This is a scene from a visit to my mom’s house in exceptionally freezing Milwaukee over the holidays, where after I left, it became even more horrifyingly cold in the never-ending Polar Vortex of Doom. Do you know what I wore on the day this was taken? Jeans, a sweatshirt, and slippers, because there was no way I was going outside to freeze my buns off in that weather! I mean – this, guys…THIS:
“Feels like -41°” should be illegal. Wisconsin is beautiful and my family is wonderful, but there’s a reason that I live in California and that reason rhymes with “feather.” If I can get away with not wearing socks 90% of the time, I’m in a happy place. You can imagine my apprehension, then, when I pulled the Winter Sports badge out of the hat this month.
*LITERAL & FIGURATIVE COLD SHIVERS*
If you live in California, you can also imagine how difficult it’s been for me to achieve any winter sports action this month considering we’re in the middle of an epic drought and our mountains are bone diggity dry. So while I prepare for indoor ice skating and pray for some of the white stuff to enable my skiing, sledding, and snow games aspirations, I figured I’d tackle the most indoorsy of the outdoorsy requirements of this badge:
#3. Demonstrate to your troop, either by a fashion show or by pictures, proper clothing for winter sports. Explain in detail the care of wet clothing.
As much as I’d like to parade around with a sweat-soaked balaclava slung over my face in this balmy 72-degree L.A. weather, I’ll stick to the pictures. Let’s enjoy some winter sports clothing in action (by “winter sports,” I mean “cold weather hiking,” since that’s the only winter sport I actively engage in):
Here, whilst displaying the grandeur of Zion National Park’s Three Patriarchs, I wanted to have multiple many ways to control my internal temperature, since I am not the Supreme Overlord of Weather and cannot control the external temp. The best way to do this is always going to be via layering – building up multiple thinner layers of clothing to trap warm air, rather than putting on one bulky cotton sweatshirt, sweating in it, then having a cold, damp sweatshirt ruin your entire day…and possibly even lead to hypothermia. The saying for cold-weather activities is: “COTTON KILLS.” You’re going to get it wet (via sweat or precipitation), it’s not going to dry, you’re going to shiver and freeze and be really, really uncomfortable and sad.
So here, I’m modeling a pair of Prana synthetic hiking pants (stretchy for ease of movement), a pair of SmartWool shirts (a thinner base layer, and a half-zip mid-layer that I can unzip to vent, or remove completely if I’m overheating), a SmartWool buff (you can use this versatile piece of clothing as a scarf, a head wrap, or other things I haven’t yet thought of), a SmartWool hat (can you tell I like this brand?), and a Patagonia down sweater (down is lightweight and compressible, with an amazing warmth-to-weight ratio, but is more expensive than synthetics and will NOT dry quickly once wet).
Let’s talk some more about wool. I wear this stuff in every season – yes, including during 90° days in Joshua Tree. Modern wool performance clothing (SmartWool, Icebreaker, etc) is created to be used as a layering system – there are multiple “weights” of wool, and my thinnest pieces (usually tank tops) are nearly paper thin. These high-performance wool pieces are a wonderful investment because they usually keep B.O. funk at bay and more importantly, they dry quickly. Wool socks are absolutely stellar for the same reason, and if I’m going on a long hike or in cold weather, I’ll always add a liner sock (usually Injiji brand – aka “toe socks”).
The picture above is my Kilimanjaro climbing team standing at the top of the Barranco Wall. Layering was key on this day as we had a very sweaty 1000′ foot scramble to the top of the wall, and though it was cold, the sun beat down upon our exhausted little faces and we peeled off layers to bring our body temps back down to normal. There are two key pieces of winter gear I want to point out in this shot, besides Alex’s stellar striped hat:
1. Sunglasses: These are important in general (UV rays are bad for your eyes, kids!), but especially so in winter sports – the sun reflects off of the snow and amplifies those damaging UV rays, which can lead to a condition called “snow blindness” – basically, a sunburn for your peepers that can be greatly debilitating. Because of this issue, most winter sports glasses (or “glacier goggles”) have 100% UV blockage, reduce glare, and feature side shields to further cut down on exposure. Plus, you look like a badass when you’re wearing these.
2. Gaiters: Those are the dirty-looking things at the bottom of our pants. These are worn over your pants, connected via a strap that runs under your boot, and come in multiple sizes. Many people also wear them when hiking in dust-prone areas, because their purpose is to keep stuff out of your shoes – whether that’s snow, gravel, or volcanic ash.
Ok, finally, let’s review the time I dressed like Ralphie’s little brother from A Christmas Story:
Summit day on Mt. Kilimanjaro, probably the most exhilarating and exhausting day of my life! On this day, I wore about 9,000 layers because when we started out on our long climb after midnight, it was absurdly cold and desperately windy. I wore so many layers that morning that when I had to lift my leg up for a high step, I couldn’t move it high enough and my guide had to palm my butt and push me up. Hot stuff.
In this picture, I’m wearing:
Head: A buff, plus a wool beanie over a fleece balaclava, a versatile piece of winter equipment that covers more surface area than a hat because it goes over your entire face down to your neck, with an opening at your face (and sometimes just over your eyes/nose, a la a ski mask, but hopefully less burglarish).
Feet: Injiji liner socks and thick SmartWool hiking socks, all shoved into my very favorite Keen Targhee waterproof boots (it goes without saying that if engaging in winter sports, you need waterproof boots!)
Legs: Mid-weight capilene long underwear, synthetic hiking pants, rain and wind-proof pants (sized up to fit over the other pants), topped off my knee-height gaiters. I went cheap on the weatherproof pants and I paid the price in loss of mobility (see several paragraphs above), plus I ripped the bejeezus out of those pants on the way down the mountain in multiple butt-slide-falls. However, they did help keep my legs dry and warm, two crucial things with winter sports!
Hands: A pair of Black Diamond liner gloves & waterproof ski gloves. These gloves had grippy stuff on the palms, and even better, a soft patch on the back of the hand to wipe your (my) drippy, drippy nose with. YOU RULE, TISSUE-GLOVES!
Torso: I call this get-up my Stay-Puffed Marshmallow Woman Deluxe outfit – wool tank top, lightweight wool base layer, two midweight wool midlayers, fleece jacket, down sweater, and waterproof/windproof Goretex jacket. On the way up the mountain, I left every single piece on and on the way down the mountain, ripped off most of it. Layering. Always layering.
Optional: iPod earbud dangling elegantly from your (my) wind-swept rat’s nest hair.
Finally, let’s talk about how to dry all of this stuff, because even if it’s not getting wet because of snow, it’s getting wet because you are a sweaty pig. The worse thing you can do is to leave it all by a fire, because a) materials can singe or catch on fire and b) you can melt, crack, and irrevocably mess up your (likely expensive) boots. You can also melt a hole right in your expensive Black Diamond liner glove after one too many glasses of wine around a campfire at night in Zion National Park, but that’s obviously just a hypothetical scenario.
The best way to dry wet clothing is to either hang it in your tent (you’d be amazed at how much condensation gathered in my gaiters each night – GROSS) or shove it into the foot of your sleeping bag (never actually sleep in wet clothing, though!) to dry via your body heat at night. And of course, when you get home, air everything out and wash using appropriate methods – hand-wash or machine-wash or dry-clean if you’re fancy like that.
If you take care of your winter sports gear, it’s going to take care of you. Just don’t get to close to that campfire, my friend. (Like I said – hypothetical.)