Many times, when I invite people to accompany me, I get rejected with a few difference excuses. One response is “I’m not in shape.” Well, you gotta start sometime. Either you want to or not and anything I write probably won’t change that. Another response I get is “It’s too cold outside.” Well, that is something that I can fix for you. What I want to detail here is the clothing system and accompanying techniques that I use to be comfortable whilst doing aerobic activities during the winter. With over 6 years of experience working in a specialty outdoor store and seeing every garment made by major outdoor manufacturers, it’s not a stretch to say that Tom knows what he is talking about. After reading this, you are just left with the reality of deciding whether or not you want to get out, because your excuses have dried up.
Okay, so there’s usually one more thing that I hear and that is “I don’t have enough money.” Well, be that as it may, if you’re addicted to doing a bunch of different outdoor sports, you probably already own all of the stuff necessary. More importantly however, if you’re going to be buying stuff for the first time, it’s important to purchase things that are not only good quality, but the most versatile as well. I tend to shy away from new and improved technologies because clothing and equipment that use them are typically very specialized for their sport or season. I choose things that are multifunctional across many seasons and many sports. The goal should be to do more with less and not the other way around. Keeping that in mind, if you spend your money right the first time, you should be set for many activities. Within this post, I may specify a particular brand or style, but rather than being the final say in what you should use, it’s meant to be more of a starting point so you have an example of what I’m talking about. (Yes, I like Patagonia, before you call me out on it. Also, anywhere I say synthetic you can substitute wool if that's your fancy.)
TorsoWe have all heard of the term layering (I hope) and that’s exactly what I stick to, which should come at no surprise. Start off with a long sleeve synthetic t-shirt as your first layer. I like Patagonia Cap 2 the best for this. Get it in a color that you can live with so you can wear it year round as a t-shirt for any occasion. For running in temperatures down to the single digits, I don't wear a mid-layer. If I am running in colder weather or going snowshoeing/xc skiing, then I will add in something like the Patagonia R1. Better yet, get the hooded version and then you have an emergency hat that will also fit under your climbing or biking helmet year round. Lastly, top off the whole shebang with a wind and water resistant jacket. Don't wear something waterproof as you will overheat and die. If it is truly winter, the white stuff should be in solid (and not liquid form). My choice is a Patagonia Houdini Jacket which is a great crossover for hiking and climbing, but if you're also biking a lot, you should look for something without a hood.
In my travels, I have found that my legs need less attention than my torso. I am willing to bear them getting a little bit warmer and colder than I would my torso. That isn't to say your legs aren't important, but I wouldn't stay up at night worrying about them. Remember to wear synthetic boxers, briefs, thongs or whatnot as you want these layers to move moisture away and evaporate it as well. Gentlemen, please keep in mind that you have a gender specific protrusion that can get very, very cold if not attended to. I still have a pair of Patagonia Wind Briefs with a windproof crotch that unfortunately stopped being made. Terramar and Smartwool currently offer them. You will only forget this once on a windy day and will never ever leave home without them again. Since these are really season specific, you can save money and shove a glove, plastic bag, or something else down there to block the wind. Don't laugh... it sucks otherwise.
Next I put a pair of medium weight fleece tights on. These work great for climbing, biking and breakdancing as well. I have a pair of Outdoor Research Radiant Tights but many things will do. It's nice if they have pockets and it's an added bonus if you can slip them on over a pair of biking shoes. If I am running above zero degree temperatures, that's all that's on my legs. If you are xc skiing, you may start to get a little chilly and it is best to have a wind resistant layer over this. Instead of buying a pair of softshell pants or other stuff, just put a pair of synthetic hiking pants on over the tights. No, you probably won't make the cover of GQ. Who cares?
Oh boy. People get really particular about shoes and stuff. Well, assuming that you already run and know what you like, I'm not going to convince you to change up your footwear. If it is above 20 degrees and I'm running on dry pavement or trails, I wear just a Wigwam Merino Comfort Hiker backpacking sock. "Ohmygosh, that's not a super duper techy fitted sock!" you exclaim. Get over it. They're warm and they have yet to fail me. I can wear these year round for absolutely everything. I buy them in grey. Since I am wearing a shoe like the Montrail Mountain Masochist with a roomy toe box, I can just tie my trail shoes a little bit looser and not even notice I'm wearing a thick, cushy sock.
Now keep in mind, I am still wearing my non-waterproof shoes that I have been hiking and kickboxing in the other three seasons out of the year. I don't have a pair of Gore-Tex (or any other waterproof membrane) running shoes because I want to keep things simple with one pair. So when it gets below 20 degrees or I'm running through snow, I wear a pair of SealSkinz socks which are made of waterproof neoprene. These also work pretty well in mountaineering boots and cycling shoes. The astute observer will note that these aren't breathable at all. Yeah, well, wear a pair of Gore-Tex lined shoes and tell me how breathable they feel. I wear a pair of thin wool socks against my skin for additional warmth and comfort.
If there is one thing you should bring with you regardless of season (even summer!) it is a good hat. Nothing is more guaranteed to keep you the warmest for its size and weight than a hat, except for maybe some gasoline and a road flare. My absolute favorite hat is the Mountain Hardwear Transition Dome but now they call it the Effusion Dome with different fabric. It is still windproof and quite thin, so it will fit under helmets as well. For temperatures in the twenties, I am typically wearing a fleece glove made of Powerstretch which is made by a ton of companies. Knock yourself out. Once it gets colder, I switch to a windproof style with the Outdoor Research Gripper Glove being my favorite, but many others will do. Both of these gloves will come in handy when biking, ice climbing, picking snotsicles, etc.
If you hold down a 9-5 job or have aspirations to do so as some point, you are going to be running before or after work. Which generally means you are going to be running in the dark at this time of year. The Black Diamond Icon headlamp is definitely my favorite because it is bright as day, rechargeable, and is well balanced on your head when running. For most stuff, you're probably going to want a pack for some munchies, a bottle of water (your hydration bladder is going to freeze), some Yaktrax, a map and whatever else you need. While it may not fit as well as a specialized running pack, I just use my Black Diamond Hollowpoint which is great for climbing and also serves as my briefcase.
All of the above are suggestions and you will need to tailor it to your specific needs. Some people are "warmer" or "colder" than others, I know. Regardless, the trick in all of this is to not be warm from the outset. If you step outside and you are comfortable, take some layers off. You want to be a bit uncomfortable and chilled for the first ten minutes or so (whatever you're doing in the winter) because you're going to warm up quickly. And when you do, you start to sweat into your layers which will eventually make you very cold. Keep adding and subtracting layers. Tuck your gloves and hat into the waistband of your tights and tie your jacket around your waist. Try to keep slightly cool and you should be just fine.
The aim of this post is not to prove that I know it all and have a perfect system worked out. I only hope to lower the physical and psychological bar for folks who don't want to sit indoors during the winter. Perhaps you too cannot deal with the thought of running on a treadmill watching the stock ticker on CNN in a sauna like room. Whatever the motivation may be, I hope to see you out on the roads, trails, and mountains this season. Of course it still occurs to me that people may just find me downright offensive and are trying to excuse themselves for other reasons. In which case, enjoy the gym I guess...