Cold-Weather Exercise Clothing

By Richard Weil, M.Ed., CDE

It is never too cold to exercise outdoors if you have the right stuff!

What you need to know:
1. Cotton Kills! When it gets wet it stays wet. In cold weather that is a problem, because…

2. Water conducts heat much faster than air (as much as 25 times faster), so when your clothes are wet you lose body heat quickly.

3. You can sweat as much as two liters of water per hour, even in cold weather.

4. Hi-tech garments made with fiber like polypropylene solves the problem. Polypro is a synthetic fabric that wicks moisture from your skin, and unlike cotton, it dries very quickly (it holds less than 1% of its weight in water compared with 8% for cotton). It also breathes exceptionally well.

5. Layers work! Heat generated by your muscles during exercise gets trapped between the layers.

6. Layers also work because you can remove one when you heat up and put it back on if you get chilled. If you wear one heavy winter coat you have no options except to unzip it and then you will get cold.

7. Wear layers of heat-trapping, wicking fabrics that dry quickly, and you’ll be toasty all winter!

What to Wear
1. Start with a base layer of polypro (can be short or long sleeve, silk weight to expedition weight). You can wear a second layer, and even a third layer, if it is very cold.

2. Fleece is a type of polypro that is exceptionally warm, wicks moisture, and dries very quickly. Fleece comes in many densities (thickness), but it does not block wind (unless it specifically is designed to do so with a built-in liner), so if wind bothers you then purchase fleece with a wind-blocker liner built in.

3. Wear a Gore-Tex shell on top for extra warmth. Gore-Tex is water proof, wind proof, wicks moisture, breathes well, and traps body heat inside. In a pinch you can wear a nylon-type windbreaker; it just will not breathe as well and so you will end up trapping sweat inside.

4. Some shells have zippers in the arm pits called pit zips. You can unzip these to let the heat out without removing the shell, and zip them up when you get chilly. This really works.

5. Wear a hat made of Thermax (by Wigwam), polypro, or wool. You lose the most heat from your head (as much as 40%). But avoid very thick hats that will cause you to overheat. Remember, you are trying to regulate your temperature.

6. Wear a neck gaiter. It is indispensable. Do not leave home without it!

7. Wear gloves or mittens. Fingers do not adapt well to cold. Glove liners under a thicker pair of fleece gloves will keep you warm. Also, some fleece gloves have built-in wind blockers to trap the heat and keep the wind out.

8. Mittens are warmer than gloves. Down mittens are warm, but when they get wet they dry slowly. Polypro and other synthetics will dry quicker than down. Some people wear nylon or polypro mitten shells over their mittens or gloves. Mitten shells keep out the wind and trap heat.

9. Do not wear cotton socks. They dry very slowly and when they are wet they: a) compress and lose cushioning; and b) they get rough and cause friction blisters.

10. Wear synthetic or wool hiking or walking socks instead of cotton. Sock liners can be worn under a heavier pair of socks. Liners wick away moisture, dry quickly, and prevent blisters.

11. Underwear comes in polypro. It works!

12. Leggings made of polypro or other synthetic fibers (check out Sport Hill) dry quickly and do not restrict movement. If you tend to get very cold, you can wear Gore-Tex pants over your leggings. Gore-Tex pants are waterproof, breathe well, break the wind, and trap heat.

13. Some substitutes for polypro are silk, wool, blends of synthetic fibers, and down (down is very warm but does dry quickly). Like food, learn to read the label.

14. Leather loses! It looks great, but it is a poor insulator, does not keep out the cold, and takes forever to dry. It only works when it is on the animal!

15. NEOS Over-shoes rock!!! They are the modern version of old-time galoshes. You wear them right over your shoes and they are completely waterproof. They come in different heights for all of your outdoor needs!

Getting Started
1. Do not overdress. Start your outdoor workout a little chilled. You will heat up once you get started.

2. If you start and end your workout at home (walk, jog, bike, etc.), then you will not need to bring any extra clothing because you can get right back inside when your workout is done.

3. If you drive to a location to exercise, or you are out hiking for the afternoon, bring an extra shirt to change in to when you are done. Even though polypro dries quickly, it will still retain some water, so you’ll appreciate changing into a dry shirt after your workout, especially on a cold day.

What Polypro People Wear To Stay Warm During Workouts In The Cold
В· Hat
В· Gloves or mittens
В· Glove liners
В· Shirts in layers
В· Leggings
В· Neck gaiter
В· Walking or hiking socks
В· Sock liners
В· Gore-Tex shell

Buying Stuff
All of the products I mention on these pages perform well, and the retailers are all reputable. Make your selections based on style, size, fit, and price. Note: some companies brand their own polypro fabrics. For instance, EMS calls it Bergelene, Patagonia calls it Capilene, SportHill calls it Sensatech, and CoolMax by Coolmax. It all performs similarly.

Online Retailers In No Particular Order
Most online retailers are generous with returns, but check their policy before purchasing. Check for sizes on all products. Sizes vary by garment for both men and women.
В· (sizes up to 6x)
В· Sport Hill (sizes up to 4x)3
В· Plus Size Athletic Wear (sizes up to 6x)
В· Team Estrogen (sizes up to 4x)
В· Enell Sports Bra (sports bras in every size)
В· L.L. Bean (sizes up to 4x; Coolmax is one of their wicking fabrics)
В· Mile Marker Sports (sizes up to 4x)
В· See Jane Run (sizes up to 4x)
В· Eastern Mountain Sport
В· NEOS The greatest galoshes ever!
В· Campmor
· Land’s End (sizes up to 3x or 4x)
В· Moving Comfort (up to 3x in some fleece)
В· Altrec
В· Moosejaw
В· Patagonia
В· Marmot
В· Outdoor Research
В· Mountain Hardware
В· North Face
В· Paragon Sports

Don”t forget about socks! Here are some of the major brands to look for (not an inclusive list): Thorlo, Wigwam, Smartwool, Fox River, Columbia, Dahlgren

Enjoy your cold-weather workouts. Defeat the winter!