Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What to Wear in the Michigan Winter

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What do retail and reality have in common? Winter it would seem. This winter hundreds of non-native Northerners will be experiencing what may be their first winter ever, and they all want to know, "What do I wear in the winter?"
Ann Arbor Winter - What to Wear

For folks who have lived in the Ann Arbor area their whole lives this will undoubtedly make little sense. It's cold out, put on a jacket. That is perhaps taking for granted what Michiganders have always known, how to stay warm. Imagine though, for a moment, growing up in a warm tropical climate, surrounded by mountains and warm clear seas. The only place anyone here has ever seen snow is at the jagged tops of those mountains, cold, desolate, and dangerous. Less drastically, imagine relocating from Florida, where, yes it can get cold, but rarely snows and never freezes.

To address the issue and answer the question, "what to wear?" Piper Partners and the outdoor experts at Bivouac teamed up to highlight some of the very best in winter protection.

The Michigan Standard

Layer. The last thing expected out of a Michigan winter is temperature change but it happens and often. Step outside, it is ten bellow. Get in the car and maybe it's above freezing, but never warm enough by the time your eight minute commute is over. The office is the worst. It's too warm in the lounge and freezing in the break room. Layer. By wearing warm layers instead of a single jacket or other warm article of clothing, these problems become minor issues to plan around.

Tips for how to layer best:

  • Thermal shirts. These light weight, thin undergarments serve to hold in your body's heat. Look for a number on the packaging (ex. 190), the higher the number the warmer the thermal.
  • Ann Arbor Winter - What to Wear
    Thermal Shirts.
  • Hoodies, Sweaters, and the much loved flannel. Offered in a variety of styles and options for warmth, work or play. These pieces will be a standard in any winter wardrobe. Leave them on or ditch them at the door, they will prevent the need for a big bulky jacket.
  • Boots and Socks. A good pair of boots will help keep the cold and the wet snow off feet. If the commute involves walking or the cold is just too much, choose a pair of thick wool socks. Be on the look out for the actual wool content of the fiber, the higher the percentage the warmer.
  • Ann Arbor Winter - What to Wear
    Wool socks.
  • Thermal pants. Thermal options are available for pants but are much more difficult to manage than thermal shirts. While commuting or walking at a brisk pace, heat may build up that will be uncomfortable in the office. Since a pant change is not likely (a sweater can be hung up but not jeans), it may be best to just tough it up.
  • Ann Arbor Winter - What to Wear
    Mittens, removable gloves.

The Winter Jacket

Whether the best option is layering or not, a warm, reliable winter coat is a must for the Michigan winter. If it's 15 bellow zero or just freezing, sometimes it helps best to just stay warm. What are the option though and how can you get the most for your buck out of these sometimes expensive items?

  • The Big Guy. This is the biggest, the best, the warmest and usually the most expensive. No matter what it'll keep anyone warm on the coldest night, with the hardest wind. These jackets come equipped with the most advanced in jacket technology. (See the winter tech list below to find what matched best).
  • The "Northface". Patagonia, Northface, Arcteryx, are the major brand names Bivouac carries and each produces a variety of winter jackets. With so many options; wool or down, hard shell or soft shell, does it have removable insulation, waterproofing verse breath-ability, the right jacket is sure to be out there.
  • Light Weight/Windbreaker. This wont keep very warm, but for keeping the wind and water off, however it may be layered well with almost anything.

Winter Tech

To help survive winter, or just make it though warmly, a variety of technologies have been developed. Some are old as time and memory while others are the result of the most modern techniques in science. A basic understanding of these things will allow anyone to make a more informed purchase come time for it.

  • Gore-Tex. Patented materials like this will help to keep you warm, dry, and increases the the flow of air to keep you from sweating.
  • Wool and down. Both have their perks and will keep you exceptionally warm. Keep them dry to prevent the material from losing it's properties.
  • Thermal Insulation. A great way to layer and keep heat in. Look for numbers indicating warmth, the higher the warmer. Some brands make versions that will also keep things cool in the summer.
  • Waterproofing. Usually applied to a jacket, most good products will come already waterproofed. Be aware that this does fade off the jacket after a period of time. Be sure to redo this every two to three years.


Bivouac is an outdoor clothing and retail store located on State St. in downtown Ann Arbor, across from the 'diag'.

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