Once upon a time, I considered myself a fair-weather runner. Once the mercury dropped below what I deemed to be a comfortable temperature, my outdoor running was done for the year. Advances in gear, however, have negated the need to avoid winter activities. The key is preparation — layers of preparation, area experts say.
“Layering your clothing is an easy way to continue outdoor activities when temperatures begin to dip,” says Chad Erling, outdoor sales associate and assistant manager at Active Endeavors in Davenport. “Generally, one starts with a good base layer consisting of materials made from wool, polyester, silk, or a combination of materials blended together. Next, a mid-layer will give you the majority of your warmth. This can be as simple as your favorite fleece. Lastly, an outer layer will block wind and/or precipitation. A soft-shell jacket will breathe a little better than a hard-shell,” such as a rain jacket. However, “most rain jackets will have numerous venting options.”
He has seen a number of favorites in recent years.
“A lighter-weight synthetic jacket continues to be one of our best sellers between all of our brands. This ‘jacket of all trades’ can be worn throughout the year or used as a mid-layer within your layer system on the coldest days. Most brands will carry a piece that falls into this category. A few of our favorites are the Atom LT from Arc’Teryx, the Thermoball from The North Face and the Mirco Puff from Patagonia,” he says.
Phil Young, who owns Fleet Feet in Davenport, says outdoor gear has come a long way.
“Everything is getting lighter weight, more protective and more reflective. You don’t have to wear a thick, hooded sweatshirt and your uncle’s puffy coat to stay warm anymore. Strategic, thin, lightweight layers can create the best scenario,” Young says. “Nike, Brooks and New Balance are brands whose winter apparel has been consistently dialed in. We carry a lineup from each and have a team who can walk anyone through getting properly equipped.”
Steve Kilburg, who owns Running Wild in Davenport, says cotton is the one fabric you want to avoid.
“Wearing technical garments will make the activity more comfortable and enjoyable. By ‘technical,’ I mean the garment has the characteristics of being able to move moisture and keep you warm and dry. What you don’t want to do is put on a lot of thick, cotton layers. Cotton will absorb perspiration and hold it close to the skin, which will lead to you getting chilled by your own sweat. It will also make you feel heavy and weighted down,” Kilburg says.
He adds that today’s technical layers are thin, lightweight and work together to keep you warm by keeping you dry. Interestingly, Kilburg says, your base layer typically is the least expensive but the most important. It’s closest to the skin and is responsible for moving moisture away.
When it comes to leg wear, Kilburg says that the snugger the garment is, the more moisture it can grab and transfer away to keep you dryer and warmer. Options include looser-fitting pants and closer-fitting “tights.”
Young says you also need to pay attention to your toes, fingers and head.
“Keep them covered, but never with something too tight,” he says.
Proper headwear, gloves or mittens and footwear are a must. “A wind/water resistant mitten can save lives,” Young says. “The benefit of cumulative warmth — think socialism for the fingers — is often undersold.”
For those who prefer gloves, Erling says Hestra makes a very impressive product.
Kilburg says to make sure that gear for the extremities also is moisture-wicking and not made from cotton.
There are great footwear options to keep outdoor enthusiasts safe on slippery surfaces, too.
“Vibram is an out-sole company that many brands use for their hiking, running or work shoes and boots. Vibram Artic Grip is a relatively new compound that has been used in winter footwear to resist slippage on ice during the colder months. Merrell started using it last year, but you will see it being utilized more and more with other brands,” Erling says.
Young says his customers tend to reach for trail-specific shoes, which feature increased and targeted tread, lugs and traction, or an external traction aid that features small tacks, spikes or coils that attach to the bottoms of shoes. For external aids, area experts mentioned brands such as Yaktrax and Icetrekkers.
Once you’ve sorted out your gear, remember that it may take you a bit to get acclimated to the great outdoors in cooler temps. Young suggests to stay the course.
“The winter weather doesn’t often scream ‘Come on — it’ll be great! Best day ever,’” Young says. So find a friend, join a group, create a schedule or plan or employ whatever mechanism works best for you until you’ve found your groove.