Surviving Wisconsin Winters Part 5: the Magical Warmth of Snowboard Socks

Health

snowboarder and dog

stance-snowboard-socks

I don’t intend this as a review of any specific sock, though I’ve already come to rely on Stance Socks. I only want to highlight a key feature of knee height wool socks.

While it’s only an extra few inches of wool, knee-height adds significant warmth. It’s a magic-bullet layer of insulation that boosts overall warmth, while adding zero bulk to your torso.

Though each sock covers only an additional five inches of skin, it’s special skin. It’s your extremities. So, in covering 20% more of each leg, you’re shutting down 20% of lower-extremity body-heat radiation. Stated in the inverse, you are increasing heat retention. Think of the difference a turtleneck makes. Same difference, even more so.

Really, it’s like adding a Capilene 2 long-sleeved thermal top — but adding neither bulk nor fabric-on-fabric friction to your torso. Magic!

[Animation credit:  Jeremy Thompson; Snowboarder.com]
[Photo credit:  Stance Socks]

Surviving Wisconsin Winters, Part 4: Wool — It Does a Body Good

Health

wool for overcoats

This year I have a new go-to layer for winter cycling:  an old, cashmere polo shirt. The warmth is incredible, but it’s also got the buttoned polo collar and short sleeves, so it vents really well.

In my seventh Wisconsin winter, I’ve become a wool convert. Sadly, over the years I’ve stockpiled a whole closet full of Patagonia Capilene. Don’t get me wrong, Capilene is an excellent product. It breathes exceedingly well, and it offers quality insulation without bulk. But I wish I’d spent half that money on wool, instead. It’s so much warmer than any synthetic of comparable weight. (Wool does have its drawbacks.)

And the real killer app of wool is its antimicrobial properties. Don’t we wear wool sweaters months at a time without them getting stinky? We can because of wool’s microbe-fighting powers. By contrast, we wash synthetic base layers after each wearing. I wear wool much longer. Wool thermal bottoms? I wear them three to four days between washings. Longer, even. So even though I only have a few wool baselayers in my closet, I never run out of clean pieces.

Synthetics get stinky fast. The micro-textures of synthetic fibers create the perfect spawning bed for bacteria. Bacteria causes B.O. Even Patagonia garments treated with antimicrobial chemicals have to be washed after each use. Untreated garments get stinky after a few hours just sitting around the house!

Also new for me this winter:  snowboard socks. Check out my post on wool snowboard socks.

(Image credit:  Fashion Color Textile Factory)

Surviving Wisconsin Winters, Part 3: Windproof Boxer Briefs

Health

frozen crotch

I’ve previously blogged about frozen groin syndrome when winter cycling. In that post I recommended stuffing a pair of glove liners down there to keep frostbite from one’s nether parts. My new solution is infinitely more elegant. Smartwool makes a pair of merino boxer briefs with a well-placed windproof panel. I present to you the Smartwool PhD NTS Wind Boxer Briefs:

boxer briefs windproof Smartwool

I wish I’d had them on when riding home from a Super Bowl party the other night. Temps were in the low single digits. The ride took an hour. I thought I had layered up perfectly. What a joy it was to ride hard and generate lots of heat, my torso warm and my Levi’s 501 Cords venting the perspiration.

I didn’t have an extra pair of glove liners with me, so my groin got cold. Painfully cold. Then, after a half-hour, the area went mercifully numb.

The trouble was getting home and having the blood return to my frozen crotch. If you’ve ever spent a lot of time in serious temps, skiing, ice fishing, hiking, you know all too well what happens when you get home. The blood returning to your numb finger tips and toes means hours of stinging, searing, aching pain.

Yeah. That.

I’ve had these windproof boxer briefs for a month, now. This product absolutely works. I’ve ridden my bike three different days in subzero weather. What a difference. They’re expensive, at $50. But that’s the cost of living the outdoor life in Wisconsin. Either that, or stuffing your drawers.