Clothes That Laugh at Winter Weather

It has been a bitterly cold winter so far, but that doesn't mean you have to freeze. Get our tips on the best winter weather wear!

In 1909, when Admiral Robert Peary made the first of several expeditions to the geographic North Pole, dressed in so-called Arctic gear, his uniform consisted chiefly of indigenous furs similarly worn for centuries by Inuit inhabitants. While doing a rudimentary job to stave off the cold and chill, over time the celebrated explorer lost eight toes to the biting, sub-zero temperatures, as it is said 70 percent of body heat is lost through the extremities. A time machine into the future and access to modern all-weather fabrics such as Gore-Tex and Polartec may have prevented the physical sacrifice Peary made in the name of discovery, but textile science and its resulting high-tech fabrics were decades away.

As children, and at lower latitudes than those frequented by Admiral Peary, but with hours of skating, sledding, skiing, and other frosty pursuits on the winter horizon, mom always taught us to layer, layer, layer against winter’s harsh realities. Swaddling ourselves in thick, itchy woolen socks, bulky sweaters, bunchy thermal underwear, puffy balloon-type jackets and fur-lined, clunky, double-soled, waterproof boots that more or less added half-a-dozen pounds to our feet and ankles, we may have found refuge and a durable climate shield. However looking (and feeling) like the Michelin man probably didn’t raise our stock on style registers, nor did it allow us a real ease of movement. And in summer, when the great outdoors encourages us to run, hike, cycle and more, who likes to feel soaked to the so-called gills after just a few minutes of exertion on the sunniest of days?

More and more, with textile science and evolving materials, and following the example of the military which has lead the race to develop cold weather clothing systems out of extreme necessity, it’s possible to comfortably endure hours in extreme temperatures. Snowshoeing in Yellowknife (average daytime temperature in January: -17 F) can be manageable, and even enjoyable, when engineered fabrics protect our core and extremities.

Modern material marvels like Polartec and Thinsulate, among others, by their very nature imbue us with some of the same hardy principles inherently found in species that include ducks, wolves, polar bears, penguins, whales and seals, who live and thrive outdoors in various kinds of weather.

So what are some of the best climate performers that allow us to ignore Mother Nature at her harshest?

A Layer for All Seasons
“We use our business to influence environmental change. Our first goal is to build the best product possible while doing the least amount of harm to the environment,” Patagonia’s Jeremy Stangeland explained. A professed surfer, snowboarder, hiker and soccer player, aside from availing himself of the company’s waterproof garments, raw materials quality analyst Strangeland’s go-to garment is his simple, chlorine-free merino wool “silkweight” baselayer crew. Its properties make for a garment that is effective in the temperate Patagonia lab, where Stangeland wears it, as well as outdoors when he’s snowboarding, as it helps regulate body temperature. “It keeps you cool or totally warm.”

When the Weather Outside is Frightful
L.L. Bean, a Maine-based company clearly with a cold climate provenance, took tried-and-true down to the next level in 2012 when it engineered its Ultralight 850 Down Jacket with trademarked DownTek technology. Though down is considered an industry standard for warmth, it can get wet which mitigates its performance– even rendering its insulating properties completely ineffective. DownTek, a result of nanotechnology (which alters atoms and molecules), makes the end result both warm and water resistant.

And remember long johns — that itchy, bulky long underwear that kept us warm but felt like a woolen wetsuit beneath our clothes? L.L. Bean produces a Polartec Power Dry Baselayer, Crew and Pants Expedition Weight, with synthetic moisture wicking material to keep the wearer dry during extreme aerobic activity in cold weather. An antimicrobial treatment controls odor and stains, and bonus thumb loops keep sleeves from riding up at the most inopportune moments (like a mile from the finish line!).

Columbia’s Omni-Heat Thermal Reflective technology reportedly retains and manages body heat in sub-zero temperatures while dissipating moisture and extra heat that might build up during your outdoor workout. Applied to men’s, women’s and children’s jackets, baselayers, footwear and equipment, such as their Reactor sleeping bags with Omni-Heat Thermal Reflective linings, camping under an icy December sky is like a day at the beach.

Roadrunner Sports, which supports runners with all-terrain and all-weather clothing and gear, features what are commonly called “smart sleeves,” “thermal arm warmers” or “running sleeves” for cold or transitional temperatures. Designed on the principles of 1980s legwarmers but thinner and made of pliable knit or fabrics such as fleece that wick away moisture, these items can provide more warmth than a traditional long-sleeved shirt or be used in place of one, as additions to a T-shirt, either alone or under a jacket.

With a little diligence, it’s not difficult to find the right clothing to insulate, warm, and protect so almost no weather condition represents a missed opportunity to breathe, stretch and just get out and laugh at the weather.

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Beth Herman

Beth Herman is a freelance writer with interests in healthy living and food, family, animal welfare, architecture and design, religion, and yoga. She writes for a variety of national and regional publications, institutions, and websites.

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I have a horse farm along with several other animals and I am outside 6 – 7 hours a day, regardless of the wind, rain, freezing -20c (feels like -30c) temps. I own the LLBean 850 down coat mentioned. It is everything it says, but does not keep me warm unless I use it as a “sweater” under another coat in those temps. The coat that is worth every penny that I count on for those bitterly cold/wet days is the LL Bean Waxed Down Coat. It is waterproof, wind proof, and WARM! I also layer their the under armour long sleeved shirt and the LLBean heavy weight fleece pullover. In the spring/vall, I have the LL Bean down vest as well as the Waxed Cotton Vest. Their customer service and guarantee cannot be beat! Costco has cases of hand and foot warmers cheaper than anywhere I have found that I keep in the side pocket of my snowpants. And as for walking on ice this time of year, the Katoola Microspikes are by far the only shoe spikes that will bite through the solid glass type ice without effort. They are on several on-line sites. Worth every cent as they are the only ones that do not fall off your shoes or lose the cleats.


i use a pair of sweat pant that are tight @ the ankle, covered by un-insulated carhart bibs. a long sleeve tee shirt, covered by a insulated pull-over sweat shirt, good to -10 or so. colder, i put on a kentucky dinner jacket.


Wow, thanks for the timely info. These things can help people without electricity as well.


These are some wonderful garments, however it must be noted while Goretex is a great product, and it does a great job of controlling moisture–from the outside–there are many people that are not all that fond of the product simply because it does not do that great a job of emitting moisture from the inside.

Today, it is more preferable to wear synthetics when the temperatures are cold and wet, and leaving down to the realm of extremely cold dry conditions.

Personally, I do not like Goretex, though I recognize for many that it is very covenient. I tend to sweat in Goretex–especially in shoes, which means I must change my socks much more often. And many of those individuals that spend a lot more time in the outdoors and in particularly cold environments prefer going out with woolens and wearing an outer coat of cotton–usually canvas because it breathes so well and allows for the natural evaporation of the body’s moisture.

For really really cold environments, another very well liked product though not well known is the use of open and closed cell foam as an outstanding insulating layer. I’m thinking of specific products like those produced by Northern Outfitters and their Vaetrex line of clothing used by Iditarod mushers.


I prefer Eddie Bauer’s coats and polar fleece. They are wonderful!


oh, how I wish this stuff was around when I was younger & less achey!


Beth Herman have you not heard of Under Armour??????


burton rocks

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