Ah, Canadian weather.
In the summer, we typically want to wear as little as possible during our natural movement training (without getting arrested, of course). We want our skin to benefit from contact with the natural world, to both toughen it and become sensitive to different textures. We want to absorb sunlight and get that juicy vitamin D. We want to feel the ground with our bare feet to stimulate our nerves and our brains. We want to feel the breezes cool us as we sweat.
But this only works during the summer, here in the great white north.
How can we practice and train our natural skills in an outdoor environment during the cold season and not be miserable? While “cold thermogenesis” may be a good thing, frostbite is not! How can we protect ourselves from the dangers of cold stress?
The simple answer is to be well prepared. Our clothing is the most important gear for training in challenging climates. The following are some clothing ideas for training in cold weather (you can adapt the ideas easily to warmer weather).
Bear in mind, this is a general guide. There are lots of different clothes with various technical properties out there, and you have to find what feels and works best for you. Dressing for training outdoors will make you appreciate what our ancestors had to deal with. If they could do it, so can we. We just have to reclaim some lost knowledge.
Your outdoor training clothing should:
- keep you warm, dry and comfortable
- allow you to move freely
- be rugged enough to withstand the training
- look good
Synthetic materials are often thinner and cheaper. Sometimes synthetic materials can hold smells, so keep them clean. And don’t dry them in the dryer, as they may shrink/melt/turn out weird. Wool or cotton, for the same warmth might be bulkier, but this depends on the type and quality of the material. Cotton will stay wet if it gets wet, may chafe, and become uncomfortable. Merino wool athletic clothing is supposed to be awesome but it’s also pricy. Your training clothes may take a beating during lifting, climbing and crawling training.
LAYER LAYER LAYER
Staying warm and dry is the most important consideration. The best way to accomplish this is to layer your clothes, with each layer serving a specific function. As you warm up, you peel off layers. As you cool down, you put on layers. Simple. And you may be surprised as to how much you actually do warm up, even in really cold weather.
LAYER #1: STAY DRY IN YOUR UNDERWEAR
You will sweat because you are training hard (right?). Sweat will make your clothes wet, so start with a moisture wicking layer of active underwear on your skin. Depending on how cold it is, this could be a long sleeve shirt and athletic tights (or long-johns).
LAYER #2: TRAINING CLOTHES
Over the underwear, you have another layer. This is probably what you will be wearing after stripping off top layers once you have warmed up in cold weather. These clothes should be tough enough for your training and permit free movement. Try to select something that won’t pull up and expose your belly to the cold when you put your arms overhead, like when you are hanging or lifting.
LAYER #3: WARMTH
Over this is another layer like a sweater or hoodie. If it’s really cold, you’ll keep this on during training, so make sure it’s tough. You could have some pull-over pants here, depending on the weather.
LAYER #4: SHELL
Then an insulated jacket (anorak or parka) for the top layer, or a combo of a warm jacket like fleece and a waterproof shell over it (actually a 5th layer). This layer should break the wind, repel snow and rain, keep you cosy, and still allow you to move. You probably won’t be training wearing this, but it’ll help get you warmed up, and will keep you warm after the workout. This layer can get pricy, but if you select well and carefully, it’ll last a long time.
Footwear is tricky for cold weather training. It’s hard to find warmth at the same time as getting a minimalist feel. You’ll want socks of a moisture wicking material for training and some extra socks, probably heavier and warmer for after the session. Sometimes if it’s cold and dry without snow, sneakers or trail shoes can work with good socks. Minimalist shoes get cold because they have absolutely no insulation, but if you can wear them with a really good warm sock, they might be perfect. For natural movement training, you want mobility in your ankles and some kind of feel for the ground, so heavy boots with thick soles and stiff uppers may not be the way to go for training (though I do encourage you to see what these feel like while training, just in case). Mukluks are the original cold weather minimalist footwear, so if you get a chance, try them and let me know how they work.
You can’t hold onto frozen rocks or tree limbs very long with frozen hands, so you’ll need some good tough gloves that will allow warmth and some manual dexterity. Gloves get wet quickly, so be sure to have an extra pair for when you have finished training.
HEAD & BRAIN
A hat is essential to keep your brain in good working order. A light thin one is good for training, and you could have a heavier one for after. Try not to let your hat get damp with sweat.
Some sort of neck warmer is important for getting warm, like a scarf or neck-sleeve. Whatever you use, take it off for training. You don’t want to have anything around your neck while climbing, should you get tangled and then fall. That would be bad.
You’ll need a bag to carry your layers if you travel some distance around your training area. This bag should be waterproof, so your dry clothes stay dry. In the bag should be extra gloves, socks, hat, and maybe an extra warm sweater. Depending on where you train and how long you expect to be outside, you may also have in there a space-blanket as part of your first aid kit, along with water or hot tea (in a thermos), snacks, etc.
DON’T LOOK LIKE A BUM
Oh, and of course, all of this should look good while you wear it! This depends on where you are and how much contact you’ll have with other people. It may make a difference to your self-confidence if people see you training outside in the cold and you feel like you look good or not. Natural movement training in a natural environment tends to leave it’s marks (dirt, scratches, leaves and twigs sticking out). What is the result if you combine this with wearing a poorly selected mish-mash of cobbled together layered clothing?
I once traveled and trained for a few hours through the local ravine system here in Toronto, and exited this wilderness downtown to catch a bus back home. Sitting on the bus, surrounded by people, I realized I looked like a homeless person. An interesting experience, but really not too cool…
Before you set out for your training session, make sure you check the weather, and think about what your workout will entail: climbing? Crawling? Running? How long are you going to be outside? How far away from shelter and warmth will you be? What are the risks? Are your clothes up to the task?
Sometimes you are close to warmth and comfort from a local cafe and won’t be outside longer than an hour training in a nearby park, so it is not as important to prepare as meticulously as if you are traveling into the forest for 4 or 5 hours.
You decide your own comfort level, but as my father used to say: “Any fool can be uncomfortable.”
Here are some links for sources of outdoor active clothing in Canada:
Mountain Equipment Co-op
Canadian Outdoor Equipment
Give me some feedback on what works for you during cold weather training!