I live in the Northeast. I specifically live within an hour and a half of Buffalo, NY. If you know anything about Buffalo, it’s probably that it gets a lot of snow. That’s because our location is directly to the east of Lake Erie and that means we get Lake Effect snow. (I’ll be interested to see what effect climate change has on this weather phenomenon). So, that means if I want to go outside in the late fall and winter months, I’ve got to like snow (maybe not like it but at least learn to live with it), and I’ve got to dress for the weather. I know so many people that have said that they have hated the cold until they started dressing for the weather. Their whole enjoyment level went up a lot.
So whether you are snowshoeing, skiing, hiking or building a snowman, I’d love to share some of my tips and the clothing and gear I have used to stay comfortable as a plus /fat person, when it’s in the low digits and I want to get outside.
First of all, I want to say that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get out there. Yes, there is technical clothing made for very cold temps and a lot of it costs big bucks, but if you’re just starting to explore winter outside, you can do so for maybe less than you think. The key things that you want to remember are: always layer and stay away from cotton. So, if you have athletic gear from Wal-mart or something you’ve had for a long time, anything that is wicking should work. You might just want to put on a few layers of those leggings or tops. When I first started getting into snowshoeing, I found some long sleeve wicking tops in the “athletic section” at Wal-Mart for around $10. I bought a few different colors and that’s what I wore as my base and mid layers. These days, another lower price option, that I’m getting a lot of stuff currently, is Old Navy. I have a pair of their fleece lined leggings (linked below) and that is all I wear when the temps are around 20 F. They have recently come out with top and bottom base layers that are a merino wool mix for a really good price ($30 to $40 and watch for sales). Merino wool tends to be the standard for base layers (the layer you wear closest to your skin) as it is naturally wicking and odor blocking. If you are allergic to wool, there are some good synthetic options out there as well. Honestly, you could outfit yourself completely in Old Navy these days. They are putting out some good stuff and their sizing goes up to a 4XL which is around a 26-28. (I’m definitely not sponsored by Old Navy, lol).
So why layer?
The reason it’s better to have lots of light weight or thinner layers instead of a couple of thicker layers is that you have better control of your temperature as you do activities. One caveat: If you are downhill skiing, that is the only activity where wearing thicker and less layers makes sense since you don’t work up too much heat when skiing downhill. There is a lot of wind there and also when you’re on the ski lift up in the air, you can get really cold. Most other winter activities like snowshoeing, cross country skiing and hiking can really work up some heat. Anything where you’re moving and going through the added drag of going through snow can get the blood pumping. When you start getting warm, you want to be able to take off layers. The last thing you want when you’re out in the winter is to start sweating. The reason is if you stop moving for any reason, including for an emergency, you will get colder much faster and stay much colder. When you stop the activity, you can put back on the layers that you took off to try to stay at a comfortable temperature. This is the same reason you want to stay away from cotton. Cotton holds moisture close to the skin and can stay wet if you sweat at all. This will cause you to get cold too. Wearing moisture wicking materials is the best choice for most outdoor activities anytime, but it’s especially important in the winter.
An important note:
Outdoor clothing and gear are very personal choices. There is also a lot of trial and error to find out what works best for you. I’ve changed things over the years as my activities have changed and my body has changed. I’m going to be sharing what my current go tos are for outdoor winter fun as a suggestion of things that might work for you too. Feel free to always reach out. Here is a list of brands that that carry plus size activewear and outdoor clothing and gear. I always add to it when I find new stuff. Please share with me any brands that I don’t have on this list, that you love.
Below is what I would wear to snowshoe, hike or cross country ski for several hours, right now in the winter of 2021-22 in 20-30 degree Fahrenheit (-7 to -1 C) temps. I would add or subtract layers depending on temps and precipitation. Remember, snow will get your stuff wet so if it’s likely to snow when you go out, make sure you have waterproof layers over your warm stuff (especially if it’s down). Also, I am a warm person generally, so if you run cold, you may want to add a layer if you’re following my suggestions. I usually wear a 3XL on top and a 2XL on bottom in “women’s” clothes. I’ll link the actual clothing I have unless it’s no longer made and then I’ll link something similar. I have gathered this stuff over time too so unless you’ve got money to burn, take your time building up.
First, on top:
On the bottom:
Colder weather additions:
Here are a few additional cold weather “tips”.
Bring a thermos of your favorite hot beverage with you to drink. Especially if you find it hard to drink cold liquids in the winter. I usually bring regular water on my hike/snowshoe etc. and leave a thermos of hot tea in my car for the drive home. It is so nice to have that waiting back at my car.
If you’re going out when it’s well below freezing, and you use a water bladder and hose (like a Camelbak), the hose can easily freeze. Sometimes blowing into the tube after you drink can reduce the likelihood of that happening but I choose to use either an insulated bottle or a Nalgene bottle. If you carry the Nalgene upside down, if the water starts to freeze, it will do so from the bottom (now the top) so that the part you drink from freezes last and you can still drink from it.
This is just what I wear and what I do. I’m not coming here as an “expert” but as someone who has done this for many years. There are as many ways to dress as there are people out there so find what works for you. These are just suggestions and a possible place to start if you are wondering “what in the world should I wear to be outside in the winter?”
I hope that this inspires you to get out and enjoy the winter in some way. If you can’t beat it, join it?
*If you don’t already know, I use the word “fat” as a neutral descriptor of my body. You can describe your body however feels best to you.