How to Effectively Layer Up and Stay Warm This Winter
You don’t need a big, heavy, puffy coat to stay warm and toasty in cold weather. While that coat is great if you have one, layering thinner articles of clothing can keep you warm, too—and as a bonus, layering gives you more flexibility in situations where the weather may be unpredictable. So here’s how to layer up for comfortable, effective (and stylish) warmth, even if you don’t happen to own arctic-caliber clothing.
Supplement a light jacket with sweaters or a down vest
If you have a light jacket you love, you can keep wearing it through the winter—with a little help. Just layer up with whatever you’ve got. Long sleeve shirts, sweaters, and hoodies can keep the warmth in, and your light jacket becomes a finishing touch.
For effective upper-body layering, order your clothes with the snuggest-fitting shirts closest to your body, and looser-fitting ones on top. Tank tops make great undershirts, and if you have any slim-fitting long sleeved t-shirts, you’ll find them invaluable for layering. On a recent winter walk, for example, I wore a t-shirt, under a turtleneck, under a hoodie, under a lightly lined rain jacket.
For a further upgrade, wear a down vest or a lightweight, packable, insulated jacket underneath your regular jacket. Down vests are often warmer and easier to compress than those with synthetic insulation, so keep that in mind if you’re buying online and can’t feel out the vest in person. You can wear a vest over or under your jacket, but remember that down wilts when it’s damp. Wear the down vest underneath a waterproof layer unless you know that it’s waterproof itself.
Wear runners’ tights or long johns under your pants
While you can keep your torso warm with whatever sweaters you have around, lower-body layers are a bit more specialized.
Your outer layer will likely be one of your ordinary pairs of jeans or pants, so the trick is to find something thin enough to fit underneath. If you have a pair of pants that’s slightly large on you, though, this is its time to shine.
You can buy thermal underwear, of course. The waffle-knit stuff is classic for a reason: it’s beautifully warm while still being thin. But a lesser-known option is to wear a pair of runners’ tights, which tend to be thin and still very warm. You can also wear leggings or ordinary tights. Even the sheerest tights or pantyhose will help, but if you’re going to go out and buy a new pair, treat yourself to the fleece-lined variety.
Keep your hands and feet warm
Our bodies prioritize keeping our organs warm, which means our hands and feet are typically the first to feel the brunt of the cold. Protect these extremities by adding a layer or two. While a single pair of gloves or mittens may suffice in mild temperatures, you’re best off with insulated winter gloves to keep your hands warm if you’re walking in the freezing cold. An in-between option is to layer thin gloves like you would sweaters, or even wear a pair of mittens over a pair of gloves. For particularly cold outings, you can also keep your hands warm with heat warmers.
If you’ll be outdoors a lot in the cold winter, a pair of insulated boots are worth the investment. If not, go for a boot or shoe that is waterproof and that fits a tad loosely, so you have the extra space for a pair or two of thick wool socks.
Cover your face
You can lose heat from any uncovered part of your skin. Even when you’ve covered everything else, leaving your face exposed can make the cold difficult to endure.
Fortunately, we’ve all learned how to cover our faces this year. Instead of choosing the most lightweight and breathable mask from your collection, figure out which of your masks is the warmest and the most comfortable outdoors. This will probably be a thicker cloth one, rather than a disposable mask. You can also layer up here, too, by wearing a buff or scarf over a lightweight face mask.
Protect your ears
While scarves can safely protect your neck, and a mask can happily keep your nose warm, many of us don’t protect our ears properly. If you don’t have a hat that covers your ears, keep them warm with a wrap-around headband or ear wrap. Even a bandana will do in a pinch.
Start off warm
Most of us warm up before our workouts and jogs (or we know we should!). You can apply the same logic to heading out for non-exercise reasons.
As I’ve had to teach my children, you don’t want to go outside, get cold, and then zip up your jacket. Better to start off warm, and allow the clothes to keep your body heat in. If you’re not up for a few push-ups and lunges before you head out, consider wearing your warm clothes while walking around your house for a few minutes, and then head out.
This story was originally published in 2014 and was updated on December 3, 2020 to update photos and meet Lifehacker style guidelines.