Dressing like an onion: winter apparel for a Hawaiian

5 01 2010

If you’re warm-blooded and live in Hawaii or another subtropical-to-tropical climate, and you’re headed to where it’s cold and snowing in winter, here are some tips on the art and science of staying warm. If you’re not warm, you’ll be miserable, and that’s no fun!

Winter sports enthusiasts know this, and every first-year college student from Hawaii to North America masters this by year two, but if you’re my age or haven’t been away from the Islands for a few years, perhaps a refresher will help.

I was quite comfortable last month in Austria on a riverboat and on land of the ports of call (see my December 2009 blog posts). It snowed every day. My friends Kaylene and Rosemary asked what I wore and how I kept warm, so here goes.

I learned that:

• Winter apparel is not the same as fall-spring apparel. Leave the fall clothes behind; they are too hot for inside and not warm enough for outside. They just take up space in your suitcase.

• Dressing like an onion works. The layers trap insulating pockets of air to keep you warm. Invest in thin apparel made of new high-tech fabrics. It’s worth it, and you’ll be all set for the next time. Stay away from cotton because it doesn’t wick moisture, like perspiration, as well.

See my layering details below. Five or six layers, count ’em! There are variations, but this is what worked for me. You want thin clothes so you can still move, button your pants around the waist, and have your footwear fit with all the layers on. If it warms up for you, you can shed a layer. Better to have too many than too few.

• You can always go back indoors. Each time you do, be sure to peel off the outer layers of your clothes, if only for a short while. It’s a humbug, particularly when you go to the bathroom, but you’ll get used to it. Then layer back on when you go outside again. If you don’t do this, you’re liable to get sick.

My friend Dave noticed I had to think about it, that is, what layer goes on next?—well, yeah!—versus people from cold climates for whom it’s automatic. You’ll need a few more minutes to get dressed too.

• Lathering your body with lotion after a warm bath or hot shower will keep your skin from drying out and getting itchy. My pharmacist recommended Vaseline total moisture conditioning body lotion. The lotion is for your whole body, not just your face. My momma who went to school in Chicago and Shanghai taught me this years ago.

• You can use a nasal spray or neti pot to keep your nose from drying out and bleeding. Consult the pharmacist.

• Hand warmers, those magical packets of warmth that activate when exposed to air, in your gloves are “life savers.” Mine came from Dick’s Sporting Goods store in Pennsylvania, but you can get them online at http://warmers.com.

• It’s best to eat just before you go outdoors. Digestion generates heat.

And if, say next winter, you visit the outdoor Christmas markets in Central Europe, head for the glühwein hütte for a mug of hot mulled wine or cider!


Layer 1 (innermost)—Your regular underwear. For women, this includes pantyhose or tights. Apply lotion first.

Layer 2—Long underwear a.k.a. long johns. I brought two sets:  one silk set from REI with long leggings, sleeveless top and long-sleeve top; and one set of capilene from Patagonia. This is your “baselayer.” If it is colder than cold, you can double up on this layer.

Layer 3 — Pullover top (e.g., silk, nylon, polyester), blouse or shirt with long sleeves. Wool trousers with lining. My DH got away with heavyweight jeans, but only with long underwear underneath. Plus a pair of thin warm socks.

Layer 4 — Wool sweater; I wore a long-sleeved V-neck cashmere.  I alternated that with a long colorful Coogi wool sweater vest from Australia (a gift) that covered all the way down over my hips. Smartwool brand knee socks of merino wool; the brand matters. Visit smartwool.com.

Layer 5 — Fleece vest with pockets and a little longer in the back below the waist where there is no body fat (on me, anyway). Scarf—mine was pashmina from China—or neck warmer (a tube that looks like the neck only of a turtle neck; I found this easier to wear than a scarf, and you can pull it up to cover your nose). It’s very important to keep your neck comfortably warm, or risk a sore throat. When not wearing the neck gear, you can stow it in the vest pocket. When indoors, my closed-toe slip-on Birkenstocks (I’m unable to wear flats or heels comfortably). DH wore Crocs on the ship.

Layer 6 — Knee length heavy wool overcoat with pockets, or other outerwear jacket, like a ski jacket. Hat. Gloves. Snow boots or waterproof shoes with thick soles.

I inherited the wool coat from my cousin Dee who was a frequent traveler. I preferred this to a fleece-lined, hooded Gortex jacket. I found my Dale of Norway hat at the Salt Lake City airport when I passed through in 2002, a winter Olympics year. The program directors of the ship wore knitted hats with extensions that covered their ears and cheeks and ended up in yarn braids; really cute. My fall gloves were not warm enough, even with liners. Mittens are warmer. At the last minute I bought pop-top mittens designed for hunters from Dick’s in Pennsylvania. (Thanks for finding them, Richard!) These allowed me to remove the mitten half when I wanted to shoot—my camera! The mittens came in camouflage-colored yarn, but who cares when warmth is the objective. I would have gotten them in bright hunter’s orange, but they didn’t have them in my size. When not wearing, stow your hat in one pocket and the gloves in the other pocket. I got my purple lace-up Sorel snow boots many years ago from Lands’ End for my first Alaska trip, and they still work great. I just love them.

Bonus frosting on the cake —Remember to pick up some hand warmers.

If with these tips you still don’t want to guts real winter, well then, lucky you live Hawaii!

Copyright 2010 Rebekah Luke



2 responses

28 05 2010
Rebekah's Studio

Have a wonderful trip to Aotearoa!

28 05 2010
Kaylene Sheldon

Thanks Rebekah, I really need something for my nose. I am taking some NZ dollars there. Hope my stay will be exciting and enlightening!

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