How to Dress Correctly for your Temperature Zone in a Cold Work Environment


Having the proper insulated workwear and protective gear in environments with low temperatures is vital for staying safe and maintaining high productivity. Some companies offer comfort ratings for insulated workwear as a guide for choosing the proper jackets, gloves, boots and headwear for the temperature in your work environment.

However, it’s a mistake to select your gear solely based on comfort ratings. You should also consider your working conditions, your activity level and the length of time you’ll be exposed to the cold.

When choosing insulated workwear, consider the temperature and conditions, your activity level and your exposure time.

How to Choose Insulated Workwear for Climate Controlled Environments

If you’re working in a temperature-controlled warehouse with the temperature set at 25°F, gear with a rating at that temperature might not be the best for you.

If you’re very active in your job – constantly walking, lifting and otherwise moving and producing more body heat – you’ll need gear rated for slightly warmer temperatures so you don't overheat.

Layering will also be key, so you can be warm when you first enter the low temperature environment and then adjust by opening or removing a layer as your body acclimates working to the cold.

If you spend all day on equipment like a forklift or back-hoe, you’re facing a wind chill that will make it feel much colder than it actually is. Plus, when you’re sitting, you’re not moving enough to generate much body heat. Increased wind chill and decreased body heat means that you may need to choose cold weather workwear rated for colder temperatures than the air temperature of your environment.

Man working in a cold climate-controlled warehouse wears insulated  bib overalls and a work jacket.

How to Choose Cold Weather Workwear for Outdoor Environments

People working outside in cold weather have all the same things to consider that we just discussed for climate controlled environments, along with the added challenge of working through wider swings in temperature and precipitation. Changing temperatures, wind, rain and snow can all affect how warm you feel in your cold weather gear.

Dress in several layers so you can adjust throughout the day, depending on how the temperature changes and how much body heat you are generating.

For rainy or snowy conditions, choose an outer layer that is water-repellent or waterproof. Any moisture that gets through your outer layer, or gets trapped underneath, will make it harder to stay warm.

With those considerations, it’s more important for people working outdoors to choose insulated workwear with comfort ratings for what conditions will feel like based on wind and moisture in the air, not necessarily what the temperature actually is.

Man working outdoors in the winter wears insulated bib overalls, a thermal, hoodie and insulated work gloves.

Why Exposure Time Matters When Choosing Insulated Workwear

Now that you’ve considered the temperature and conditions for you job, think about how long you’ll be exposed to the cold.

Did you know that you can experience hypothermia even in 50°F weather? Or, if that temperature is combined with wind and rain, hypothermia conditions can accelerate?

The main factor in hypothermia is your body temperature – not the temperature of your surroundings – which means you need to limit the time you’re exposed to the cold without the proper insulated and protective gear.

Your activity level always matters, but increased exposure without protective apparel, especially in below-freezing temperatures, is risky no matter how active you are. If you’re going to be in cooler temperatures for a more than a few hours, then you need protective apparel. The colder or wetter the conditions and the longer the time you will be exposed, the more protection and insulation you will need, so choose insulated workwear with comfort ratings for colder temperatures.

Men working outside in cold, wet weather wear insulated, water-repellent workwear.

Best Workwear for Cold Environments

Here are our recommendations for cold weather protection based on what the temperature feels like for you. Remember to consider all other conditions – job duties, weather, exposure time and any other factors, such as health conditions, that might make you more susceptible to the cold.

Man working in a subzero freezer wears insulated jacket and impact-resistant insulated work gloves.

Workwear for Temperatures Between -60°F and -30°F

Winter work coats like the Extreme Softshell Jacket, Iron-Tuff Siberian and ErgoForce Jacket should be paired with heavyweight base layers when the temperature feels this extreme. If you have minimal physical movement in situations with wind chill, look for added insulation. If you’re very physically active, look for jackets with Performance-Flex panels and durable stretch materials that won't hinder your movements.

Work boots like the Extreme Freezer Pull-on, Extreme Freezer Boot or Extreme Pac Boot offer protection from the cold, as well as anti-slip and electrical hazard compliance. Pair your winter work boots with socks that offer moisture-wicking capabilities to protect against sweat that can make your feet feel colder.

For headwear, concentrate on items like masks and balaclavas that will protect as much of your head and face as possible.

For gloves, insulated mitts are great if you don't need much dexterity, as mitts are warmer than regular gloves. When dexterity and warmth matter, performance gloves are your best bet.

Man working on a snowy construction jobsite wears a thermal high-visibility jacket and a knit cap under a hard hat.

Workwear for Temperatures Between -30°F and 0°F

Warm jackets and pants like our Insulated Softshell Jacket and Insulated Softshell Pants work great in subzero temperatures. Softshell materials are stretchy and less bulky, meaning you get a higher level of flexibility. Softshell gear is water-resistant (and sometimes waterproof), exceptionally durable and very breathable, all key features for hard-working cold weather gear.

Boots like the 54 Gold Hiker and the Tungsten Hiker offer insulation to keep you warm and they also offer ankle and toe protection, anti-slip soles and waterproof uppers, among other features.

Leather gloves offer maximum warmth and durability at these temperatures. Knit caps paired with gaiters offer head, face and neck protection.

Man camping in the woods wears a fleece jacket and knit cap.

Workwear for Temperatures Between 0°F and 30°F

Temperatures below freezing don’t require as much insulation as subzero temperatures, but you still need something insulated. Stylish, warm jackets like the Extreme Sweater Jacket and the Diamond Quilted Jacket are great options for this temperature range.

Work boots like the Ice Logger and Barrier boots offer durable leather uppers, anti-slip soles, plus insulation to keep you warm, in addition to other features.

Liners help gloves provide additional warmth. If your job requires additional safety, there are also options like impact protection and cut resistance offered in many insulated gloves. Knit caps keep your ears and head protected.

Man working in a climate controlled food processing facility wears an insulated zip-up hoodie and  knit gloves.

Workwear for Temperatures Above 30°F

It might be above freezing, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel cold. You still need protection, but layering and avoiding over-insulating yourself is key. Moisture makes you colder, so sweating from overdressing makes you colder. A moisture-wicking lightweight base layer paired with a sweatshirt or fleece, with a rain and/or wind repelling jacket for backup against the elements if you work outside, is a flexible and functional solution at these temperatures.

Make sure your boots don’t have too much insulation – sweaty feet are uncomfortable feet, and uncomfortable feet make the rest of you uncomfortable and your productivity plummets. Choose lightweight boots, like the Crossover Hiker, for greater comfort in mild conditions.

Knit gloves, especially those with added grips or coatings, keep your hands warm without overheating while still allowing you to maintain performance. Headbands keep vulnerable areas like your ears warm without overheating.

Shop Insulated Workwear for Cold Weather

Now that you know all the factors to consider, you’re armed and ready to choose the best insulated workwear for all your cold weather jobs. For more information on RefrigiWear Comfort Ratings or choosing freezerwear or insulated outerwear, please contact RefrigiWear Customer Service.