Don’t let the cold stop you: How to get the right gear and get going

Mrs. Frugalwoods
Frugalwoods family on a winter hike

I used to have a serious aversion to going outside in the winter for any extended period of time. I don't like being cold and I didn't see how it could possibly be fun to intentionally subject oneself to sub-zero temperatures. My toes would be frozen, my nose would be frozen … Oh, how little I knew then.

Ultimately, however, my desire for frugality won out. There's no cheaper way to exercise, entertain oneself, and enjoy life than to get outside and revel in whatever weather happens to be happening.

When I first moved to the Northeast ten years ago, I thought I might freeze to death inside my apartment. And look at me now: I chose to move even farther north in order to enjoy an even colder and even longer winter.

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Lo those 10 years ago, as I shivered, Mr. FW sat me down to have "the gear talk." The gear talk is difficult for people like me who previously cared greatly about my appearance at all times, blizzard or no. But my long-suffering, patient husband kindly steered me towards understanding that some things, like fashion, must be sacrificed in order to fully appreciate outdoor winter pursuits. It seemed superficial to me to avoid winter hiking because I didn't want to look unfashionable, so I bucked up and got on board the cold-weather-gear train.

It is decidedly not fun to be cold while pursuing outdoor activities and wearing inappropriate gear will quash your fervor in a hot minute. Here's the stuff I've found indispensable for winter weather pleasure.

Long underwear

Start yourself out right with a non-cotton base layer. This'll insulate you to the core. Any non-cotton (silk, spandex, etc) shirt and pants will do. No need to get fancy.


Wool is best and cotton is your worst enemy. Do not wear cotton socks in the cold. I speak from personal frozen toe experience here.

Frugalwoods family in front of their house


Mr. FW and I both have a windproof hat which works wonders. It comes down low across the forehead and ears and is impervious to even the most frosty of winter gusts. I've worn this on many a mountaintop and always been quite cozy.


The ultimate capitulation to form over function, I ADORE my face-mask. Not an exaggeration. It keeps my nose, cheeks and chin from becoming wind-chapped. Mr. FW calls it my "bank robber chic" look and I'm OK with that. I think I look pretty badass myself.


Down-filled is the way to go. I found my Land's End down-filled coat in a trash pile by the side of the road several years ago. I washed it with down wash to preserve its waterproofed-ness and, three winters later, it's still keeping me roasty toasty. It's a size too big for me, but that turned out to be ideal during my pregnancy last year: It zipped over my pregnant belly and later, over Babywoods in a carrier. I like that this coat comes down to just above my knees: Added warmth, but not so long that it restricts movement.

Floor-length coats are lovely, but impossible to hike in. While wool coats are warm, they're not waterproof and you'll end up a soggy mess. Plus you'll smell like wet sheep. Ask me how I know!

Fun and easy ways to make some extra cash
Fun and easy ways to make some extra cash


Mr. FW has full suspender snow-pants because he's just that cool and I have snow-pants and both work well. Much like the coat, the goal here is waterproofed-ness. With snow-pants on, you won't be distressed by precipitation or the occasional roll in the snow.


Perhaps the holy grail of all winter garb, you MUST have warm, insulated, waterproof boots. We have these and they were worth every penny. Don't try to find snazzy colors or prints on boots; that's a dead giveaway they won't be warm enough. Again, ask me how I know.

Being uncomfortable outdoors is largely a function of being incorrectly dressed.

'Tis true, we bought all of this gear in the past, and received some of it as Christmas gifts years ago from our families, but the key is that we only had to purchase each item once. That's the beauty of well-made, appropriate winter gear: You don't replace it every year or even every ten years. It keeps on trucking. Sure, it'll wear out at some point, but these things are long-lasting.

It's also true that you don't need six different hats, you just need one good hat. Same goes for everything else on the list: One will suffice. For care and maintenance, I wash all of our stuff in the washing machine a few times every season and then hang it to dry.

Plus, not buying gear because you don't want to spend the money and then not enjoying the outdoors because you're too cold is not a wise application of frugality. It's also what I did my first year in the Northeast. I was so resistant to forking over the cash to outfit myself properly that I trudged around in a thin wool coat and plastic rain boots and nearly got frostbite on my left toe. Not one of my smarter money-saving strategies.

Being uncomfortable outdoors is largely a function of being incorrectly dressed.

Luckily for you, most of this gear makes an appearance in thrift stores, on Craigslist, and at garage sales. Mid-winter and early spring are excellent times to find cold weather clothes on clearance.

Here's another frugal tip: Instead of looking for outdoor "sports" clothing, such as ski gear, which is largely about fashion, followed by function, look for gear worn by people who work in the cold, or in refrigerated warehouses. This line of clothing is designed for people who know what works, and who are looking for stuff that's warm, useful, and a good value. It removes fashion from the equation and replaces it with thrift, economy, and function.

Mrs. Frugalwoods (a pseudonym) writes at about her journey as an ex-urban, rookie homesteader finding contentment on 66 acres in Vermont with her husband, daughter, and dog. Joyful, extreme frugality made their dream a reality.

This piece originally appeared on

Do-it-yourself skills to save you hundreds!
Do-it-yourself skills to save you hundreds!