Wrap up against the elements
Think insulating baselayers plus accessories to protect your extremities, says Constance Harris
Normally, on the first Sunday of new year, we would be either looking at wedding dresses in celebration of all the new engagements, or weighing the pros and cons of new fitness garb and accessories in anticipation of your new year's resolutions and new health regimens.
However, I feel people are still struggling so much with health and safety issues that our recent climate system has brought with it, that I should put our attention there.
Dressing for extreme weather is all about layers. Primarily following a three-tier plan of base, middle and outer-wear, layers, is key.
Having good gear for extremities such as head, hands and toes is essential for comfort.
Next considerations are good footwear and other accessories you might need such as Spikys for walking on icy surfaces, or walking poles, which are great for stabilising you when negotiating icy steps and footpaths.
Emma Durkan heads up 53 Degrees North's marketing division and, like all the staff in their branches in Blanchardstown and The Park Carrickmines retail parks, she is mad about outdoor activities and adventure sports. And people into activities are into their performance gear.
As someone who goes trekking every few years, as well as spending quite a bit of time working in the outdoors, I learned early on to consider money spent on good weather gear as money well spent.
Great socks that insulate your feet, wick sweat away and don't chafe at seams are worth the extra cash, as are lightweight rain pants to keep your clothes dry, the latest-technology fleeces for better warmth at a lighter weight and bulk, and excellent thermal wear that can save your heating bills at home.
It is important to understand that though it might be cheaper, bulky and heavy clothing is exhausting. You pay for lightness and ease.
Emma started me at the quilted coats section, where they have a vast selection in colours and, generally, in streamlined shapes which are a bit more flattering on. Prices range from a coat by Merrill at €160 to North Face and Berghaus styles from €245 to €515.
Emma explained that recent innovations are making new technology fabrics superior to down, due to being of lighter weight, less bulky and giving more warmth.
PrimaLoft in North Face was an example. It was featherlight and thin. Though originally designed for mountaineers, this uber-light coat seems a Godsend for commuters in densely populated transportation, streets and buildings.
"What is even more brilliant is if it gets wet, you still stay warm," Emma explained. Great for those of us on long, daily public transport commutes, or who like long walks.
"Guys tend to go for gilets and jackets, whereas women prefer full-length coats. And professional sports people love it, of course."
Middle layers are fairly straightforward. A good fleece tends to hit the spot. If you have the money, pay for the lightest, least bulky style you can find.
Next up is thermal wear. 53 Degrees North has designated a large area to it, and carries several ranges by Helly Hansen, Odlo, Smartwool and Icebreaker, in merino wool, silk, synthetic and mixed-fibre options. Emma doesn't have to do the hard sell on this one to me. I buy new thermals every year.
As my body temperature fluctuates and I am allergic to a lot of fabrics, merino-wool thermals by Icebreaker are my favourite. At around €50-€80, they are incredibly durable and machine washable, and you can wear them for weeks on end and they won't smell. Which is why people on long expeditions choose them as essential elements in their kit bag.
Emma says sports people prefer poly-propylene thermals because they are lightweight and wick sweat away, thereby avoiding wind-chill issues.
I commented that I found synthetic sports gear not a good investment due to its retaining body odour, despite washing. Emma explained I just needed a special product, Nick Wax Base Wash at €6.50 a bottle, that "releases the body odours when washing".
Next, Emma took me to their accessories bar.
"People who are not used to this kind of dramatically cold weather don't realise how important it is to have a good hat to keep their body temperature stable," Emma explained. "Hats, scarves and gloves are the difference between between being warm and cosy and being utterly miserable and frozen to the bone."
Because 53 Degrees North specialises in winter sports gear, they always have a huge range of accessories in practical, as well as fun, styles -- 180s ear muffs at €20 a pair were flying out like hot cakes.
Next, Emma marched me to their footwear section. It was full of men and women in their fifties and sixties investing in good lace-up boots.
"When negotiating tricky terrain, a boot that comes to around your ankle is good for stability. And if you fall over, you are less likely to break something, than if you wore a higher boot," Emma explained.
She says there really is no such thing as a non-slip boot when dealing with ice, unless it has spikes in it. She recommends you look at the treads on the boots and if they are fairly deep, of varied size and shapes, and seem to be going in different directions, that is good for grip. She advocates going for a waterproof boot, with Gore-Tex or similar technology. Or get a spray treatment to coat your footwear yourself.
53 Degrees North has a large offer of specialty socks and quite a few two-for-one offers worth availing of. The more specialised the sock, the more expensive.
While in this area, Emma pointed gaiters out to me. Kind of like leg warmers, they are waterproof and designed to stop snow and water from going over the tops of your boots and wetting your feet -- a dangerous situation if you are out in freezing conditions. I didn't buy them at the time, thinking we'd never have snow over six inches. Boy, am I regretting that!
Emma had a lot of advice for people who are still running in this weather, showing me thermals, water belts to ensure hydration (Emma's running lifesaver), gel belts for power 'hits', special ear muffs that don't fall off, lightweight reflective gear, and 'neck gaiters' that you wear around your neck but can pull up over your face and nose, like a balaclava, when you need some additional protection.
Keeping your weight balanced and your hands free in case of a fall is why backpacks are essential in this weather. 53 Degrees North has a large selection.
"A backpack that does not fit you properly can be hugely uncomfortable and cause you pain. People don't realise that every back is individual and for comfort it is best to try several styles on and get advice and assistance. I have learned this from my own experiences," Emma explained. I agree with her.
The store also does sports gear such as mountain bikes, skis and such, and in the summer it specialises in water sports.
"Irish people are waking up to our natural resources. It is great how many people now go mountain biking; that special routes are being created in our national parks; the cycle to work scheme; that surfing around our fabulous coastlines is now a much more common sport. We are changing for the better.
"This weather is going to be a fact of our lives. And we are going to have to find ways to cope with it. And we can. If you have the right gear, you are not cold and miserable. It is healthy weather. It is fun -- bringing families out to play and kids love it!"
Again, I agree with Emma. I had good weather gear and I enjoyed the snow. But most people were miserable.
Right now, for most people, the big concern is life's basic needs. And right now, 53 Degrees North is a bit of a lifesaver on that front.
And better again, you don't even have to leave your house to get the essentials I have outlined, as they are offering 10pc discount with free delivery, on all orders through their website. Check it out at www.53degreesnorth.ie.
Sunday Indo Living