Walking in the cold, getting hot, then going to class. Ugh.
September 10, 2008 9:46 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to lose weight by walking, and I need suggestions for clothing to wear during the Chicago winters while walking outside, keeping in mind that I can't shower afterwards....

I need to drop about 60 pounds to get back to around what I was when I was "in shape" (it's not unreasonable - I'm 5'1" and aiming for 130 pounds, well above the 118 I weighed back then). Since I'm so out of shape and heavy, I've started by trying to walk to my university every day. It's about 4.5 miles, and so far I've managed to go from just 1 mile to 2 miles before having to get on a bus. But we're heading into winter in Chicago, and I have never exercised outside in inclement weather.

I need to know what kind of shoes I can buy that will keep my feet warm while letting me walk in comfort, and what kind of clothing to wear so that it keeps me warm, but not horribly sweaty. I can't shower when I get to campus (there are showers in the PE building but it's like standing in a drizzle), and I don't want to offend the students sitting next to me.

Keep in mind I'll be carrying a backpack as well, which invariably makes my back sweaty. Any and all suggestions or further info--including anything else I might carry in my backpack that could come in handy in this endeavor--is most welcome!
posted by tzikeh to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
This thread has a few suggestions about comfortably running in Chicago winters, and a lot of the advice could be easily applied to walking. I'd definitely recommend getting some kind of shoe/shoe accessory with serious traction, because it can be pretty difficult to walk anywhere in February without needing to navigate across a huge patch of ice at some point.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:07 AM on September 10, 2008

Wear as many thin layers as possible so you can peel them off as you start to warm up. On the bottom layer, wear a moisture-wicking shirt so the sweat doesn't hang around on your skin. Take clean shirt to change into when you get to school.
posted by c lion at 10:09 AM on September 10, 2008

I think you shouldn't worry too much about the sweaty thing. I've walked a ton in Chicago winters, and I don't think I've ever sweated enough to require a shower or cause offense.

When going out in a Chicago winter, layers are your friend. In order to keep your feet comfy, you should wear two pairs of socks. I would recommend a thin, wicking sock liner under a thicker warm sock. You want shoes that are big enough to accommodate your thick socks, and you might consider getting something waterproof, like hiking boots. (If so, count on having to wear them around a bit to break them in.) My hands get cold, too, so I do the same layering bit for them: a thin pair of gloves and warm mittens over then gloves. You also need a really warm hat that covers your ears. I find that if I have my hands, feet and head taken care of, I'm generally ok as long as I have a warm coat.

For really cold days, you might want to invest in some long underwear. Once you get to campus, you go to the bathroom, whip it off, and stick it in your backpack.
posted by craichead at 10:09 AM on September 10, 2008

I love Patagonia Capilene layers. Yeah, they're expensive at first, but they last forever (going on 11 years here).
posted by desjardins at 10:19 AM on September 10, 2008

I wouldn't sweat about sweating too much either -- I've walked plenty in Winnipeg winters, and I only start to sweat once I get indoors. Don't put on too many layers, and you won't sweat; the heat will be allowed to dissipate into the cooler outside air, and your body won't need to cool itself by perspiring.

I'd think at most, you'd want to bring a change of undershirt and some deoderant, because once you come inside where it's warm and toasty and you've been walking for an hour, you WILL sweat. But not so much while you're walking.
posted by Koko at 10:35 AM on September 10, 2008

Also, you might consider a messenger-style bag as opposed to a backpack, to keep your back from getting as sweaty. Also also, consider renting a locker to store the crap you really don't need to lug back and forth. Finally, if you start getting too hot, just slow down.
posted by desjardins at 10:35 AM on September 10, 2008

Icebreakers and a coat with a hood. That's what I wear all winter in Chicago and I walk everywhere, even in February. Even if I work up a bit of a sweat outdoors, when I get indoors, I'm not damp or smelly from the sweat and usually don't end up too warm in the over-heated buildings, either. You can usually find icebreakers for cheap at Sierra Trading Post.

You want to make sure your neck and nose are covered to keep warm, but with something easier to remove for ventilation as you warm up. That's why the hood; you're less likely to lose a hood than a hat, taking it off in transit.

You will want waterproof shoes, with a high enough top to keep snow and other wet out.
posted by crush-onastick at 10:40 AM on September 10, 2008

Best answer: I walk a bunch through New England winters and these things worked well for me:
- You can get lightweight waterproof trail shoes or sneakers with good support and wear waterproof socks under them. I don't know if you'd need wool in addition to those. It depends on how hot you get and how cold it is. Keeping your shoes lightweight helps you avoid that slogging feeling when it's cold or snow is deep. I like high boots too, but if every street corner is an obstacle course, that weight can tire you out.
- YakTrax - I spent two winters being skeptical about these things but man, they are effective. Easy to pop off and put in your pack if you don't need them for the return walk home. You don't want to spend a lot of time falling when it gets icy.
- I would also invest in some low- to mid-height gaiters for deep snow. It'll keep your pants from getting wet and clumping with snow.
- One thing that helped me immensely, which I discovered by accident, was wearing orange-tinted sunglasses on overcast or snowing days. It perked up my mood considerably--like, wow!--and helped keep the blowing snow out of my eyes. The Smith Toasters fit a woman's face well, seem indestructible, and come with the orange/yellow anti-fog lenses, too.
- I second a lightweight warmth layer in capilene or smartwool that you can take off when you get to school. Keeping your good shirt in your pack will help keep that fresh. Put a dryer sheet in your pack with it if you're really concerned.
- I'm of two minds on the jacket. On one hand a lightweight waterproof shell that will not impede your movement or weigh you down is great. And you don't need to carry an umbrella if the snow turns to the beloved "icy mix." On the other hand, I have a knee length down coat that has changed my life when it comes to winter. Sometimes just knowing there's no doubt you're going to be toasty is worth its weight in, well, down. These can droop a bit with wetness and if you get sweaty, but I wouldn't trade mine. Again, if you're going to be building up a head of steam, the shell might be fine. Layer wool or synthetics underneath it. One that has pit zips that you can open will help your body breath when you heat up.
- A decent scarf that doesn't absorb water, so you can protect your mouth and nose.
- A power bar of some type is good to have, if only to look forward to at some arbitrary milestone. Do drink some water before you start and when you arrive.
- If you're going to walk every day, consider getting two of whatever clothing will be closest to your body. Washing (even just a rinse in water and hanging to dry overnight) will help stem odor quite a bit.
- Chapstick and a face protector are just nice through the winter if you're outside a lot. Spread it on your wrinkle zones and you can avoid that cracking feeling as you squint through snow flurries. Mustela makes a luscious "hydra stick" for kids that I swiped from my toddler. One small co
- A good mp3 player with some upbeat tunes is a great motivator.
Enjoy your winter walking!
posted by cocoagirl at 10:57 AM on September 10, 2008 [4 favorites]

One small co-
That should be: One small container might do you for the whole winter.
posted by cocoagirl at 11:06 AM on September 10, 2008

Seconding the Smartwool recommendation. I just love their socks.
posted by gudrun at 11:07 AM on September 10, 2008

I would think that good lightweight or midweight hiking boots (with a goretex layer for waterproofness) would help with both traction and warmth on that kind of walk. In the serious cold, "pac"-style boots (the ones with rubber lowers and felt insulation) are really nice. I've not lived in Chicago, but I have lived in similarly cold places, and I find that as long as my feet are dry they are usually warm enough — but if they get wet, that's misery. I like the SmartWool socks a lot; there are probably cheaper alternatives that are about as good.

Long underwear is a love it or hate it thing. It does keep you warm, but I find that then I get too warm when I go indoors. I prefer heavier outer layers that I can then remove when I get to where I'm going. Try both (once winter comes) and see what works for you.

I agree that sweat isn't likely to be your problem in the middle of winter, but some people really do sweat a lot. If you are a sweater, bringing a clean tshirt or undershirt will really help. And the backpack probably won't make your back sweaty in the cold — that's more of a warm-weather, high-exertion problem in my experience. If it's cold out, and you find you are sweating from the walking, all you have to do is unzip your coat, take off your hat, and so on — the cold air will cool you down in no time.

Midwinter, you need to pay a lot of attention to visibility — for drivers, it's really hard to see a person wearing dark clothing trudging along the side of the road early in the morning when their windshield is covered by slush. Bright colors, reflective tape, and even flashing lights are good in those situations.
posted by Forktine at 11:17 AM on September 10, 2008

Layers, like everyone's saying. I've been finding this jacket (Poplin Thermal-Lined Day Jacket, in case the link breaks) brilliant as a cyclist - Irish summer rather than Chicago winter, but that's a 10-15 degree difference and I'm wearing it over a t-shirt, so. It's light and breathable, but also warm, and I can take it off.

If you get waterproofs, for god's sake make sure they're breathable and good, because they're the quickest route to marinating in your own sweat otherwise.
posted by carbide at 11:26 AM on September 10, 2008

Definitely bring dry socks to wear inside. If you have someplace to store things at school, consider getting a spare pair of sneakers to change into for when you get really wet. Walking around all day in wet socks and shoes or walking around inside in super warm socks and shoes can get really uncomfortable.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 12:35 PM on September 10, 2008

Response by poster: Wow - this is a lot of good information. I'm especially fond of the links to specific products.

I should have mentioned that I'm a woman, not a man (though I think 5'1" and 118 lbs might have been a generalized hint), so the male clothing doesn't quite help me.

I understand the concept of layering (kinda simple), but not sure how many layers, what *kind* of layers, etc. I don't wear undershirts at all, and I don't wear t-shirts to class, which is where part of my problem (and the reason for this question) comes in. Should I simply find clothes that don't wrinkle, roll them up in my backpack, and change in a bathroom stall at school every day?
posted by tzikeh at 1:05 PM on September 10, 2008

Visit Landsend for lots of comfy, warm, and layer-able city clothes. They provide really cool insulated parkas (my favorite for a Philly winter is their Stadium Squall Parka. This is excellent for most of the winter, with an office jacket underneath. In -20 degree weather, I supplement it with a Landsend Thermacheck Parka underneath and wear Thermaskin longjohns (which can be taken off when I get to the office). I don't get too hot and sweaty - Landsend are located in Wisconsin, so they know how to design layer-able clothes for cold winters. I also like their Down Commuter Coat - a friend has one and it feels toasty, but possibly too warm for a Philly winter.
As for footwear, I wear high-ish leather trainers with knitted legwarmers (which catch all the water and snow, so they keep your trousers dry as well as keeping your calves warm!). I use a waterproofing spray on the trainers (from a local shoe store) and have trainers with a really deep, springy sole (which keeps me above the sidewalk snow-line). If the snow gets really deep, I have a pair of hiking boots. But I find these heavy and not so comfortable for work use - plus you have to take shoes to change at work. Legwarmers are really easy to knit: they are just a tube of ribbed wool. There are lots of knitting patterns here. It only takes me about 3 hours to knit a pair, so this is a fun project for Fall evenings as they close in ... :-)
posted by Susurration at 1:12 PM on September 10, 2008

PS - if you don't knit, see eBay for a source of knitted legwarmers. I would also recommend browsing Landend generally for their Thermacheck (warm fleece) jackets and their insulated coats -- they have a really brilliant range that will keep you really warm. Just remember that in below-zero temperatures, your legs will get really cold (and frost-bitten). So you need some additional insulation that you can shed when you reach your destination. Also remember that you lose about 20% of your body heat through your head. Get a good-quality fleece hat (see Landsend again!).
posted by Susurration at 1:17 PM on September 10, 2008

Best answer: This is really the only advice you need for walking in the winter in the city:

1) Warm, dry feet and toasty ears will do more than anything else I can think of to make your walk pleasant.
2) Cotton will kill you in the back country, and make you wish you were dead on your walk to school.

Wool or fleece socks, a fleece hat or headband, and you're 70% there.
Avoid anything with cotton in it like the black and deadly plague, and you're 80% there.

But, on to the technical stuff -

OK. In cold weather, you will need a wicking layer, a base layer, an inner layer and finally an outer layer. Chicago, with the wind whipping off the lake, you may need all of it. But maybe not. Everyone is different

Warm tights, skirt or pants, shirt and a warm sweater - on a sunny day, this may well be all you need, and it will be toasty rather than "sweat lodge" once you're indoors. Especially if you're stuck sitting next to the windows.

The wicking layer gets moisture away from your skin right away (as the Inuit say, "You sweat, you die.") The wicking layer and base layer is often combined these days in stuff like the aforementioned "Icebreakers" or something similar... even just a comfy pair of tights might do the trick - just remember, NO COTTON.

Not even in a blend. It will soak up your sweat, and once it gets wet, it stops insulating and starts cooling. You'll freeze. This goes triple for socks! Modern wool blends are so comfortable, you'll start wearing them in the summer, too, and all your friends will think you're weird for going on and on and on about the virtues of a nice pair of wool socks. It's worse than being a newly converted Mac user. By the same token, no undies or bras of cotton. You'll truly regret it.

The inner layer will be stuff like sweaters and fleece pants. You can wear this over the base layer, with something fashionable thrown in between, like a blouse or trousers, or you can discover that it's not really all that warm indoors with it on, especially if you find a combo that keeps you toasty but not roasting at a brisk walk in the cold.

The outer layer is protection from the elements - ear protection is critical! Your ears will feel like they're about to fall off after only a few minutes in even a mild winter wind. Ear muffs, a headband, or a hat with ear flaps, whatever suits - again, no cotton, and check the label to make certain!

A nice parka with a zip-out lining can be both inner and outer layer by zipping on or off the waterproof shell, and while you probably won't need ski-pants, as mentioned above a nice pair of gaiters will keep snow and slush out of your shoes. (To a point - avoid puddles. But if you can't, wool and fleece keep insulating after getting wet. Good socks will save the day... see? Socks matter.)

Some people need hand protection, others are fine with bare hands in their pockets. If you're the sort to get cold hands, remember that mittens are always warmer than gloves. Fleece is warmer than leather if you decide to go with gloves, and you'll have fewer fetishists staring at your hands (this may be a drawback, depending on taste.)

posted by Slap*Happy at 1:59 PM on September 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks you guys - a lot of this is really helpful. It sounds like I'm going to have to empty my checking account at first, but I'm assuming that it'll all be worth it in the long run.

If anyone has specific recommendations for waterproof and cold-proof sneakers or walking boots that will keep my feet warm and dry, but won't be horribly clompy on campus, I'd really love to hear about them.

Has anyone had any experience with those "ear pops" fleece ear coverings? Do they stay on? Do they work? Headbands or hats or earmuffs can sometimes be a problem for me.

Do I remove all the wicking layers when I get to campus, roll them up, put them in my backpack, and put them back on to go home (and then wash them)? I'll probably be wearing jeans almost every day; should I look for long underwear or tights or something else to go under them to keep me warm?
posted by tzikeh at 3:46 PM on September 10, 2008

Response by poster: Oh - and recommendations on any and all clothes you've found work for you (there seems to be a multitude of "wicking" clothing out there, and I have no idea which do the job best) are also appreciated.
posted by tzikeh at 3:48 PM on September 10, 2008

Not trying to discourage you, but does you school have a gym?

A 4.5 mile walk is not only brutal during the winter, it's also time consuming. It's not just the walk, you're going to be spending a lot of extra time layering up and preparing. Plus, there will be days where you absolutely will not be motivated to walk that far due to the weather. Lastly, think about the conditions of the sidewalks during the winter - unless you're extremely lucky, in 4.5 miles you're going to be crossing over some pretty treacherous ice - if you walk several times a week during the winter you're greatly increasing your chances of injury from a fall. And you will fall. It's not a question of if, but of when...

At the gym you can leave a change of clothes and if you get sweaty you can shower. If your school doesn't have a fitness center, then think about membership somewhere - it's not that expensive.

Lastly, have you thought about biking? You won't get much of a workout in 4.5 miles, but it's a good way to keep your joints healthy, tone up, and really cut down on your transit time.
posted by wfrgms at 4:27 PM on September 10, 2008

I have lost around 40 pounds in the last 9 months. The most effective thing for me is eating as if I had developed type II diabetes. I understand the need for exercise too, but from what I have read, it is possible for exercise to be ineffective for weight loss, a person may take up exercise to lose weight, only to become a chubby person who can exercise a while. Food is what has made us fat in the first place, so the solution seems to be in dealing with it more effectively.

The same things that make people fat also seem cause and aggravate type II diabetes. I don't buy into the hype of the Atkins thing, it seems to be over played. I also don't buy the rap about how horrible fats are. I have eaten more fatty foods while losing weight than I ever did while gaining it. I don't avoid carbohydrates in a manner that is unpractical. I just try to eat salad or fruits and vegetables for carbohydrates, some carbohydrates are more or less incidental, for instance a wrap or croûtons. Other carbohydrates are more deliberate and central, like bread and potatoes and sweets, once the precedent of not having them is established, they are easy to avoid. I eat a lot of nuts now, like as if they are an actual staple of my diet. There seem to be a lot of science articles saying how great nuts are. I also like canned fish, especially mackerel, salmon and tuna.

One thing I have noticed about carbohydrates is that they seem to be really cheap as a source of food, and this accounts for their popularity. They make me more hungry, once they wear out as fuel in my body, I have to eat or I feel shaky on unstable. Vegetables, meat, nuts and fruit don't do that to me at all. It doesn't even really feel like dieting, but somehow I manage to lose between a pound and two pounds every week.
posted by Vague_Blur at 4:37 PM on September 10, 2008

If you look at what athletes wear in the cold, it's not as much as you might think. You'll be working up some serious body heat at a brisk pace... you'll probably be too warm if you wear too many layers.

You also don't need to break the bank, check out Campmor to price the Patagonia/Columbia underlayer(base/wicking) stuff for forty bucks a piece, and then go buy the small-brand stuff for ten bucks for the set. Works just as well.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:31 PM on September 10, 2008

Response by poster: Vague_Blur - congratulations on your weight loss! But I know how to eat properly, thanks; I just need to get moving.

wfrgms - I point out in the question that the university gym has crappy showers. So yeah, we have a gym, but no, I can't shower there.

And I don't like walking in a circle; I want to walk to somewhere.
posted by tzikeh at 6:30 PM on September 10, 2008

I live in Toronto and walk an hour a day all year round. I gradually add and then begin to subtract items of clothing during the year.

During the very coldest days, I wear longjohns and t-shirts layered under trackpants, a heavy sweatshirt, a parka, and a wool hat and gloves. On my feet I wear just runners and wool socks, and avoid the slush, which freezes solid during the coldest days anyway. That and the exercise keeps me quite warm, except for my face (if the cold is just too brutal, so much so that it hurts my face, I cut my walk short). But then I'm not one to feel the cold much.
posted by orange swan at 8:12 PM on September 10, 2008

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