The Finnish have a saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.”
We, the people of Minnesota, who deal with a 100+ degree temperature swing between our season’s extremes, understand this sentiment. The summer is wonderful in all of its hot and humid glory. The winter is challenging in ways many will never know. For example: Have you ever worn ski goggles to go running? While our famously cold winters tend to keep visitors away and lock faint-of-heart locals inside their homes for months on end, there are ways to get outside and enjoy the beauty of the season.
Imagine having an entire old-growth forest to yourself, seeing delicate hoarfrost form on thousands of icicles inside of frozen sea caves, or experiencing the smug satisfaction of running home from work in a snowstorm past all of the cars gridlocked in traffic.
How is it possible to do these things in sub-zero wind chills without fear of losing a body part to frostbite? It takes a fairly intricate and well planned combination of the right gear and the right attitude. Fortunately for you, I’ve spent the past few years dedicated to perfecting the art of layering and have some handy tips to help you not only survive the cold, but thrive in it.
Rule #1: Buy real winter gear
I once wore a Banana Republic pea coat to Lambeau Field in December. No amount of bootleg moonshine could warm my insides enough to handle sitting through the game. I kept running to the bathroom to stand under the hand dryers. My in-laws have (not) jokingly banned me from attending any future games because I squandered the ticket due to faulty gear.
Winters around here are not a time for vanity – they are about survival. Wool pea coats do nothing to block wind, zapping heat from your core. A parka or a down puffer will insulate you better. Avoid any Stay Puft Marshmallow Man comparisons by buying puffers in a darker shade. Newer styles are more fitted and stylish than puffers of the past, so you can still maintain some street style while reveling in the warmth of down.
Those black stiletto boots may look killer on you, but they are not worth breaking an ankle on ice. I know someone who did this and had to undergo two surgeries to fix the damage. Read: IT’S NOT WORTH IT. Sorel boots have evolved stylistically beyond the tanks our Dads used to wear for shoveling the driveway, but are as warm and functional as ever. Look for boots that are waterproof, insulated with natural materials for less sweaty feet, and have grippy tread that provides traction on ice. Try to find a pair that will serve you equally well when strapped to snowshoes.
Merino wool base layers are expensive, but have made it possible to run outside all winter long. Icebreaker’s 200 weight shirts layered under a lightly insulated running jacket have kept me warm even when the temperature dips into the teens. They are perfect for skiing, snowshoeing, even layering under jackets in a chilly office. They wick sweat from your body and keep you warm when wet. Best of all, wool doesn’t retain odors, so they only need to be washed every 5-10 wears. Look for them on sale to ease the burden on your wallet.
Last but not least, don’t forget to protect your smaller bits. Windproof, waterproof and insulated gloves will save you from the misery of cold fingers. Merino wool socks will keep your feet warm inside of normal running shoes. And a wool buff pulled over your neck and face will stop drafts from creeping in and keep your face warm, even after it gets wet from heavy breathing. I top everything off with a thick pom pom hat for flair.
Rule #2: Buy it right. Buy it once.
There’s a sign in the bathroom at Stella’s Fish Cafe that says, “Good seafood ain’t cheap and cheap seafood ain’t good.” Not only are these are words to live by, they directly apply to purchasing outdoor gear. Trying to cheap out on vitals like base layers, jackets, boots or gloves will cost you in the end, either in the form of a sub-par experience or the loss of a digit, in extreme cases. Buy the right gear the first time and you won’t have to upgrade when it inevitably fails you. The goods stuff lasts a lot longer than the cheaply made version and with a little care and maintenance, often looks good-as-new through heavy use.
Rule #3: Force yourself outside.
Very few people roll out of warm, flannel sheets into the cold, dark world for a morning run and think, “This is living!” That feeling comes once you’re home, sipping hot coffee, congratulating yourself on being a badass. But it is possible to suffer less throughout the experience and it’s as easy as an attitude adjustment.
Regardless of how expertly I layer, I’m always cold for the first few minutes of my winter runs. Or more accurately, my soul is cold. To combat this, I’ve gotten into the habit of telling myself, “While it’s cold outside, you, yourself, are warm.” After repeating those exact words, my attitude immediately changes and I’ll begin to feel warmer inside my jacket.
Sometimes, I really am cold, which is okay. It’s a nice reminder that the human body can indeed function outside of a 68-78 degree comfort zone. Plus, it teaches me to layer better next time.
Regardless of how tempting it is to warm your insides perched atop a barstool all winter long, getting outdoors is the only way to remain healthy and sane throughout the dark months. You must do what you can to force yourself into the sunlight and non-recycled air. Follow these simple tips and watch yourself successfully transition from a winter wimp to a winter warrior.