As a Native of Wyoming, I’m used to the cold. Below zero temperatures and multiple feet of snow dumped in one storm, gets pretty tough on winter gear. So I’ve had some trial and error with every kind of cold-weather item of clothing you could imagine. I’d like to share with you my guide to all things warm and wearable so you can stay toasty in the upcoming Boston winter. And with Cyber Monday sales, this will be a helpful guide to navigating winter sales in order to get the most use out of your purchases.
When searching for warm gear, your mind might gravitate towards heavy hitters like Patagonia, Columbia and the North Face. Their reputations aren’t for nothing, as at one point, they were at the top of their game. However in more recent years, they’ve fallen behind on functionality due to their rapidly growing popularity as fashionable (and thus expensive) pieces. While there may be a few quality pieces left, in my opinion, it’s a bit of a hit or miss; however, there are still quality brands out there who supply gear to last for many winters to come.
An overview can include brands like L.L. Bean, Lands End, Eastern Mountain Sports, as well as retailers like Cabela’s, REI, and Sierra Trading Post. As a child, I lived in L.L. Bean. Everything from my winter coat to my school lunchbox was acquired during one sale or another, and I still have some of these items today. L.L. Bean carries reasonably priced high quality products, which is one of the main reasons my family has remained loyal customers. The same can be said for Lands End. Both brands are, in my opinion, the best place to find insulation or middle layers. Flannels, sweaters, parkas are all layers that go underneath larger jackets to keep you warm.
Eastern Mountain Sports is good for all sorts of things, from the base layers to the outer coats, the EMS brand has a variety of affordable options. A similar brand is Duluth Trading Company, which has an excellent variety of affordable and quality winter wear. My favorite parka for the last five years is from Duluth. It’s warm, light, and it has thumb holes, which was honestly the selling point for me, but it has lived up to much more than that.
Smartwool is hands down the BEST brand for socks. There’s nothing like them. They are fairly pricey, but it is most certainly worth it for their unmatched quality. Are they a necessity? No, but if you have the money to spare, they’re more than worth the splurge. Columbia’s wool socks are near the same quality at half the price, but nothing measures up to Smartwool in warmth, comfort, or longevity.
Retailers that carry many of these brands and more are Cabela’s and REI. These are huge sporting goods store that carry hunting, hiking, camping, fishing, cold-weather and survival gear of all brands and varieties. It’s worth noting that the products they manufacture themselves are just as good - if not better - than some of their more expensive name brands. REI’s Co-Op and Cabela’s brand gear are essentially lower priced items at a better value for the quality and resilience they offer against the cold winter weather.
I can’t resist adding in a new favorite of mine here in Boston: Primark. I just recently bought a fluffy winter coat (mostly on impulse) for under $50 and was very pleasantly surprised to discover that it was delightfully warm and wind-resistant. So if you’re in a location with a Primark, or you’re looking to order online, it’s a great place if you’re looking for super cheap, super fast.
Some brands have gained a reputation as the best of the best for their large price tag, but ironically enough, many of the most expensive brands make the gear that wears out the fastest. Sorel boots, Columbia fleeces, and Salomon boots have all disappointed me and members of my family with their rapid deterioration. I wouldn’t recommend these products overall, and would advise against consulting internet hype over good word.
As far as boots go, Bearpaw, though seemingly the poor man’s UGG, is a tried and true favorite of my family, as they are both fairly inexpensive and last a long time. As long as you aren’t hiking through rough terrain all day everyday, which most people wouldn’t be, they’ll last a good while. If you are looking for something that can take a bigger beating, Muck Boots are practically invisible to any kind of weather. They’re heavy, sturdy, and fully encased in rubber, which seals out water and cold.
These are my ‘best of the best’ in terms of winter gear, and coming from a very outdoorsy family, our gear takes quite a beating. Heavy coats and winter boots are a large investment, especially when it comes to something that is used consistently for many years, so choosing the right one is important and, sometimes, a little daunting if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Luckily, my mountainous background and many childhood days spent trekking through feet of snow are here to help. I wish you luck in all of your winter shopping this Cyber Monday as well as all winter long. Stay warm out there!