Layers of warmth: how to dress for really cold weather

It happens at least once every winter. The day you check the “feels like” temperature on your smartphone weather app and consider calling off work and crawling into bed with a down comforter, flannel sheets and a space heater. Our roots are in Wisconsin, so we get it. But the dog needs walking no matter how cold it gets. And there’s the office… Thankfully, those harsh winters have also taught us a thing or two about layering for the chilliest of winter days.

In this scenario, the ol’ shirt-sweater-jacket combo just isn’t going to do it. You’re going to have to think about how to winter-proof yourself from head to toe, with as many layers as it takes.

We’ll start at the base. Even if you may have balked at long underwear in the past, you’ll appreciate it when you discover it comes in silk. Yes, real silk long underwear. Even synthetic long underwear is an amazing find. The lighter, flexible fabric provides warmth and wicks away moisture. Actually regulates your temperature better.

Once you’ve slipped into the pants and shirt of a long underwear set, consider pulling on snow pants rather than jeans and chinos. Even if you aren’t planning on wading through a snowdrift or skiing down a black diamond, the insulation provided by a pair of snow pants will do your lower half good.

We can’t forget the feet, of course. Spring for the warmest boot socks you can locate. They don’t need to extend all the way to your knees, but look for a good blend including wool. Then, step into a pair of warm, waterproof boots—the higher, the better. If the terrain is snowy, a good rubber outsole with lots of traction is a must.

Up top, skip the tee with your flannel shirt and go straight for the turtleneck. The extra coverage it provides around the neck will be key to keeping out cool air and locking in warmth. Wearing it above your base layer rather than a conventional shirt also leaves room to skip the flannel and layer on a fleece half zip, which will prove much warmer in the long run.

In case you haven’t been counting, that’s two layers below and three layers above. All that layering will give you some extra flexibility when it comes time to choose the final layer—your jacket. If you’re still a little wary about facing the outside world, pull on your most weather-ready parka. But if you’re getting a little more confident, you now have the flexibility to wear a lighter piece of outerwear such as a down parka or a quilted car coat.

Once you’ve mastered this layering trick, the rest of the winter won’t look so scary.

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