My outdoor clothing guide to surviving the winter
I get cold. Really cold. My hands turn white and go numb. (Raynaud’s Syndrome adds to this problem.) I often have to endure hours without being able to feel my toes and the soles of my feet. I am always shivering, especially outdoors. This does not make me well-equipped to survive winter in Scotland. (Sometimes I get cold in spring, summer and autumn, too. And in the house.)
I often dream of moving abroad to somewhere that doesn’t have such cold seasons but Little Miss Outdoors is still at school and she’s not keen on leaving our suburb, let alone the country. I have also considered indoors hibernation but I’m probably too thin to survive even a few days. I don’t think I’d be left to sleep for too long, either. There’d be the cat to feed, Little Miss to feed and do homework with and the G-Force to stay friends with.
So, I have had to come up with other solutions. Over the years I’ve tried various promise-to-keep-you-warm gadgets and items of clothing. Whenever I see a product that pledges eternal warmth (and, therefore, happiness), whether for my hands, feet, head or torso I give it my full attention. I watch what others wear, too, when they are cycling, skiing, running, walking and just generally being outdoors. I have always been determined to continue enjoying the outdoors (although I know that snowshoeing across Antarctica will never be a sane option.)
Here are the items that I have found to be most useful:
Woolpower socks: These are utterly the best winter walking/active socks that I have ever found. I’ve blogged about them before. I have worn them while walking, cycling and pottering around the house. They have kept my feet toasty warm, even during a couple of nights of wild camping in Knoydart.
Woolpower base-layer: Once I’d discovered the socks the next logical step was to try another product by the same company. The T-shirt is just as brilliant. I find wool things a bit itchy (although no-one else seems to have the same problem with Woolpower items) so I wear it over a running vest. Within minutes of pulling this lightweight, close-fitting item on I was purring with contented warmth. Again this product stopped me shivering while on Knoydart. Anyone who knows me and how cold I can get will be stunned to find out that I didn’t once complain of being cold during the whole three days of camping and walking. The other great thing is that even after quite extended wear (yuk!) these products do not whiff too much!
For a long-sleeve alternative (and one that is sure to keep your whole upper body warm), there’s a Woolpower crew neck. This brand has keeping-warm-in-cold-weather sorted as far as I’m concerned. Well worth the price, too.
Heated gloves: Yes, they sound ridiculous. And they do come in at a fairly ridiculous price, but when you’re nearing the end of a day of walking in the snow or skiing (skiers and snowboarders will know all about that final chairlift ride back to base as the sun is setting and your body goes into freezer mode) these gloves are a life saver. The version I have from SnowLife are bulkier than I’d like and the batteries (you need to charge them up) are a bit on the big size but really if you have hands that get as cold as mine then these gloves are well worth the bulkiness and cost (£115). I usually keep them in my backpack until I really need them as the batteries do not last forever.
Hand warmers: As a stopgap, disposable handwarmers are a bonus on a cold day. I used to have a fab pair of mittens with a wee pocket on the back for slotting in a hand warmer but some mean skier nicked these a couple of holidays ago. I’ve not been able to find the same since. The problem with the handwarmers is that they are hard to “get going” on a very cold day in the hills and they don’t last all day. But they are a way to keep some circulation in weedy hands.
Feet warmers: SIDI heated cycle shoe insoles are apparently the thing to buy. I do not own a pair of these (yet!) as they cost at least £169. But a tri club friend swears by them. They fit into SPD cycle shoes (notoriously bad at keeping tootsies warm on long winter cycle rides) and everyone says they work like magic. I plan to try the cheaper disposable foot warmer method this year. I always wear two pairs of socks and overshoes, too. Other tips for keep cycle feet warmer are found here (although you’ll need to overlook the poor grammar!) What do other people use to keep their feet warm while cycling?
Head: The best way to keep my head warm on a cold and windy winter’s day is to wear two hats! First on is the Nike beanie. I love the fit of this because it covers my ears and also has a neat hole in the back for accommodating my pony tail. Nike are clever at thinking up these small things! Then I pop on a fur-lined ski hat that has generous ear cover. I can’t say I’ve ever had anything less than a hot head using this method!
Wick-away base layer: For running and cycling I swear by a new Montane “bionic” merino wool base-layer. I hadn’t experienced the benefits of merino wool until recently and the women’s fit long-sleeve “bionic” is now one of my favourites. It’s really efficient at wicking away sweat and kept my body at an even temperature even when running for 90 minutes. The other major bonus is that this top doesn’t smell! I wore it six times without washing it (for experimental purposes!) and it still didn’t smell of body odour. This has to be a bonus if you’re on a skiing holiday or taking part in a multi day adventure race.
Down jackets: I’d never quite managed to justify the cost of a down jacket to myself. That was until I borrowed a Rab 800+ fill down jacket from the G-Force. I didn’t ever want to take it off. But when the G-Force managed to get his jacket back again (sneakily he stole it back again in the middle of the night!) I went out and bought my own. These jackets aren’t cheap but they are more than worth the money. Mine is the ultra fab Rab women’s Neutrino 800+. While they feel oh-so lightweight the down keeps me warmer than anything I’ve ever expereinced. I only need to wear a t-shirt under the jacket on a cold day to stay toastie. I love the integrated hood, too, and the flattering women’s-fit and way the jacket squashes sown into a tiny bag if you want to stow it in your backpack. I really wished I’d bought one of these years ago.
And then I was sent another down jacket for review. I couldn’t believe there would be anything as good as the Rab – but there is! I am testing a brand-new Go-Lite 800-fill down pullover that’s not yet available in the shops but will be soon. It’s very similar to the Damaree Canyon 800+ except it doesn’t have a full zip and the panels at the sie of the jacket and under the arms are made of a stretchy polyester type material, which aids movement and wearable versatility. It’s brilliantly warm and about as stylish as is possible in outdoor kit. I have the pink women’s fit. So many people have commented on how good it looks. I’m never that bothered about the beauty of a garment but even I can see it fits my female physique well. Best of all it is easy to wear and so it’s hardly been off my back. It keeps me warm while writing at my desk, when walking with friends, out on the hills – and when I need an extra waterproof layer I simply put something on top. I’d thoroughly recommend this brand for thoughtful lightweight design, good looks and utter toastiness. Go-Lite are also hot on environmentally-friendly products and tick many boxes for using recycled materials, low enviro-impact methods and less material wastage where possible. I’ll keep you posted about this new product going on sale – and I will be blogging more about Go-Lite in general. It’s a great brand (in my opinion!). For a great range of GoLite gear check out one of my fave outdoor gear websites LovingOutdoors.
So that’s my list for now. If anyone else wants to send/suggest items for keeping me warm while out and about this winter please do email me or leave a comment on the site.