You’ve probably heard words like “polar vortex” and “arctic blast” frequently over the last couple of days. Well, that’s no surprise. According to the National Weather Service, there’s a wind chill warning Tuesday through Thursday morning with wind chills as low as -50 to -60 degrees. That deserves an “uff-da.” The wind chill is going to impact how much heat is lost from your exposed skin when outside.
But if there’s one thing I know for certain, it’s that with the right layers and gear, it is in fact possible to stay warm and comfortable when the temperatures are subzero. Here are my go-to layers for beating the frigid temps of Minnesota. I’ll let you in on a secret: function over fashion or if you’re like me, functional fashion! Some of the items below are totally stylish. Get ready to look like a snow bunny!
BASE LAYER: LONG UNDERWEAR
Long underwear is the best invention ever. The ladies call it leggings, the men call it long johns. Either way, it should be a fitted base layer made of synthetic material that wicks moisture or sweat, like polyester. Fitted doesn’t mean skin-tight. It should still allow you to breathe. Natural materials like merino wool works too. Get a top that’s similar to the leggings material. WSI’s Windstop HEATR tops and pants are the perfect base layers for extra warmth and wicking. Stylish and efficient.
MID LAYER: BASICALLY YOUR NORMAL CLOTHES
The mid layer goes on top of your base. This layer is an insulator from the cold. It also allows for any perspiration to evaporate. The mid layer top can be as simple as a lightweight fleece, heavy-weight wool sweater or even a down jacket. It all depends on how cold it is. When temps are -30 degrees and wind chills are -50, I’d go with the heavy-weight wool or down puff jacket. It should be easy to take off or leave on, depending on the type of activity you are doing. The same goes for your mid-layer pants. Polyester or flannel-lined pants will get the job done. I’ve heard that moleskin pants are also good because it’s super comfortable and warm. Find something loose so that you can fit it over your base layer.
OUTER LAYER: JACKET AND SNOW PANTS
The outer layer is the layer that’s most visible. Wind and cold air will directly hit the outer layer, so it’s an important one. I like my outer layer to be windproof, waterproof and breathable so that any perspiration can still escape. Sweat, moisture and perspiration wicking seems to be a theme here. When there’s a “polar vortex,” play it safe and go with a heavy down jacket or a parka. Make sure it has a hood so that the back of your neck can be covered. Wear pants that are waterproof. I know that ice and slush can crawl up the bottom of those pants when you live in the upper midwest. Gore-Tex makes great waterproof pants or you can settle on any snow pants too. Personally, I wear a Burton jacket and a Spyder Gore-Tex ski pants. But this Canada Goose below is supposedly the best cold weather jacket on the market.
THE ACCESSORIES AKA OTHER ESSENTIALS
Cover that noggin, beautiful face, those fingers and toesies! With dangerously cold wind chills, any exposed skin can get frostbite in as little as 5 minutes.
Head: Protect your head and ears! Wool is once again a winning choice. It’s an awesome insulating fabric, as long as it stays dry. There’s also polyester fleece, which is water resistant.
Face: I know these things look so silly sometimes, but a balaklava is a necessity when there’s a crazy wind chill. If the “bank robber” look isn’t for you, then consider a winter buff. It’s stylish, keeps your neck warm and you can bring it all the way up to cover your mouth and nose.
Fingers: If you’re like me and you are active outdoors, make sure you choose waterproof insulated gloves. Look for gloves that have extra padding in the fingertips or with extra lining so that heat doesn’t escape. I prefer mittens over gloves. They keep your fingers together and retain heat more efficiently. If you need to remove your mittens often, consider wearing a pair of thin gloves under those mitties.
Eyes: Polarized sunglasses or even ski goggles will also protect your face in extreme situations. If you’re doing any outdoor activities, like skiing or ice fishing, cover up those eyes. The wind can really irritate your eyes when exposed. It tends to dry my eyes out, especially with my contact lenses.
Toes: You don’t always need two pairs of socks, especially if your boots are really tight already, but I prefer two. I wear my WSI liner socks, which are thin but does a great job of wicking sweat and moisture. Put a pair of wool socks over those liners to help insulate even more. There’s nothing more uncomfortable than having frozen toes.
Feet: To go along with those socks, opt for a sturdy and reliable pair of winter boots. I am an advocate for boots with a ton of insulation, traction and waterproofness. Whether you’re hiking along the trails, shoveling your driveway or walking on the sidewalk to get to work, a good pair of boots are versatile. I always look at how many grams of Thinsulate material there is. Most boots probably have between 100 to 200g of insulation. I try to find something beyond that. I absolutely love my Columbia Bugaboot Plus II XTM Omni-Heat Winter Boot. I’ve had it for at least four years now, but it is still in awesome condition despite how often I wear them. It has 600 grams of insulation rated for -65F. I especially like it because it is lightweight, waterproof and flexible. I got two sizes too big because I wanted some breathing room in there for my socks.
So those are the essentials to staying warm! Hand warmers can be lifesavers so have those as backup in your pocket, just in case. There’s no reason you can’t enjoy the outdoors during these bitter cold winter days. With the right gear, you might not even notice a difference (besides the extra amount of layers you are wearing). And you know what they say, cold weather builds character, right?