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With more ambitious pursuits for outdoor adventure this winter, I have had to pool my winter gear resources in order to enjoy, and literally survive, my time outside.
Hopefully, you’ve been inspired at some point to go outside for a winter walk, follow some strange new footprints, or pickup a hobby like Nordic Skiing.
If you’re like me and that’s the case, you might find that your desires outpace your gear. You would stand outside, but your butt might freeze off. Sure skiing sounds fun, but what do you get?
I couldn’t think of any other friends I had that were driving to the North Shore to photograph the State Parks, in January, camping out of their car. Otherwise I would have simply just asked them what winter gear they were using. Instead I spent hours online researching parkas, gloves, skis…and once I got in a store I largely went a different direction.
To save you sometime and give you some insight on how I go about winter activities, I can be your crazy friend. And you can ask me what I use. What you’ll notice is quite an eclectic collaboration of bits and bots.
My mantra is largely, you get what you pay for. The more I do something, the more I appreciate the quality of a product. Then again, I don’t believe in throwing money at something you might not be in love with. You’ll see both here, and I’ll explain it all below the list. Enjoy!
- Ski Poles – Basic Pole
- Cross Country Skis – Dad’s Ancient Skis…instead try these.
- Ski Bindings – Rottefella Touring NIS
- Ski Boots – Madshus Nordic
- Hiking Boots – Keen Targhee
- Deep Snow Boots – Muckboots
- Socks – Smartwool
- Underwear – Duluth Trading Company or ExOfficio
- Long Underwear – Columbia
- Adventure Pants – FJÄLLRÄVEN Vidda Pro Trousers
- Snowpants – Columbia Omni Heat
- Baselayer T-Shirt – REI Co-Op Merino
- Baselayer Long Sleeve – Columbia Omni Heat w/Zip
- Midlayer – Enlightened Equipment Torrid APEX
- Parka – FJÄLLRÄVEN Yupik
- Gloves – REI Co-Op that no longer exist so try these.
- Hat – Carhart w/Visor
- Sleeping Bag/Quilt – Enlightened Equipment Revelation AND Convert
- Blankets – Faribault Woolen Mill
- Inflatable Sleeping Pad – Therm-a-Rest Prolite Self-Inflating
- Foam Sleeping Pad – Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Foam
How Did I Pick All This?
That is a very good question. I’ll probably get a bit wordy about each of these but bare with me. It’s possible that how I decided on a piece of winter gear may help you decide if it’s for you, or you need something else.
*Note* I am only one man, and as such, if there is a gendered option my opinion skews male though I am assuming female versions should work just as well.
Ski Poles – Basic Pole
Starting off easy. The poles I’m using right now are bamboo legends from the 70’s. If I can use these you can start with anything. Get the cheapest pair possible and figure out what you like later.
Skis – Dad’s Ancient Skis…instead try these.
Here’s what I know. Today’s Nordic Skis (Cross Country Skis) are very cool. Some you wax. Some you iron skin on the bottom. Others have scales that negate the previous two options.
If I were getting a brand new pair of Nordic Skis, I’d get some with scales. It just sounds easy, efficient, and simple. I didn’t go that route, as I opted to revive a 40 year-old pair of nostalgia sticks for snow-gliding. They require wax. Two types. Specific to the particular temperature outside. And the type of snow. I didn’t know until it was too late.
However, I have no personable referral for you since I know so little about skis. Instead, I’ve linked you to the pair I ALMOST bought. I think they are designed more for wooded trekking and definitely not for classic Nordic Skiing. So, look at them. Think about them. And get them so you can tell me how cool they are.
Ski Bindings – Rottefella Touring NIS
So I had those old skis right? Well, the old bindings had to go. There were a few advancements over the last forty years and the Nordic Integrated System (NIS) was one of them. I simply step over the binding, push down on a lever to lock it in (there are a couple different styles) and away I go. I’m a fan, though again, I went with a very basic starter version.
Ski Boots – Madshus Nordic
Learning by doing again. I don’t know if these are the greatest. What I do know about boots, is that if my feet stay warm and dry inside, then I like them. In one of my other stories I wrote how I spent an hour making my own tracks down an un-groomed trail. No snow got inside. My feet stayed dry. They’re comfortable and you can even walk around in them. It will be awhile before I know enough to want to upgrade.
Hiking Boots – Keen Targhee
Straight up, these aren’t really winter gear. They’re more of a summer hiking boot, leather shell, waterproof (if you believe anything is waterproof). I wear them all season however, switching out my sock options depending on the temperature. Also as I’ve never been a fan of tying my shoes all the time, life’s too short to spent it bend over with string in your hands. These I can leave open, step into, and wander around comfortably in. I’ve owned Columbia before, they were decent. I tried Oboz, they didn’t work with my feet. These I like, and I’m on my third pair of the same model. If that says anything.
Deep Snow Boots – Muckboots
I laughed when I thought of these as winter boots. The price was too good to pass up so I got a pair and trusted that the high tops would keep me safe from snow. I normally wear them with the snow pants you’ll see below, but even just in jeans, they’ve worked well. My feet have stayed warm, I’ve trudged through plenty of drifts, and I’ve stayed dry. I do recall getting bitterly, bitterly cold one day…but it was -10 and I was just standing around outside waiting for sunrise. I’m not sure what boot would ace that challenge. Just know you have to unlace pretty low if you’re going to double up on socks.
Socks – Smartwool
Speaking of socks…my favorite winter gear right here. I can’t recall what got me into these, perhaps wishing to my Mom that they be used as my yearly Christmas Socks gift. Let me count quick…no less than 37 total pairs of socks. OF those, I can tell you the five pairs of Smartwool are the only ones that get any use anymore. And I have Stormtroopers, SPAM, and Snowmen on some of the other ones. Seriously though, they’re really comfortable, so far really durable, and when I take my boots off after a twelve hour wedding day…sometimes they don’t stink! This my friends is the Smartwool miracle.
Underwear – Duluth Trading Company or ExOfficio
Well TB! That’s, ‘Too Bad’ if you didn’t know. Some people might have preconceived notions of how long you should keep wearing your underwear so I’ll just go ahead and tell you…at least five years in and finally the ExOfficio’s are losing their strength in the waistband. The Duluth’s are newer, still going strong. Idk what happens in other men’s underwear lives but mine has been a long, slow evolution from the tighty whities of childhood, to the loose boxers of college and finally the whatever-you-call-em wonders of today. Spend the money, get the good ones, don’t worry about them for half a decade. If you’ve found better than I’d be curious to know.
Long Underwear – Columbia
These have essentially been my pajama pants for the last six years. I don’t wear them often, but if I’m camping in my car and the temperature dips to around freezing, then I throw them on. I pair them with my Columbia long sleeve shirt so I match. Actually, I own a pair with the Omni-Heat technology, a bunch of metal spots on the inside that is supposed to reflect your own heat back at you. I can’t swear that they work, as I’ve not done the requisite tests with non-Omni underwear. I don’t really want to risk it though, as I’ve never had any problems with these I don’t want to chance being cold just for the sake of science. I’ve linked to their regular non-metallic style, if it’s not on Amazon maybe they’re not making them as much anymore?
Adventure Pants – FJÄLLRÄVEN Vidda Pro Trousers
I found out about these pants when I met a man who was hitch-hiking from the top of Alaska to the bottom of Chile. These were the single pair of pants he chose. When I got home I immediately bought a pair. After years of patiently waiting, I caught a short sale and got a second pair. The first ones I’ve worn the entire length of the Superior Hiking Trail, they’ve been to Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. I’m having a brain fart but I also think that they have even accompanied me on the San Francisco to Tijuana leg of my coastal bike tour. I have really enjoyed the little things, they’ve always fit my waist perfectly, I really like the pocket layout, they’re light for international travel, and the fabric has been pretty tough. After all that I’ve thinned the first pair out for sure but I doubt many other pants would have made it as far, as comfortably.
Snowpants – Columbia Omni Heat
Purchased the same time as the other Columbia bits. I also bought a snowboarding jacket with the Omni Heat but have only taken it out occasionally, hence the reason it’s not on the list. The pants however, go on anytime I’m going to be standing outside doing cold weather photography. They block the wind, have great pockets, and zips around the knees for when I get warm (new hobby of Nordic Skiing ensures overheating). The tapered bottoms have fit over any boots I’ve ever had, pairing really well with those aforementioned Muck Boots. I did even use them snowboarding a couple of times in Vail, Colorado and Lutsen, Minnesota. For their intended purpose, they also worked quite well.
Baselayer T-Shirt – REI Co-Op Merino
I never thought I’d spend this much on a t-shirt. But when you’re doing a nearly 2,000 mile bike ride and you’re researching how to survive it, the idea of wool clothing pops up everywhere. That’s why I bought mine, and I use it for everything. They seem to work in most environments, on hot summery days and the cold ones as well. The trope of the Minnesotan is we all know how to layer, and whenever we learn that we should be starting with one of these to build upon. Definitely not a necessity as far as gear goes, but it is nice to have.
Baselayer Long Sleeve – Columbia Omni Heat w/Zip
Sometimes I just forget to take this off. There is something nice about long sleeve shirts that have the holes for your thumbs, know what I mean? I might wake up wearing this and say, “Forget it cold!” and keep it on. I’m a bit of a cold baby and waking up in the car when it’s below zero I’ll opt to not expose skin whenever I can. Again, the Omni Heat seems to work, and I just love this piece because of the half zip and those thumbholes. I also think it just looks good, under a flannel or something. So…stylish and useful?
Midlayer – Enlightened Equipment Torrid APEX
Deceivingly warm. I had been all about down winter gear when I first got my hands on some. Then I was presented with this, the lightest, thinnest, simplest jacket I’ve owned. Save for the one that folds in on itself into a ball. It packs down very very tiny. The pockets are comfortable and zip. It has a hood. It’s super super light. The insulation works to keep you warm when you think it might not for its size. I took it to Norway in April/May with only a thin rain jacket to accompany it for water protection. A couple days I was cold, but mostly this just worked. On the last trip up north this was a middle layer under my new parka. Glad to have it to keep the warmth in if I had to open that big guy up to get to the plethora of inside pockets. I got mine in orange and moved my packable down jacket to the downstairs closet. For home use.
Parka – FJÄLLRÄVEN Yupik
I’ve never owned a parka. I was borrowed one in Antarctica, as was everyone else. It was called Big Red and it was huge. This is no Big Red but it is still quite capable winter gear. Choosing a jacket, a coat, a PARKA was no easy feat for me. I spent a lot of time online researching them. I wanted warm, and good looking. At first I bought Askov Finlayson’s new Climate Positive Parka. It looked amazing, and exceeded only by their mission. I decided however after trying it, that it made more sense for someone that say, lives in Minneapolis. Not someone who’s winter car camping. I went to Midwest Mountaineering and tried on everything, finally settling on another Fjallraven piece. Tons of pockets. A bit looser. Fur on the hood, though when I see other’s I feel like mine is kind of small. Overall I really like it and it made a trip to the North Shore bearable. My body was never cold, though I thought I might lose my hands and feet. Also, true reason for needing a parka, the ability to bend over and not get a huge blast of cold up the backside. That is no longer an issue with this parka. Plus it matches my pants.
Gloves – REI Co-Op that no longer exist so try these.
I was on my way to Iceland, and I didn’t have any winter gloves. I walked around REI until I found a pair that felt thick and looked good. Two days in Iceland and I promptly lost them on a trail. I then realized it, found them, and have had them ever since. They have been ok but not what I need for an actual winter morning photography spree. I haven’t found the perfect glove and can’t find these anywhere so I’ve linked a different pair I’d be willing to try. I’m open to suggestions if you’ve found great success with gloves!
Hat – Carhart w/Visor
Now you can’t get one like mine unless you’ve been to Antarctica. So I’ve linked the same product but without the cool embroidered patch that I do. That being said, this winter gear has been my hat since 2010. I’ve lost it multiple times from Minnesota to California but it’s always made it’s way back home. I also really appreciate the little visor, and it bends easily out of the way when I bring a camera up to my face, unlike a baseball cap. I’d call this hat a win and would gladly buy again but hopefully never have to!
Sleeping Bag/Quilt – Enlightened Equipment Revelation AND Convert
I purchased the Revelation after doing research for my 2015 bike tour down the West Coast. As far as reviews went, it sounded like it was the lightest, most well constructed, simplest, and affordable quilt I could get. This was the beginning of my discovery of Minnesota adventure products. Being the most expensive sleeping solution I’d ever gotten, I just had to bite the bullet and pull the trigger. And it was worth every penny. It packs down super tiny, I purchased specialized down washing solution so it has perked back up, and it has kept me warm on the bike tour, car camping, internationally, and even just visiting friends. I was given the Convert as a trade for creating a year’s worth of content. I like them both, both are 20˚ bags, and I sometimes prefer the full zip of the Convert over the Revelation. Both I have appreciated the quilt functionality over a traditional sleeping bag. Another cool feature about Enlightened Equipment, you can customize your gear when you order it. Change out fabric colors and thickness, and the temperature of the bag. That way you can balance what you need, with the cost, and get something that is truly works for you.
Blankets – Faribault Woolen Mill
These started as a Christmas Gift. After receiving one of their smaller throws, I quickly became the hipster that always had a blanket strapped to the back of his backpack. Like handkerchiefs, it’s one of those pieces of gear that is so simple yet utilitarian that there’s no reason not to bring it. I primarily have it with me on travel that does not require me to bear the burden of weight, so car camping, road trips, flying, trains, that sort of thing. This winter they made perfect insulating layers under and above my sleeping quilts, which compress underneath and lose their insulating prowess. If I end up on a friend’s couch, yup, the blanket options are not always the best. When I come home they always look good no matter where you put them. And if you’re struggling for gift ideas, these are perfect because anyone can use one! I could go on and on but I’ll stop there. Faribault’s aren’t the cheapest blankets, but I’m fairly certain these will have long enough lives validate the investment.
Inflatable Sleeping Pad – Therm-a-Rest Prolite Self-Inflating
Just a good multipurpose inflatable sleeping pad. It’s nice that it inflates on its own, you can throw it into the tent and let it have a go. You’ll need to finish it off with a few last blows but it saves you going blue in the face. For winter camping I double it with a foam pad to provide more insulation away from the cold ground. For car camping, I use it in the same way to insulate my feet from the foot area in the passenger seat to keep my feet warmer.
Foam Sleeping Pad – Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Foam
A very basic but great piece of gear to have. I don’t use it a lot, for backpacking I just take the inflatable piece. Though this won’t pop if you put a hole in it so I could see a benefit there. I double down for winter camping and throw this underneath the sleeping pad for better insulation from frozen ground. In a car camping situation, I work it in with a half deflated (for shapeability) Therm-a-Rest to make sure the foot box of my passenger seat sleeping arrangement is off the ground and toasty.
That’s a lot of information and I hope it helps. The cold can be tricky to navigate, and sometimes you just need to know what it takes to be able to get out there and enjoy it. If you have any questions about anything, please leave a comment below or shoot me a message through the contact page. Use the Pinterest images below and share on social media if you think you know anyone that would benefit from this as well. Also…if you have recommendations for winter gear that I should know about, leave that in the comments below as well!