Studying abroad in Denmark during the winter semester taught me a lot of things, but by far one of the best lessons I quickly learned is that there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing! Having to ride my bike a couple miles to a train and then walk a few miles more through the streets of Copenhagen to my school every day, no matter how cold, dark, snowy, windy or icy it was, forced me to become a master at the art of layering! I quickly learned that while freezing your butt off outdoors is brutal, so is being bundled up and sweating when you get inside!
Winter running in Denmark brought the same challenges. Up until that point in my life I hadn't been that much of an outdoor exerciser in the winter. Sure, I downhill skied with my family, but my mom usually took care of our ski clothing so I never really gave it that much thought. Plus, I don't remember being too warm EVER being a problem! Those FREEZING Denmark morning runs quickly taught me that dressing appropriately for outdoor exercise requires that I always pay attention to the "3 Ws":
Your base layer should be tight fitting and a material that wicks or pulls away the sweat from your skin! Think about what would happen if you went outside in the winter with a wet bathing suit under your clothes. I guarantee you wouldn't last very long and the shivers would set in immediately. Same rules apply for your first layer. The goal is to keep your skin dry so you can stay warm and comfortable. Think Lycra, polyester or wool! NOT cotton since it absorbs moisture and will end up feeling like that wet bathing suit (yuck!).
The next layer should be something that traps the heat. I love fleece for this layer, but it truly depends on how cold it actually is. Pick something that is soft and cozy!
The outer layer should be something that protects you from the elements. If it's raining or snowing, make sure it's water resistant. Once again, pay attention to the temperature. If it's really cold, choose something with some insulation. If it's not that brutal, a simple wind breaker may suffice. If it's on the warmer side, maybe a just a vest will do!
Do NOT forget your head, hands and feet! The quickest way to warm up is to put a hat, gloves or cozy socks on, and the quickest way to cool off is to take them off. Pay special attention to your socks. Bulky socks do NOT necessarily mean they are going to keep you the warmest. Actually, they can end up being too warm and cause major discomfort. Choose socks similar to how you choose your "Wicking" layer. You want material that pulls the sweat away and keeps your feet dry. I really like wool or IsoWool.
I always like to make sure I'm a little cold when I start exercising outdoors. If I'm too comfortable before I start moving, I know I am going to work up a sweat too fast and be over dressed. I also like to make sure I bring some kind of backpack when I am snowshoeing or cross country skiing since I tend to start sweating my face off and peeling off layers soon after I start! It's important to keep the layers you take off handy because when you stop, chances are you're going to need to put them back on again.
I'll close this post by sharing with you my ALL TIME FAVORITE winter weather clothing item: The Down Skirt. The last time I went cross country skiing I saw a girl wearing one and LOVED how it looked. I complimented her on it and she let me know it was something she could absolutely not live without! It's the ideal lower body layer for winter activities because it keeps your butt and thighs toasty warm, while allowing the rest of your legs to breathe. Sure, you could wear a long coat and achieve the same level of warmth BUT considering the upper body gets heated faster than the lower body, I like being able to take off the layers on my upper body without sacrificing the warmth of my lower body. It's great for winter walks too! I highly recommend it. I have one listed in my Amazon Storefront! It's not the one I have (I got it as a gift), but it's the one the girl was wearing when I became obsessed with it. It's worth every penny!