Dressing for North Country Winter

Today is my birthday, so I’m going to share with you perhaps some of the most important things I’ve learned in my 32 years around the sun: how to dress for cold weather. My birthday weekend adventures give this east coast girl an excuse to write about the complexities of dressing for winter in a cold climate. I have learned so much (…and still surely have much to learn) since I’ve lived here, so I want to share that wisdom with you. There are so many things I never knew before I moved to this part of the country. I’m including my best tips here so you shop smart, even if you live in a milder climate (like the one I’m from).

  • Sweating outdoors when it’s cold is less than ideal: this is the fastest way to get cold. If you’re in significantly low temps for a long time, your sweat will chill and your temp will drop fast! So, dressing for northern winters is a delicate balance of not spending too much time inside after you suit up, and not overdoing your layers. It will take some trial and error based on your activities, so “build up” to recreation outdoors and learn as you go.
    • add wick layer: you’ll be shocked at what you have to layer, that you never knew had layers.
      • Merino wool base layers are warm and wick away sweat!
      • get used to the idea of liners
        • socks: liner socks may be a synthetic that gets rid of the sweat, while your feet are surrounded by a thick sock that does the warming.
        • hats: yes, you may actually need a liner hat and a heavy hat!
        • gloves: you might need liner gloves and roomy mittens, or shell mittens to block the wind.
  • Sizing to allow layers: you want your coat to be able to accommodate whatever you layer underneath, as well as your boots. Your boots should actually allow 2 pairs of liner socks and 2 pairs of socks! Also, your feet swell during activity, so you want them to be roomy.
    • air circulation: gear with a little room helps with the sweat problem, while also allowing your body to warm the air and thus create a favorable micro-climate.
    • blood circulation: if your boots are too tight, your feet won’t benefit from the replenishing blood flow while you move!
  • Materials
    • down: if you can keep it dry, down is the most insulating material. I have a down parka that goes past my knees and I love it!
    • wool: wool is amazingly warm, and way better than synthetics. I feel like it gets a bad rep for being scratchy and dowdy (at least where I’m from). However, there are so many quality products out there these days. I almost exclusively by wool layers if I’m serious about being warm!
    • canvas: didn’t see that one coming did you? ūüėČ This is for blocking the wind. Depending on what you’re doing, how cold it is/prevailing weather and how long you’ll be active, you may need a layer that is windproof.
  • Gear you’ve never thought about like this…
    • neck gaiter: these can be way less of a hassle than scarves, be really warm and cover your ears.
    • boot features
      • seasonal transition: “Sorel-type.” I’d recommend these when you need that waterproof toe, to take you where the snow might be melting. They’re also good for the dead of winter, though. All in all, these are the most versatile winter boots.
      • heavy duty: I have tall Arctic ice muck boots¬†and they’re designed for traction! They can handle most anything. They’re pretty stiff, though, so I only really wear them when I’m doing something serious.
      • warm for midwinter snow activities:¬†Steger mukluks! I have the wildcats and they’re my favorite boots! (I also get compliments on them often; really nice to have both form and function in this boot.) This model isn’t the most hardcore or the lowest temp rated boots they offer (you can spring for their more serious model with a canvas top to the knee and some lace up time required). I just added a sheepskin liner this year, and they’re¬†very¬†warm and comfortable! It kind of feels like you’re cheating and wearing slippers with these cozy pull-on boots, but they’re for real winter footwear and well worth the price tag.¬†The only downside is that they’re really designed for snow, so the traction isn’t great on slick surfaces.¬†Overall they serve me well, though.

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