IT WAS a mild-mannered June when Caren and I were talking about visiting our pal in Montreal. February seemed far, far away and so did cold weather. Now as our trip approaches, reality has sunk in. As Caren cheerfully informed me, “It will be in the mid-20s when we’re there. Only frigid at night.”
So, down coat, boots, earmuffs, check. The same for gloves, scarves and warm sweaters. We made no plans for skiing or anything that would make us sweat much, but still a layer of long underwear would be a must for walking around the city. Could we stay warm without bulk, keep the chills at bay but not feel stifling hot indoors? We got objective advice from the pros at REI, as well as real-life recommendations from MyLittleBird readers.
Comfort outdoors begins with the layer next to your skin, according to REI experts. Whether you choose synthetic or natural, fabric is key. Synthetics (polyester, nylon or rayon) keep you dry and some add a finish that inhibits odors but require more frequent washing.
Thanks to its ultra-fine fibers, merino wool has mostly replaced traditional wool. Wool can also be blended with other fabrics, like spandex, for better fit and flexibility. If you sweat, it won’t keep you as dry as a synthetic fabric. On the other hand, it’s highly stink-resistant. Silk feels great and slips easily under other other layers but it’s not odor-resistant.
Then there are weight decisions. Consider both your metabolism and activity level. If you’re always “the cold one” among your friends, then go with a heavier weight. For fit, think comfortably snug.
Here’s the take from readers:
Cindy T. grew up in Buffalo, NY, skiing in blue jeans and soggy down jackets well before polar fleece was even invented. “I loved the new synthetics for a while, but I am coming around to the realization that what was old is new again. Synthetics are often added to wool, and can be superior for super-cold conditions, but merino wool is non-itchy, breathable, so lightweight that it layers well and also dries quickly. What’s more, you can buy merino with ‘stinky-proof’ treatments, making this base layer ideal for wearing more than a day or two in a row.”
Mary F.‘s sly suggestion to us about our trip to Montreal: “Stay underground.” She admits she’s always cold. “I agree that wool keeps you warmer and, of course, I love cashmere. I double it with a long-sleeve jewel neck and a cardigan. Otherwise I stay faithful to wearing Under Armour nylon shirts under a wool sweater.
Nancy G., who is always well-dressed for any occasion: “I have no idea what it’s made of, but believe it or not, Uniqlo’s Heattech line really keeps me warm. Comes in a few weights, different necklines on the tops, and leggings. Real underwear colors or an occasional interesting color. The tops work under sweaters and sweatshirts.”
Interior designer Candace J.: “I have found that silk is the best insulation hands down!!”
Uniqlo’s Heattech line offers three versions—the regular, extra warm and ultra-warm. So you can pick according to your body’s cold level. The Heattech Extra-Warm Scoop Neck T-Shirt ($24.90) with its scoop neckline and three-quarter sleeves stays hidden under an outer layer and the fitted cut won’t add bulk.
Finally, a pair of workout leggings can do the trick for ad-hoc warmth. If you have ever put jeans on over your exercise tights to quickly exit the gym, you know what I mean.