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Winter Preparedness, Pt. 1: What to Wear

— December 20, 2016

It’s finally winter for real here in the upper Midwest, with snow piling up, salt trucks and plows on patrol, and that delightful “wintry mix” of sleet, freezing rain, snow, and ice that makes the coldest season such an adventure. Just as the locals have to remember how to drive on the white stuff every year, we should also take a few minutes to make sure we’ve stocked up and planned for seasonal emergencies. I’d like to say that it’s never too late for winter preparedness, but that would be untrue. With an increasingly unpredictable and irregular climate, the polar vortex is more likely to slip off-center and visit a region near you, staying far longer than you’d really like. Even a good, old fashioned winter storm can knock out power and surprise people who thought they were ready, and that’s when folks will wish they had prepared beforehand.

The most obvious first step you can take towards winter preparedness involves having the right gear for the weather. Unfortunately, not all cute, trendy winter boots are also up to snuff in terms of doing what they need to do to keep you upright. Independent Canadian researchers recently tested different kinds of winter boots for slip resistance for walking on ice, both on flat surfaces and inclines. Out of the 98 pairs tested, only nine pairs passed a slip test. The best-performing boots consistently featured some kind of rough surface on the bottom of the boot, such as grit embedded in the rubber sole or spiky crampons designed to penetrate and grip the snow or ice underfoot.

Antique Japanese ashiko, a type of cleat used for climbing and walking on ice or snow. Photo by Samuraiantiqueworld, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Antique Japanese ashiko, a type of cleat used for climbing and walking on ice or snow. Photo by Samuraiantiqueworld, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Geoff Fernie, Research Director at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, said during a December interview with the CBC, “When you actually talk to people in the industry, most boots and shoes are designed almost just solely by graphic designers who are trying to make them look sexy, look efficient, with colours and dramatic tread looks and stuff but there’s only recently been some attention to the materials involved.” The results of the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute’s boot research can be found at Rate My Treads.

Warm outerwear doesn’t have to be expensive, but it should be functional. In places where winter doesn’t fool around, truly fashionable clothing choices are all about practicality. Wearing layers is key. The inner layer should be comfortable against the skin and wick moisture, like sweat, away. Old school base layers were made out of cotton or rather loose wool fibers (which are still insulating even when wet), but modern garments use synthetic materials and even silk in a similar way. An insulating middle layer should be fluffy, containing a lot of air pockets to hold body heat. The outer layer need not be insulated if you have a good middle layer, but it should be weather resistant, trapping warm air inside and stopping wind and moisture from the outside, yet breathable. Simply throwing on layer upon layer of street clothes may keep you warm in a pinch, but is likely to be bulky and inconvenient. Strategic clothing choices based upon understanding the purpose behind of each of the layers allows for better optimization of available resources and a more comfortable experience.

And at the risk of sounding like your mom, don’t forget a cap, and wear your mittens! Because they don’t separate the fingers, mittens may well be warmer than gloves. A useful compromise is available in the form of half-fingerless gloves that employ a mitten-like top that folds over to protect the fingers between tasks.

In part 2, we’ll look at winter preparedness for the auto and home.


Slippery boots: Most winter footwear fails test of walking on ice
The Current: December 16, 2016 full episode transcript
A Man’s Guide to Cold Weather Dressing


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