If August has its dog days, then winter has its dark ones. And while we may not have to endure another polar vortex this season, that doesn’t mean that winter won’t deliver a few days of crippling cold. This gear will assure that you’ll not just survive, but actually thrive in such an environment.
1. Icebreaker Zone One Sheep Suit, $200; 2. Brunton Heatsync Vital 2.0, $100; 3. Mountain Hardwear Absolute Zero Suit, $1,250; 4. Columbia Heatzone 1000, $450; 5. Bogs Snowpocolypse, $300; 6. Kahtoola Microspikes, $70; 7. Electric Mashman Helmet and Bubble Shield, $150 + $50.
Photo: Tom Gill, CC-BY
Nathan Borchelt is a gear-obsessed travel writer and adventurer whose collection of shoes, backpacks, jackets, bags, and other “essential” detritus has long-outgrown his one-bedroom apartment (and his wife’s patience).
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Think of this as a base layer on steroids. The body-mapped insulation piece adds a few other fabrics—Lycra and nylon—to its 96% merino wool core for added comfort, stretch, and durability, along with mesh panels under the arms and at the knees to aid ventilation. A half-zip makes it easy to wiggle into this one-piece, with thumb loops, a high-fitting collar, and hood to help batten down the hatches.
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Designed to rest directly against your base layer, this heated vest delivers serious warmth through the carbon fiber heating elements that are positioned at the chest and kidneys. Stretch-neoprene construction keeps it comfortable even during high-octane activity, and three distinct settings help dial in the optimal level of heat, all powered via USB from one of their battery packs (sold separately). And you can pair the vest with some of the other Brunton Heatsync items like their new glove liner and hood. They even make heated seat pads.
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This body suit was crafted with input from professional alpinists (read: people who choose to play in polar-vortex conditions—at elevation). It's constructed of waterproof down insulation with welded, watertight baffles, and a six-slider waterproof rear zip for easy on/off. Internal suspenders hold the suit in place, two water bottle pockets on the inside protect you liquids from freezing, and the twin alpine pockets are positioned to accommodate a pack and climbing harness. Oh, and the collar is oxygen mask-compatible.
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For those who find the Absolute Zero Suit overkill (or just too expensive), turn to the award-winning Heatzone 1000 hooded jacket. The 900-fill water-resistant goose down will keep you warm as the mercury dips below zero, and that's not even counting the warmth generated by the thermal reflective lining or a wave baffle construction that removes cold spots.
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More like a concept car than something you'll find on your nearest retail shelf, the Snowpocolypse is the kind of boot gear geeks will covet but hope to never have to wear. Designed to be warm down to -112 degrees, the boot is fully waterproof, with a 10mm Neo-Tech rubber upper, 100g Thinsulate lining, a 10mm wool-blend Ortholite footbed, and internal wick tech to help keep your feet dry when they start to sweat. And it weighs 3.8 pounds…per shoe.
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Until shoemakers figure out how to give you Spiderman-like grip on snow and ice, strap on a pair of Microspikes to get 100% assured traction. The recently revamped design uses a lower-profile elastomer harness that easily slips over the toes and heels of your boots, giving you 12 3/8-inch stainless steel spikes under each foot.
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Add a bit of Evel Knievel retro stylin' to your polar vortex kit with Electric's instant-classic Mashman helmet. The 1960s-inspired aesthetic is bolstered with all kinds of modern snow-helmet tech, including a multi-impact vinyl liner with quilted micro-fiber fleece, perforated leather, CE EN 1077 Snow Certification, venting at the brow and rear, and a glove-friendly chin strap. Then pair the Mashman with the Bubble Shield, a mold-injected polycarbonate face mask that snaps onto the helmet, with UV protection and an anti-fog coating. And when the blizzard clears, you can rotate the shield up and out of the way.