At Home With Nature

How I Dress For Cold Weather: An Ode to Wool

Life on the homestead in NE Utah is thrilling in many ways – gorgeous sunsets, seedlings emerging dramatically from the soil in spring, or the surprising call of sandhill cranes flying overhead in summer.

But in other ways it can be a harsh environment, especially in winter when the temperatures plummet to sub-zero levels.

To stay comfortable, I have learned to adapt, particularly in learning the best way to dress for cold weather, which for me is wool, wool, and more wool.

Just South of the Arctic

I wish I had known this twenties years or so ago, when I was studying in Finland for a semester, in a town located just 100 kilometers south of the arctic circle.

At the time, I lived in a student dorm located midway between the university and the downtown area so I spent a lot of time outdoors, walking back and forth through the snow, either to the campus or to town, under a thick blanket of grey sky.

I wore essentially the same thing everyday – a thermal undershirt, thermal long underwear, jeans, a t-shirt, a fleece jacket, and a windbreaker – and all but the jeans were made of synthetic materials.

When I arrived at the university every day, I would be hot from my walk, and would sometimes slip into the bathroom to take off some of my underlayers. Not exactly a convenient way of going about daily life.

When I returned to my native North Carolina after my time in Finland, I thought I would never live anywhere that cold – ever again. It’s quite possible that I even made an oath.

Moving Back to the Cold

But it seems I have given cold climates a second chance.

Years later, I met Chad, a fourth generation Utahn who loves winter. When our cross-country romance brought us to talk about our future, we decided that Utah made more sense – Chad owned a home and small farm, I did not.

In North Carolina I was used to any extremely cold nights being in the 20s. Now I live in a place where the winter high temperatures often only get into the 20’s, and the lows can reach the 30’s, the negative 30’s, that is.

Climate Adaptation

Chad and I live in a drafty old farmhouse, heated by a central propane heater, that makes staying warm inside a challenge, but I have found the right clothes to keep me comfortable.

Since my time in Finland I have developed a strong aversion to synthetic fibers. Sometimes they make me break out, at best, they make me feel very itchy.

Because of this limitation I have discovered that wool is an amazing fiber for winter clothing. Nothing my great grandmothers wouldn’t have known!

Clothing made of pure wool can be soft, comfortable, and come in many different weights. I only wear wool clothing that is 100% wool – no blends – because of the reasons listed above. If you think wool is itchy, you might give pure wool a second chance.

My Cold-Weather Wardrobe

Here are the main staples of my cold weather wardrobe that I wear, as needed, when the weather cools off in autumn, through winter, and into spring:

  • Lightweight long-sleeve tee-shirts made of wool
  • Long sleeve shirts and turtlenecks made of silk
  • Mid-weight wool long-sleeve tee-shirts
  • Wool and silk long johns
  • Insulated, baggy cotton pants
  • Wool sweaters
  • Wool cardigans
  • Down coats
  • Down vests

I layer these and am usually pretty toasty, and of course, layering makes it easy to adjust – something I was missing in my time in Finland.

While cotton is usually a terrible thing to wear during winter (if it gets wet, it stays wet and makes you cold), my baggy cotton pants are warm because the air inside them insulates my legs. On days when I try to wear my normal tight fitting pants, I’m freezing. There’s just no insulation, so I end up changing clothes before the morning is over.

Wool is an amazing insulator however. It holds in your body heat. While synthetics do the same thing, they don’t breathe like wool does. To me, not only does wearing wool feels comfortable – it feels therapeutic.

Staying Warm

Even if you don’t live somewhere with winters as cold as here in NE Utah or over in Finland, you might try dressing in snuggly wool clothing for winter – and then consider dropping your thermostat a bit.

Need some motivation? Almost half of all energy used in homes in the US goes to heating.

Now, if everyone was doing everything they could to lower their heating needs, I wouldn’t make a fuss. But many people in the US don’t adjust their wardrobe for winter at all, instead they depend on the thermostat to stay comfortable.

If that’s not motivation enough for you, your own comfort should be. Weather is becoming more extreme and unpredictable (anyone remember the winter storm that hit Texas in early 2021?). So knowing how to stay warm in more than one way might come in handy. You never know when the power is going to go out for two weeks. (Yes, I’m speaking from experience!)

More Ideas for Adapting to the Seasons

How to Be Less Reliant on Heating and AC

North, South, East, or West: Determine Your Direction at Home

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