Even though the solstice has passed, the coldest part of winter is yet upon us. That means you, your children, and everyone around you is perpetually cold. Unfortunately, if you’re not freezing your face off outside, the kids are bouncing off the walls with a bad case of cabin fever. To spare you another wasted winter debating between these two forms of misery, I’ve prepared a guide to get you out of the house in snug comfort.
We’re going to start with the essential concepts. You surely already know most of them, but I implore you to skim through, as you may discover a gem. From there, we’ll get a couple of unavoidably pricey items out of the way and add some heavy-hitting bargains. Then we’ll wrap up with my second-best tips and tricks to stretching your cold weather gear dollars as far as possible.
The three core concepts of warmth are these: protection, insulation, and wicking. If you master these three concepts, you’ll never be cold again. Protection means blocking yourself against wind and moisture. Insulation, just like with your home, traps your body heat close to you. Finally, wicking gets the moisture off your body.
No two points do the trick in the coldest weather. Without protection, you get wet or the wind blows right through your layers. Without layering, you’ve just got a cold shell against your skin. And without wicking, evaporative cooling steals your warmth once you start sweating.
For proper protection against the elements, an incredible variety of products is available. Just take your frustrations to a nice rep at your favorite shop. They’ll have recommendations for sealing wind and water gaps in your outfit. Whatever you learn there, I’m also recommending gaiters for your boots. They’re smaller, simpler, and less expensive than snow pants, and they basically extend your boots up to your knees.
Costly But Critical
Some things are just too good to find on discount. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, especially on eBay and at REI garage sales, unless you know something I don’t. Either way, these things are worth paying more for, so open your wallet and get this done.
Good socks are your first priority, because they insulate and wick better than anything. You need merino wool socks. I cannot overstate how critical this is. Just get the appropriate length and weight for your need. In fact, consider getting merino socks for everyday wear for absolutely everyone in the family all year long. Anecdotally, I can sing the praises of Merino for keeping little boy feet smelling fresh. Even if those boys manage to sneakily wear the same pair three days in a row, your nose won’t alert you to the matter. Prepare to spend $20-28.
Waterproof boots are your next priority purchase. Waterproofing will create the shell around the wicking insulation of your great socks, and the right boots can even add another layer of insulation for the coldest days. Even if you’re planning to shop online auctions for the perfect high-traction Gore-tex fashion statement, you’ll want to put on your new socks and head to a local shop to figure out the right size. This will set you back $40-60 for kids and $80-200 for adults.
With your feet nicely appointed, you can stop acting like you’re made of money. But first, a warning. Many low-cost, mass-market retailers simply do not sell quality goods. Think of the outfits you’ve gotten for yourself or your kids that haven’t survived more than a season or couldn’t be handed down once they were outgrown. Avoid those retailers. Fortunately, the Denver area is home to an amazing range of high-quality discount merchants. Don’t skimp on quality, even while you’re pinching pennies!
Base layers come with tops and bottoms, and a good base layer is engineered to provide excellent wicking and insulation. Merino is an excellent but expensive option, and maybe you don’t want full-body wool coverage. Capilene is an ideal material for this, providing superior wicking with a lower price tag. The wicking is the most critical role of the base layer, so it’s worth getting the right material.
Vests are shockingly underappreciated. It is hard for some to imagine the point of a jacket that excludes the arms, but think of it as an extra layer to help maintain core temperature. Too many layers on the arms can affect comfort, but the warm hug of a fleece or down vest could be a major contribution to comfort.
Brands Worth Loving
There is so much more to cover, but let’s wrap this up before we lose your attention completely. There are a few retailers you can trust for providing excellent products at superb prices, and maybe even an extremely helpful employee. Check out several places and take them your biggest questions to see what suggestions they’ve got.
REI is a champ for its availability, customer service, return policy, member dividend, sales, and, especially, its garage sales. While you won’t find your socks there, you’re sure to get a great deal on a shell, snow pants, Gore-tex boots, and tons more.
Patagonia’s return policy is a moot point, because it is top notch. Take a Patagonia garment into any store, and the store will take care of it. If they can repair it, they will. If
not, they may reimburse you with a surprising amount of store credit. Patagonia’s repair and replacement generosity make even its full-priced clothes a bargain, and it’ll even repair Patagonia goods you purchased second-hand. Plus, they have merino wool socks!
Sierra Trading Post (and to a lesser extent, TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, and Ross) can provide great second-tier savings. Slightly irregular clothes will keep you just as warm as costlier options. Just make sure you’re shopping for quality and covering all your layers.
I am personally crushed to see people unprepared for the weather because it reminds me of my own childhood. Cotton socks where the only thing keeping my cold boots from directly freezing my toes, and they do practically nothing. I never realized that winter doesn’t need to be so miserable. Now, I’m excited to take winter hikes through the nearby mountains, and so are my kids. The only difference is the right gear. Arm yourself well and get out there to make the most of the winter!