The best way to get kids outside is to get out there with them.
So enough with the excuses.
Here are my time-tested tricks to not only surviving, but enjoying even the coldest of winter weather. Kids do not care how you look so neither should you.
1) Parka with a fur-lined hood: There is a difference between a parka and a coat. A parka is a coat, but a coat is not necessarily a parka.
A parka usually has a hood, large pockets and ample length to cover your backside. If you sit down, you should be able to sit on your coat. Parkas also zip up high on the neck to keep out the wind. I like this coat from Lands End because the hood has a faux fur-lined trim. The hood adds warmth and the fur shields the face from wind and blowing snow. At under $100, I would buy this parka again. The other coat shown is my “camping coat.” It’s a 30-year-old coat by Wilderness Experience that has stood the test of time. It’s a warm and washable coat that is fun to get smoky. Always keep a mud coat handy for these kinds of outings.
In extreme conditions, I wear a balaclava, a gladiator inspired piece of clothing that keeps your face and neck warm.
My balaclava is light weight and made of silk, which works best for me. I don’t like something bulky on my head. They range in price from $12-$30 and come in many colors, fabrics and weights. Pick the one you like. Neck warmers and scarves also work just fine as face protectors.
3) Wind proof pants with Base Layer
Warm and dry legs are critical to outdoor comfort. I just upgraded my legwear to a pair of REI WinterFlyte pants for men. At just $40 you can’t beat the price. Why men’s? Three reasons: 1) They were on sale, 2) they have pockets, and 3) they fit. REI does make them in women’s sizes, but they don’t have pockets. Go figure. Before the upgrade, I wore nylon wind pants over a pair of synthetic long johns or running tights. This worked for me for years. Flannel lined pants also work well and are very cozy to wear.
Underneath the WinterFlyte’s, I wear a pair of polyester and lycra blend long underwear. Polyester keeps you dry and wicks away sweat while the lycra stretches for comfort. Starting at about $25 a pair, they are an inexpensive must-have item. I got mine at REI, but you get them anywhere. Retailers brand their version of polyester into fancy names like Capilene (Patagonia), Climatesmart (Cuddleduds) and Hyactive (NorthFace). Go with what you can afford and what feels nice. Oh, and you’ll need a base layer on top too.
If you’re going sledding, you will need something to keep your butt dry. I wear a pair of rain paints over the above mentioned pants and long johns. The rain pants don’t breathe, but they’re fine for one hour of sledding, which is about how long it takes before someone gets hurt and you have to come in anyway.
4) Gloves vs Mittens
If my fingers get cold, I am miserable, so keeping my hands warm is a top priority. In the photo on the right, I am wearing an inexpensive insulated glove I picked up at Dick’s Sporting Goods for about $30. However, they did not keep my hands warm enough so I quickly replaced them with a pair of large men’s Burton Profile mittens at Dick’s for $39. In this case, I chose men’s because it was the only pair of mittens in the store and I needed them for a trip the next day. They have proven to be quite warm and I’d buy them again. Women, don’t be afraid to shop in the men’s department. The same is true for men. You may find the right fit in a different department.
For my money, nothing beats the classic Caribou boot by Sorel. I have tried many boots and these are by far the warmest boots I have ever owned. I can wear thick wool socks in these boots and my feet have plenty of room to breathe and move. The liner is replaceable which means that I will get sick of these boots before they wear out. The only draw back is that they are clunky and therefore are not the best choice for snowshoeing and walking longer distances. If I decide to get into snowshoeing, I’ll wear a different boot.
Smartwool, or one of the many knockoffs, are the only socks to buy. Smartwool is a wool and lycra blend that keeps your feet warm and washes well without losing its shape. I own the REI version of Smartwool and like them a lot. I’ve been told, however, that once you buy the Smartwool brand you will never go back. They come in great colors and they last longer, so they’re worth the extra cost…or so I’m told. You can pick up socks for about $15 a pair.
7) Sun and Skin protection
The sun is still out in the winter so protect your eyes with sunglasses and your skin with sun screen. In extreme cold and winter, I put vasoline on my cheeks and lips just prior to heading out. This really helps the skin retain moisture on cold days.
8) Hand and Toe Warmers
I used to think it was cheating to use air-activated hand and toe warmers, but not anymore. I use them for skating and for outdoor activities where I’ll be standing around. I’ve always had cold hands and feet, so it makes sense to have a few of these on hand, just in case. Pop a few packs in the car too. I bought mine at Farm and Fleet for 79 cents each and I have no regrets.
Let me know how you stay warm in winter. Share you favorite gear and tips.
You can find Diane leading cross-country ski outings at Blackhawk Ski Club with kids or skating at Tenny Park with friends. She’s getting ready for a trip to the Porcupine Mountains where she plans on skiing her heart out.