We’ve been lucky lately, with some unseasonably mild January weather, but we still have plenty of winter left in the month of February. Even when the temps hit close to 50 in the afternoons, many of us are leaving for work or school early in the mornings while it’s at or below freezing outside.
How do you dress for that? Layers.
Robin Hannon, manager of the Great Outdoor Provision Co. at Cameron Village in Raleigh, says the key to proper layering in cold weather is using the right materials. For instance, wool, wool blends or polyester/fleece blends will be warmer for the frigid mornings but won’t overheat us later in the day. These fabrics also have properties that wick sweat away from the body when you’re active.
We asked Hannon to walk us through the proper way to layer so we can comfortably brave the outdoors all day long.
Base layer – Your next-to-skin layer – long underwear – is important. Choose a synthetic or wool blend over the old-fashioned waffled cotton type. These newer fabrics offer extra warmth and insulation with less bulk, so they’re great under any type of clothing. “The synthetic or wool blends have a higher performance level of moisture management and insulation,” Hannon says. “And they help your temperature adjust so you don’t sweat at the office.” The pants and shirts come in different weights, and some shirts even come in a lightweight, short-sleeve undershirt style – and in colors that look good if you peel off the shirt or sweater above it.
Socks – In cold weather, Hannon says, “The sock is almost more important than the shoe.” Always choose wool, not cotton. “Wool is the material of choice for footwear,” he says. “For warmth and for moisture management, it’s perfect in all weather – even in the summer.” Wool and wool-blend socks come in different thicknesses, with thicker socks providing more warmth. A light or medium-weight wool or wool-blend sock can provide lots of warmth and can be worn in a dress shoe. Thicker socks work better in boots.
Shoes – Opt for a leather shoe or boot. Skip rubber boots – the “duck style” – unless they are insulated or they’ll freeze your feet. Canvas shoes or sneakers aren’t great, either. If cold weather is combined with snow or sleet, you’ll also want to factor in weatherproofing and opt for a boot over a shoe.
Mid-layer – The mid-layer is the jacket or coat you wear over your clothes (Hannon says if you have the proper base layer, your regular clothing doesn’t matter as much, whether it’s jeans and a button-down shirt or dress pants and a sweater). Choose down, fleece or wool for your mid-layer. You might even choose a down or fleece vest, depending on your comfort level and where you’ll be spending your day.
Hats – Hats and gloves are hugely important, especially from a layering standpoint. Beanie-style hats can be pulled down over the ears and will come in a synthetic fleece (like Polartec) or wool blend; there’s not a dramatic difference between the two. “It’s whatever you’re comfortable with,” Hannon says. “The higher-quality merino wools used today are not itchy.”
A dressier option for men is a wool fedora-style hat. The Tilley Tec-Wool hat is weatherproofed and has fleece ear flaps that tuck up into the hat when not needed. Many women skip a hat in favor of preserving their hairdos, so Hannon recommends an ear band in those cases. “It’s not as warm as a hat, but better than nothing,” he says.
Gloves – Gloves are available in different weights and can even be layered (check out “glove liners”). Start with a wool or fleece material, then decide what thickness you’ll need. Some offer “wind proofing” and others have extra insulation and a nylon shell that provides protection from moisture. Those can get bulky, though.
Scarves – “They aren’t just fashionable accessories,” Hannon says. “They’re great for warmth around the face and neck.” As with hats and gloves, go with wool or fleece.
Outerwear – This is a weatherproofing layer, needed if there’s snow, rain or strong winds. A waterproof, windproof parka with a hood should cover it.
Other accessories – Hannon also recommends disposable hand and toe warmers (they slip inside your shoes) when it’s extremely cold, and a traction aid like Yaktrax, which slips over the bottom of your shoes, when icy. If you’re sledding or playing in snow, weatherproof pants will keep you dry and warmer. And if you’re outside for a long time in the bitter cold, whether working, exercising or just walking your dog, a neoprene face mask is a great idea. “It’s best to not have skin exposed,” Hannon says.