My hands shake as I attempt to unlock my car, an arduous task. The ice over the lock and my trembling body work against me. Suddenly, my worst fear is realized as my car keys fumble through my fingers. Time seems to pass by at a snail’s pace as I watch my bundle of keys glide towards the cold pavement. “Shit.” I draw in a deep breath as I prepare for my greatest battle yet – trying to bend over.
My muscles struggle to fight against my eighteen layers of clothing and wool coat, making what was once a simple task an utter nightmare. The blood retreats from my hands as my many layers work against me, cutting off all of the blood flow to my fingers. The closer I get to my keys, the further my life slips from my body. “This is it,” I begin to think, “I am finally going to die.” I close my eyes and summon what little strength I have left. My heart skips a beat as I feel the keys pressing against my gloves. Success. I stumble as I stand up, disoriented from fighting for my life. I lean against my car, this time clenching my keys with both hands. They would not be falling again.
Like some kind of rabid animal I commence stabbing at my lock, watching with sick glee as the ice leaves my door. My excitement grows as my key finally finds its way into the lock. After a heavy twist I feel the lock pop. I climb into my car turned icebox and shut the door with victorious gusto. I struggle to see through my breath as I look for the ignition. Feeling the key slide into place I turn it. A smile creeps over my face as my car purrs to life. I turn on the defrosters and begin playing the waiting game. Just as I am certain I’m victorious, a sickening feeling comes over my body. I look to my left and see a strange brown fluid dripping down my window. I then remember my thermos full of coffee, sitting on the roof. This isn’t a horror film, this is winter.
When I was a child I thought of the year as having only two seasons: winter, and everything else. I loved winter. The sledding, hot chocolate, Christmas trees, presents, snow, and my birthday all made it a flawless time for me. The only thing that could soil this magical time of year was having a snowless Christmas. There was nothing worse that could happen to child-me. Nothing!
I continued thinking of the winter as a flawless season even into my college years. Even while walking to class I would admire the snow and ice, stopping only to adjust one of my twenty-seven layers. Many students would use the snow as a cop out, staying in their dorms or apartments at the falling of a single snowflake. This guy, on the other hand, loved every second of it. You might be asking yourself then, why am I writing this article at all? Well, something happened – I became an adult.
Now that I have to drag my hopelessly optimistic ass out of bed at 4:30 each morning, I have started seeing the darker side of winter. While winter can still be a beautiful and truly incredible thing, it can also be a fickle, cold-hearted beast. Winter really rears its ugly head when you’re trying to get into your car at 6:00 AM, hence my long-winded introduction. But, there is hope! I present to you, the first of many entries in my Midwest winter survival guide, Man vs. Winter!
Section 1: The Human Snowman
I mentioned that the winter still didn’t bother me when I was in college. This is somewhat of a lie, as it drove me insane at first. Walking to class while the frozen winds of death cut through my jeans and into my flesh was far from desirable. Then, if I was lucky, the wind would only cause a quarter of my face to turn gangrenous on my way to class. This, coupled with having poor footwear and toes that had likely fallen off in said footwear, made for a truly wonderful experience. Finally, having had enough, I decided to take the fight to winter and made my way to the mall.
Buying quality thermal wear and socks changed my life. At first felt I was only $80 poorer, but would soon learn that I was in fact a newborn demigod capable of climbing Mount Everest. All of this was made possible with a few key items.
Socks, socks, socks
My brother often told me of the power hidden within quality wool socks, or woolies, as they call them. I am now a believer as well, and can attest to the warmth only a good pair of woolies can provide. Even with lackluster shoes, a great pair of wool socks will make a world of difference. I opted for some tested for negative 40 degrees. If this sounds like overkill, that’s because it is. It’s also glorious. Don’t skimp and try to save a buck, buy the good stuff. Your feet will thank you later.
With a great pair of socks on my feet, I knew I would need something to protect my legs, as denim simply wasn’t cutting it. I first tried finding a pair of Long John’s, but to no avail. Every store I checked was either out of stock or claimed Long John’s were out of season. It’s worth noting that I undertook this search in December while several inches of snow were on the ground. It sure felt like the right season.
After hours of Long John hunting, I decided my last bastion of hope was Dick’s Sporting Goods. I walked in under the impression that I would be spending an insane amount of money, or simply leave disappointed. Several minutes of searching led me to a pair of snowboarding leggings. “Well shit, if they’re good enough for snowboarders, they’re good enough for this guy,” I thought, as I plucked them from the shelf. They have since saved my life several hundred times.
I would imagine Long John’s would get the job done as well, but these snowboarding leggings are the work of sorcery. They work so well that I often find myself sweating in February. Again, overkill? Sure, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Also, let’s get something straight: I’m talking about real leggings, not the Han Solo legwear seen on campuses across the nation. Don’t expect anything that thin to keep you warm.
Insulated boots are a godsend, plain and simple. I have no tongue-in-cheek story for this, only praise. I can’t even begin to count the number of times my feet were soaking wet from wading through the snow in a pair of lackluster shoes. This all stopped when I started wearing some Timberland boots. Now I can stomp in puddles, kick snow into next week, and drop heavy things on my feet.
A quality pair of boots will take you far in the winter, and beyond. The biggest thing to look for is that they’re waterproof. As I mentioned before, I have a pair of Timberland boots that I am a huge fan of. I’ve also known several people who would vouch for Wolverine boots. If you can’t find either of those, Flo Rida really likes the boots with fur.
Wool Part Deux: The Jacket
I have always been a fan of stylish winter coats, even as a kid. I once had this killer yellow jacket that I always wore sledding. It kept me warm even in the coldest of sledding outings. Oh, man, and it had these gray accents that – I digress.
Finding a great jacket can be straightforward if you know what questions to ask yourself. Will the wind cut right through this? Is it insulated? Is there a hood? Is it easy to wash? Does it have two sleeves? Is it the right size? Does it make you look like a bad ass? These are some of the questions you should be asking yourself when looking at a jacket. I also recommend bringing a sweatshirt or the like with you when looking at a jacket. I have had several jackets that seemed to fit very well, but didn’t play well with any additional winter wear. It’s not always a case of the jacket not wanting to close around your torso, but sometimes a case of, “Hey sweatshirt sleeves, you don’t get to go in the jacket sleeves. You’re a filthy peasant.” There will come a time when you will want to wear additional warm clothing under your jacket, so this step is of utmost importance.
Damn I miss that yellow jacket.
With all of these weapons at your disposal, you are no longer a mere mortal at the mercy of the winter, you are a human snowman. Remember, these suggestions are only based off of my personal experience and your mileage may vary. But when all is said and done, you can’t go wrong with layers. I often find that I’m warm wherever I am, so the layers become an immediate and sweaty issue, but I’m still thankful I have them. My advice is that you find what works for you. Maybe the leggings are overkill and you only need the socks. Maybe the socks are overkill and you only need shoes. Maybe you’re Chuck Norris and you don’t need a damn thing.
I hope this advice was helpful to you in any way. Let me know in the comments below what worked and didn’t work for you. Now go, my human snowmen. Waddle forth with your eighty-seven layers and punch winter in its face.