Outdoor activity in cold weather

Depending on where you live, the weather has gone from the warmer, shorts & t-shirt type to the colder, raw, sometimes wet, and windy type. Since I prefer biking and running outside whenever possible, one of the most frequent questions I get asked is how to dress appropriately for running and biking outside! And YES, I’ve chosen to run and bike in the colder weather… but not when it’s raining, windy, or dangerous! Sometimes, when you choose to be outside, you get caught in less favorable conditions… so let’s talk about how to stay “comfortable” while continuing to stay active outside in the colder weather…

When looking for cold weather gear, you want to use the 3 W’sWindproof, Waterproof, and Warmth. While a lot of gear can be interchangeable for both biking and running, it’s not always the case. What may be warm for running may not be windproof for biking. Along with the 3 W’s, you also want to look for breathable fabric and pay attention to the construction of the seams (more on the seams in the waterproof section). While I’m no expert tester nor an official ambassador for any brand, what I’ve learned over the years has been trial and error. I’ll discuss each one of the W’s below…

  • Windproof – windproof winter gear is just that, it stops the wind from “cutting” through your clothing and chilling you to the bone! Windproof gear is critical for biking or you’ll definitely be in for a chilly ride!
    • A windproof outer layer is typically thin and will be loose fitting to allow room for layering underneath it. Your basic outer layer, or shell, will usually “catch” the wind – meaning you might feel like a sail, but you won’t really feel it come through! This type of windproof gear can be worn until about 40-45 degrees F, depending on your tolerance level. This type of gear would be your basic windbreaker jacket or wind pants – the pants would be a shell and you simply wear them over your clothing.
    • The windproof gear for even colder weather will typically have multiple layers built in. The inner layer will be for warmth, breathable, and should be moisture wicking. The outer layer will be windproof and water resistant, and potentially could even be water proof! This type of gear would be something like a GORETEX jacket and the pants would have an inner lining while having some type of performance outer layer.
  • Warmth – self explanatory, right? LOL
    • Winter gear that is warm is not always windproof OR waterproof, so pay attention to what you’re getting and what the purpose will be for. The obvious gold standard here is Under Armour! They’re cold weather running gear is amazing! While UA gear can be a bit price restrictive, it’s worth every penny in my opinion. There are other brands out there that are definitely less expensive and very comparable to UA gear
    • Winter gear should DEFINITELY be moisture wicking!!! It SHOULD NOT be cotton!! Wearing only cotton layers in cold weather is a sure fire way to catch pneumonia… or at least get frostbitten! That’s because cotton, while it’s comfortable, does not dry out quickly after getting wet. If you want to wear cotton, it should be the outer layer only, with a good moisture wicking base layer underneath.
    • Warm winter gear is typically worn as a base layer because of it’s moisture wicking abilities. This type of base layer can be worn with biking also. While you may not feel so flattering in it, warm winter gear tends to be form fitting and snug. It has to be in order to perform the moisture wicking action.
    • Some warm winter gear will also double as compression gear. That’s a bonus because the compression ability will help keep the blood flowing through your muscles and allow your body to stay warmer. Make sure you pay attention to those extremities!
  • Waterproof – unless you want to be wet… well anything less than waterproof is not ideal
    • Waterproof gear does not always provide warmth. Most of the time it is windproof, but it may not be breathable. The outer layer of waterproof gear is normally nylon.
    • Seams are critical to waterproof gear. While seams are also important with windproof gear, seams that are “taped” – a layer of waterproof material under a zippered or velcro seam – provide true waterproof protection.
    • Waterproof gear is typically going to be worn over clothing. It also tends to be packable – that way it can be easily taken with you and put on if you’re caught in the elements!
    • Always read the description!!! Water-resistant, or even highly water resistant, does not equate to waterproof!!! You do not want to find out the hard way.
  • Bonus – Don’t forget about covering your feet and hands
    • The 3 W’s also apply to your feet and hands. If you have good gear for your body that gets you through cold weather, typically the body will keep most of it’s internal warmth for your torso. So those extremities are left all on their own!
    • Things like moisture wicking performance wool, compression socks, gloves that cover your wrists, lobster-claw gloves, and shoe covers are all items that can help keep your hands and feet be protected. And use the same principles for these items as you would when looking for cold weather gear for your body.

So that is the 3 W’sWindproof, Warmth, and Waterproof! While searching for the right gear, it’s ok to mix and match brands (unless you’re a brand ambassador or just independently rich, LOL) to get the combination for you to enjoy outdoor activity during the colder weather. Always do your research and ask people you know who do these activities or people you see with the gear. Remember to take your time to find what’s right for you. While the high quality pieces take time to accumulate because they’re more expensive, most often they’ll also last longer and provide great protection from the elements. When trying out a new brand or different gear, buy 1 item first and give it a couple test runs… that will help you determine if it’s worth the cost of the more expensive quality pieces or stocking up on the less expensive pieces more frequently. Also remember what the purpose and need of the gear is. The more gear you can find that combines all 3 W’s, the better off you’ll be. See the list below of some of the brands I’ve purchased over the years…

  • Columbia
    • great rain pants – I use them for riding and have owned them for 10+ years. Obviously excellent hiking gear too
  • Under Armour
    • use UA gear mostly for cold weather running. Their Heat Gear line is amazing for both warmth and compression
  • Clothin (tested their products for free)
    • Excellent cold weather, water resistant pants. I bought a 2nd pair after testing the first pair for free. I love that they are cargo style pants and they’re so comfortable that I can wear them all day!
  • Baleaf
    • This brand is comparable to UA gear. I mostly use my Baleaf fitted shirts as a base layer for riding or running
  • GORETEX
    • Best cold weather biking jacket I’ve ever owned. Can be worn with a simple base layer in below freezing temperatures. Their gloves are excellent for cold weather too and functional for use with touch screen devices
  • REI
    • REI has come out with some really great gear that’s water resistant, packable, and very breathable. It can typically be worn for base layers and works very well for hiking
  • Hylete
    • Hylete has running gear very comparable to UA. The 3/4 zip flexion pullover is one of the best pieces I own. Their tri-blend cotton shirts are super comfortable, fit great, and can even be worn as a base layer if it’s not too cold

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