by: Ari Mahonen, Craft Sportswear North America
The 2015 American Birkebeiner is coming up next week and temperatures are slated for some cooler weather. I remember the last frigid Birkie caused issues for many when it came to staying warm. I thought I would provide some clothing recommendations similar to a wax recommendations that are so popular. Keeping warm & dry will be one of the best ways to get you to the finish line and to have a great Birkie in 2015.
Birkie Clothing Recommendation 2015
Predicted Temperatures: -4F at the start warming up to 10F by the afternoon.
“I’m All about that Base”
Yes. It’s all in caps. You can’t ski an event this long without them especially if it’s this cold. My favorites are the Craft Active Extreme Gunde Shorts – $60. When I’m layering up, I like to have Craft’s thinner baselayer but it has the protection of Gore Windstopper in all the key areas. They also make a slightly warmer version call the Active Gunde Shorts -$40.
Top/Bottom: Quick Drying Baselayer
In the cold weather, moisture management is key. If you have moisture next to your skin, you chill faster. So the faster your baselayer can dry, the better. This is why I love Craft’s Extreme Baselayer – $75. It not only picks up moisture easily with it’s non-compressive, next-to-skin fit, but also dries quickly so there’s no longer any moisure to chill you. It even provides an enhanced cooling effect of up to 6 degrees F. This happens through evaporative cooling. It sounds like a strange thing to want cooling in a race forecasted with a -4F starting temperature but if your body is sweating, then it’s trying to cool down.
If you’re trying to keep your layering to a minimum and you’re going do do a race suit, I recommend you look into Craft’s Active WS Baselayer top – $90. It provides all the great fit, performance of a Craft Baselayer but with an additional layer of Gore Windstopper in key areas to cut that cool air. It’s like putting a jacket under your suit. There have been examples of matching Craft WS Bottoms in the past but they are hard to come by. Many Midwestern shops still have a small selection of them on hand. If this interests you definitely call around. Men's Baselayers Women's Baselayers
Head: Extra Protection
There seems to be a trend in hats being shorter, leaving your neck and cheeks more exposed. With this trend, the popularity of the “Buff” has boomed in the Cross Country Ski Racing. That extra later of thin material creates a pocket of Warm air that protects against frost bite. Most seem to wear their’s over the back of their hats to the top of their heads. I suggest wearing this tube of fabric under the hat and next to skin. Keeping this layer next to your skin will allow the fibers to do their job, which is wicking moisture away from the skin, keeping you dry and warm. Granted if you do it this way you’ll lose that interesting pattern you’ve picked out. I personally use the Craft Active Extreme Multifunction-$30 as it’s built out of Craft’s Active Extreme fabric so it dries quickly, is super thin yet warm. The Multifunction is also super long (around 22″), so it easily covers your entire neck. It’s just black, so no interesting pattern for me, just a warm head. If you’re old school, you can go with the balaclava route for a more pre-fitted look. I recommend Craft’s WS Face Protector-$50 for that extra wind protection on the neck.
I feel the best thing here is to pick the proper weight of glove for the conditions. If you must use a liner, be sure that it dries quickly as wet hands = cold hands.
We’ll meet in the Middle
Top: Race Suit or Jacket?
That’s the first question to answer, are you going to use a race suit or jacket for the event.
Race Suit – If you’re wearing a race suit you might consider a midlayer for this year’s Birkie. It all depends on the baselayer you’ve chosen. If your baselayer provides good thermal warmth then you might not need a midlayer. If you’re baselayer is a little thinner than a pretty lightweight midlayer could do the trick. I like Craft’s Lightweight Thermal Stretch -$70. It’s very flexible and has a half-zip to let out some heat build up. The other option is to wear a vest over your suit but under your bib. It would be a great place to store some gel packs yet provide a way to cut the wind if you don’t have a WS baselayer. I like the Craft High Function Vest for this.
Jacket – During an event, unless your jacket is pretty thin, the addition of a midlayer shouldn’t be needed. The baselayer is still key here, make sure you choose one that is designed for winter (see above baslayer recommendation), if all you have is a summer weight baselayer (under armour style) be sure to use a midlayer. I feel many people over dress with a jacket on and get cold because of moisture build up. So keeping it lighter and thin is good.
If you plan on skiing in a race suit, the addition of a thermal midlayer on the bottom could be essential to keeping your legs warm. I like the use of Craft’s Flex Tights-$70. They are pretty stretchy, warm and slightly wind proof. So if you can’t find some Windstop bottoms these could be a good replacement.
If you plan on skiing in full pants/tights, you might not need a midlayer depending on the ones you choose. If your pants are just shell’s than a midlayer/baselayer is essential. If your bottoms have good thermal brushing/fleece on inside than a thin baselayer should be fine. Men's Race Suits Women's Race Suits
Let’s Top it off
Head: Mid-weight Hat
If you’ve been skiing a while, you’ve definitely collected some hats. Pick one that your comfortable skiing in and has good eat coverage. That can come from drop ears or enough volume in the hat to cover the ears. All your hats a bit short? You could use some ear muff’s to give them an extension or neck tubes help add coverage. There are several good Nordic Muffs on the market from Lillisport, Swix, & FinnMuffs. My personal favorite hat this season is Craft’s Race Hat-$25. It has plenty of volume for ear coverage and lots of country hat options. If you want something warmer Craft’s Big Logo Hat-$35 is also quite nice.
Top: Race Suit or Breathable Jacket
If you have a race suit, rock the suit. If you have some choices of jackets be sure to pick one that is breathable yet has wind protection. It doesn’t have to be thermal if you have the proper Baselayer and/or midlayer. My favorite for this season of skiing is Craft’s High Function Jacket-$160.Great colors, classic look, and lots of wind protection through the front of the jacket and down the arms. Men's Jackets Women's Jackets
Bottom: Race Suit Bottom or Thermal Tights
If you have a race suit, rock the suit. I think Craft’s Storm Tights-$125 (Women's Storm Tight here) are one of the best cold weather tights on the market. They have plenty of thermal warmth to them to start but are relaxed enough in fit to add layers if need be. If your pants just provide wind protection without the thermal, be sure to use a midlayer/baselayer to provide warm.
Feet: Warm but not overly warm socks
Again moisture is the enough especially in the feet area. Be sure to pick a sock that will keep your feet warm without causing them to sweat to much. If your socks get overly wet, you’ll freeze. I like Craft’s Warm Crew sock -$30 with it’s combination of Polyamide & Wool for quick drying a warmth. There is always classic wool sock combinations from Smartwool, Fit Sock, & Seger. What I would warn against is double layering socks. There’s the danger of constricting the blood flow to the feet.
If you’re still cold with warm socks then consider purchasing a pair of overboots. It’s like putting a jacket over your boot. They range from $35-$70 depending on how tightly they fit. My wife likes the fuzzy ones from Yoko. I have an old pair of Adidas ones that are made of neoprene that I wear on the coldest days.
Gloves are tricky because everyone has different circulation levels. So that’s how my recommendations will go. Remember that usually you’re hands will start cold at the beginning of the race, possibility get really cold for the first several kilometers. As your circulatory system catches up to the uptick of heart artivity, your hands will get warmer for the remainder of the event.
Great Circulation: I would do something like Craft’s Storm Glove-$50. It has great wind protection, good pole feel and a nice snot spot.
Average Circulation: I think something like Craft’s Power Thermal Glove-$50 is a great option for this level. Feels like getting hugged in the glove without giving up pole feel. If you want added wind protection then Craft’s Siberian Glove-$60 would be the best option.
Poor Circulation: This is split mitt territory. You get better pole feel with split mitts over regular mittens but still lots of the buddy warmth from having fingers next to each other. For wind protection, great warmth, and bundled fingers, I like Craft’s Thermal Split Mitt-$60.
Bad Circulation: Frost bit can do a number on the blood vessels over time and people’s circulation goes down as you age. This is mitten territory. Keep all of those fingers next to each other. I like Craft’s Touring Mitt -$40 but have also had good luck with Lillisports-Camp Mitt. Both take on a hand warmer if needed.
Overmitts are another option for those with cold hards. They work really well if you like having great pole feel but need warmer hands. You put on a great-circulation level glove, then put on your pole strap, then cover it with the overmitt. Lillisport makes a great example of them.
Eyes – Because frozen eyeballs aren’t fun.
When it gets cold you need something over your eyes to keep them warm and protected against the freezing air. The problem you usually encounter is fogging. Most eyewear is designed around warm weather where fogging isn’t an issue. In skiing you need adequate ventilation to release any warm air (breath) that gets near your lens. This is where the use of Shield styles glasses is so great. My current favorite is the Bliz Proflip XT.
Other Helpful Dressing Tips
Tuck your baselayer top into your baselayer bottoms. It seems like a little thing but it really keeps the warmth in.
On the way to the race try to stay cool. We have a tendency to have warm vehicles and we are dressed to spend lots of time outside. This can cause overheating/sweating before we even start. So either remove some layers once the vehicle has warmed up, or just keep that vehicle pretty chilly.
I hope this has helped give some useful tips to help make the 2015 American Birkebeiner a success to you.
- Ari Mahonen: Craft Sportwear North America
-Posted by Ari Mahonen on Feb 14th 2015