Maybe it’s a safety issue (which it can be here in the Midwest) or it’s simply because you’ve never had a coat or gloves that really kept you warm.

Either way, we’ve all had winter coats or gloves that left us shivering in the cold morning mornings. So here’s how you stay warm in the winter:

There’s no substitute for a down jacket. Don’t waste time or money with a ‘down alternative’ or a supposedly more technologically advanced substitute. Down is very light, compressible for easy transportation, and super, super warm. There’s nothing comparable with down’s warmness and lightness for anywhere close to the price.

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Luckily there’s only one number to determine the general insulating quality of a down jacket, and everyone uses the same standard. Look for a jacket with 600-fill down or higher. The higher the fill number, the more insulating it is per pound of material. But at 600-fill, it’s so light it doesn’t need to be any lighter for most of us.


They always have the same type of quilted look, which helps keep the down evenly distributed through the jacket:

Luckily there’s only one number to determine the general insulating quality of a down jacket, and everyone uses the same standard. Look for a jacket with 600-fill down or higher. The higher the fill number, the more insulating it is for each pound of material. But at 600-fill, it’s so light it doesn’t need to be any lighter for most of us.

For ultimate warmth, choose one with a hood. The warmest type of hood is one with a faux-fur ruff around it as a windbreaker, though it’s not a look we can all pull off.

You can always add a hat if you don’t like the way a hood looks, but just for warmth, I’d recommend a hood. The uninterrupted layer of insulation from shoulder to head is a big warmth booster. Plus if you’re extra cold you can wear a hat under the hood, which is not an option if you skip the hooded jackets.


Another very important point is to make sure your down jacket fits! A loose shell is not a big deal, but a loose down jacket will let the heat flow right out through the top and bottom of your jacket. It’s only effective if you severely minimize your loss of heat by convection. Get a coat that fits. If you need a friend to measure you, do so.

If you’re buying a jacket online, try to find measurements in addition to the general “Large-Medium-Small” sizing. That can vary significantly by brand. If measurements aren’t available, see if reviewers have rated the jacket as “fits as expected” or “true to size.”


Like basically all insulators, the weak point of down is that it can get wet and lose its insulation properties. To have the ultimate winter coat involves layers: the inner, insulating down layer, and the outer, waterproof layer. This is called the shell.

There’s no need to fear the icy sleet or freezing rain when you have a good shell, plus you can use a shell by itself as a rain jacket in less cold seasons. Since you want it as shelter against the uglier forms of precipitation, this should definitely have a hood. Unless you enjoy freezing rain running down your neck. Personally, though, I don’t find that too much fun.



Gloves are tricky. Your hands and feet don’t have access to the same blood supply as your head and abdomen, and therefore often get cold even if the rest of you is nice and toasty. This means they need even more insulation than most of you does. And gloves get expensive very quickly. Once again, the solution is layers.

Find a nice warm pair of gloves with a lot of good reviews. Waterproof is a must in my opinion. I can’t stand gloves that get wet and then become completely useless.


Then buy a wool liner to wear under the gloves. Try them out together and see if they’re good enough. If they’re not, a last-ditch method (which is very effective) is to wear latex gloves under your gloves. It’s not breathable, of course, which is why it’s not the best option for everybody, but if your hands have never been warm in the winter, give it a shot. Better to have hands that are a little sweaty than constantly cold, in my opinion.

Also, regardless of what you’re wearing, the best method for keeping your fingers warm is to put your gloves and liners on for at least a few minutes before you venture into the cold. This builds up a little excess heat and buys you some time before you start to feel the cold.


Next, the legs. Pants are well and good, but they don’t make the cut against freezing-cold wind. I never had a pair of pants that wouldn’t be sliced through by icy 20 mph winds. I’ve had the experience of waiting every morning at a bus stop in these types of conditions.

I really didn’t like it.

What I needed was thermals, also called thermal pants, leggings, a base layer, etc. This gives an extra layer under your insufficiently warm pants which locks in the heat close to your skin.

These come in different weights like heavyweight or midweight, so you can pick the warmth level that works for you without overdoing it. These are very effective and completely solve the problem of keeping your legs warm.


Next, we have socks. The good thing about socks is you can easily layer them. If you want a nice pair of extra warm socks, pick something with wool. Then simply layer them together if you’re especially cold-blooded. But your feet staying warm is even more dependent on your boots than on your socks.


Boots are critical. If they aren’t warm enough or let freezing cold water in, you don’t have an option. At that point you just have to get inside, and probably you need to do it sooner rather than later. So it’s hard to do without waterproof boots that keep out water for those who take warmth seriously.



Now if you go outside and still find yourself losing heat too fast, make sure you eliminate any air pockets under your down jacket by wearing more fabric underneath. For example, I often find air rushing out (and then back in, very cold) from the front near my throat.

Wearing a scarf or a neck warmer is excellent for blocking heat loss to the evil winter’s cold. For others, this could mean wearing an extra sweater underneath everything. It’s very dependent on your exact preferences, but eliminate air pockets as much as possible.



To sum it all up

Get the warmest versions of each outerwear item you can find, then make sure you protect that layer with a waterproof layer. And you need to know:

  • your warm down jacket needs a waterproof outer layer
  • thermal underwear is your friend
  • warm socks need waterproof boots
  • and get gloves that are warm and waterproof, with a thin liner underneath.

Following these tips will keep you warm and dry this winter, even when it’s bitterly cold out.

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