Layers, layers, layers.
By Trent Jonas
Don't hibernate this winter. If you lament the colder months and use it as an excuse to stay indoors, it's time to rethink your approach. The key to enjoying the great outdoors all through the colder winter months is dressing properly. From finding the warmest and most breathable base layers to gearing up with the right footwear, here's how to dress for cold weather.
A considerable amount of heat can escape your body through your head, and extremities like your ears and nose are particularly susceptible to cold. Appropriate headwear is, therefore, key to dressing appropriately for colder weather. In above-freezing temperatures, a knit or fleece hat, like Everyone’s Most Favorite Beanie from Mountain Hardwear should be enough to keep your dome toasty. In below-freezing temps, you’ll want a hat that completely covers your ears or the added face protection of a balaclava.
Regardless of the outdoor temperatures and your planned activities, layering is the key to staying warm in cold weather, and a good base layer is the foundation for warmth. The temperatures and what you intend to do while outside will determine the base layers you choose. If you’re skiing on a sunny day with temperatures near freezing, you’ll want to go with a more lightweight base. On the other hand, if you’re staking out a spot to see a snowy owl on a sub-zero day, you’ll want to opt for a heavy base layer.
Either way, your base layer should be made from non-cotton, moisture-wicking materials like synthetic technical fabric, silk, or merino wool. A typical winter base layer may consist of a long-sleeved top, long underwear bottoms, and non-cotton sock liners. On colder days, you may want to add glove liners and a lightweight balaclava—to be worn under a hat or heavier balaclava—to the mix.
Once you have your base layer in place, it’s time to add your mid and outer layers. Often, the only mid-layer you will wear will be over your core and on your feet. Pullovers, hoodies, or sweaters made from fleece or wool make great mid-layers—even better if they have zip fronts, so you can ventilate and cool down if you get warmed up or while indoors. Heavy synthetic or wool socks over your liners will keep your feet warm and dry.
Lastly, you’ll need an outer layer. Over your core, choose a coat or jacket that’s insulated, as well as wind and water resistant. For your legs, regular pants over your base layer serve as an outer layer. When engaging in snow sports or on particularly cold days, however, you’ll probably want a mid-layer over your legs, like fleece pants or a pair of leggings, and then a pair of snow pants or bibs. Choose outer gloves or mittens that are wind and waterproof to wear over your liner gloves.
Your footwear will depend largely on your planned activities and whether you’ll be dealing with any snow on the ground. Clearly, if you’re skiing or snowboarding, you’ll wear the appropriate boots for your sport. If you’re snowshoeing or hiking snow-covered trails, choose insulated, water-proof boots that extend well above your ankles. Otherwise, insulated boots designed to keep your feet warm and protected will do just fine over your socks and liners.