Okay, so the weather is properly beginning to turn and it’s been a little nippy during the day and night as we head towards winter. I know most LARPers are perfectly sensible and can sort themselves out with kit ahead of these cold seasons (or have learnt to tough it out regardless), but as part of my review of kit, I have decided to offer up my personal outlook on LARP kit and the art of layering.
Particularly relevant if you’re monstering one of our night sites.
When people are out on the monster party I’ve found in the few (four) years I’ve been playing Fools and Hereos, they are either busy dashing around ahead of the party who are a relentless marching force of keen (or hardcore all business heroes) or spend much of their time sitting around waiting for the players who are just around the corner having a long moral debate or telling off the mages/priests/mercenaries or looking for their scout who’s vanished into the bushes. During the summer the latter can be fairly pleasant as you get to sit out in the sun, drink water and be heartily glad to not be clanking around in your armour and many layers of kit. However, in winter it can be a different story and sitting freezing your butt off is never fun. This is why I (perhaps overzealously) layer up my kit.
Night sites are particularly bad in the winter for lingering around in the cold as a) the temperature at night can drop quite suddenly once the sun’s gone down and b) people seem to forget how long they’re going to be out exposed to the cold and wind chill. We are blessed that our regular night site venue is not an open wilderness, but it can get bitterly cold on a clear evening.
Therefore, I include below my thoughts about wrapping up warm on winter missions as a member of the monster crew, though many of these tips can be relevant for players too.
The first point I would like to make is to layer. Thinking like you’re prepping for a hike in the cold (because you sort of are) is a good way to get your head into thinking about winter kit for LARP as a monster.
The second point is to consider the armour you’re going to be wearing. If you’re not wearing armour you can layer as many layers as you like (within reason) and not have to worry overly about how you move, so long as your outer layer is appropriate monster kit or dark/subdued colours. However, if you’re wearing armour you need to be able to get into your armour and this may constrain the layers you can squeeze into.
With these thoughts down on paper, let’s look at the three main sections – ooc layering, ic layering and ic outer layers. I include Heads, Fingers and Toes in a separate section.
Below are two photos of some of my (extreme) layering for my winter monster kit – usually employed in some form between September and April/May, though I have been known to wear a thermal top through to the heights of summer if monstering a night site.
From left to right – column 1: thin running thermal top, white t-shirt, long sleeved thermal top, column 2: ic shirt, tunic, column 3: cloak, robe.
From left to right – column 1: thermal leggings, walking trousers (lined or unlined), column 2: hood and buff, fingerless gloves, column 3: scarf, fleece gloves.
OOC Base Layers
These ooc base layers are the layers of clothing that rest against your skin under your LARP kit. These may be as simple as wearing a thermal top under your ic shirt, or as complex as a mixture of layers. Technically the base layer for walkers is the layer that is close to the skin such as a long sleeved t-shirt or leggings, with the others forming the mid or outer layers.
I personally prefer a complex mix of layers beneath my larp kit (as seen above) because a) I’m a wimp and b) I’d rather be taking off kit because I’m feeling a tad warm than standing around not able to feel fingers and toes and having that horrible feeling in my mid-section which is my body telling me “it’s too cold. You’re going to regret doing this.” I know when not to ignore that little voice in my middle that acts as my “you’re going to be ill tomorrow” alarm. When it is ignored I usually spend the next week sniffling with a self-inflicted cold.
Ooc base layers should ideally NOT be cotton, as cotton doesn’t wick moisture (sweat) away from your body and becomes a source of wet and chill that draws the heat out of you into evaporating the damp in the cloth. Ideally they should be made of polyester or a polyester mix, or some types of wool. If you choose you could also wear tights on your lower half before putting on leggings, but that’s up to you.
I’m lucky that I have a thin thermal running top which is designed to wick away sweat and keep you dry and warm. This top gets worn pretty much until the giddy heights of July/August as it just adds that extra bit of warmth around my core and it’s comfy under my IC shirts.
I will also add that the two pairs of leggings and lined walking trousers are only employed at the harshest points of winter because as soon as I put them all on I begin to overheat when indoors, which I take as a good sign of being prepared for the cold outdoors.
This does raise the point of overlayering causing you to sweat lots. This is why wearing several layers means you can strip off a layer if you’re too warm. If you get to the night site and find it’s warmer than you thought because it’s clouded over, you may choose to leave one of your ooc base layers off, however the temperature is likely to drop as the evening progresses. Bit of common sense should be applied to situations, and I usually choose to be prepared for the worst outcome than hope for the best.
A note on hypothermia
The reason why I’m trying to stress the importance of wrapping up with your base layers and your outer layers is that hypothermia is more common than you think. We’re not talking about losing your fingers to frostbite and gangrene, but about the milder forms where you are awake and shivering because your body temperature has dropped below the ideal temperature for your body functions. Shivering is an indication that you’re getting cold and normally putting on another layer is enough to help your body get slowly warm again.
It gets more serious when you’re cold and the shivering gets significantly worse or stops altogether. At this point your body starts to shut down your extremities to try and protect the vital organs, and your skin starts to go from being a pinkish and “pinched” looking colour to very pale with your lips, fingers, toes and ears starting to get a bluish tinge as they stop receiving as much oxygenated blood. Someone with moderate hypothermia may shiver violently or begin to appear confused or move slowly, even if they seem alert. Not to be alarmist, but getting cold and staying cold is very serious!
On the extreme end of the spectrum is someone who stops shivering, is bitterly cold, becomes disorientated and confused or loses consciousness (!!!). You should be calling an ambulance and trying to get that individual warm – either by taking off the wet clothing that is sapping their body heat or by wrapping in warm clothing to try and gently warm them. Either way, if you’re out in the woods you need to get them somewhere warm and dry and looked at by a medical professional.
This is not funny, it is not a joke and hypothermia, if ignored, can be really serious. And that’s my first aider rant over.
IC Base Layers
I am counting the walking trousers as IC base layers because they are my IC trousers. At this point, for winter kit, I layer up my base layers with my standard monster kit – shirt, tunic and trousers. This basic kit provides the canvas that the referees can use to play various monsters from humble peasants to outrageous mages with little need for additional kit. However, additional kit can make for some stunning damsels or villians. But that’s a different point outside of the one I’m making.
As you can see here, I’m layering around my body’s core – your chest and torso where your major organs exist. If this area gets properly cold (and I mean chilled to the bone, not just mildly uncomfortable) bad things can happen to you and your health. By layering up our ooc and ic base layers we can minimise the effect the temperature can have on this region of your body and you shouldn’t be suffering from anything more severe than a common cold if you’re unlucky.
If I know it’s going to be sodden or likely to tip it down whilst we’re out on the adventure, I sometimes wear waterproof overtrousers. As a monster you don’t need to look perfectly set so long as you don’t break the character immersion, so a plain set of waterproof trousers in a dark colour is forgivable if it stops you from getting soggy trousers. However, this is a rarity.
Surprisingly I’m including armour as an outer – why? Because it creates another layer in which air can be caught around your body. It might not as effective as cloth, but it can still help if it’s covered by a robe or cloak. Robes with sleeves, or circle/half circle cloaks or capes or ponchos are brilliant for keeping warm in the winter. Think Boromir’s wearing that cloak in Lord of the Rings just to look flash? Nope, it’s so he can wrap up warm on those chilly Gondorian evenings.
Covering your kit with an “outer” layer – be it a robe or lined cloak just gives you a final layer of air around your body, and having something that you can tuck your hands into can be a blessing if your hands are getting damp or nippy from being out in the elements. Having a hood on it is also handy, though not required. I usually wear a robe and cloak on the coldest evenings regardless of whether I’m wearing armour or not as it means I can bundle myself up if I’m stuck waiting for the next encounter to start, and if I am wearing armour I can always take off the outer robe temporarily if a role requires it, before getting back into that outer layer once I’m done. I always try and carry the gear that I bring with me rather than assume the referee or other monsters will carry it for me which can end to items getting dropped in the dark by accident and lost, or the item going home with the monster bags because you forgot to collect it at the end of the night.
Heads, Fingers and Toes and food
These are the things people seem to forget about, but they need to be wrapped up just as much as the rest of you. Your hands for example would be much better off in a pair of gloves or fingerless gloves or mittens on wet and cold days, just to stop a chill setting in. What you wear is up to you, but I usually have a pair of fingerless gloves on as part of my monster kit, and may wear a pair of black fleecy gloves as part of my winter gear if I think my fingers are going to get nipped by the wind. Also, if your fingers start feeling numb, tuck them into your armpits or to the inside of any outer garment you’ve got on (even sticking them into the upper section of your armour through the arm holes) can help thaw them and return sensation for a little while. This works particularly well if you’ve got something like a sleeveless robe or waistcoat on.
Figures say you lose up to 50% of your heat through your head, so having something to cover your head on cold days/nights is probably a good thing. Even if it’s not a full hat (though they’re handy!) or dark coloured beanie with the label tucked inside, wearing a dark ear headband so you can cover your ears can help. I personally wear a “Buff” which is a tube-like piece of cloth that can be worn around the neck like a cowl or put over my head. It’s one of my standard pieces of monster kit and is a good investment because they are designed to be so versatile. Even having a hood on a garment or a hood on its own can help keep you warm if you stand waiting for the next encounter as it encloses your head when you put it up. It also helps with looking mysterious, so should be something to think about including in your monster kit generally. I also pack a scarf when it’s particularly chilly so I can keep my neck warm or use it as a prop for generic peasant/female roles.
Some people also swear by sealskin walking socks as they keep their feet dry in even the wettest of conditions. Wet feet can be a real source of misery and draw any heat down away from the critical regions of your body. This is bad, which is why your body starts to shut off your extremities when you get severely chilled and why having adequate coverings for these parts is essential. Having a spare pair of socks on you or in your spare kit is handy, especially if you’ve gotten sodden during the adventure and have to drive home with soggy cold feet.
I don’t really have any advice dealing with cold toes as I’ve not found a way to stop my own from going numb. Within about 10 minutes of me arriving at a night site in winter I can no longer feel my toes, but I have poor circulation and have learnt to live with it. I have read that layering socks and making sure your boots have enough space around the toes (and are waterproof) helps. Having good shoes when LARPing is a must – as cool as your battered old boots look, it can be painfully miserable when the sole cracks and water gets in around your toes. Looking after your boots is important, particularly after wet adventures when the leather has gotten soaked through. I’ve learnt this the hard way, and replacing walking boots is not a pleasant experience for my wallet. I use a pair of dark leather walking boots for LARP, though I know plenty of people have gotten theirs from the army surplus shops. Give them a bit of a wax every now and then, clean up the mud and dirt when it’s been pretty bad and give them a chance to air and dry naturally after they’ve gotten soaked and you’ll have a good pair of boots that’ll last. Mould and other things love damp muddy leather …
Another thing I urge you to consider having with you if you’re playing or monstering a night adventure is some food. Not much, but something as simple as some midget gems, wine gums, skittles or a bar of chocolate can help you if you find yourself flagging. The layers in your clothes are only keeping in the warm air, they are not generating heat to keep you warm (unless you’ve been sneaky and purchased those chemical handwarmers that you snap and they slowly turn from liquid to warm grainy stuff in a pouch), therefore if you’re feeling cold you might need to “fuel your fire” or have something to eat. It might help give you a boost, and eating chocolate normally takes your mind off how cold you’re feeling.
Another thing is to try and avoid sitting or lying too much on the ground. I know for the monster crew that’s a little awkward as we’re hanging around at times or have been killed or are acting as something for the players to interact with such as a corpse or terrified peasant, but reducing the amount of time you’re lying on a cold stone surface will reduce the amount of time it has to transfer your precious body heat into the heat sink that is the ground in winter. If you don’t have a choice and have to lie down, try and do it at the last minute and stand up again as soon as you can, or lie on a blanket/cloak to reduce your contact.
For day sites – Monstering and Playing
Of course I’ve been talking above about monstering night sites where you can prepare particular kit for the evening. On a day site, where you have likely had to navigate public transport or pack yourself and your gear into a car, you want to try and make your kit as lightweight and pack friendly as possible. My advice is this – try and layer up with some base layers to travel in, wear a waterproof outer if you’re walking from a bus stop so you don’t let the chill get to you too much before you start and take a spare shirt and socks so you can change out of your wet gear into something dry midway through the day if needs be. This is especially important if you wear the same sort of shirt or kit whilst playing and monstering, because you’re at risk of getting cold if you’re spending the entire day in wet clothes. Try and incorporate layers into your player kit (factoring in any armour you might have to wear) and consider having a cloak/shawl as the final outer layer for winter conditions. A simple rectangle of cloth wrapped around the shoulders and secured with a brooch makes a simple and excellent cloak and can be worn in such a way as to keep your body warm whilst keeping your sword arm free.