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Dressing for Cold Weather: A SmartPaker’s Tips for Staying Warm

jno winter snow
SmartPak is based in Plymouth, MA and the vast majority of our employees live here. While New England was lucky to have a warm fall and a relatively mild early winter, the temps here in Massachusetts hit single digits this week, and it has me pulling out my warmest barn clothes. While I’m fortunate to spend most of the day in a warm office, and I’m not in charge of barn chores because my horse is boarded, I did grow up in Vermont, spending many 12 hour days doing barn chores in the bitter cold. (Want to keep your teenager out of trouble? Have her push wheelbarrows full of poop through snow piles all day). So, if you’re a novice to cold weather horse activities, I’ve got some tips to keep you toasty!

Dress in Layers
Okay, okay, this one is one you’ve heard before. But it’s one of the most important tactics for dressing for any cold weather activity! Layering not only allows you the flexibility to remove/add items of clothing as your body heats up then cools down again, it also keeps you warmer because the air trapped between layers provides additional insulation. Most outdoor sports experts recommend a base layer, an insulating mid-layer, and outer or shell layer.

Base Layer
The base layer, or layer next to your skin, must be a fabric that draws perspiration away from the skin to help regulate your body temperature. It’s all about moisture management. Steer clear of cotton as your base layer in cold weather… When cotton gets wet it’s slow to dry out, which is the opposite of what you want. Look for a base layer made of moisture wicking fabric. I prefer one that’s soft against my skin and has stretch for ease of movement. And because I hate it when my neck is cold, I am a huge fan of “half zip” (sometimes called “quarter zip”) style shirts. On the coldest days I wear a double base-layer of a moisture-wicking crew neck like the SmartPak Base Layer by PolarMax under something like the Ariat Lowell 1/4 Zip Top or the SmartPak Merino Wool 1/4 Zip Top (which I have in lavender and I love)! And Under Armour makes Infrared apparel that uses thermo-conductive inner coating to absorb and retain body heat. So if you want as much base-layer warmth as you can get, check out the Under Armour Infrared Longsleeve Crew. I just read the customer reviews and someone said, “…this is one of the warmest under layers I have ever owned.”

SmartPak Base Layer by PolarMax
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(13 reviews)
Ariat® Lowell 1/4 Zip Top

 $49.95 - $54.95
(22 reviews)
SmartPak Merino Wool 1/4 Zip Top
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(17 reviews)
Under Armour Infrared Longsleeve Crew
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(6 reviews)

On the coldest days (like 10 and below) it’s nice to have a bottom base layer as well. I have a couple pairs of thin, moisture-wicking long underwear pants (one pair is Capilene® from Patagonia® and one pair of Champion® brand long undies that I picked up at Tar-jay). I also recently treated myself to these Under Armour Authentic ColdGear Leggings and they’re awesome! This is Under Armour’s winter weight fabric, so they’re a medium thickness and really soft on the inside (just note that these are compression tights so they’re meant to be snug). I can wear any of the above under a roomy pair of jeans or breeches and this works great to keep my legs warm on the super cold days. They also work great for skiing!

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Mid-Layer
The goal of your mid-layer is to provide insulation, which means keeping warm air trapped close to your body. Your best options here are natural fibers like down or wool, or lightweight, breathable synthetic fleece fabrics, including brands like Thinsulate® or Polartec®. My favorite barn mid-layers are fleece half-zip style pull overs, especially those with the smooth “wind-stop” outer fabric, not only because they’re warmer, but because they don’t attract horse hair like regular old fleece does! Over that I love wearing a vest for added core warmth, without making my arms feel restricted (nothing is worse when you’re grooming, tacking up, or changing blankets) and if we’re being honest… Once you get moving it can help to have your armpits “free” so you don’t get as sweaty. Am I right or am I right?

My number one favorite vest is a brown Carhartt heavy canvas vest with fleece on the inside. It’s a LOT like this really cute Noble Outfitters Girl Tough Canvas Vest, so check that one out! I love the durability and weight of this style of vest. The pockets are great, its super warm, the canvas fabric stands up to everything the barn throws at it, and it just makes me feel badass. But I do have quite the vest collection, and other favorite styles (some more friendly for actual riding than the canvas style, which is great for barn chores) include the Personalized Ladies Soft Shell Vest, the Noble Outfitters Radius Insulated Vest, and the Under Armour Coldgear Infrared Elevate Vest. The other benefit of wearing vests is that they’re very flattering in the saddle! A dark-colored vest is always my go-to for riding in a clinic because it helps you look trim and pulled together.

Noble Outfitters Ladies Tough Canvas Vest
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(3 reviews)
Noble Outfitters Radius Insulated Vest
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(1 reviews)
Under Armour Coldgear Infrared Elevate Vest
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(13 reviews)

Outer Layer
The outer layer, or shell layer, helps protect you from the wind and elements. I tend to only wear this layer when walking out to the paddock to bring my horse in, and for walking to/from the indoor arena, then I shed it when grooming, tacking up, and riding. My go-to outer layer for the coldest barn days is an old Mountain Horse winter jacket, but I’ve also had my eye on the SmartPak Winter Jacket, and I love anything with a “soft shell” outer material. Not only are soft shell jackets wind-blocking, they shed dirt and hair, and look flattering. Check out the Personalized Ultima Soft Shell Jacket (size up if you want room to layer underneath this one), or the Outback Ink Softshell Jacket.

SmartPak Winter Jacket
SOLD OUT
(118 reviews)
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Personalized Ultima Soft Shell Jacket

 $99.95
(22 reviews)
Outback Ink Softshell Jacket
SOLD OUT
(12 reviews)

And while I rarely need an outer “shell” layer for my bottom half, I do have a pair of waterproof pants from Mountain Horse that I bought years ago, and pull those out once or twice a year when I’m going to be out in rain or wet snow. Plus, you definitely need to have a waterproof bottom layer if you’re lucky enough to play in the snow with your pony! If you’re looking for a pair, check out the Mountain Horse Polar Breech and the SmartPak Winter Overpant.

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SmartPak Winter Overpant

 $84.95
(112 reviews)

Footwear
The two most important things for keeping your feet warm are 1) good quality, non-cotton, moisture-wicking socks and 2) having enough room in your boots. For socks I love SmartWool® and Darn Tough Vermont® brands, and I’m also a huge fan of the Noble Outfitters Alpine Wool Sock for the winter, which I gave as stocking stuffers last Christmas! Seriously people, good socks are worth spending a bit more. Don’t let me catch you with cotton tube socks on a cold day! And like I mentioned above, having a little bit of room to wiggle your toes – while wearing winter socks – is also the key to keeping your feet comfortable. If your toes are crammed into the front of your boots they’ll get less circulation and there’s no room for a little warm air to create some insulation.

If I’m just stopping by the barn but don’t have time to ride, I tend to wear my Dubarry Galway Boots most winter days (they’re also perfect for spring and fall, though a bit too hot for summer). They’re roomy enough for my favorite winter socks and also have good traction when it’s snowy and icy. Plus I can hose/wipe them off and wear them to the office or out to dinner, which is a plus! However for riding or spending long stints out in the cold, you need a true winter boot that has adequate insulation. SmartPak has lots of great winter riding boots, but I’m a true Ariat ambassador and have to call out the Ariat Extreme Tall H20 Insulated Boot or the Ariat Brossard Zip Paddock Boot as the best options, in my opinion! Nothing else provides the same combination of footwear technology that will keep you comfortable on your feet all day, design for function and safety in the stirrup, together with all the winter bells and whistles to keep you warm. These puppies are waterproof, insulated with Thinsulate, have a thermal insole to help ward off chill from the ground, and even include a moisture-wicking lining to help your feet from getting damp. Talk about happy winter tooties.

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Dubarry Galway Boot

 $489.00
(174 reviews)
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Ariat Extreme Tall H20 Insulated Boot

 $239.95
(32 reviews)
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Ariat Extreme Zip Paddock H20 Insulated Boot

 $169.95
(22 reviews)

I know we’re all longing for spring and t-shirt weather, but it’s still a good way off for many parts of the country. If you’re in a cold climate like us SmartPakers in New England, I hope these winter wardrobe tips will help you stay warm and comfortable for the remainder of the season, so you can get the most out of your precious time with your horse. Have a great ride!

jno winter 3

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