How to dress for the cold? Below our editor breaks down a four-piece ‘kit’ he employs to battle winter weather during activities like snowshoeing and ice climbing, as well as for general use in the cold.
Layer up, zip shut, head out. Good outdoor gear keeps you comfortable, no matter the temp outside.
Here we highlight four essential winter apparel categories, all sold on Amazon. Each of these is a good deal and a utilitarian addition to your quiver – or, use them together as a kit while facing the low temps and snow coming in the months ahead.
It may seem strange, but for the coldest days I often start my system with a thin and tight-fitting T-shirt. The Merino Tech Lite Short Sleeve Crewe from Icebreaker is a great choice. With ultra-fine fabric, this kind of top serves almost like a second skin, providing the foundational warmth underneath three to four layers. It costs between $49 and $75 depending on size and style.
Merino is expensive. But after years of wearing wool, I’ve come to advise spending a bit more for the best clothing. A shirt like the Tech Lite Short Sleeve Crewe (for men and women) gives comfort, odor resistance, and breathability. Its mix of 87% merino wool and 13% nylon makes the fabric more durable. I’ve had similar hybrid shirts that last for years of repeated hard wear, including biking, running, climbing, camping, and living in the top for a week straight on expeditions in South America.
Second Layer: Midweight Base
On top of the T-shirt goes another base layer shirt. For this part of the system, I wear a thicker top, though still something with a lot of breathability. The Winter Zone Long Sleeve Half Zip from Icebreaker is a good option. It costs $130 retail, but some styles on Amazon go for about $91 (as low as $73 for the women’s design).
This piece has a 260-gram merino wool fabric; that’s a thicker ply than the T-shirt above, though still breathable when you’re exerting on snow. A front zipper opens the chest when you need to vent more heat. Icebreaker built this model with technical touches usable in several outdoor sports, including zones with thinner fabric, articulated stitching, and thumb holes on the cuffs to keep the wrists covered in utter cold.
Insulating Layer: Fleece (or Better)
The bulk of warmth comes from this layer. A synthetic fleece top like the Columbia Men’s Steens Mountain Front-Zip Fleece Jacket ($30) traps body heat close. But it will also dry fairly quickly, allowing sweat to escape and remaining warm. It’s also a very economical option.
For those ready to really ramp-up exertion in the winter, consider an insulating piece made with Polartec Alpha. It’s become our go-to winter insulating material. These active insulators dry remarkably fast and keep moisture away from the body even when working out hard in cold, humid conditions. The Rab Alpha Direct Jacket, for example, insulates with Polartec Alpha Direct and has wind-blocking face fabric for a very versatile, breathable layer that can also be worn under a shell. It’s amazing but pricey, at about $275.
Jacket: Basic (or Bomber?) Hardshell
A shell jacket is your exterior wall against the elements. You want a waterproof-breathable shell material that keeps water and snow at bay but allows moisture to move out as vapor.
Rain jackets like the Marmot PreCip can work in winter if you layer correctly underneath. It is a good budget choice, ticking many of the boxes needed for winter activities (and usually available at or under $100).
Upgrade to something more like the Arc’teryx Beta LT Jacket if you’re in a serious winter setting. Templates of these bomber Gore-Tex jackets have been in the company’s line for more than a decade, and they are go-to’s for anyone in need of a durable waterproof-breathable shell.
The protection can cost you, however. The Beta LT Jacket hovers around $300 to start. But this is bona fide gear, not simple apparel. It’ll keep you dry and secured against snow, sleet, and harsh wind on city streets, in the high alpine, or wherever your winter adventure takes you this year.