Outdoor Winter Gear to Keep You Moving

Those of us who live in (or travel to) the North have a decision to make:

To be or not to be outside during the winter??!

That’s a good question. You probably already know my answer! But there’s a strategy to staying warm…

Trust me—if you have an outdoor activity or two you enjoy that can only be done in the winter, then you’ll enjoy winter a whole lot more!

And a big part of enjoying it is staying warm.

Here are my top picks for winter outdoor gear to keep you outside and moving when the snow flies and the temps plummet…

The Three Keys to Winter Gear

To be effective, winter gear must do at least one of three things:

  • Insulate
  • Block the wind
  • Provide easy to remove/add layers when you’ll sweat

AN IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT LAYERS: Not all fabrics are created equal! If I buy something at Target, Walmart, even Sam’s Club that says “wicking” it won’t breathe!

It’s worth it to pay more and get synthetic fabrics that release your body heat. If you don’t, your sweat will be trapped next to your body and you’ll get chilled.

For Your Head

Keep your face, ears and head protected in cold blasts and your whole body is warmer. I’ve found even a light hood makes a world of difference when heading into the wind.

I hate cold ears, so a bought a wind-blocking fleece headband a few years ago that works either alone or under a hat. Mine happens to be from Columbia, but there are others, too.

In extreme cold I love my Seirus Neofleece Combo Scarf. It’s a face mask with a built-in fleece adjustable neck gator. It’s windproof, comfortable and low-profile. Find out more here

winter outdoor gear for your head
I know the temps are right around 0º F when my eyelashes get frosty!

For Your Upper Body

I love down. Whether it’s a serious down parka for walks or a light down “sweater” for warmer winter days, it’s unbeatable for lightweight warmth.

(I haven’t tried the synthetic downs. If you have, give me your feedback on it!)

A lightweight wind-blocking/waterproof shell like the Marmot PreCip Jacket is perfect over an insulating layer. I’ve warn mine over just a light fleece jacket for below-zero runs. It’s surprising how warm it keeps me. Find out more here

Another technical wonder: Columbia’s Omni-Heat. They call it “magic in a little silver dot.” All I know is it works! I have an Omni-Heat beanie that’s wonderful. Columbia doesn’t make mine anymore, but they offer lots of their winter gear with Omni-Heat.

For both upper and lower body, get an underlayer of something breathable and body-clinging in a fabric like breathable fleece or wool.

For Your Lower Body

My favorite winter pants right now are the Black Hills Pants from Duluth Trading Company. Super comfortable, wind and water resistant, micro-fleece lining and very tough.

A combo I’ve used for years is a winter-weight running tight with some kind of nylon wind pants worn overtop. If the temps just keep going down, I add another thin layer (like Cuddl Duds).

For Your Hands & Feet

Here are some tips for your hands and feet:

  • Start with mittens, switch to running gloves once you’re warmed up
  • Wind-blocking gloves
  • Wool socks
  • Waterproof footwear (waterproof means windproof)
  • Give your toes room to move

My favorite winter running shoes are the Lone Peak Neoshell from Altra. They’re windproof, waterproof and have an aggressive tread for trail running that even sticky snow doesn’t stick to. Love ‘em!

snowshoeing in the boundary waters
Snowshoeing in the Boundary Waters, northern Minnesota

Good Gear Doesn’t Have to Break the Bank

While you certainly CAN spend hundreds on quality gear (especially for brands like The North Face and Patagonia), you don’t have to. There are many quality brands that offer great gear for reasonable prices.

I go with brands and retailers that offer an unconditional guarantee: LLBean, REI, Lands End, Duluth Trading Co., Columbia.

BEST TIME TO BUY: Get on their email list and look for their Black Friday sales. Then all the way up to Christmas. Last year both LL Bean and Lands End offered 40-50% off everything in their store for a day or two around Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

When you see winter gear as an investment in your overall health and life-enjoyment, it’s not so hard to plunk down the cash. And when you buy quality, you won’t have to replace it for years.

So… To be or not to be outside during the winter??!

The answer is: To be, of course!