Cold Mom Edition: The Art and Science of Keeping Warm

I’m blogging from Bend, Oregon this morning, where it’s a refreshing 14 degrees outside. We’re here for the USA Climbing Regional Youth Bouldering Competition. My daughter wasn’t 5 minutes into the comp when I realized that while my ensemble was stylish, I was gonna freeze in that drafty rock gym.

Not wearing some approximation of the right thing is a huge pet peeve of mine.

But, this being Bend, home to stylish mountain ladies, I had ample time to admire how these moms keep warm and stylish. And this being a climbing competition that lasts all day, I had more than ample time to contemplate the best ways to keep warm.

What follows are my favorite “Cold Mom” ensembles from the day, and somewhat scientific* tips on keeping warm.

Busy Day Mom

At first glance, this woman had paired an expensive, long black puffer with skinny jeans and quality boots, which is a perfectly functional uniform. What I liked about her style was that the deep red jeans and denim shirt she wore under the coat could take her from the rock gym, out to a nice lunch or baby shower, or whatever else she had on her calendar. The coat looked good, but could easily be discarded as she moved on with her day.

Flexible, practical.

Fun Mom

This cheerful, spring green coat stood out among a sea of black, brown and olive. I loved her bold choice, along with athletic-shoe styling on her boots. Add a favorite t-shirt and a worn in pair of jeans, and she looked completely in her element.

I could just tell we were going to get along.

Minimalist Mom

Simple black puffer, cargo pants and great ankle boots. I know I’ve posted similar outfits before on this blog, but this mom just looked so perfect for the occasion. This ensemble works in a dusty, cold, crowded rock gym, it would also work in a school, in a casual work environment, out for a day of errands, just about anywhere.

I imagine this woman has five changes of clothes, and a fantastically busy life.

Elegant Mom

A masterful combination of wine and cognac, set against a backdrop of black, this woman looked amazing. She also looked as though spent more time on her hair and make up this morning than any reader of this blog is likely to spend all week long.

I could pull this off in the imaginary world where I’m never late and don’t spill coffee on myself.

Hip Grandma

There were A LOT of grandmas at this competition, and all of them looked fantastic. My favorite was an older woman with short silver hair peeking out of a beanie. She wore girlfriend jeans, a cozy sweater and a chic bomber jacket.

I have every intention of rocking a bomber jacket in my late 70s.

So they all looked fantastic, but exactly how is it they were keeping war? Keep reading…

The science of keeping warm

You exist with a heater on at all times, set to 98.6. Your job is to keep that heat in, and keep moisture and wind away from your skin. Here are the keys to doing so:

  1. Wear a wicking layer to pull moisture away: A base layer of silk or wool pulls moisture from the inside of the fabric to the outside of the fabric, and it stays there. You only really need this layer is you are going to be sweating. That said, silk long underwear is really cozy and I wear it even if all I’m going to be doing is lesson planning in front of the fire.
  2. Keep the heat in: Ideally, you want to trap the warmth your body produces and keep it near you. It’s the same concept as insulating your house. You do that with what’s called loft, or air space. Goose down is not warm in and of itself, but the feathers in a down coat create space where warm air can be trapped. The thicker your down coat, the thicker the layer of warm air you’ve trapped around you.
  3. Beware convection and evaporation: You know that awesome feeling of a soft breeze in the middle of a of summer day, evaporating the moisture from your skin and cooling you down? If you want to stay warm, avoid that. Keeping wind at bay with a “shell” or coat is essential, as is wicking all moisture away from your skin, be it sweat, rain or melted snow.

What about layers?

Layers don’t actually keep you warm. They can help trap heat, but piling on one layer after the other doesn’t create warmth. Conceivably, if you are just going to stand around, you could wear a long down jacket and boots with nothing on underneath and be just as warm as a lady with 12 layers on. **

The number of layers you choose to wear has to do with the activities you have planned. Planning on sweating? Wear a wicking layer. Planning on standing still in the cold? Wear a thick insulating layer. Planning on changes in your body temperature due to movement like hiking or snowshoeing? Wear several layers that you can peal off and on as you warm up and cool down.

Margaret was down to her last layers by the final problem.

So to sum up: Keeping warm us about trapping heat, repelling moisture, and stopping the wind from coming into contact with your skin.***

What about my ridiculously cold hands and feet?

When you begin to get cold your body limits blood flow to your extremities (hands and feet) so it can keep that warm blood in your vital organs. The saying “Cold hands warm heart” is quite literally true.

The trick to keeping your hands and feet warm is to start with warm hands and warm feet. Before putting on gloves, warm your hands. You can rub them together, hold them over a heater, whatever. Warming the gloves helps too. Sometimes I place mine on an air vent and let warm air blow into them. Whatever you do, don’t put cold hands into cold gloves. It’s like putting a cold cozy around a cold can of soda.

Mittens keep your fingers together, sharing the warmth.

The same goes for your feet. Start warm, add warm socks and shoes that won’t let any cold in, and you are good to go. Again, your goal is to trap warm air next to your skin.

Should I wear a hat?

Is it true that you lose 50% of your heat through your head? I have no idea. I don’t even know how someone could measure that. You do have a lot of blood flowing up to your brain, and most people don’t store fat along their skulls, so whether it’s 50% or 10 % or whatever, a hat or hood makes sense.

The easiest way to get comfortable pulling on and off a beanie and making sure it looks right is (and I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve done this) practice. Stand in front of a mirror, figure out the best angle for your hat and how your hair should look underneath, then just practice pulling it off, and putting it back on again. It will take 5- 10 minutes, then you will never hesitate to wear a beanie again.

We are living in a great age for cozy hats.

Putting it all together

Like so many lessons I’ve learned in this style blogging adventure, dressing to keep warm takes planning and intelligent investments. I casually threw an outfit that would work at our climbing gym into a bag without really thinking it through, or even checking the weather in Bend. I have a warm coat, good boots and perfectly flexible outfits to wear with them, I just didn’t take the time to plan in advance. Next time, I will remember the chill in my bones, and the inspiration of other women. Rather than being Cold Mom, I can just focus on being Mom, which is an art and science in and of itself.

Do you have a favorite cold-weather ensemble? Share it with us in the comments below!

*As scientific as I’m ever likely to get.

** You could do this, but I would judge you.

***Please memorize this for a pop quiz that will take place sometime in January.