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Warm Winter Clothes: What To Wear Outdoors

by Sarah on February 11, 2011

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There are plenty of stay warm tactics for the adventurous active family.  And challenges to enjoying the snowy outdoors.

One of the biggest challenges to any parent’s patience in snowy climates is helping your children get dressed – and undressed – for outdoor activity.  It’s a whole adventure in itself to get all the zippers, snaps, ties, and velcros fastened.

And if you’ve got two or more kids,  you end up racing to get all the warm winter clothes on quickly enough so no one passes out from heat stroke before you get out the door! Or dissolves into a temper tantrum meltdown!

But even beyond the mechanics is the problem of figuring out what you should look for in dressing your kids (and yourself) to get the most out of winter. 

For nothing rankled me even more with my kids than going through all of this only to have to reverse within minutes because, "Mommy I’m cold!"

Some of these bits of advice you won’t see in many places but are developed through lots of trial and error and have served us well.

Warm Winter Clothes Tip #1:    NO COTTON

If there is anything that I want you to be horribly afraid of during the winter – it’s cotton.  Cotton is a favorite cloth for warm weather places because it does such a good job keeping you cool.  

When it comes to winter, its effectiveness in moving heat away from your body, especially if it gets a little wet with sweat, can be deadly.

So if there is any one thing you do to keep warm in the winter – do not dress your children or yourself in cotton.  Save it for summer!

Warm Winter Clothes Tactic #2: Wear wicking layers

The dreadful image of damp cotton brings me to the next topic.  Wear layers of materials that move moisture away from your body.  When you move around a lot – even in frigid temperatures – you’re likely to sweat.

Moisture is the harbinger of frosty discomfort in the winter.  Like water with electricity, moisture moves energy quickly away from your body, depleting you of warmth even more quickly.

So look for materials that move moisture away – polypropylene long underwear are one of our favorite underlayers.

Warm Winter Clothes Tip #3: Wool is the best

I have been through all kinds of different technical materials for outdoor adventure.  And I have yet to find anything that works as well as wool. Nature’s labs (sheep) have come up with the finest technical developments in outdoor materials.

It helps move moisture away from your body.  But incredibly, it even keeps you warm when it gets damp or even wet. (not as well, but it still does a good job).

And if you have images if itchy sweaters that shrink in the laundry, take heart.  Merino wool does not cause the same allergic reaction as regular wool and it even resists shrinking. You can even wear it comfortably right against your skin.

Every year we stock up on Smart Wool merino wool socks.  And for wool sweaters, we’ve found a treasure trove of good wears at our favorite thrift store for only a few dollars.  Although when it comes down to it, I wouldn’t shirk investing in some nice merino wool sweaters.  They’re that warm and wonderful.

Bonus with wool: Most modern outdoor materials have problems with holding odors.  Many manufacturers have been experimenting with odor-blocking technology.  However I’m wary of these additions.  Wool, however, is amazingly odor-resistant.  I’ll confess I’ve used the same wool sweater for several adventures in a row and it still smells fresh unlike my newly washed hi-tech turtlenecks that hold smells even after being washed.

Warm Winter Clothes Tip #4: Block the wind

Wool can keep you snuggled in comfort.  But it doesn’t do much good if the wind is coursing through it and blowing the warmth away.  For this reason, you always need to wear a good wind-blocking outer layer.

In addition to insulation you need something that stops wind so that your insulating layer can do its job.

Warm Winter Clothes Tip #5: Ventilate

Which brings us to the next topic – ventilation.  This may sound like a contradiction to the last point, but one of the biggest problems in winter outdoor wear is getting too hot.  Because with too much heat comes sweating which then just makes you cold again.

Wear layers with lots of zippers and buttons so you can ventilate easily.  Many jackets come with underarm zippers that you can unzip to open your armpits to the elements. 

Wear sweaters and turtlenecks with zippers.  Exposing your neck is a great way to get rid of some extra heat.

If you’re still hot, take off your hat, remove your gloves for  a little.  Even these simple moves can make all the difference.

On the other hand, be warned.  When you start to feel hot, don’t start to shed layers like it’s June.  Take baby steps.  Unzip a little but keep in most of the warmth.  Once you remove your layers you’ll be surprised how quickly you lose the heat and then how difficult it is to recover it, even when you zip back up.

Warm Winter Clothes Tip #6: Go big

When you start to layer, something happens.  Things that used to fit comfortably – like boots and jackets – can start to feel very tight.

The problem with this tight fit is that it also prevents effective insulation.  See, insulation works by trapping air in pockets or spaces between layers.

When you pack these insulating layers too tight, there’s no room for the air.

So when you buy your kids winter jackets, boots, skates, mittens, etc. go big.

Make sure you account for 1-2 nice thick socks in the boots.  Go a little big with the jacket to allow for a nice sweater.  And mittens work best when they have some wiggle room.

Warm Winter Clothes Tip #7: Keep the warm air in

I’ve talked about covering your body overall. But there are a couple key places to keep the warmth in: Your head and your mouth.

Your brain uses up close to a fourth of your body’s calories.  Using all this fuel also means it puts out a lot of heat.  Simply by keeping your head covered with a nice hat can make a huge difference in keeping your overall body warm.

You also lose lots of warmth by breathing.  Think about it – all that warm air from deep inside your core is being sent right out into the cold and exchanged for the cold air you take in with each breath.

However, it’s easy to set up a little heat retention system.  Simply cover your mouth with a mask.  Scarves are used traditionally for this, but they’re not very practical and can even be a safety hazard for many activities.

However a nice balaclava, face mask or fleece neck cuff can work effectively to keep your warmth in while you breathe in and out.  This move will dramatically change how much heat you lose.

So when it comes to warm winter clothes, these tips will prove to be invaluable. They are not just theory but tried and true.

While I can’t help you zip up everything and fasten the last buttons on the way out, I can guarantee that once you get everyone out the door, you’ll be able to stay out longer and enjoy it even more.

Got any suggestions to add? Please put them in the comments below!

  • childrens jackets

    it’s comfortable to wear warm but light winter clothes. children can also be protected from diseases.

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