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Brett Willis

Brett Willis is a human man. Brett Willis writes and draws—among other things—an odd restaurant review blog called Drunch. Brett Willis abides in Portland, Maine. Follow him on Twitter: @somewillis and check out his blog: target

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Posted: December 8, 2014

How to survive a Maine Winter – Part 1: What to wear

I am not Mr. Fashionpants. I do not necessarily know what is hep, or swingin’ — especially when it comes to lady’s couture. What I do know: What is fundamentally necessary to enjoying yourself in the wintry months

Written by: Brett Willis
Graphic by Brett Willis

Graphic by Brett Willis

Part one of a four-part series. Read them all: How to survive a Maine Winter

Winter in Maine. It is colder than a witch’s unmentionables. It is more relentless than the American Red Cross once you’ve had the misfortune of finding yourself on their phone registry. It is also my favorite time of year in my favorite state.

Why do I love winter? For manifold reasons: the strongest of which is that I have the soul of a bitter old anchorite and find kinship in dark, hopeless days. However, you don’t need to be a sick-hearted grouch like me to enjoy the frigid heck out of winter. That’s why I’m writing this little series. In four parts, I hope to share with you how best to survive (and enjoy yourself doing it) this precious gift of a winter we have here in our rustic state of Maine.

PART 1: Apparel

Proper apparel is the most essential aspect of an enjoyable winter. It is never a chuckle-fest when your appendages feel like Fla-Vor-Ices. So what you need is the proper gear — Ah! Ah! Put away that Patriots Starter Jacket — to keep you snug as a bug, despite Jack Frost’s labors outside.

Before I begin dropping the knowledge, an article-wide caveat is necessary. I am not Mr. Fashionpants. I do not necessarily know what is hep, or swingin’ — especially when it comes to lady’s couture. What I do know: What is fundamentally necessary to enjoying yourself in the wintry months. So while I will not be offering many specific brands or products, I will offer guidelines that will help you when selecting winter garb.

Let us proceed.

Graphic by Brett Willis

Graphic by Brett Willis

First order of business: jacket

Without a solid jacket, winter is godawful. My recommendation is this: Don’t just get the first North Face or Patagonia dealy you see. A: Everyone has one. B: The fact that they’re so ubiquitous doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the best. C: Alright, I get it, North Face and Patagonia are fine, but seriously, you want a jacket with some huevos. D: Calm down, all I’m saying is that shopping around a bit more — and spending a bit more — will beget fine dividends.

Example being, my jacket is my actual favorite thing I own. It is a Filson Tin Cloth Field Jacket. It weighs, at minimum, 60 pounds. It is a piece of clothing I hope to have in my life longer than life itself, and it is built to fulfill that wish.

For the fashion-conscious, I understand that current styles (read: all women’s clothing) tend to come at a higher premium. I implore you, buy it more for the utility than the look. We chilly lovers of Maine see past your swaddled exterior and into your fine and beautiful (and warm) heart.

Was my jacket cheap? Absolutely not! I saved and it still cost me dearly. BUT! I love it all the more now. Plus it’s going to last. This is the place to invest, my friends. Make sure your jacket has: a hood (or hood-attachment possibility), a zipper that comes high up over your face, near-waterproofness, warmth! and the ability to fit multiple layers beneath it.

In the end, spending a little — a lot — more for a truly great jacket will mean the difference between suffering through the winter and literally grabbing Father Frost by his cheeks and smoochin’ him on his cracked, desiccated lips.

Second order of busy-ness: hat

Hats are a necessity. Gotta keep 80% of the warmth in your body somehow. (Unfun fact: 80% of the heat from your body is NOT lost through your head. That’s incorrect. Why do we even trust common knowledge anymore? It can’t even get famous movie quotes right — “Luke, I am your father,” is never said in Star Wars. Ever.)

But what hat to get? Here we deviate from the rule established previously. Hats should be bought for style and shouldn’t be all that expensive. Your hat is going to mess up your hair, this is inevitable. Get one that looks great doing it. If, by some gift of genetics, you have the type of hair that doesn’t turn into an angry rat’s nest after being in a snug winter hat, fie on you.

For the rest of us, the temptation of ear warmers or headbands is great — especially if you care mightily about your coif. Let me deliver this warning: There is nothing as warm as a hat and there is no discomfort greater than a cold head/face area. Wear a hat, let your personality shine.

But seriously, a good li’l beany or bomber cap is really all you need for a warm noodle. Plus, if you drop bank for your jacket it’ll probably have a good hood that you can pull up around your face in case the wind begins to nip, bite or maul.

Graphic courtesy Brett Willis

Graphic courtesy Brett Willis

Third: Pants

Herein depends upon your physique. For almost all people, normal pants will do. If you’re like me, you throw off heat like a runaway choo choo. However, no matter your body heat, legs can get cold when the wind’s a-blowing. Now, we can’t just wear snow pants around all the time (side note: if you don’t have snow pants, get snow pants now, you madman), so the normal temptation — for guys like me — is to get lined pants to avoid the chill.

Allow me to elucidate how it feels — for a man of my stature — to wear lined pants in two phases. Phase 1: Outside: “Wow, this is excellent!” I’m outside and my legs are so warm! I’m a genius!” Phase 2: Inside: “Sweet lord in sweet heaven my legs are on fire. I am sweating from every pore. Regret is the only emotion I’m currently capable of.”

If, however, you are like some people I know and you do not chuck off heat at all, rock those lined pants like you own ‘em grrrrl (or guuuuyy). Seriously, for the chill of limb, lined pants are a beautiful necessity.

Fourth: Boots

Actin’ like you can tromp through a snowdrift in Air Force Ones? Get your mind right, player! I can feel that caked snow in my socks already. No! You need boots. Again, style is of the utmost unimportance. I prefer my Bean Boots to almost all else out there. Are they cliché? You bet your puffin-sight-seeing petoot! So don’t rock Bean Boots if you don’t like them (jerk), but DO get a boot that rises above the ankle, laces up nice and snug, is nigh waterproof.

Special caveat! Uggs are not boots. Uggs are essentially foot-Snuggies. “But they’re comfortable,” you lisp, drooling onto your hot pink, My Little Pony overalls. Ah, I’m being too harsh. Wear Uggs if you must, but don’t come crying to me when they’re soaked through, caked with salt and look like you’ve rammed the intestines of some giant plush gila monster onto your sweaty, disgusting feet.

Special caveat number two: Socks matter as much as boots. If you have a sick pair of socks that just hug your feet and lower ankles, baby, you’ve got a proverbial stew going. Ski socks and/or SmartWool-ish socks from places like REI or EMS tend to be the ticket.

Fifth! Accoutrements

This means mittens, face masks, etc. Mittens are useful in situations such as snow fights, scraping the windshield of your car and not checking your phone. Let me be clear: “type-fingers” style gloves so you can text outside? Please. When it’s cold, the only function for hand-gear is keeping your digits from turning black and falling off.

Everything else is optional and based on personal comfort. If you’re comfortable looking like a deranged arsonist, those full-face knit balaclavas get the job done. Facemasks/neck-ups are also an option, but scarves are the much more chic way to keep your chin snug. I tend to save most other accessories beyond a hat and gloves for winter activities like skiing and snowshoeing though. Most times I actually don’t even wear gloves – a good pocket is a wonderful thing.

That’s pretty much it. If you have somehow followed the borderline unhelpful directions of this post, you will be warmer’n’a porch pooch in July. Look at that! You’re ¼ of the way to surviving the best damn Maine winter of your life!

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