The Backwoods

Where we teeter between our love of modern convenience and the yearning for something long past; a world where neighbors knew your name and a “Friend Request” was eye contact and a smile.

Wearing For The Weather

Posted · 12 Comments

Destini...'me' in training...

This morning I slipped on my stage four Patagonia long underwear under my Carhart coveralls.  I pulled my Smartwool hat over my head and my Smartwool socks on my toes. I stuck my feet into my Garmont work boots, tugged my Under Armour sweatshirt over my head, shrugged into my Mountain Hardware windbreaker and was out the door.  After yesterday’s 81 mph winds, I wasn’t going to mess around on the scaffolding in any less than the best.  And in these layers, I never get cold.

And before you think I’m being paid to advertise these products, am stinkin’ rich, or am a ‘brand-name-snob’…know that up until two years ago I’d not spent more than twenty-six bucks on any one clothing item in my life.

I was born frugal, live frugally, and will most likely die frugal.  Frugal is just a nice way of saying “cheap” but it sounds more like a conservative life choice than a fault, so I use it.  My father-in-law was cheap. He’d drive six miles out of his way to save 99 cents on a gallon of milk.  I’m not that bad.  But I’m not a spender, either.

Two years ago I tried cross-country-skiing for the bazillionth time.  I’d always wanted to be one of ‘those’ chicks…you know, the ones who exercise for fun and always look adorable doing it.  But since running makes me want to kill or die, I decided skiing was going to be my ‘thing’.   Two skiing sessions into my new ‘thing’, I hated it again.  Great.

But this time, I had a “light bulb moment” as I paused on a backwoods trail near my home to warm my hands in my armpits for the third time.  My new hobby sucked and I’d finally figured out why. I was cold, cranky and miserable.  I looked down at my $9.99 gloves, my bulky snowpants and the thin socks I’d layered twice inside my ski boots and realized I’d cheated myself out of years of good fun and exercise because I was to “cheap” to buy the correct gear.

And so I walked into the local wilderness store and went a little crazy.   Okay, well, a lot.

I was raised in Alaska, born in Oregon and have lived in Arizona, Southern and Northern California, as well as a seven year stint in Oregon rain.  One would think I’d have this ‘dressing for the weather’ thing all figured out.  But alas, I’m just now getting it.

And guess what?  There is a reason those expensive brands are expensive.  They cost more because they are better.  I’ve tried both.  I’ve been miserably cold, and I’ve been warm and cozy.  Warm is better.  Trust me.

I’ve now learned about layering. And not just stacking my old college sweatshirts one on top of the other, but actually knowing which kind of fabric to wear against the skin, versus which to wear outside.  I bought pants, shirts, and jackets and underwear.  I spent seventy dollars on what looked like a pair of thin sweats but turned out to actually be the best thing since sliced bread when it came to comfort and warmth.  Not even hurricane winds are getting through those babies and they are so comfortable, I could sleep in them.  In fact, I do.  Win.

I learned there is a big difference between water-resistant, and water-proof.  And the difference could be that of a good or a bad time…or sometimes, between surviving and dying.  Because if my feet get wet and then I break down in the backcountry on my snowmachine, I’m more likely to die.  Period.  And if my hands are already cold when I do break down, all the worse.

Same goes for wind-resistant versus wind-proof.  Go with the ‘proof’.  Spend the extra fifty bucks. Because I’m telling you, if I slip into a pair of ten dollar sweats topped with cheap snow pants and try to ski a couple of miles, I’ll never go back out there.  I know me.  But If I wear my moisture wicking Mountain Hardware, soft, fuzzy ski sweats which were made for just such an occasion, and my Mountain Hardware gloves that look terribly thin but were made for what I’m doing, I’ll go out here again and again.  Because my hands will not only be warm, but the gloves will suck the moisture away from my skin, keeping me safe and healthy as I ski along those glorious trails.

I no longer buy cheap clothes.  My closet is about a tenth of the size of most woman’s because I rarely have occasion to go beyond my small world where Carhart and Xtra-Tuffs are practically considered formal wear.  But what I have in there is good quality, built to last, and will likely outlive my ability to use it.

After more than twenty years of living in one of the harshest environments on earth, I’ve finally figured out that if you live in the cold, dress for the cold.  If it’s hot, dress for that too.  Because if you don’t, you’ll always be miserable and you’ll never experience the outdoors with the freedom and excitement of a person who is properly protected.

12 Responses to "Wearing For The Weather"
  1. The only way to not go stir crazy is to get outside and yes, you won’t go outside if your cold!   When I moved from the Dakota’s to AK 20 years ago, I had a “good” winter wardrobe.  But I knew I was going to have to kick it up a notch to thrive in -40′.  Made the investment in the good stuff (pre-UA was Silk)  I was wearing my 20yo Patagonia coat today!!  I only lived there a couple of years, but LOVED every minute of it.  Spent weekends on the ski slopes! 

  2. J A Nordberg says:

    Tho you may have a preferred boot to wear, I recommend Steger mukluks.  Keep your feet warm, and you don’t sweat in them.  They are made of moose skin, you buy them, then the inner liner, the insole,  the laces, put them all together and you’ve got a pair of footware that you can wear all winter, indoors and out.
    Plus they look good.  Total was around $275.  Of course that was 5 years ago, still, no harm in that…

  3. Eleni Drinks Tea says:

    “There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.”

  4. Summer Salter says:

    Keri, I love how human you are. You are so relate-able!

  5. Stephanie in AK says:

    Exactly!  There are items I will skimp on- casual tee-shirts, even jeans… but my winter gear, rain gear, hiking gear, camping gear- never.  You definitely get what you pay for on those items… being dry, warm and safe is worth every penny.

  6. Theresa Barcak says:

    As a newcomer (2 weeks) to Alaska, THANK YOU!  Having come from south Texas (where 70 causes one to bring out the winter gear), this post helps enormously.  Now, maybe I can leave the hotel room and go for a walk!

  7. La_Gringa_Loca1 says:

    Thanks for the post.  Until moving to Kodiak I never would have even considered spending $100 for a pair of rain boots….  But my Xtra-Tuffs were worth every penny.  I even buy them for my son , knowing full well he will out grow them with in 2 years.

  8. Kdandcj says:

    Awesome post!  Wish I had the courage to live like you do.  It is amazing!

  9. Hollygallant says:

    I have decided recently that that is the exact reason I hate winter.  I Freeze all the time because I think all I should have to wear is my light weight 10 dollar sweater. I think “Duh”. Buy a coat, some gloves and a scarf goofy!

  10. Rae says:

    So, I’m a warm weather chick who will be in Fairbanks for Thanksgiving.  I’ve been a little worried about what to pack.  Tips?

  11. Maria says:

    Great post, Backwoods Mom! Sound advice for those who may be thinking about ‘cheaping out’ when selecting winter wear.

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