Cold Weather Workout GearConquer the Elements in the Latest Garments
-- By Rebecca Pratt, Staff Writer
You’ve made the commitment. You’re not going to hibernate this year just because it’s winter. But you’re cold when it’s 75 degrees and sunny! Just the thought of going outdoors right now makes you shiver.
Take heart—you can keep warm while braving the elements. Innovative materials and tried-and-true methods will allow you to warm up during your cold-weather workout. Whether you’re conquering the elements for your morning walk, or spending the weekend on skis, here are some tips to keep you toasty.
Learn to layer
Dressing effectively for cold weather means wearing layers, so you can add or remove clothing as activities and weather dictate. Generally, you want three layers: wicking, insulating, and weather protection.
- Start with thermal underwear or other garments that are synthetic and have "wicking" power—the ability to move moisture from your skin and pass it through the fabric where it can evaporate. Look for these key words: breathable, Cool Max, and Dri-Fit. Remember, even though it’s cold, if you’re involved in even moderate activity, you will sweat. Also note that the wicking layer should fit snugly against your skin, but not tightly, to be effective.
- Next, add a middle insulating layer—sweaters, fleece sweatshirts, pullovers, and vests to trap your body heat. Popular insulation materials include fleece, a synthetic fabric that dries quickly and maintains its insulating ability even when damp, and wool, which naturally wicks moisture away. This insulating layer should be loose enough to trap air between layers, but not so heavy that it restricts movement-- it should fit comfortably, offering you maximum range of motion.
- Finally, finish off with a protective layer—generally a shell and pants-- that can block the wind and repel snow, sleet, and rain, while allowing perspiration to evaporate. Effective protection layers are both waterproof (treated with a coating or laminate) and breathable (made of tightly woven fabrics that allow perspiration to escape). There are garments with varying degrees of insulation available, depending on how cold your environment is. You also want to look for clothing tailored to your activity. The small details—hoods, cuffs, pockets, and zippers—are also important.<pagebreak>
- Resist the temptation to wear jeans or street pants that aren’t waterproof or designed to dry quickly. You’ll end up cold, wet, and miserable.
- Cotton is a no-no—useful for retaining moisture (think towels), it will do exactly that: absorb and retain sweat and snow. When the wind blows, you’ll be very, very cold. Don't wear cotton athletic socks, cotton jeans, cotton sweatshirts, or cotton T-shirts.
- Instead look for trademark "wonder" materials specifically designed for outdoor winter activity, such as Polar Tec and Gore-Tex. You may even want to try garments made with Holofiber, the latest performance-enhancing textile. Makers of this new product claim that it increases oxygen uptake and blood flow when worn on or near the skin, and it’s being added to fabrics for both medical and performance reasons.
We’re not just talking fashion here— the right cold-weather accessories can be key to having a good time outdoors. You’ll want to cover these bases:
- Headgear First off, cover your head with a hat, headband, or helmet, since up to 60% of body heat can be lost from an uncovered head. In fact, if you cover your head, you may need fewer layers on your body. Hat and headband styles vary, but generally use fleece or wool, with non-itch liners. Also popular for the coldest days are fleece neck gaiters (like collars) and face masks.
- Eye Protection Aside from being a fashion statement, sunglasses protect your eyes from the damaging ultraviolet rays magnified by snow or increased altitude. Look for 100 percent UV protection, and make sure they fit snugly behind your ears and rest gently on the bridge of your nose. Goggles are vital on lower-light days or during periods of snow, protecting your eyes and allowing you to see terrain clearly with the use of special lens colors that increase contrast. A good fit should form an uninterrupted seal on your face, extending above your eyebrows and below your cheekbones.
- Gloves and Mittens Like clothing, you want gloves and mittens made of waterproof, breathable fabrics. Mittens are generally warmer than gloves, but offer less dexterity, so consider the type of activity you'll be doing. Snowboarding gloves and mittens often have reinforced palms for durability, and built-in wrist guards, an important touch for novice snowboarders. Gloves for cross-country skiers, on the other hand, tend to be lighter-weight to accommodate extra movement and heavier perspiration. In any case, be careful not to buy gloves or mittens that are too tight. You want a bit of air space at the tips of your fingers to act as additional insulation.
- Socks Some socks have wicking properties similar to long underwear, with the ability to keep your feet dry and warm. Effective materials that are most popular include polyester, silk, wool and nylon. Don’t be tempted into putting on too many pairs of socks—your feet will actually be colder if you restrict circulation. In fact, one pair of light or medium-weight socks works best for skiing, snowboarding, or snowshoeing. If your feet have a tendency to get cold, you may want to consider wearing heat shields, thin panels worn inside your shoes that help reflect your body heat.