Layers 101: How to Stay Warm for Snow Play

‘Tis the season for sledding and snowboarding, skiing and snowball fights! Staying warm can be a challenge — nobody likes numb fingers and toes. On the other hand, who wants to look like the Michelin man? As you may already know, the key to winter warmth is layering. Here’s how I layer to stay warm for long periods of outside play and am still able to move my arms.

SnowstuffverticalLayer 1: Base layer. A sports bra and fleece-lined running leggings/tights. If it’s really cold (like below zero), both!

  • Fleece-lined leggings sound like specialized running gear, but I found mine at Target and they have served me incredibly well.
  • I like sports bras because they have more coverage/are much warmer than a regular bra. You’ll have a few shirts over it, but if you’re worried about the squashed uni-boob effect, pick one with shaping. Mine is from Target.

Layer 2: Mid layer.

  • Waterproof snow pants are a must. If you can’t find any your size, throw on a belt; snow pants are crucial to staying warm and dry. The best snow pants will have a second layer inside that cinches around your ankles. Mine are three sizes too big and donated by a friend; hit the thrift stores for this item, as fit isn’t so crucial.
  • Where fit is important is your base shirt. It should be very close fitting, like a second skin. Try to find performance wool or silk. On a budget, opt for spandex/poly sports fabric. Do not choose a tissue-weight cotton. Cotton does not hold heat when wet; you would almost be better off with no base layer. Mine is Fila spandex/poly.

Layer 3: Temperature-dependent layer. If it is very cold outside, you may want to add a wool sweater, down vest or both. I favor the down vest despite its inherent dork factor because it keeps my torso warm without adding a ton of bulk to my arms. If you plan to wear a sweater, try and get the lightest wool possible. Again, never choose cotton. My vest is an ’80s-era Goodwill find. The $1 price tag made the pale pink worth it.

Layer 4: Accessory layer: Thick wool socks, scarf, gloves and a hat.

  • Wool isn’t crucial for the hat unless you plan on spending a lot of time with your head in the snow. (I always choose wool because I like to make snow angels, and I’m not very good at snowboarding.)
  • The best choice is a close-fit tube scarf. If your only choice is an extra long scarf, make sure the ends are tucked away or skip the scarf entirely, or you risk getting tangled in the ends. Don’t get your scarf caught under a sled!
  • Leather gloves provide good warmth for the mobility they offer, and are waterproof, but for extra warmth find thick snow gloves with liners. Mittens are the best choice for activities where you don’t need your fingers. My go-to gloves are leather, unknown brand, $2.99 at Goodwill
  • Socks are 100% wool, found at Goodwill for $2.99. A wool/poly blend is probably the most reliably cost-effective option. You can also just wear regular socks, but I hate cold feet.

Layer 5: Coat and boots

  • Invest in a good coat. Fit is more important than for snow pants. Mine is North Face, bought on sale during the summer at REI. I like the close fit and princess-style seams, turquoise color and wealth of pockets.
  • Don’t wear a huge fashion overcoat for sports activities. Just try sledding or snowboarding or tackling someone in a big coat and you’ll find it’s a snow trap. Believe me: I learned the hard way. Opt for a shorter, sportier coat and leave the overcoat for bar hopping or running errands.
  • When shopping for boots, wear the socks you plan on wearing most often; if you have thick wool socks, wear them shopping so you know how much extra room you’ll need. I found my boots at Goodwill for $10, but I’m not sold on them, as they have ceased being waterproof after only a year.

Extras: Don’t forget your sunscreen and sunglasses! Snow burn is just as nasty as sun burn. The good news is, you have much less exposed skin to protect. If you wear makeup/use lotion, choose one with sunscreen included.

Layering is easy with a little practice!


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