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Recommendations for some winter clothing

October 8, 2020

This came up at work, where we’re all still WFH and probably will be all through the winter, that Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real thing and likely to bite harder than usual this winter, what with so many people almost entirely at home.

One approach to this is to get fancy lamps and that’s probably not a bad idea, but another, and also this dovetails with how to socialize safely given COVID, is to spend time outdoors. But it’s going to be cold, winter is that way. How do we do this comfortably?

As it happens, I have been riding my bicycle 6 miles to and then from work year-round, near Boston, since early 2015 (and 2+ days every week before that, since 2006, 10 miles one-way). I have some experience staying warm, though it is biased a bit by physical activity and my inherent toaster-ness. However, I know how to round up and have also been out on a bike in single digits, and my advice involves buying stuff from a guy who lets you dial up the warm to levels that have me covered in sweat. Seriously, I have a hat, it has never, ever, failed to make my head sweaty. I call it the dammit hat, as in “dammit, my head and ears will be warm”.

And obviously, tons of people know how to cope already (lots of people work outdoors in the winter, after all), but tons of people are also aghast that I bike in the winter and wonder that I am not frozen when I do. I can only guess that they don’t spend much time outdoors in the winter.  The point is not to endure the cold, but to be warm enough that you don’t care.

“The guy” is Lou Binik, who has a business called FoxWear. He/his minions sew stretchy technical fabrics into things. The ordering process is distinctly old-school, I have always exchanged a few e-mails, the result is at minimum semi-custom for things like tights. I typically pay by USPS-mailing a paper check.

For me, the three best things he makes are (1) tights (2) hats and balaclavas and (3) socks/oversocks. My default fabric choice is stretch polar fleece, he calls it “Power Stretch”, you get your choice of colors and thicknesses. 2.5mm is the thickness of the dammit hat; if you’re willing to settle for black (it is always in style) you can get 3mm. I’ve never tried “double sided fleece” or “Retro-X” but those are even warmer options.

The tights just work, and they’re easy to take care of, just throw them in the washer and then throw them in the dryer (I do tend to use the low heat level in general, to reduce the risk of accidents). They work as an underlayer, too.

For tights-ish pants that are somewhat less stretchy, but more wind, water, and snow repellent, choose “Power Shield” or perhaps “Wind Pro” instead. You’ll need to be sure that it’s not undersized in waist/butt/thighs, because it’s less forgiving there and you may end up feeling like a sausage if they’re undersized. One pair I eventually decided was too tight (my thighs got bigger from the new commute), I gifted them to someone with skinnier legs (For reference, my thighs are 65cm at their largest, so if you’re in that ballpark and ordering pants in this fabric, you might want to mention it). Wearing these, you can go out and shovel snow or run a snow thrower or whatever for a few hours, stomp your feet before you come indoors, and all the snow falls off, your legs are still warm, dry, and comfy.

The socks are a peculiar compromise; they’re not as stretchy and comfy as nicely knit socks, and there’s a seam down the bottom. But, they are super durable, warm, perform well even when (very) wet, and their durability extends to washing and drying; these are fire-and-forget.

Oversocks are a weird thing — super-oversized socks, you pull them on over your shoes. They are unusually helpful for keeping your feet warm, I do not know why. If you actually go for this, you may want to treat the bottom with Plasti-Dip — for that you put a shoe in a thin bag, put the sock on the shoe, find a pan/tray you don’t care about, and then “dip” the bottom of the sock in the Plastic-Dip (more detailed instructions and pictures).

Get the hats with earflaps. Ears get cold, right? If you’re up for a balaclava, you should get one, a stretch polar fleece balaclava is great. Know what your hat size is when you order, that matters.

Another thing to consider is a jacket. I ordered one once, and for me, it’s actually too warm, I almost never wear it biking and instead my son uses it. It’s light on pockets, but warm, comfy, and not incredibly bulky. Looking at the site just now, I see a Snowboard Jacket, and that looks really warm, and it has pockets.

So, my plan for cold winter days when I want/need to just hang around outside, is to wear a pair of thicker tights, the dammit hat, the boots I already own with a couple of pairs of socks (no overstocks), a scarf, and perhaps order myself a Snowboard jacket, with additional wool layers underneath as necessary. If that’s not enough, I have a yellow Land’s End stadium parka to toss over the whole mess that I’ve owned since forever. Gloves, I have some ski gloves for biking, those work. I’ve done this before on Boy Scout skiing trips to Northern Vermont, the goal is not just to survive the cold, but to be comfortable, even just standing around in it.

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