Fitness Articles

Cold Weather Workout Gear

Conquer the Elements in the Latest Garments

You’ve made the commitment. You’re not going to hibernate this year just because it’s winter. But you’re cold when it’s 75 degrees and sunny! Just the thought of going outdoors right now makes you shiver.

Take heart—you can keep warm while braving the elements. Innovative materials and tried-and-true methods will allow you to warm up during your cold-weather workout. Whether you’re conquering the elements for your morning walk, or spending the weekend on skis, here are some tips to keep you toasty.

Learn to layer
Dressing effectively for cold weather means wearing layers, so you can add or remove clothing as activities and weather dictate. Generally, you want three layers: wicking, insulating, and weather protection.
  1. Start with thermal underwear or other garments that are synthetic and have "wicking" power—the ability to move moisture from your skin and pass it through the fabric where it can evaporate. Look for these key words: breathable, Cool Max, and Dri-Fit. Remember, even though it’s cold, if you’re involved in even moderate activity, you will sweat. Also note that the wicking layer should fit snugly against your skin, but not tightly, to be effective.
  2. Next, add a middle insulating layer—sweaters, fleece sweatshirts, pullovers, and vests to trap your body heat. Popular insulation materials include fleece, a synthetic fabric that dries quickly and maintains its insulating ability even when damp, and wool, which naturally wicks moisture away. This insulating layer should be loose enough to trap air between layers, but not so heavy that it restricts movement-- it should fit comfortably, offering you maximum range of motion.
  3. Finally, finish off with a protective layer—generally a shell and pants-- that can block the wind and repel snow, sleet, and rain, while allowing perspiration to evaporate. Effective protection layers are both waterproof (treated with a coating or laminate) and breathable (made of tightly woven fabrics that allow perspiration to escape). There are garments with varying degrees of insulation available, depending on how cold your environment is. You also want to look for clothing tailored to your activity. The small details—hoods, cuffs, pockets, and zippers—are also important.
Other Layering Tips
  • Resist the temptation to wear jeans or street pants that aren’t waterproof or designed to dry quickly. You’ll end up cold, wet, and miserable.
  • Cotton is a no-no—useful for retaining moisture (think towels), it will do exactly that: absorb and retain sweat and snow. When the wind blows, you’ll be very, very cold. Don't wear cotton athletic socks, cotton jeans, cotton sweatshirts, or cotton T-shirts.
  • Instead look for trademark "wonder" materials specifically designed for outdoor winter activity, such as Polar Tec and Gore-Tex. You may even want to try garments made with Holofiber, the latest performance-enhancing textile. Makers of this new product claim that it increases oxygen uptake and blood flow when worn on or near the skin, and it’s being added to fabrics for both medical and performance reasons.
We’re not just talking fashion here— the right cold-weather accessories can be key to having a good time outdoors. You’ll want to cover these bases:
  • Headgear First off, cover your head with a hat, headband, or helmet, since up to 60% of body heat can be lost from an uncovered head. In fact, if you cover your head, you may need fewer layers on your body. Hat and headband styles vary, but generally use fleece or wool, with non-itch liners. Also popular for the coldest days are fleece neck gaiters (like collars) and face masks.
  • Eye Protection Aside from being a fashion statement, sunglasses protect your eyes from the damaging ultraviolet rays magnified by snow or increased altitude. Look for 100 percent UV protection, and make sure they fit snugly behind your ears and rest gently on the bridge of your nose. Goggles are vital on lower-light days or during periods of snow, protecting your eyes and allowing you to see terrain clearly with the use of special lens colors that increase contrast. A good fit should form an uninterrupted seal on your face, extending above your eyebrows and below your cheekbones.
  • Gloves and Mittens Like clothing, you want gloves and mittens made of waterproof, breathable fabrics. Mittens are generally warmer than gloves, but offer less dexterity, so consider the type of activity you'll be doing. Snowboarding gloves and mittens often have reinforced palms for durability, and built-in wrist guards, an important touch for novice snowboarders. Gloves for cross-country skiers, on the other hand, tend to be lighter-weight to accommodate extra movement and heavier perspiration. In any case, be careful not to buy gloves or mittens that are too tight. You want a bit of air space at the tips of your fingers to act as additional insulation.
  • Socks Some socks have wicking properties similar to long underwear, with the ability to keep your feet dry and warm. Effective materials that are most popular include polyester, silk, wool and nylon. Don’t be tempted into putting on too many pairs of socks—your feet will actually be colder if you restrict circulation. In fact, one pair of light or medium-weight socks works best for skiing, snowboarding, or snowshoeing. If your feet have a tendency to get cold, you may want to consider wearing heat shields, thin panels worn inside your shoes that help reflect your body heat.

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Member Comments

  • Taking two steps forward and one step back is still progress!
    The article is just like the coaches speech at the first meeting the parents and students attended for students joining the cross country ski team. All my children were on it. It is right on if you will be exerting yourself extensively in the cold temperatures. I define cold temperatures as anything below 20F. I work part time outside in the winter and spring (which includes backcountry snowshoeing) and wear the clothing mentioned even if it is as warm as 30F-35F because I may work up a goodly sweat and need to wick it away from my body. Wool is my favorite material for socks. I prefer a very tight knit micro fleece for a hat. It is so soft and breaks any wind. Head south? Would have if I could have last winter. This winter is much better so far.
  • Give me a nice soft cotton bottom layer, please - synthetics are stinky and I hate the feel of them.
  • I will take the south over the north any day. It's just too cold and too much snow.
  • I liked the article, but what about foot attire? I was hoping for more information on foot gear like on page six of the '10 Dead-of-Winter Workout Motivators.'
  • I don't get it I grew up in Canada and WE generally don't wear all these fancy expensive fabrics for underwear. Stanfield's is still selling a lot of their cotton underwear and it WORKS FINE.
  • I am sooo glad I live in Hawaii.
  • I discovered a layering trick 30 years ago. Fishnet underware, then your synthetics, then wool or wool blend. A hard hat liner under a ski cap works with any kind of cap and gives that extra layer.
  • LOL I beat the cold weather by going to Florida for the winter!
  • I've been biking to work through the winter. I love my Outdoor Research (OR) Helmet-clava. I wear it inside my bike helmet. It's completely adjustable, so I can choose whether to cover my face and head, or just use it to keep my neck warm. I also like the REI convertible gloves/mittens. They open up if you need the use of your fingers, but they still keep you warm.
  • Thanks for this great information. I've been avoiding the outside because of the Winter cold. I want to change that, and this is just the kind of information I need to get started!
  • The best "wonder" material? Wool !! It still keeps you warm when it's wet, it dries quickly, and as a bonus, it doesn't stink like synthetics! I wear thin wool baselayers by Smartwool, Icebreaker, Ibex, just to name a few companies. When it gets colder, I layer them. Thin merino wool (say, 180 to 200 micron) is as soft as silk, not itchy at all. Give wool a try.
  • You are so right! I always wear a "Buff" when I do outdoor sports. I have one that's fabric only, and another that's fabric *and* fleece. They rock.
  • Great article! One thing I'd add would be considering a balaclava for headgear. DH and I both have fairly lightweight ones and they've been excellent this winter. They adjust easily to cover the forehead and all the way up over my nose, but I can also push it below my chin if it's warmer or I need to breathe more. And if it's extra cold, I can always put a hood or hat on. We've been out in windy nearly 0 F weather, and my head is always warm! Peace.

About The Author

Rebecca Pratt Rebecca Pratt
A freelance writer who contributes to various newspapers and magazines, Becky loves covering ordinary people doing extraordinary things.