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Gear Suggestions for walking outdoors during Polar Vortex

Hello! I hope whomever reads this is healthy and had a great new year!

I live in Chicago and have made a commitment to being active in the winter instead of my usual hibernating. While I will walk indoors on a treadmill if necessary, I would prefer to do something outside, even though temperatures are low. I would like to know what the best winter workout gear would be for temps as cold as 0 degrees. 

I mainly walk about 4-5 miles a day to get at least 10K steps in but sometimes I'll jog/run. I do have some baselayers and then some merino wool quarter zips to layer. Currently, I'm just wearing a winter jacket as the outer layer but I was wondering if there is anything better. I hear great things about the Mizuno Thermo=jacket but that may also be more for people who run instead of walk. 

As far as bottoms go, I usually wear an UnderArmor cold gear legging underneath some sweatpants. Again, if there's anything better I'm all ears. 

I'd also like any accessory suggestions (hats, gloves/mittens, etc.) if possible. 

Thanks for your time!


6 Replies

Hey @jokenjin  - welcome! I know where you're coming from as I live in Naperville.

I do a lot of walking around my neighborhood during the week although, to sounds cooler, I call it "urban hiking" LOL.  For the short (3-4 mile) walks around the neighborhood, I have a pair of base layer running tights and fleece lined trekking pants. Actually, I wear that for longer hikes on the weekends (10-15 miles), too.

I find that as long as my torso, hands, and feet are warm, I am good to go. My typical layering for the upper body is my sun hoodie as a base (I like that the hood can keep wind off the back of my neck while being thin enough to fit under my beanie), maybe an additional performance tee over top of that, my fleece, followed by my puffy. That provides more than enough warmth and, more importantly, wind protection.

I just bought a new pair of REI glove liners to add additional warmth and wicking capability to my winter gloves. Since I use trekking poles 99% of the time on the weekend hikes, I need something to keep the tips of my fingers warm since they're not moving around that much while gripping the pole.

Finally for my feet, I just picked up a pair of insulated Merrel boots and wear them with a pair of sock liners and Merino wool socks. 

That has kept me really comfortable so far this year and we're not likely to see daytime temps in the low teens this year (according to NOAA), so that should be adequate for the whole season.

I think the last piece of important gear is a good daypack. The key to remaining comfortable in our area is being able to layer and, as you get warmer through the day, having a place to store any layers that you shed.

Lots of fun trails in the area - enjoy the winter!

“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.” (John Muir)

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

I should add that I don't really have specific brands I'd recommend over other ones. But I would make sure that your puffy has at least a 650 9If not 800) fill power. FWIW, mine is synthetic insulation which kept the cost of the jacket down in exchange for just a wee bit of added weight

“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.” (John Muir)

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

i would suggest if you want to go for outdoor you have to choose a shoe with best traction and material go with Nike they have new technology

having the best will boost your confidence

Hey @jokenjin,

I live in Colorado and run outside all year long...but I have to say the coldest I've ever been was at Wrigley Field in April--Chicago winters and springs are no joke!

You might find that you'll need slightly different gear depending on the workout. For example, I need pieces that are more insulating if I'm just taking a walk, but I need more wicking gear if I'm running because the sweat I build can make me feel more cold. Wearing a layering system, rather than just one major jacket or insulating piece can help you make those on-the-fly changes if your body temperature or activities change on-the-go. If you like your current gear, stick with it, and then add based on your need. 

For Chicago, I'd say it's most important to have insulating pieces that can also block wind. I use my Patagonia Houdini paired with a Patagonia R1 hoodie on days that are especially windy down to about 20 degrees. Any lower than that, and I might throw on my Arc'Teryx Atom LT on top and slow my pace down so I don't sweat too much. I will also wear my normal running tights down to 20, at which point I'll layer them with my beloved, 16-year-old REI Co-Op Silk Long Underwear Bottoms.

Layers are also important for your head and hands, too! If the cold is brutal, consider pairing a glove and a liner together. For hats, you can choose a balaclava/Buff to pair under a warmer hat. I'm a fan of merino wool for very warm headwear that also helps wick any sweat I'll build. 

I hope this helps you discern if what you have already is right, before choosing new pieces that will help complete your winter running kit. Stay warm!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

I would add vaseline to the gear-options. I run and bike all winter, even when the temperature (or wind-chill) sinks into the negative digits. A dab of vaseline on the exposed skin of my nose and cheeks does well to keep them un-frozen. I've heard that some people put it on their toes too.

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

@TomIrvine just yesterday, we (John, Carter and I) were chatting about this thread and I shared that, after having lived in Chicago for a few years, I would put a layer of Vaseline on my face for winter runs. They were slightly skeptical, so I really appreciate your post as vindication of my tactic!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.