What's the best outerwear for low aerobic activity in cold weather?
November 22, 2004 6:21 AM   Subscribe

ColdWeatherFilter: What's the best outerwear choice for low aerobic activity in very cold weather? [m.i.]

My wife and I are moving to Ottawa at the end of December, for a year. We’re both from the Pacific Northwest, where the temperature rarely dips below freeing more than three or four days out of the year. Neither of us has ever had to live anywhere like Ottawa, where the temperature seems to average -15 degrees celcius (plus another -20 degrees of windchill!) three months out of the year. What outerwear do we need in order to walk to work, go run errands, etc. in Ottawa? Is down the best choice? Is heavy fleece plus a hardshell viable? (Heavy down jackets will have limited utility back here in Vancouver.) Are there particular brands people recommend? And in terms of footwear, will a light but waterproof hiking boot do, or should we get something heavily insulated?
posted by meeeeeep to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (17 answers total)
It's hard to tell you exactly what to get since it's totally a matter of perspective. (I grew up in the prairies, so -15 sounds really nice to me!) However, your best bet is probably to layer your clothes. Then you can add/take away as necessary. You'll probably find that if you spend a considerable amount of time outside, you'll need less layers as the winter goes on. Also, when you are outside actually moving around (vs. running from the house to the car), the exertion will keep you much warmer and you may start peeling off layers as you walk. (Even where I lived, we would skate outside in t-shirts in January!) Also, by going with layers, you're not going to end up wiht any pieces that would be silly to have once you get back to BC.

As for footwear, it really depends on what kind of socks you plan to wear. If you don't see yourself wearing thick socks all winter, you might want to go ahead and get some warmer boots.
posted by wallaby at 6:51 AM on November 22, 2004

Ottawa's weather is pretty moody -- I'd recommend taking the weather as it comes, and buying your clothes accordingly. Personally, I do fine without heavily insulated boots and jacket, but I know a lot of people who swear by them.

See how well you deal with the weather, and see what it is about the weather that gets to you. It might be the wind, in which case you'll want something different than if it's the wet, or just the temperature.

And welcome to town. :)
posted by Jairus at 7:03 AM on November 22, 2004

the best outerwear choice for low aerobic activity in very cold weather: i swear by this stuff: gore bike wear . not just for cycling, great for layering... and as it happens, developed and tested in my hometown.
posted by RockyChrysler at 7:28 AM on November 22, 2004

REI has a bunch of long/otherwise warm underwear. The silk long underwear got me through last winter with wind chill getting to almost -40 degrees celcius some days. Jeans and sweats are not warm enough for me when the weather gets that cold.

Shhhh, just don't tell your coworkers you are wearing long underwear.
posted by copperbleu at 7:35 AM on November 22, 2004

It can get very cold in Ottawa - and very hot. That was my main complaint about moving here - sometimes it's -40C with the windchill in the winter, and +35-40C with the humidity in the summer. Moody is the right term.

You probably don't need a heavy down jacket unless you'll be outside lots. Layers, a nice wool coat or ski jacket, and you should be good. Make sure you have a good hat and gloves. For your feet, just hiking boots will be very chilly some days, but you could just buy nice thick ski socks (insulated) and that should keep you pretty toasty. Also, there's great public transit here so if it's one of the insanely bitterly cold days, you can always take the bus. There will be days when no clothing will keep you warm enough, it's just the way it is.

And also - welcome to town! I'm going to try to call a cross MeFi/MoFi meetup in January. We can give you some more hints then, if you come along. :)
posted by livii at 7:45 AM on November 22, 2004

How warm your clothes need to be really depends on how long you're going to be outside. It's the wind that stings more than the cold, so covering up exposed skin is more important than insulation. If you're strolling outside for 30 minutes on a -20 day you'll want a down or similar jacket to stay toasty warm but the most important thing for comfort will be a hat (anything that covers your ears will do - people wear all sorts of weird things here) and gloves or mitts for your hands.

I don't wear insulated winter boots unless I'm going out adventuring in deep snow, but some people (especially those standing around waiting for the bus) get cold feet and like them.
posted by cardboard at 7:50 AM on November 22, 2004

Thanks to everyone for the advice, and to the Ottawanians (Ottawonians?) for the kind welcomes.

On another note, is anyone aware of an Ottawa-centric message forum where I might ask some more Ottawa-specific questions that aren't likely to be of much use or interest of the general mefi population? I'd love to be able to ask random questions about, for instance, neighbourhoods, traffic, supermarkets, average heating bills, recreation, etc.
posted by meeeeeep at 8:13 AM on November 22, 2004

I've had great success with Patagonia for winter outerwear. Over the years, I've acquired their Liquid Sky hard shell, R3 fleece jacket (which zips into the Liquid Sky), and this year an R4 wind-blocking fleece jacket. This basically has me covered for most all weather, without using down, and is really flexible.

Their stuff is not cheap, but they have a really generous (essentially lifetime) warranty which I've used in the past: i.e., if your jacket gets a rip in it, you can bring it in and they will repair it for cheap or replace it outright. And the clothes, on the whole, are pretty stylin, not at all like something you'd wear on an expedition to Antarctica. Also, a fair number of their products are made entirely from recycled plastic bottles, which is cool.

To answer your question generally: layering should be fine; buy real hiking boots; buy one of those fur hats with the ears, they're amazing.
posted by josh at 8:32 AM on November 22, 2004

Go to Mountain Equipment Co-Op when you get to Ottawa. They'll set you up with the right stuff. You really won't need anything as heavy as down. Fleece and shell should be fine. It's not that cold in Ottawa (said the Winnipeger). But do get some skates for the canal.
posted by teg at 8:41 AM on November 22, 2004

Yet another Ottawan here. Welcome!

I wear an insulated canvas coat and Dr. Martin boots (with wool socks) in the winter. Wool felt coats are probably the most common winter wear, with down jackets a close second. Many people wear a goretex shell with a couple layers of sweaters (depending on temperature) for outdoor activities like sledding or skating.

Most people wear a knee-high boot to handle ankle-deep snow/slush. You actually shouldn't wear your good hiking boots on the street in winter---Ottawa heavily salts the streets which kills the open-grain leather of most boots in short order. Finished leathers (shiny) work much better than suedes for winter boots. Likewise open-weave nylon boots (like Corduras) are poor choices.

(Also, consider getting your car undercoated or oiled, particularly if its a bit older. Cars don't last anywhere near as long in Ontario as they do in the PNW).

You'll also need gloves, a scarf or muffler and a hat (a touque).

I'd wait until you get here to buy most of this stuff. It will be much less expensive than dragging it across the continent, and you'll have a chance to decide what you need when you get here. If you have a shell coat with room for a sweater or a fleece underneath, a pair of gloves and a hat, you should be fine initially.

Patagonia is great stuff, but rather expensive. You can get it localy at Trailhead and the Expidition Shoppe. Mountain Equipment Coop (MEC) is the Canadaian equivalent to REI in many ways, an outdoor store. Their stuff is a notch in quality down from Patagonia, but is hard to beat for value for money. Bushtukah is another good local winter sport store.

Good places to look for local links to Ottawa resources:
Ottawa Start (merchant listings, guides, etc...)
The local paper: The Ottawa Citizen
The local CBC homepage.
posted by bonehead at 9:09 AM on November 22, 2004

For a few resources, we had a MoFi thread on this recently: small thread on Ottawa.

I don't know any online forums, sorry. But I think it would be fine if you kept asking questions in here until the 30 day archive limit hits - I know I don't mind bookmarking this question and coming back to it.
posted by livii at 10:06 AM on November 22, 2004

Well, there's an Ottawa heirarchy in usenet: the ott.* groups. When I last read ott.general---a few years back now---it was infested with cranks and adds. I wouldn't bother with it.
posted by bonehead at 10:14 AM on November 22, 2004

I have an older version of this. Accept no substitutes!
posted by alex_reno at 11:26 AM on November 22, 2004

Welcome to Ottawa. Wait - I left 3 years ago, but I miss it some days.

anyway, take the advice from those above about layering and wearing lots of socks. I lived there for years and I never found myself buying heavy duty winter boots because I wore layers of socks instead.

The only additional piece of information I can give you is, be careful about those slippery side streets, as they do not get as salted as often as the main roads do. (Bank St., etc.) Buy shoes/boots with good traction as that can save you from falling multiple times when the salters don't make it down your street. If you have issues with balance in the winter as I do, slip on a pair of low-tech everyday ice cleats or crampons that go over your work-shoes.
posted by carabiner at 12:49 PM on November 22, 2004

In Minnesota I see a lot of people wearing Wintergreen anoraks. I have one, too. They cost a fortune but they're very well-made and it's handy to have the fleece layer and the windproof layer come seperately, so you can wear them individually or together according to the weather.
posted by bonheur at 1:52 PM on November 22, 2004

Not an Ottawan, but I grew up in Alaska, which is kind of the same thing. In addition to everything that everyone else said, if you're going to be exerting yourself to the point where you'll be breathing heavily, and if the temperature (not wind chill, just straight temperature) is zero Farenheit or below, you will probably want to breathe through something. A simple scarf wrapped around your nose and mouth will do, although they sell a lot of hats and jackets with face guards built in.

Very cold, very dry air is bad for your lungs and nasal passages. If your face is wrapped in a scarf, it creates a bit of a buffer between the cold dry air outside, and the warm moist air trapped between your face and your scarf. Back in the day, I spent a winter jogging for class credit (fool that I was) during an unusually cold winter with temps around 20 below zero Farenheit. I eventually built up a jogging outfit: hat, scarf, gloves, two layers of thermal underwear, long-sleeved shirt, waterproof pants, windbreaker jacket, and two pairs of socks.

Also, some random cold-weather advice gleaned from hard-won experience: gloves provide more dexterity, but mittens are much warmer. When it's at or below twenty below zero Farenheit, soap bubbles will pop into little frozen shreds when they hit the ground. Don't lick anything metal, even if the cool kids bet you a dollar to do it. In the morning, the cassettes in your car (but does anyone actually listen to cassettes anymore?) will be too cold to play in your tape deck; the best thing to do is stick them in your armpit (inside your coat) for a few minutes until they thaw out. And no matter how goofy they look, remember: given half a chance, a moose will kick your ass without a second thought.

And if you ever feel like starting a heated debate which will never end, ask a group of people which is better: to let your car idle until it's warm, or drive it until it warms up?
posted by mechagrue at 4:12 PM on November 22, 2004

I almost forgot! I live in the Pacific Northwest now, and I have noticed that no one here knows how to wear a scarf properly. The best way is to put it on BEFORE you don your coat. Wrap the scarf around your throat and/or face (you can always tug it up from your throat if you decide you want to cover your face), put the ends down your back or front (depending on your preference), and THEN put on your coat. Toastyville!
posted by mechagrue at 4:18 PM on November 22, 2004

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