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this thought cross my mind early this morning, as i set out on a hike. the thermometer read 29 degrees, and it was windy. typical winter weather in New England, and occasionally where I live in the mid-atlantic. How do you deal with hiking, nordic skiing, snowshoeing, and other high output pursuits? i have tried various approaches and thought it would be in the spirit of the season to share my views and solicit feedback.
1. the wind shell. typically, this means wearing a base layer of some kind, then donning a light wind shell (top and/or bottom). not a waterproof layer, something that does a decent job venting moisture but also deflects the wind. i'm thinking along the lines of patagonia's houdini or any of a long list of substitutes, including track suits intended for runners. to me, this is a pretty nice solution and has the advantage of not costing an arm and a leg. You can got to any decent sporting goods store and get good wind pants and jackets. so long as the baselayer is up to the task, this works in many situations.
2. the soft shell. soft shells have some advantages. they are tightly woven and do a good job deflecting the wind; some are now backed with waterproof/breathable membranes that also have some stretch, which makes them even more wind-resistant. in terms of moving fast, i love the way these fabrics feel and perform; i think they offer better freedom of movement than many wind shells. while soft shells generally have some kind of fuzzy backing that makes them on the warm side, that is a plus in the winter - you can dial down the baselayer with a soft shell. downsides? soft shells are heavier. and if they happen to get really wet, they take a fair bit longer to dry than 'hard shell' wind shells.
3. bomb shelter shells. here, we're talking about waterproof/breathable shells that keep the wind and precipitation out nearly all of the time. think arcteryx alpha SV or any of the various 'alpinist jackets' out there - the gore tex, eVent, and so on. for me, the bomb shelters aren't ideal unless the weather is really awful. i don't think they vent moisture as well as their more 'breathable' cousins, so i tend to feel warmer and more likely to overheat in them. as the mercury lowers into the teens, when the snow or freezing rain start hitting you like bullets, or when the wind really starts to blow (30-40 mph and higher), the bomb shelters start to have some real appeal. for the normal winter days, they feel like overkill to me.
this morning, i skipped the wind shell bottoms, wore a pair of Nike winter tights. on top, wool base layer and a soft shell (though a soft shell with a waterproof/breathable membrane). after the initial shock from leaving the warm house, a nice outing.
thoughts? other ideas?