I grew up in Michigan, went to college in Boston, and have worked a winter in North Dakota. I’ve owned my fair share of cold weather gear.
I know cold. I realize I have unwittingly become well-versed in everyday cold-weather survival. More than that, as part of my job I actually have to do things outside in subzero temperatures. Yuck.
Despite my Michigan upbringing and Finnish yooper blood, I’m a wuss when it comes to being cold. The extreme frigidity in North Dakota has broken me down a little bit–I have definitely sat on my porch drinking beer on a 30-something degree day, feeling the sun on my skin after days of cloudy negatives temps–but I still get grumpy and sulky if forced to spend too much time in chilly conditions. It doesn’t help my truck heater is currently broken and February in ND is no picnic.
After some trial and error I have found a few ways to make extremely frigid temps bearable. Spoiler alert: they mostly involve merino wool. In addition to being a cold-weather wuss, I also hate layering long underwear under my clothes (I know, I’m a whiny asshole). So snug, thin, merino wool base layers are awesome because you can barely tell they’re there. Merino wool isn’t like wool-wool, it’s soft so you can wear it against your bare skin. I wear them under my ranger uniform, under tight jeans at my bartending job, and as jammies at night. Tbh, I take my base layers off embarrassingly little in the winter. Pretty much just to shower. And I don’t have many pairs, either; when I found a thermal merino wool base layer I liked I invested in a set of tops and bottoms and never looked back.
And I do mean invested; good cold weather gear and long underwear ain’t cheap, y’all. THEY’RE. JUST. NOT. If somebody has found a <$50 department store brand of well-fitting, frigid-weather-friendly moisture-wicking long johns, please let me know and I will take them out for spin faster than you can say “smart wool”. I believe in investing in your base layer, and then cutting corners if necessary with whatever layer you put in between that and your outer (hopefully down jacket!) layer. A really good merino wool base layer will make everything you put on top of it more effective in warming you up.
If I had to make a basic freezing-my-ass-off cold weather gear shopping list, this would be it:
- Thermal base layer top
- Thermal base layer bottom
- Merino wool socks
- A really good hat
- A really good scarf
- Thermal balaclava, especially if you’re anywhere windy
- Thermal-lined/insulated gloves
- Down jacket (the longer the better)
- Waterproof [hiking] boots
I’m not going to get too specific on hats and scarves. Those are such a matter of taste and I don’t think there’s that much variation. AKA I would never go to REI and drop $50 on either (though I do have a $30-ish thermal balaclava for those days when the wind chill is brutal). My favorite hats and scarves tend to be brightly colored and fleece-lined, nothing crazy, and that works for me just fine.
Treating any winter footwear with a water repellant of some sort (I just buy mine from outdoor gear stores) is a must if you’re walking anywhere near snow.
If you want any specific brand recommendations message me and I’ll let you know which ones I’m into!