Unless you live in a select microregion of the country-- or under a rock-- winter has arrived in full force. While it’s tempting to use frigid temps, howling winds, snow, ice, sleet, and the rest of winter’s specialties as excuses to stay inside curled up on the couch with a mug of hot chocolate, we promise it’s worth getting out there. Primarily because it will make the couch time and hot chocolate that much more satisfying afterward.
And don’t get us wrong, there is something intrinsically satisfying, invigorating, life-affirming, and empowering about transcending your comfort zone to explore foreign landscapes disguised in white.
To learn how to adequately prepare ourselves to battle (and dare we say maybe even enjoy) the elements, we called upon the best winter experts we know, our Cold Conquerors. From Lora in Minneapolis, MN, where temps plummet far below zero, to Adam who ventures into the snow-capped peaks of the Pacific Northwest, our team is out in the trenches, learning first-hand how to handle any form of weather thrown their way. We compiled their advice to bring you five keys to braving winter running, hiking, camping, snowshoeing, skiing, and all of the other activities this season affords.
- Balaclava. Not to be confused with the dessert baklava, although they may bring equal amounts of happiness. These face masks protect your delicate features from the wind, sun, and any other element winter throws your way. “My biggest tip for winter running is to invest in a neck gaiter or balaclava for when the temperature dips,” says Cold Conqueror Sarah, who braves the wind, snow, and frigidity of Shippensburg, PA. “They not only keep your neck warm, but they create a barrier to keep cold wind from stinging your face. A must-have for cold running.”
- Layers. Few things are worse than overheating and then freezing in your cold, sticky sweat. Thankfully, there is a simple, tried and true solution. Layers allow you to make quick changes to your attire as your body adjusts to the weather, or as it changes around you.“When it comes to winter adventures, layer up! I’ve found that wearing all the layers can make the difference of whether you last outside for an hour or all day,” Lora says. “Plus, you can always layer down – a good problem to have.” The basics of layering: a base layer made of wool or synthetics to wick away sweat and moisture, which helps regulate body temperature and keep you dry. An insulating layer to trap in heat; look for something made with down, synthetic insulation or fleece. And a shell layer to protect you from the elements; choose something with a durable water repellent finish and ventilation.
- Gloves. A no-brainer, but also easy to overlook when you’re in a rush to get out the door. “Don’t forget them!” warns Casey, who runs sunup to sundown, year-round in Colorado. On especially cold days, turn to mittens. Cold hands are not only wildly unpleasant, they make doing everything more difficult, including next final tip:
- Hydrate. “Drink water often,” Kimberly, who enjoys snowshoeing in her native British Columbia, advises. “You tend not to feel as thirsty when it's cold out, but you are. Trust me. It's easy to get dehydrated in the cold.” In fact, since your lungs have to work extra hard in the cold to heat up every breath you take, you force your body to work even harder-- leading you to sweat more.
- Know your conditions. “It's important to have a good understanding of winter weather and snow conditions before heading out,” Andrew says. While understanding the conditions is of course essential for dressing and preparing accordingly, it’s also crucial for safety, especially if you’re venturing into Avalanche-prone regions. For explorers in the Northwest, he recommends Mountain Forecast for weather and Northwest Avalanche Center for snow conditions.