My Favorite and Most Hated Outdoor Winter Gear (Outdoor Diary)

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Episode 349

When I moved to Alaska from Tennessee I was not someone who spent a lot of time outside, and I owned virtually no clothing you and I would think of as “winter gear.” I simply had no experience spending time outside in cold weather, and I had no idea what I was doing.

In the years since I have quite a lot of time to practice going outside comfortably in all types of weather and seasons, which means I have had some time to figure out what I like to wear out there — and what I don’t.

Maybe these experiences can help you, too, as you learn to how to stay warm and comfortable outside all winter long.

Some of the good stuff:

[:35] I have a whole lot of practice with outdoor gear because it’s winter here for months and months and months

[1:30] First let’s talk about the things I like the most and why

[2:00] The star of the show

[2:45] Foot stuff

[3:31] The core of the issue

[4:06] Neglect not the hood

[4:41] Skip this stuff

[4:45] Things that don’t fit right

[6:07] Cold heads even if they’re cute

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The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Humans Outside.

It’s a fact of life when you live in Alaska like I do. Of my almost 2,300 days going outside for at least 20 consecutive minutes, at least 1,100 of them have been in cold weather during the at least six months of winter weather October through March. That’s a lot of days that call for the art of layering and wearing winter gear.

I am not the wisest person on the planet, but even I learn by doing over time. And yes, each year it seems I have to relearn how to dress for cold weather. But the more I do this, the more I understand the winter weather clothes I love — and those I don’t.

I thought it might be helpful to list out my most beloved items and the things that don’t work for me. I’m going to name names on brands here, but I want to state this up front: like podcast guest and founder of Alpine Fit Jen Luffburow talked about in an episode of Humans Outside, whether a brand fits you specifically or not has a lot to do with the body type of their clothing design size model and almost nothing to do with you specifically. And of course the better something fits, the most you’re going to like it. So when I name brands, it’s because they have a combo of quality and they fit me, Amy Bushatz, your illustrious host — not because I think they are the brand you specifically, an illustrious listener should buy.

OK. So what do I love? Here are a few things.

First, the star of the winter layering show, the puffy pant aka The Pants. This has been my all time favorite winter gear investment. Mine are from Mountain Hardware, a brand that fits me really well. But if you’re going to buy some, go for a brand that fits you plus a thickness that is gonna make them worth purchasing. Columbia makes a more affordable pair, for example, but they aren’t as warm. And if you’re going to bother with a puffy pant that is almost exclusively used for layering when you’re standing around, moving slowly or just need an extra layer over your jeans for some outside time, you want them to be warm. Best. Purchase. Ever.

Next, warm warm boots with good traction. I have a pair of icebug boots with a high traction michelin tire sole that are so unbelievably warm and provide great grip — and it is with big sadness that I report they are starting to wear out after being on my feet daily every winter since 2019 because I won this pair in a giveaway and these suckers are nooooot cheap. But they are so awesome, Im gonna put away my dollars to replace them next year. No matter what shoes you get, make sure they are warm and comfortable, and if you need to add traction devices like nanospikes or buy studded shoes so you don’t slip when wandering around out there. Slipping is not that fun.

Vests. I love keeping my core nice and toasty and the best way I have found to do this is with the almighty zip up vest. Fleece, puffy, cute, not cute — whatever floats your boat. My favorite vest is from smartwool because it is lightweight yet fairly warm AND it’s versatile. I wear it at my desk when I’m working, or on the ski slope or when I’m running. It also has a hood which just adds this perfect extra warmness touch when needed.

And, that brings us to: hoods. One of the top winter gear things I have learned in lo these many days outside is to never, ever buy a top — jacket, fleece, vest, rain jacket, whatever — without a hood. I have never once regretted having a hood that I can slide on if it’s needed. I have often regretted NOT having one. So why would I ever buy something without a hood if having one is an option? HOODS for the win.

Ok, now for a few things I’ve learned to avoid.

I already mentioned tops without hoods. Skip that.

Next, is anything with sleeves that could possibly ever be even a little too short. In fact, I even skip things where the sleeves are in the “just right” but possibly a tiny tiny bit on the quite right side. I am, in brief, very picky about sleeves. This is something I learned hard way buying gear that is not quite right, and thinking it would be fine. And yeah it’s fine but it’s not great. And why would I ever spend money on something that isn’t quite right when I could instead spend money on something that is perfect? The not right thing is eventually going to irritate me or, worse, leave me cold. And the entire point of this is not be comfortable, not cold. Be picky. Picky is good.

Relatedly, the next thing is pants with too low of aideal rise. For me anything that is lower than a mid rise is a no. Honestly, Id argue that even if you love a lower rise pant for inside stuff, you want a mid to high rise one for outside. The goal here is to keep all of your business covered and insulated and warm. Any gaping between your shirt and pant defeats that, so why do it?

Finally, thin hats. Listen, I know that knit beanie is cute. But it is not warm. We are on team warm head here, so give me a wool hat or something fleece lined. My absolute favorite is a buttery soft wool blend hat from smartwool that I found in an rei clearance bin. It is stupid warm and I, i think, also cute. Sometimes you do win on all fronts.

You can see me sporting a variety of outdoor gear, all of it with hoods because I’ve learned that lesson, on Humans Outside on Facebook and Instagram. It may not be high fashion and it probably doesn’t really match, but if I’ve done my job it is keeping me warm and happy. I want to see what you’re doing and wearing outside. Tag me with #humansoutside365. Until next time, we’ll see you out there!

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