The seasons are changing and hot chocolate weather is almost upon us. In Lake Tahoe, the bears are getting ready to hibernate, but that is not what we humans are about. In fact, winter is an awesome time to get outside for a run, walk and hike. It is a quieter time when you can enjoy the serenity of nature and experience different scenery than we usually see on our runs, walks and hikes. And best of all, it is not unbearably hot or humid! An advantage of running, walking and hiking in winter is that with proper planning, you can be completely comfortable. I do not know about you, but I can never be comfortable in the blistering heat. Sometimes I wish I could just peel off my skin. However, with proper layering you can be completely comfortable in the cold and even in the rain. Personally, I love running in the rain because it makes me go faster!
Here is my tried and true technique for layering:
Base layer: the layer closest to your skin which wicks away sweat
As the next-to-skin layer, a base layer’s job is moving perspiration away from your skin. In cool or cold conditions, wicking long-underwear-style base layers keep your skin dry. This is important because it will help keep you from becoming chilled or hypothermic.
Base layers are usually made of synthetics like polyester and nylon or natural fibers like merino wool and silk. Base layers can be lightweight, medium-weight, and heavyweight. Of course, the heavier the fabric, the warmer you will be. But the most important function of the base layer is to move the sweat away from your body. In order to do that, the base layer should be snug and fit closely to the skin. Here in Northern California where it is not terribly cold, a short-sleeved performance running shirt makes a great base layer.
Mid-layer: the insulating layer which retains your body heat to protect you from the cold
The insulating layer helps you retain the heat that is generated by your body. The more efficiently this middle layer traps that heat, the warmer you will be.
Polyester fleece makes an outstanding mid-layer and isavailable in lightweight, midweight and heavyweight fabrics. Fleece stays warm even if it gets damp, and it also dries quickly. Fleece breathes well making it less likely that you will overheat with exertion. And it feels so cozy!
However, because of its breathability, over time, wind and rain can blow right through it causing you to lose insulation. This is why you need to also have an outer layer.
Outer layer: a shell which shields you from wind and rain
The outer layer protects you from wind, rain and snow. Shells range from pricey mountaineering jackets to simple wind-resistant jackets. Some shell layers have zippered vents to improve breathability. While you may not need a super-pricey mountaineering jacket for a 5 mile run or a day hike, you may need more than a lightweight rain shell depending on the conditions you will encounter. Consider how long you plan to outside when choosing an outer shell. You may even opt to invest in different types of shells, just like you have different types of clothing.
Shells primarily fall int two main categories:
Waterproof/breathable shells: The most functional (and expensive) choice, this type of shell is your best option for full-on storm conditions. Usually, the higher priced shells will keep you drier, but pay attention to the technical details the shell offers to make sure it truly is rated “waterproof” and “breathable”.
Water-resistant shells: These are more suited to drizzly, breezy conditions. They are less expensive than waterproof/breathable shells and are typically made of tightly woven nylon or polyester fabrics that block light wind and light rain. They can be great in a pinch or if you are only out for an hour or so, but they will not hold up to a full day of hiking in pouring rain. I like to keep a packable lightweight shell in my backpack at all times, just in case. You never know (especially in Northern CA) when it will get colder than you expected as the day goes on or you climb to the top of an exposed hill or mountain.
Hats: And finally, do not forget about your head and your extremities.
Body heat is often lost through your head since your exposed head responds to changes in temperature more quickly than any other part of your body. Do not forget to carry along a fleece or wool hat for winter workouts to cover your head in cold weather. If you prefer something lighter-weight. nylon and polyester caps work well also.
Gloves: For cold-weather exercise, moisture-wicking, breathable gloves are advisable. For cool conditions, thin liner gloves may be all that you need.
Socks: When you exercise heavily, your feet produce a lot of perspiration. This perspiration can lead to blisters unless you wear synthetic or merino wool socks that wick away moisture. In winter, this moisture can lead to cold feet. I avoid cotton socks during the winter.
The tips above should keep you comfortable while exercising outdoors in the coming months. However, if you are looking for indoor activities, be sure to check out the 12 Weeks of Christmas Challenge: