Long-Johns just don't cut it.
February 3, 2011 10:38 PM   Subscribe

I bundle up with jackets, sweaters, and scarves during the Winter, but my legs are always cold under my jeans. I've bought two kinds of thermal pants. One doesn't do much, the other makes me colder.

The one that adds a little warmth is the waffled cotton kind. I'm moderately warmer with these on under my jeans. But they weren't warm enough. I was still cold! (I don't get how everyone else is walking around in jeans and is fine...) I thought silk ones might be warmer, but ended up getting a sort of fake-silk type pants. They're microfiber and poyester and skin tight, and they say they wick away moisture, etc... and when I wear it, my legs feel colder than without them! Grr! Brr! What is going on here? My GF suggested I wear them both, but that's getting cumbersome. What do people wear on their legs in places like London and Finland where it's actually cold?
posted by brenton to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (43 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I wear over the knee wool socks under jeans. They are just as warm as long underwear, and they don't bulk up at my waist or make me feel like I'm going to get a yeast infection.
posted by pickypicky at 10:44 PM on February 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Real silk or real wool is what you need. I made it through the 80s with a single raspberry pink pair of silk long underwear and I never needed leg warmers.
posted by maudlin at 10:44 PM on February 3, 2011 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Wool long underwear. Specifically Smartwool.

Smartwool has kept me sane during my first winter in Alaska.
posted by charmcityblues at 10:52 PM on February 3, 2011

This is the men's version of what I'm wearing right now. Expensive but so, so worth it.
posted by charmcityblues at 10:53 PM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yeah, you want wool. Wool is magic. There's the aforementioned Smartwool, or Ibex (spendier, but finer and better quality). There's also Ramblers Way, which is new, and which I haven't tried, but their stuff looks awesome.

REI sometimes has sales. They also have store-brand silk long-johns, which I also have not tried but which I intend to next time they go on sale.

I also wear tall (knee-high or over-the-knee) socks, but I think this works better for women than men -- at the very least, it may be easier to find them for women than for men.
posted by librarina at 11:03 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sometimes you can find a wool silk blend, those things are magic. But I can't recall where I found my old ones and I haven't been able to find a replacement after they ripped tremendously in half through the crotch like I was a cartoon one morning. Either way, 100% wool or silk is going to cost you money, but it's totally worth it.
posted by Mizu at 11:07 PM on February 3, 2011

I wear Terramar Therma TX long underwear (blend of silk and merino wool) when I'm doing outdoor sports (hiking and such) in the winter.

But for just going about town, I do not wear long underwear; instead, I usually wear a long, heavy wool coat. A jacket isn't long enough on cold or windy days.
posted by Orinda at 11:11 PM on February 3, 2011

Snow pants.
posted by leahwrenn at 11:14 PM on February 3, 2011

Flannel pajama pants under loose jeans work for me, although they might be too bulky for you.
posted by ignignokt at 11:18 PM on February 3, 2011

Nthing real silk and wool, or silk-wool blends.
Also jeans are about the worst insulating type of pants/trousers. You could get corduroys or flannel-lined jeans, either would be warmer.

You also want to be sure you are wearing wool socks - Smartwool are a great brand, a bit expensive but great. You can wash them in the washer, but to prolong their lifespan, don't put them in the dryer. Don't wear cotton or synthetic socks - they will make your feet colder.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:19 PM on February 3, 2011

What do people wear on their legs in places like London and Finland where it's actually cold

Honestly, British winters aren't usually thermal-bottoms weather for men -- thank you Gulf Stream. Those who do need them for working outside or really harsh climates wear long johns: the opposite of stylish, but who cares about style?

Wool/silk combos are the best, but if you have a friend in NYC (or Japan), Uniqlo's HeatTech line is surprisingly decent without being too spendy.
posted by holgate at 11:24 PM on February 3, 2011

In addition to the Smartwool long johns mentioned above, I recommend flannel lined pants. I got my first pair from Lands End this winter, and can't believe I've gone this long without them. I don't even bother with the longjohns until it gets below 0 F.
posted by j03 at 11:33 PM on February 3, 2011

Sock Dreams has some good stuff with at least partial wool content, and free shipping in the United States. I've become a huge fan, mostly because a website won't earn me weird WTF looks for buying brightly colored striped socks that go almost up to my ... well, yeah.

I also knit my own socks, so for my winter boots I've been wearing handknit mostly-wool socks underneath the aforementioned striped socks. It does a pretty good job, while not being ridiculously bulky.
posted by Heretical at 11:35 PM on February 3, 2011

Alaskan here. I wear a set of 100% silk mid-weight long underwear that I bought from the Cabela's catalog. This is not thin stuff, totally opaque, thick enough that it really just looks like a regular knit shirt. Everyone here who is advocating real silk and real wool is totally right. Those cotton waffles, the one that had the picture of an ice fisherman on the package? Yeah, they suck. My silkies are non-scratchy and normal looking enough that I can lounge around the house in them and be super warm. They are also not as bulky as the waffles that make me feel like I am wearing a diaper. The silks are rather cheap, too. I machine wash mine and then air dry them and they look great after two years of use.

Here is the page that lists the men's version of what I bought.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:43 PM on February 3, 2011

Also, there are several brands of fleece-lined jeans. I wear Carhartts myself.
posted by KingEdRa at 11:49 PM on February 3, 2011

Best answer: I inherited a set of real silk long underwear. They are incredible. They are also ten years old and look brand new. Totally worth the investment.
posted by annathea at 12:21 AM on February 4, 2011

For what it's worth, I always wear a specific pair of jeans on really cold days. Stiff, tightly-woven denim is always going to be warmer than flexible faded comfortable denim. I have a pair of Levi 511 rigid wash that I can bike in down to 15 degrees or so.

How tight are the jeans you wear? The key, as far as I understand it, is trapping air near your body, then insulating that air from the outside with a shell. Warmth can be increased with insulation or a more impermeable shell. Windproof over-pants do wonders too.
posted by supercres at 12:34 AM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree with everyone on the silk. I have some pants from wintersilks.com, which are not bulky but really warm. Also I like them because they're low waisted, so I can wear them under my jeans. The site also has long underwear shirts with a range of necklines.
posted by pompelmo at 12:40 AM on February 4, 2011

Best answer: Polar explorer here. Wool's good (I helped Sunspel design these http://www.sunspel.com/merino-wool-black-leggings) and if you want to go one notch warmer still, look for Powerstretch tights/pants/longjohns.

Legs are just muscle and bone, and tend to generate a lot of heat once you're moving. If you're genuinely cold, look instead at getting a down/duvet jacket and made sure your hands and feet are warm.
posted by bsaunders at 1:02 AM on February 4, 2011

Mainer here.

Yeah, you want wool. Wool is magic.

This guy absolutely agrees with you. Wool is magic. Silk is also awesome. Up here it's been hovering around 10° F for the past month, so I haven't had much need for long underwear, but if it ever does get cold again I'll probably go with my pair of flannel-lined jeans or the fleece-lined ones if it gets crazy and civilization collapses. The problem with adding another physical layer of clothing, even if it's form-fitting and wicks away moisture and all that jazz, is that it will bunch. It's practically unavoidable. Having that layer sewn into jeans makes things so easy.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:46 AM on February 4, 2011

I'm going to second uniqlo Heattech as an inexpensive alternative. I don't have any experience with wool or silk, but they are definitely warmer than the polyester ones I bought for twice the price. The Heattech jeans also do a very good job of keeping you warm.
posted by cholly at 2:59 AM on February 4, 2011

Silk, a thousand times silk.
posted by xiaolongbao at 3:04 AM on February 4, 2011

Wool thermal underwear + corduroy pants.
posted by iviken at 3:12 AM on February 4, 2011

I'm an Arizona girl who moved to Utah almost ten years ago. Last winter I bought a thick wool calf length coat second hand and it was the first time my butt wasn't cold. Even with long underwear my butt and thighs were freezing with a shorter jacket.

This winter I bought a pair of thick weave, baggier style jeans (I think the style was "boyfriend") and have actually been able to wear my shorter parka again. The thick weave keeps out the wind and I think having some air around my legs keeps them warmer, kind of like what supercres was saying.

To stay really warm my formula is: Tall, calf high boots + long underwear + thick weave, slightly baggy jeans + calf length, seriously warm coat = warm legs and butt.
posted by TooFewShoes at 3:18 AM on February 4, 2011

Uniqlo's HeatTech line is surprisingly decent without being too spendy.

The HeatTech worked till about -3 or -4 Celsius but was insufficient once the temperature started dropping below -10. Wool/silk blends are best but wool/cotton blends are good as well. Frankly, the more expensive the better in this case and worth the investment.
posted by infini at 4:25 AM on February 4, 2011

I've not tried the wool/silk stuff, but I'm awfully happy using winter running tights as long underwear under my jeans. They breathe well, fit snugly and don't result in me being terribly sweaty when I go inside.

My boyfriend sometimes wears his cycling tights for the same reason.

The people noting that tight jeans make you colder are completely right. I miss the era of baggy jeans and how pleasantly warmer it was.
posted by sciencegeek at 4:42 AM on February 4, 2011

This won't help you if you're going for a certain 'look' (like looking normal), but functionally ">these are great.

I commute by cycling year-round in Edmonton and that includes weather that is below -30°C (before wind chill!).

These pants specifically have improved that experience immeasurably.
posted by mazola at 6:33 AM on February 4, 2011

Oops. Ungarbled link.
posted by mazola at 6:34 AM on February 4, 2011

I will agree with those who suggest either wool or a synthetic base layer (polypropylene- so it can be Uniqlo's Heat-Tech, or Patagonia's layering synthetic, or The North Face, etc. all of the outdoor clothing companies make the same thing.)

I will strongly disagree with anyone who suggests cotton next to the skin in winter. Flannel is fine indoors, but outdoors, when you're perspiring, you want the layer next to your skin to either wick the perspiration away (so a synthetic) or keep you warm even if wet (wool.)

I've lived on glaciers for months at a time. This is what works to keep you warm in the cold.
posted by gen at 6:44 AM on February 4, 2011

Remember that the key to warmth is air. If putting on long johns under your jeans results in a sausagey feeling, you can never be warm. ideally you want a loose but fitted undergarment and then loose clothing over the top.
For example, I'm wearing enormous boots because my feet don't like being compressed in any way - these boots are about 2 sizes too big. I wear them with a simple pair of wool socks and my feet are SO WARM because they're swimming around in a nice warm pool of body-heated air.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 7:04 AM on February 4, 2011

Best answer: Remember that the key to warmth is air.

This is really important. I love my synthetic silks, but if I wore them with pants that allowed the wind in to blow away the microclimate next to them, they'd be like I was wearing nothing. You need to pair them with an appropriate outer layer. If I'm inside, sweat pants work great. If I'm out camping in -15, silk + flannel jeans + wind-stopping outer pant is more like it.

They're microfiber and poyester and skin tight, and they say they wick away moisture, etc... and when I wear it, my legs feel colder than without them

I know what you mean here and I think I can explain why it feels like that. When you've got no long underwear at all and you're cold, your outer layer of skin gets colder and you don't radiate your heat out from your leg as quickly. If you touch your leg it feels cold to the touch (unless your hands are really cold too). If you've got the synthetics on and a big gust of wind blows away the warm microclimate between your long johns and your pants, your leg-- which is staying warmer to the touch-- is then radiating out its warmth to bring the air pocket between pant and leg back to equilibrium. This is felt more acutely as "cold". This is why protecting that air pocket from wind and further loss of heat is key to this equation.
posted by norm at 7:24 AM on February 4, 2011

Broadway Joe had an answer to this dilemma, but now we have UnderArmour.
posted by caddis at 7:35 AM on February 4, 2011

This is why protecting that air pocket from wind and further loss of heat is key to this equation.

Small tips that many may already be aware of - put socks on over the leggings and before putting jeans on. At the waist, bring long johns over the undershirt, i.e. tucked in but before the jeans are fully pulled up, tuck in your sweater or shirt layer then pull the jeans over. That is, what you're doing is ensuring that nothing gets pulled out while you walk, sit, twist adn turn thus allowing cold air in to the skin layer.
posted by infini at 7:38 AM on February 4, 2011

Personally, I've tried a dozen different types of thermals but the only ones that have completely transformed my winter warmth were Hot Chillys-- the fleece ones specifically. I also use Smartwool thermals on and off, but there is no comparison in warmth for me. These fleece thermals are thin and form-fitting and just the warmest things I've ever encountered.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 7:50 AM on February 4, 2011

Snow pants, or what I wear if I need to walk any distance in winter (in Winnipeg) is a one-size-larger pair of yoga pants over what I'm wearing. It adds an extra layer of warmth, and it's easy to take off once you're inside so you're not having to wear it all day long. I'd definitely recommend an outer layer over long underwear for that reason alone.
posted by Koko at 8:17 AM on February 4, 2011

Best answer: I think the problem might lie more with the jeans than the long johns. The wind whips right through most types of denim. Look for rigid or tight-woven jeans with a smoother, less matte feel - those will break the wind better. You can also find jeans made of denim coated with resin or treated like oilcloth, which will not only keep you much warmer, but are also pretty water resistant, and great for tromping through snow. Corduroy and jean-cut wool pants would also be significantly warmer. You might even find you can skip the long underwear altogether.
posted by patnasty at 8:52 AM on February 4, 2011

Best answer: So you want to wear jeans and still have warm legs. Easy.

All that is required is to have a wind stopping layer over top an insulating layer. This can be accomplished by wearing a decent pair of flannel/fleece/sweat pants underneath your jeans. It is important that these layers are loose fitting as any decrease in circulation will absolutely make you colder.
posted by axismundi at 8:59 AM on February 4, 2011

I also wear thick wool socks that go over the knee. Combined with a coat that hits at mid-thigh, I stay toasty. Long underwear or layers of pants are probably even warmer, but wearing many layers of pants always makes me feel sausagey.
posted by pemberkins at 9:16 AM on February 4, 2011

Nth-ing flannel-lined jeans. This is what my uncle wears while working on his farm in the winter. He says there is a difference in brands and I think Land's End was what he liked (or possibly L.L. Bean). When it gets really cold he even layers pair of regular jeans on top, but you won't need that in London.
posted by serathen at 9:27 AM on February 4, 2011

(Unless you're talking about London, Ontario), London is not at all cold. Everywhere in England is decidedly balmy all winter.

In Southern Ontario, where it's also not that cold -- not seriously cold in a northern Finland or Edmonton or Ottawa sense, let alone an Alaskan-level cold -- but still colder than anywhere in the British Isles, most people don't wear anything other than moderately thick trousers. However, most people also wear long-ish coats -- at least mid-thigh, it not longer. Many women have calf-length coats. I have been cold when wearing summer-weight trousers, but this is why winter/spring/fall pants are thicker than what I wear in the summer.

But if this is not enough, the main options are cotton long-underwear or silk long-underwear, for the temperate climate zones. As you have noticed, fake silk doesn't work; neither will fake wool. In fact, artificial fabrics of any kind don't seem to deal well with extremes of temperature - I broil in polyester trousers in a Canadian summer, and freeze in the winter. They are great in Britain, where it doesn't get hot or cold.

As noted above, layers should not be tight, but have some air between them. Also, you may want to increase your layers elsewhere, because being cold in the legs may be because your body is concentrating on keeping your torso warm (because that's more important).

And, of course, ALWAYS WEAR A HAT. Hats keep the rest of your body warm, by keeping in the heat from your head. Your head is ideal for keeping your brain cool in hot weather; unfortunately, that means it also keep losing heat really badly in cold weather. At times, I've even felt warmer in cool weather when wearing a t-shirt and a woolly hat than wearing a sweater but no hat.
posted by jb at 9:58 AM on February 4, 2011

I actually wear a pair of leg warmers meant for bicycling. Even without pants at all, they're good down to 20F if you move and I've loitered on street corners at 10F with a pair of pants (cotton slacks) over them. A little chilly but definitely safe.
posted by d. z. wang at 11:12 AM on February 4, 2011

Ice Breaker Merino Wool Baselayers

I got a deal on my longjohns at their store ($65) and while pricey they work and are high quality.
posted by wcfields at 2:52 PM on February 4, 2011

I walk to work in Ottawa every day regardless of weather. I wear Costco's Paradox long underwear. They cost something like $20 and do the job as well as anything else I've ever worn.
posted by fso at 6:35 AM on February 5, 2011

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