How to dress warmer for winter using what you already have

A group of people walking on a winter hiking trail along Johnson Lake in Banff National Park Canada Photo by Ramon Cliff/Shutterstock

There’s a ton of new technology in winter wear, but don’t empty your closet—a lot of what you own is fine—as long as it’s the right material and you wear it correctly.

Kenora dinner jacket: Not all are created equal, so check what yours is made from. Wool or synthetic— keep it. Cotton—only wear it when you’re missing the cottage.

Grandma’s wool sweater: Great for snuggling, but not ideal as an insulating layer compared to new designs that have softer wools and sleeker cuts. Anything wool helps keep you warm, though.

Cotton: When damp, it sucks the heat from you. Wear wool (non-itchy merino is best) or synthetic as a base when you may break a sweat or get wet.

Jeans: Fine for casual wear, but not for outdoor activewear. Made of dense, heavy cotton weaves, they rob you of heat and feel uncomfortable when wet.

Rubber boots with felt liners: Nothing works better for slush, but try adding a footbed with more insulation, support, and comfort. Wear a lace-up winter boot for active sports or long-distance walks.

Multiple pairs of socks: Three or four pairs means you’ve got the wrong-sized boot or are cutting off circulation to your toes. The warmest combo is a thin wicking sock topped with a thicker one for warmth.

Yoga pants: If made from synthetics, they’re a good base layer. With snow pants or a shell, they’ll keep you warm when you’re playing in the snow.

Decode your tags

Manufacturers love coining high-tech labels for these four essentials:

  • Wicking: Moving moisture vapour and sweat off your skin will keep you warmer. Next to skin, wool (especially non-scratchy merino) and synthetics work equally well. Avoid cotton.
  • Warm: Down, fleece, and synthetic insulation trap heat close to your body. Electric jackets supply heat to keep you warm. All work, but no one choice is perfect. Down is packable, but is expensive and no good if it gets wet. Synthetics, including fleece, stay warm when wet, but can be bulky. And electric is heavy and pricey, and batteries run out.
  • Waterproof and breathable: Fabric that keeps out the wind and the wet while also breathing makes for a warmer, drier you. Wind is easy to block. For waterproofing, look for a “water column” rating of 10,000 mm (the height of a one-inch-wide column of water when the fabric at the base leaked in a test), or more. For staying dry, especially when active, breathability is equally important. How fast water vapour moves from the inside to the outside of a jacket determines how wet you feel. There’s no one rating system for breathability, but here are two tips: the more waterproof, the less breathable; and in waterproof gear, the more breathable, the pricier it is.
  • Fit: For effective layering, clothes should fit like Russian nesting dolls, each layer looser than the last.

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