We’ve had plenty of really cold weather already, and it’s not even December yet!  But don’t let the cold discourage you from getting in some outdoor activity and exercise throughout the winter.  We’re Montanans, we’re tough!  Here are some guidelines on how to dress in order to survive and thrive when you venture outside.

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.

Base Layer

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 your skin 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 gear is: “Cotton Kills.”

Warmth Layer

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 movable warmth layer I can get away with and still be warm.  In extremely cold weather, you can “double down”, and add a second warmth layer for added protection and comfort.  You can always shed layers as you warm up.

Shell Layer

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 given the conditions.  Finally, 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 feel chilly, but once you get moving, you should feel warm and comfortable.  Again, you can always take a zipper down or shed a layer to find the perfect comfort level. 

Stay warm and be well!

–Neal

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