Strange as it might sound to some, winter can be the very best season for outdoor adventures: snowy landscapes are beautiful, there’s no bugs, and, even better, there are no crowds. Plus you get all the health benefits of outdoor exercise and a much-needed hit of vitamin D. So what’s the catch? Regulating your temperature and staying comfortable can take a bit more work—and the right gear. But don’t fret: it’s easier than you think.
Learn to Layer
The key to staying warm is, ironically, not getting too warm. Overheating leads to sweating, which can lead to chills or even hypothermia. The solution: Dress in layers that you can strip off as you heat up. Always start with a synthetic base layer like the Omni-Heat 3D Knit Crew II, which wicks perspiration away from your skin.
Start Slow to Stay Dry
Whether you’re snow biking, nordic skiing, or cold-weather running, the rule is the same: “Start out a little slower than you think you should,” says Jesse Williams, owner of Salt Lake City’s Cloudsplitter Mountain Guides. Once you know you’ve got your layers right and are warm but not sweating, he says, “then you can put the hammer down.”
In your pack for every winter excursion, from snowshoeing to putting up a new ice-climbing route, should be a fail-safe layer—an über-warm jacket that you can slap on when temps plummet, or when you just want to preserve heat when you stop for a snack. The Grand Trek Down Jacket is such a layer: insulated with lofty down and protected from the sleet with a waterproof face fabric, sealed seams, and a cinchable hood.
Fuel the Fire
Speaking of snacks, bring lots, and eat them frequently to keep your body generating heat. “I make my ski trips a series of small linked picnics,” says Cathy Cowles, an instructor trainer for Colorado Outward Bound. On the menu: fats like cheese and nuts that metabolize slowly and last all day.
Wet Your Whistle
Staying hydrated is just as important as staying fed. Good hydration means strong vascular perfusion and circulation, says Williams. “I bring a thermos of hot tea or hot chocolate for the external heat source,” he says. “A little butter in your hot chocolate can dramatically increase warmth.” Pro tip: Running low on fluids? Add snow to your hot drink to stretch your supply.
Mind the Gaps
Your wrists, ankles, and neck are winter weak spots, because they have a lot of vasculature close to the surface. Cowles likes to seal the gaskets with scarves or neck gaiters and gauntlet-style gloves and favors calf or even knee socks to block up-leg drafts. “If overheating, it’s a lot quicker to stash a pair of gloves than to take a pack off to shed a jacket,” she says.
If snowfall soaks your gloves or hat, it’s best to have a spare in the pack. They don’t weigh much, after all. American Avalanche Association pro trainer Erica Engle even brings a spare sports bra on backcountry ski excursions. “A wet base layer or sports bra sucks heat right from your core, which can be downright dangerous.”
A Puffy is Peace of Mind
If you’re going to be out for several hours or are heading into the backcountry, or if the forecast looks iffy, it’s always smart to bring a bit of extra insurance: a puffy like Columbia’s Autumn Park Down Hooded jacket. It packs down small, and thanks to Omni-Heat technology, tiny silver dots that reflect your own heat back to you, it helps you retain even more of your body heat.
Don’t Get Cold Feet
It’s a cliché for a reason: cold feet ruin morale. Insulated, waterproof footwear like the Paninaro Omni-Heat Tall Boot will go a long way in making your snow bike or snowshoe excursion a treat rather than a trial. What’s more, the Paninaro’s tall, zippered shaft makes it a cinch to drop in a hand warmer for an extra dose of heat.
Slow and Steady
When you’re outdoors all day, it’s best to move at a slow, steady pace to keep generating heat. Engle likes to keep her breaks short, which isn’t a problem, she says, if you haven’t been overexerting to begin with. When you do stop, sit on your pack rather than the ground, to prevent heat conduction.
If you do find yourself getting cold, keep moving. If you’ve got nowhere to go, crank out some jumping jacks or do a little dance, says Cowles. “It’s more fun with a partner,” she says.
Columbia, the flagship brand of Portland, Oregon-based Columbia Sportswear Company, has been creating innovative apparel, footwear, accessories and equipment for outdoor enthusiasts since 1938.