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Correct clothing as critical as appropriate equipment

February 7, 2012
By JOHANNA BOYLE - Journal Staff Writer ( , Journal Ishpeming Bureau

MARQUETTE - Winter in the Upper Peninsula, with the cold temperatures and snow, might be enough to make people want to hibernate on the couch until spring arrives. But there is no reason to not stay active during the winter months, said Bill Thompson, co-owner of Down Wind Sports.

"If people are comfortable outside, they'll go out more," he said. "There's no such thing as bad weather. There's bad clothing."

The key to being active outdoors in the winter is proper clothing, both on your body and on your extremities, which can keep you warm and dry.

Article Photos

Snowshoe instructor Sue Krakowski leads a group of women along a trail through the woods. Even though the sun is shining while outside in the winter months, it’s important to wear the proper clothing for the weather. (Journal photo)

Getting dressed for winter activity is all about layering, Thompson said, and choosing your clothing according to your activity and the outside temperature.

No matter what your activity, from running to ice fishing, putting on three different layers of clothing will keep you comfortable.

First, put on a base layer, on both your upper and lower body. Made of thin synthetic or wool material, a base layer is worn next to the skin and is used to wick sweat or moisture away from the skin. Staying and feeling dry in cold weather is not only more comfortable, but can also be an important safety concern for those spending an extended amount of time in the outdoors.

Not the typical itchy material you might dread, wool base layers are made of high-quality merino wool, which doesn't irritate the skin, Thompson said.

After the base layer, put on a mid-layer, which is usually thicker than the base layer and serves as an insulator. Again made of synthetic or wool, even down, material, the mid-layer uses its fibers to create dead air space and keep you warm, like putting layers of blankets on your bed.

"What we don't want to see is people throwing on a cotton hoodie," Thompson said.

Finally, those heading outside need to put on an outer layer, which is designed to protect from rain, snow and wind. Outer shells can be made of Goretex, which is both waterproof and windproof, or a range of other materials. Depending on the activity, you may want something that is more or less breathable or wind resistant.

With any of the layers, Thompson said to avoid cotton, which absorbs moisture and makes the body cold, which is dangerous in winter weather.

In addition, you should match the weight of each of your layers with the activity you plan on taking part in. For example, runners should put on lighter weight layers than those who are ice fishing, because they will be expending more energy and might overheat with layers that are too heavy.

You should also know when to remove or add layers as your body warms and cools throughout the course of your activity.

"It's only as good as the person using it," Thompson said of the layering system. "That's just as important as having the correct layers."

Another important aspect of staying comfortable in winter weather is having the right shoes for your activity. Runners and walkers often continue their outdoor exercise during the winter months thanks to shoes that are designed for winter use.

"You want to get something windproof, waterproof, good traction," said John Thomsen, part owner of Johnson's Superior Shoes.

Thomsen said walking- and running-shoe manufacturers often create winter shoes with the same structure as road shoes, so that they feel the same on the foot, but with more extreme soles and water repellant materials, such as Goretex.

For walking around town, Thomsen also suggested trying out a hiking boot, which can provide better traction and support than street shoes, but aren't as heavy as winter boots. Additional equipment such as Yaktrax can help add more traction.

Besides having the correct footwear, Thomsen also advised investing in a good pair of socks. Instead of strapping on one thick pair of socks, he suggested a pair of light merino wool socks.

Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401.



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