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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Gear Pro: How I Stay Warm

These are a few of my favorite things.

by: Kristin Hostetter

Itís 27įF outside right now. Here in my office itís a balmy 46įF. No joke. My office is an unheated, marginally insulated converted sun porch that juts off the second floor of my house, which was built in 1880. With three walls of big windows, itís perfect in spring, summer, and fall, but itís like a freaking meat locker in the winter. Sometimes my fingers get too cold and stiff to type, and I have to take breaks to go warm them up by a heat vent. I often wear a hat, down jacket, and sleeping bag (with my feet sticking out the bottom) to work.

My husband thinks Iím nuts. My mom feels sorry for me. My friends canít figure me out. Whatever. It keeps me perky, thatís for sure. And in a way, it helps keep me in the gear- testing state of mind and hone my strategies for keeping warm when Iím outside on a winter adventure. With that in mind, here are my top stay-warm tips and picks:

1. Wool baselayers are warmer than synthetic ones. Some people start feeling itchy at the mere mention of the word wool, but not me. I start feeling toasty. My favorite next-to-skin layers for deep winter are stretchy and form fitting (but not scuba-suit tight), and made of high quality fine micron wool. Iím loving this hoodie lately.

2. One of my all-time favorite light midlayers is Patagoniaís R1 Pullover, which has a relaxed cut for layering ease and wears like iron. Iíve had a bright purple one for going on six years and it still looks new. The thin fleece has a gridded interior surface, which traps warm air but also breathes well during high exertion. A deep chest zipper combined with a tall collar lets me batten down the hatches or let some air in, depending on what I need.

3. Go with down. In the dead of winter, synthetic fills just donít cut it for me, whether itís my puffy jacket or sleeping bag. Synthetics just donít trap as much warm air as all those tiny feathers, and I find that I get clammier in synthetics as well. Donít be afraid to use multiple layers of down at once when itís really, really cold out. I often wear a light down vest, like the Eddie Bauer First Ascent MicroTherm layered under an overstuffed puffy like Mountain Hardwearís Hooded Phantom Jacket.

4. Insulated pants are one of my favorite winter items. Why donít more people wear them? These pants weigh only 6 ounces and pack down to the size of an apple. Theyíre ideal under shell pants or alone, and I often wear them in my sleeping bag at night (along with a puffy jacket) to add about 15 degrees of warmth if my bag isnít cutting it.

5. My hands are always the first things to go when Iím out in cold weather. My favorite combo: These light and toasty waterproof mittens combined with a pair of $1 knit stretchy gloves (yes, the kind you find at Walgreens). The gloves slide easily inside the mittens to amp up the heat, and when I have to remove the mitts to fiddle with my binding or fish something out of my pocket, my fingers are still protected. You donít need to buy pricy glove liners: These little things work just fine.

6. I donít leave the house in winter without my Merino Wool Buff. It hangs permanently around my neck (every shirt becomes an instant turtleneck), but I also pull it up into face-mask mode, roll it into ear-band mode when Iím skinning, or use it to tie back my ponytail.

7. As for headgear, you donít really need to overthink it. You know what I wear more often than not? My $10 acrylic Boston Red Sox hat, which combined with the hood on my puffy jacket, works just as well as a fancy $50 wool beanie. (Bonus: You can throw it in the washer and dryer over and over without worrying about shrinking.)

If you have any indispensible cold-weather gear, drop me a line and tell me about it at Who knows, my office might hit the 30s by tomorrow! Stay warm out thereÖ


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You haven't considered putting a little space heater in there?? I would.

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Jerry W Doyle
Dec 24, 2013

Excellent article! I have a comment that may or may not be useful to others but has been good advice for me when it comes to layering for very cold weather. I start with a base layer of breathable wool fabric along with a light mid layer that are my chest and waist sizes of 42 large and 32 waist respectively. Then I increase the sizes of the subsequent heavier layers to 44 and 34 respectively to allow extra room (and fit) for the undergarment and base layers. Does anyone else do similarly? If I do not increase the sizes as noted, then I find the outer layers are tight and difficult to put on and take off.


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