Cold outside? You’d better dress in sheep’s clothing

Cold outside? You’d better dress in sheep’s clothing
John Lorson

These tough-looking characters know a thing or two about staying warm in adverse conditions. You’d do well to borrow their greatest winter fashion tip: wear more wool.

Cold outside? You’d better dress in sheep’s clothing

I looked out the window of my second-story office in Millersburg and beheld the frozen world. The scrolling message board high above the square declared the time as 8 a.m. Then, creeping along behind the time, came the temperature: a fully frozen 5 F.

I was congratulating myself for having made the decision to not ride my bicycle to work that day. My wife had figured into the calculus, as she sometimes does when she sees me on the verge of doing dumb things, so I dialed her number intending to let her know she was right. Just as Kristin answered, I nearly dropped the phone. There on the street below, pedaling along behind a black scarf and a pair of wool mittens, was an Amish friend on her way to work up the street. I hung my head in shame.

I’d been working in Holmes County for a few years at that point, and Mary and I had shared about 5 miles of the Holmes County Trail on many days in both good weather and bad. We probably made for an interesting paring for those who might encounter us from the opposite direction, especially when the weather was rough. On my side of the lane, folks would see a brightly colored, fully masked, space-age-fabric-covered mess visibly suffering in the cold. On Mary’s side they’d find a completely comfortable rider, cloaked in an extra layer of black wool, likely chatting casually about the beauty of the frozen landscape.

Many things factor into one’s comfort in the cold. To be sure, conditioning is a factor. The gradual drop in temperatures as Ohio moves from summer to winter — the cool October mornings that nudge the thermometer nearer the freezing mark with each passing day, the gradually shortening hours of daylight — help to ease the transition to widespread cold and darkness. If one were to simply jump from 80-20 F in only a day or two, the suffering would be significant. (And the complaining would be epic.)

Easing into the season of cold requires time, planning and layers, lots and lots of layers.

The Norwegians have a saying: There’s no bad weather, only bad clothes. The average Ohioan may mildly disagree with this maxim, especially those of us who lived through the blizzards of 1977 and ‘78. Nevertheless, when applied generally, it makes a lot of sense.

In my own experience, when it comes to beating the elements, few things compare to one of the very first fibers put to use by man: wool. As you might have gathered from the description above, I was a late comer in my love of wool. I spent years buying and trying various “miracle fabric” solutions to address my ever-vexing issues with the cold.

Manufactures of cycling attire fall all over themselves trying to come up with “something better” with each passing season, and for a while I fell prey to their schemes. Then I started looking around at folks involved in other outdoor activities, especially those who consistently worked in horrible weather. That’s when wool first entered my consciousness. If a fisherman in the North Sea could make it through cod season in a pair of chest waders and a turtleneck of merino wool, he obviously had this clothing thing figured out.

At first I sought out wool cycling gear and found there to be almost nothing out there. What was available would have cost me half a paycheck just to try out, so I went the cheapskate route and started looking for woolen items at local thrift shops. I nailed down a merino sweater for $3. It was a lightweight weave, a bit on the small side, and came in a weird shade of pea soup green. (I suspect it had once belonged to a mildly fashion-challenged woman.)

Nevertheless, I wore that thing like it was hand-knit for me by the wife of a Norwegian reindeer farmer. It was amazingly comfortable and incredibly warm. Best of all, my new “jersey” was versatile as well. I could wear it on the ride in to work when it was 10 or 15 F and rock the same kit on the ride home in the evening when the temperature had climbed to a relatively balmy 42 F.

Turns out wool has a unique ability to modulate heat. In other words it not only keeps you warm when it’s cold out, but also keeps you cool when it’s warm out. You’ve likely seen boasts of “breathability” associated with all sorts of modern fabrics; wool has possessed this characteristic from the start. It allows water vapor (perspiration) to move away from your skin — a necessity for staying either warm or cool. And when wool is wet, it can actually produce a small amount of heat through chemical reactions within its very fibers.

Whether my friend Mary had considered all of the science behind her clothing, I honestly don’t know, but she taught me a little something about both clothing and toughness on that 5 F day.

For questions or comments, email John at jlorson@alono

Loading next article...

End of content

No more pages to load