How to Dress for Astronomical Success

How to Dress for Astronomical Success

It's a Fact:  The Best Viewing Tends to Occur During the Cold Nights of Autumn and Winter.  Are You and Your Equipment Ready?

Winter night sky showing the Milky Way


The skies in autumn and winter present us with black velvet and a field of stars and planets that sparkle in the night.  It also brings bone-chilling temperatures, frozen fingers and more than a few equipment problems.  Here's what to do to prepare and enjoy your cold-weather sojourn into the stars.


For one, think about your equipment.  A telescope at room temperature carried out into freezing temperatures will fog up fast.  There are ways to offset this condensation with flexible heat rings sometimes called "dew-rings" that run on batteries, but the best approach is to keep your scope in a garage or area at the same, or close to the same temperature as outdoors.   If you're traveling to your destination and the scope is in the car you may simply have to wait for the temperature to equalize, or bring along the dew-ring .


There's also a low-tech, equipment trick that many amateur astronomers use.  It's a simple sheet of plywood that you can stand on while observing.  It gives you separation from the cold ground or better yet, ice and snow.


Toe Warmers

Not surprisingly, many amateur astronomers will tell you that the feet are the first problem they experience on a cold, winter night.  Astronomy is typically a sedentary activity with little physical movement throughout the observation time.   Electric socks powered by a couple of batteries can help, or simple heating pads that are charcoal activated.   You can also place a couple of these pads in you pockets to quickly warm your hands while your friends and family take their turns viewing.


Thinsulate Hat

Another key element of clothing is a good hat.  We lose 40% of our body heat through our head.  It doesn't matter how warm your toes may be, if you don't have adequate head protection your viewing time will be very short.


A good thing to keep in mind is the mountain-climbers approach.  This involves layers of clothing that can be removed or added as the temperatures rise and fall, or variations in the activity and inactivity of the climber.  Layers will prevent you from overheating while you're hauling and setting up equipment, and gives you the option to add a layer of two as the temperatures fall through the night. 


Finally, you should give some thought to your gloves.  Astronomy often requires precise adjustments, the ability to enter information into keypads, and regular fine-tuning to track the motion of the moon, the planets and the stars.  A good glove solution is a pair of gloves with fleece liners that allow you to remove the outer layer to make an adjustment while the fleece liner keeps your hands warm.   If you need to make an adjustment with very high precision, you could also purchase a pair of gloves that allows the fingertip section to fold back.


While following this advice can help to keep you warm on a cold winter night, there's another factor to consider as well.



Many of us rarely observe alone.  It's fun to share the experience with family and friends and this can add a problem to the chill of winter observation.  The problem is that everyone has to wait their turn and standing in the cold can take its toll regardless of how warmly you're dressed.  A solution you could consider is a heated chair that runs on batteries.   It may seem to be a bit indulgent, but after an hour or two in below freezing temperatures you might reconsider.  This could give everyone a chance to warm-up as the night goes on.


Regardless of how far you take your preparations, a little pre-planning can make your cold-weather viewing a time you'll enjoy and remember, rather than regret and forget. 

Find more on: Observing the Night Sky

Back to Beginners guide to Astronomy

Or next:

Part 1. Getting Started

Part 2. Binoculars or a telescope, which should I buy first?

Part 3. 5 Things you Need to Know Before Buying a Beginner's Astronomy Telescope

Part 4. Goto or Not Goto? That is the Question

Part 5. How to Set-up an Astronomy Telescope

Part 6. 8 Tips for Making Your Goto Telescope More Accurate

Part 7. 10 Easy Astronomical Objects to see From the City

Part 8. 5 Things to do on a Cloudy Night

Part 9. Which Eyepieces Do I Need?

Part 10. 10 Useful Astronomy Accessories

Part 11: How Can I See Deep Space Objects Better?

Part 12: How Can I See More Detail On Planets?

Part 13: How to Dress for Astronomical Success

Extras: Beginner Astronomy Telescopes

Or Start reading the Learn Astronomy Blog

Or Start Finding Deep Space Objects with the Constellation and DSO Guide.

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