But Montanans are tough, and we can’t let a little cold stand in the way of us staying moving and getting outside. This weekend, despite the fact that it was zero degrees, I still got out and ran, and was relatively comfortable, thanks to the right combination of layers.
If you want to be active in the cold—running, walking, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing—think in threes. Three layers: Base, Warmth, and Shell.
Your base layer is the layer of clothing that rests directly against your skin. This layer should be a relatively lightweight, wicking fabric. Synthetic materials like nylon & polyester blends work well. There are some lightweight, high-performance natural options as well—Merino wool is one of my favorites. Again, the main purpose of the base layer is to wick moisture away from your skin as you perspire, keeping you dry and warm. Stay away from cotton, as cotton absorbs moisture and will freeze in cold weather. I have a friend whose favorite phrase when it comes to outdoor wear is: “Cotton Kills.”
Your middle layer is the layer that will insulate you and keep you warm, as the base layer keeps you dry. There are a number of materials to choose from–fleece, wool, and down are some favorites. You can also go with a synthetic fiberfill such as Thinsulate. The type of warmth layer will depend on the degree of the cold, and the type of activity. I like to grab the lightest, most moveable warmth layer I can get away with and still be warm. Cristin is known to “double down” in really cold weather, wearing two down layers for extra warmth. Another rule of layering: you can always shed layers if you get too warm.
The shell is your outermost layer that protects you from the elements like wind, rain, and snow. Shells are usually in the form of light jackets. Waterproof, breathable “hardshell” materials like Gore-Tex are great when wind and precipitation are present. Hardshells will keep you dry and cut the wind in really bad conditions. “Soft-shell” materials are only water-resistant, and won’t keep you as dry as a hardshell, but on the other hand softshells tend to be lighter, more breathable and more comfortable. A good softshell jacket will move with you, and doesn’t feel stiff. Again, I like to wear the lightest shell I can get away with. Add a wicking hat and gloves and/or mittens, and you’re ready to attack the outdoors!
When you are layered appropriately, your first few minutes out might still be chilly, but once you get moving, you should feel warm and comfortable. Here’s an outfit I wore this past weekend on a 10-mile run in zero degrees. Base layer: Under Armour ColdGear long sleeve compression mock turtleneck. Warmth layer: Nike longsleeve Dri-Fit Fleece. Shell: Sugoi Soft-Shell Jacket. Bottoms: SportHill Voyage Pants (best cold weather running pants ever). Then I added SmartWool Gloves under some Sugoi running mittens and Sugoi running winter hat and was good to go!