5 Tips to Stay Warm When Riding Horses in Cold Weather
- Cotton is Rotten
- Stretchy, High-quality, Base-layer
- Adjustable Mid-layer
- Wind/Waterproof Outer Layer
- Stop leaks around your extremities
Why Cotton is Rotten
Cotton absorbs and holds moisture, moisture makes you cold, and being wet and cold is no fun. Period.
Here is the scientific reason why cotton loves water so much. Water molecules are attracted to hydrogen molecules. Remember learning H2O as one of your first bonds in chemistry?! 2 hydrogen molecules attach to 1 oxygen molecule.
Cotton happens to be made up of a lot of hydroxyl groups. The scientific definition of a hydroxyl group is, a functional group that attaches to some molecules containing an oxygen and hydrogen atom, bonded together. Boom, instant best friends!
You may think that because cotton is so fluffy and soft, to heck with science, it should keep you warm anyway. Sorry, but Nope! All that fluff just allows for extra water-absorbing properties.
I know your grandpa may have sworn by always wearing those old, red, one-piece, cotton, long underwear, but trust me, times and science have changed.
The first thing I learned when working in the clothing department for a giant outdoors company was this #1 rule, Cotton is Rotten!
So, you’re probably thinking what type of material should I wear?
Wool or Polyester.
I know, I know, your skin is already starting to crawl by picturing that scratchy, heavy, old, red flannel print, wool sweater. How in the world are you going to tolerate wearing that, especially as a base layer on your skin?!
Just as I mentioned, science has come a long way.
Merino wool is the way to go if you choose to try wool.
Merino wool comes from one specific breed of sheep that originated in Spain. Today the largest population of wool producers is actually from Australia!
So why Merino wool? Because mother nature knows best, that’s why!
Merino wool is actually finer and has more thin fibers than your average wool. Making it softer, less itchy, and more flexible that your average wool.
All wool is breathable and moisture-wicking. Meaning it pulls the moisture away from your body, keeping you warm and dry.
Merino wool is also naturally antimicrobial. This means that it naturally fights off germs such as bacteria, mold, mildew, and other bad microbes. This helps reduce odors, along with keeping your skin safer and healthier.
The only downfall of Merino wool for some people is the price. Merino wool will be more expensive than man-made materials, such as polyester.
Polyester is a man-made material that also wicks away moisture and works as a great base layer at a more budget-friendly price.
Polyester is a synthetic fiber derived from coal, air, water, and petroleum. It comes down to a chemical reaction between an acid and alcohol.
Reading that kind of makes my skin crawl a little, however, you’d be surprised how much of the clothes in your closet are actually made from polyester.
Most base layers you find at the store are made of polyester or a polyester blend.
The advantages, besides being cheaper to produce, are it is lightweight, breathable, and wicks away moisture.
There are two main downfalls I’ve found when it comes to polyester, compared to organic materials.
For one, a lot of people may not be fond of the environmentally damaging process of producing such made man materials.
The second downfall is it melts, instead of burning off like cotton or wool. This would play a factor for someone such as a welder, mechanic, or electrician.
If an accident were to happen where your clothes were to catch on fire, polyester would melt, causing much more severe burns to your skin.
Cotton and wool, because they are organic materials, would burn quickly, and you’d be left naked, but with a lot less severe burns.
This is something to keep in mind depending on what use you are looking to get out of your clothes.
Silk is another common base layer. It has a great warmth-to-weight ratio. Silk is best for the lighter-weight base layers, or to be worn under casual clothing to keep out the chill.
Now that we have an understanding of the type of materials, lets discuss layers.
A base layer is the first layer that you put on.
If there is one layer to invest the most of your money, this is it. A good base layer will make or break you day in the cold.
I always recommend the merino wool or polyester-based material for a base layer, because of the moisture-wicking properties.
In order for you to stay warm, your skin needs to be able to breathe and stay dry.
Base layers come in different weights to determine the warmth.
They are commonly light-weight, medium-weight, and heavy-weight.
Heavy-weight base layers are the thickest out of the three because they are going to be for extreme cold. The heavier the weight the bigger the bumpy little squares are on the underside. These little bumps help trap pockets of warm air.
Medium-weight would still work for colder weather, but maybe not quite up to par for a Montana winter, cold.
Light-weights are normally very light and silky. These work great for someone who is extremely active in cool weather, such as jogging on a fall day.
It’s important that a good base layer is stretchy and forgiving as your body moves. Sure, you can buy a cheaper brand base layer that is made of the same materials as a more expensive one but trust me, you get what you pay for.
I’ve owned many different brands of base layers that range from $10 to $60. The difference is night and day!
The $10 ones shrink quickly, even without drying them, they have zero stretch, causing limited range of motion, and they’re just not that warm. (Even being a “heavy-weight”)
Not to mention, I barely get a winter’s use out of them.
The $60 base layers I bought several years ago are still being used on a daily basis throughout the entire winter.
They stretch and conform to my body, allowing a much broader range of motion. They are also extremely comfortable, and warm!
I have literally used these same two shirts for riding horses, cleaning stalls, ice fishing, hunting, and working at a grocery store. They’re so versatile.
A tip that I give to budget-conscious shoppers when debating which one to get, is go with the heavyweight.
I know the traditional marketing technique for any sales pitch is to go for the middle. That way you’re getting a little more, but it’s not as expensive as the highest. Not with base layers.
Keep in mind that just because it’s heavy-weight, doesn’t mean that you get overheated in milder weather.
There are some spring days that I wear my heavy base layer and only that. Then if a chill comes over, I throw a sweatshirt or light jacket on over it. And when it’s Montana winter cold, you’ll wish you had that heavy base layer over that medium weight.
The reason many people do get overheated quickly in warm gear during warmer temperatures is because they are sweating and their clothes are not wicking the moisture away.
(That’s how fans work after all, isn’t it?! It’s not that they blow cool air, it’s the light breeze coming from a fan that evaporates all the sweat, and that is what cools us down.)
A high-quality base layer = problem solved.
I recommend when washing base layers to hang dry them. It will greatly extend the life of the product.
Also, if you’re a woman, go the extra mile to search for a base layer that is designed for a woman’s curvy shape. It makes a huge difference to fit and comfort!
Mid-layers are the fluff that makes you a marshmallow.
While the base and outer layers are constant, it’s the mid layers you adjust for the amount of cold.
Mid layers should also be made of moisture-wicking properties; however, you can get away with a little cotton here if and only if a few conditions are met.
1) If you have a moisture-wicking base layer on, even if your mid layer were to get a little damp, it should still keep you dry and warm.
2) If you have an outer layer that is waterproof, keeping you dry, or you are in dry weather conditions.
I’ll be honest, I wear cotton hoodies from time to time as a mid-layer if the conditions are right.
Fleece is one of my favorite mid-layers. It’s soft and warm, and because it is a polyester-based material, it wicks away moisture.
You do not have to spend a lot of money to find a warm, fleece, mid-layer. Any fleece you find at a cheap department store or even a second-hand store will do.
(I actually wear heavy fleece pajama pants as my mid-layer out hunting when I need bulk of warmth for just sitting still).
On warmer days you can always opt for a thin fleece vest as a little extra warmth for your vitals, without the bulk.
On really cold days, goose down works as a phenomenal mid-layer.
My favorite mid-layer combination on really cold days would be a fleece sweater with a goose-down vest.
Outer layers are like the roof on your house. It doesn’t matter how fancy the house is on the inside, if you have a damaged or leaky roof, it won’t be long before your house falls apart.
If an item is waterproof, that does not mean that it is windproof, and vice versa.
It’s very easy to remember when trying on new jackets that, of course, if you get wet in winter, you’ll be cold, but sometimes I feel like we can forget how miserable a bad windchill can be.
Unfortunately, there can be a lot of tricky marketing out there that makes an item appear to be better than what it really is.
A trick I learned to tell how windproof an item may be is to hold the material up and blow on the outside and see what you can feel coming through on your hand that’s inside that jacket or sleeve.
There are some materials out there, such as Gore-Tex, that offer both wind and waterproof protection. These are very versatile materials that can be a very valuable asset to staying dry and warm.
There are also products on the market that can be sprayed on the material to make them waterproof, however, I believe that this is just a temporary band-aid. These products tend to make the material feel more stiff, noisy, less flexible, and have the potential to break down the lifetime use of the original material.
I myself am guilty of collecting coats and jackets of every shape and size. After all, I live in the Midwest and we never know what to expect with the weather.
If you are looking for that one, all-purpose, very heavy-duty, winter jacket, besides make sure that is water and windproof, try it on!
For one, make sure to try it on with several layers, that way you will know if you need to size up or not.
Also, just because it is a popular brand, doesn’t mean that you will like how it fits you. Be open to trying new things. Many clothing companies make changes to their clothes a lot more frequently than we realize.
Stop leaks around your extremities
You can have the best furnace in your house, but it will do no good if you leave the front door open!
Our bodies are designed to survive. When the temperature starts to drop, our bodies start to focus on keeping all our blood and energy in our core to protect our vitals.
This is why our feet and hands tend to get cold first. The circulation has decreased in our extremities.
(I don’t know about you, but if my feet get cold, I’m absolutely miserable.)
Frostbite can happen in as little as 10 minutes with the right weather conditions. That’s why it’s so important to focus on having the proper equipment to protect our limbs.
I don’t know about you, but if my feet get cold, I’m absolutely miserable.
When it comes to socks, treat them as you would a base layer, get moisture-wicking material.
Wool is my favorite as they provide a lot of warmth as well as dryness. I prefer socks that are also fitted to my feet. That way there is a little less bulk and they fit better in my shoes.
I actually have lightweight wool socks for my cowboy boots in summer and heavyweight wool for winter.
When it comes to boots, there are so many different options depending on the activity.
If I’m riding a horse, I of course have my cowboy boots on. There is no warmth, but that’s where I rely on my socks to keep my feet warm.
If I’m doing any other activity outside, I love a tall neoprene boot. They’re waterproof, insulated, and very comfortable. (Plus, I’m lazy and love that they are easy to slip on).
Just keep in mind neoprene doesn’t breathe, so no moisture can escape. That’s why it’s extremely important to have a moisture-wicking sock.
Tip- Neoprene boots are not measured by grams as typical insulation would be. They are measured by thickness. The thicker the neoprene in millimeters, the warmer they are.
I.E. 5mm, 7mm, 9mm. Obviously, the 9mm will be warmer than the 5mm, because they are thicker.
If you are performing an activity where you need extra ankle support, there are many options for insulated and waterproof lace-up boots.
This style of boots will have insulation measured out by grams. It is very common for some boots to have different grams in the toes vs the sides of the boots.
Just like when trying on an outer layer, make sure to try on new boots with the thick socks you plan on wearing with them. Between the puffy insulation in the shoe and the thickness of the sock, you may actually need to get a larger shoe size.
It seems that our hands are the first place our skin is exposed to the elements.
How many times have you been frustrated not being able to pick up something small with your thick gloves on, so you rip them off for just a second?... again and again…. Until you can no longer feel your fingertips.
Or you just can’t feel that soft response of your horse through the reins with those bulky gloves on.
Unfortunately, I haven’t found a happy medium workaround. The solution- have different gloves for different situations.
Be sure to have waterproof gloves if you’re handling water buckets, because once your hands get cold, there’s no quick fix.
An insulated leather glove tends to hold up well while still allowing a good feel for all other barn chores.
Tip- If leather gloves ever get dirty or dried out, I like to rub a bunch of coconut oil on them, then set them aside to dry. They’ll come out looking like new. I’ve seen it even dissolve pine sap again and again on the same pair of gloves!
I would consider your neck as the front door to your house. If left uncovered, you’re letting excess heat leave your body.
I prefer using a gator as they stay in place, and I don’t have to worry as much about the ends of a scarf getting in the way. However, you may be able to get a little extra coverage by using a scarf. That part is a personal preference.
The three most common materials for neck coverings are fleece, wool, and silk.
40-45% of our body heat is lost through our heads. That’s pretty much the equivalent of leaving all the windows open in your house.
For extreme cold, my rabbit fur hat is my favorite. The fur is designed to trap pockets of warm air keeping you toasty all day.
In cold weather, a thick stocking cap can go a long way. The great thing is, there are so many different materials, styles, and colors to choose from!
Ear warmers are great for wearing with helmets when riding, or in milder temps.
I hope this breakdown of the 5 best tips for staying warm when riding horses in cold weather helps you have a more enjoyable time with your horses this winter.
If you have any tips or products that you love for winter warmth, comment below or send me a message, I would love to hear about them!
And just remember, winter is only a season, spring will be here before we know it!