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How to Stay Warm Outside on the Trails this Winter

By Joe Miller | February 6, 2017 | Explore NC

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More than 145 million adults walk for exercise, according to the Centers for Disease Control, or more than 60 percent of us. You wouldn’t guess that, though, if your observations were made during the winter. With so many of us dependent on walking for our physical and mental health, why is it we curb the practice come winter?

True, it is cold. But it’s not like there’s nothing you can do to ward off a little chill. In fact, we can sum up the solution in one word: Layering.

A quick word about layering and why it’s good. You dress in layers in part to keep warm in the cold, but more importantly to keep from overheating. Build up a sweat on a winter walk, cold air penetrates to your skin, the cold air finds an ally in the sweat and together they can drop your body temperature to dangerous levels. It may not be quite so severe on a walk around the neighborhood, but it will make you uncomfortable and make you think twice about heading out again until, say, spring.

What you need to know about layering (including how much it will cost you, based on a visit to a local big box):


Base layer

This is the most important layer in your scheme, the part that’s closes to your skin. The main thing to know: it should not be cotton. Sweat sticks to cotton, the sweaty cotton sticks to your skin, your body expends lots of energy trying to warm your cold, sweaty skin, you run the risk of hypothermia. Thus, your base layer should be made of a synthetic or high-tech wool that wicks the moisture away from your body. Dry skin equals warm skin. 


Insulating layer

Generally a slightly heavier layer that helps create a pocket of air warmed by your body between it and the base layer. Synthetic is preferable. 


Outer shell

Especially important when the weather gets into the 30s and there’s wind. An outer shell is generally a slick fabric that will shed rain and wind. A good outer shell will also have a vent system to keep condensation from building inside. Zippers in the armpits is one popular option as is mesh under the arms and along the side of the torso. 


Workout pants

Unless you have sweaty thighs and calves, just about any pair of pants that doesn’t inhibit movement will do for an exercise walk. Thus, you probably already have something serviceable in your closest.


Coverings for the extremities

Your head, your hands, your feet — they get cold, you’re done. Fortunately, they’re cheap to cover. Consider getting a tight-knit hat, a sturdy pair of walking socks, and lightweight knit gloves. (If your hands are more susceptible to the cold you may need to opt for something like wind-resistant fleece gloves).


These items will help fend off the cold for a good half-hour powerwalk in mid-30s weather. It’s an ensemble that will serve you well — and keep your walking regimen intact for winter!