back also makes the wetsuit less stiff where you bend most! Laser sailors will appreciate that this piece is compatible with Magic Marine’s Pro Hiking Pads.
A favorite outer layer for cold weather sailing is the Gill Thermal Dinghy Top. This cozy garment works like a dinghy smock, with a fleece lining and high collar providing warmth and protection, while the stretch PU cuffs and adjustable neoprene waistband provide a comfortable seal. Every winter kit bag should include one of these.
Of course, when we think about frostbite sailing we always have to consider drysuits. By far the most popular one out there is the Gill Pro Drysuit, with internal adjustable elastic braces (suspenders) for a more comfortable fit, a waterproof zipper, elasticized waist and fully taped seams keeps the water out and you dry. On the higher end, Kokatat’s GFE (which stands for Gore-Tex Front Entry) Drysuit features a 3-layer Gore-Tex membrane, Cordura seat and knee patches, sealed seams, and a relief zipper. Kokotat’s extensive use of articulated patterning enables a wide range of motion.
While all of these products have specialized temperature ranges and weather conditions for their ideal use, we can rest assured that the “frostbite” in frostbite sailing should only come up in name only, allowing us to stay warm and dry while the weather avoids cooperation.