Dressing For Cold Weather in The Mountains

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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Dressing for the mountains and higher elevations can be difficult because at high elevations the weather changes unexpectedly and rapidly. In our twenty winters living at 9,800’ elevation we have realized that weather forecasters seem to have a difficult time successfully predicting weather in the mountains. They are generally closer in determining the high and low temperature but otherwise they often miss the mark. This is not to disparage our weather people but due to the mountains with its valleys and changing wind direction it is difficult to accurately predict weather. More often than not we will have predictions of 1-3” of snow and end up with two feet of snow. When we purchased our property back in the late 70’s the HUD report stated our average snowfall was 264” per season. We have found that moderately accurate and that raises the issue of how we dress to be outside in such variable conditions.  

Flexible Winter Clothing Options

For those who enjoy skiing, either cross country or going down a slope, the clothing choices are pretty consistent and a wide range of ski clothing is available. For those who live in the mountains and work outside shoveling snow or walking behind snow throwers in the winter the options are different. Our class of people tend to go inside when we get uncomfortable so having clothing that doesn’t require several minutes to put on or take off is essential if there is outside work to be done. Layering for outdoor recreation is a good idea but when you are shoveling snow it can be a burden so we use clothes that don’t require a lot of time to prepare going outside or coming inside. We prefer clothes that don’t require being changed frequently. 

Clothing Choices

I have chosen for my wardrobe that are durable that can overlap different seasons. I prefer flannel shirts and I have a few of the heavier types as well as the lighter weights. Flannel is a good garment to allow air circulation under my coat and still keep me warm without working up a sweat. I also prefer blue jeans both lined and unlined and have when needed I use insulated underwear under them. The wind doesn’t blow through the fabric and they keep me warm but not to the point I sweat. Sweating is perhaps the worse thing to have happen when outside in the cold because when taking a break I chill fast. I also prefer turtleneck long sleeved cotton  tee shirts and heavy cotton socks in the winter.  


Over the years I have tried numerous gloves designed to keep my hands warm but have found them all lacking. When my hands get cold it makes it hard to grip tools or feel items which can be frustrating. I have found that mittens designed for skiers are far better at keeping my hands warm and they are large enough that I can put the instant hand warmers in them without restriction. I also like the lightweight nylon shell or heavy cotton coats with good insulation. I need the freedom of movement but not the cumbersome restrictive limitations of a bulky heavy coat. I also have a heavy jump suit that is very well insulated (see photo). When we initially moved to the mountains we thought we would need heavy well insulated outerwear. The first time I wore it was over my jeans and flannel shirt. I was so hot I was profusely sweating. I only wear it now with my underwear and on days when the temperature is in the negative numbers. In the winter I prefer a watch cap or one with ear flaps that stave off frostbite.


Footwear is a separate challenge because when my feet get cold I seem to be chilled all over. I personally prefer boots that are well insulated and also waterproof. Working outside in ice and snow all the time requires durability and proper insulation. I have not noticed any difference between the more expensive or more affordably priced winter boots having any significant difference in warmth or durability.  

Wind A Major Factor

Weather at higher elevations in the mountains is unpredictable and as stated earlier changes quickly and frequently. We often have wind along with strong gusts which is a major consideration in deciding how to dress for outdoors. The temperatures combined with gusty wind and the wind chill factors are important to understand when working outside at our elevation. Dressing for a static temperature is much different than doing so if there is a 20 mph wind. It is therefore very important to dress adequately to be outside in the winter so we can remain comfortable and warm.  

Other Seasons Clothing 

In the other seasons I still use a light long sleeved flannel shirt or cotton shirt and jeans. These are practical and if it is cool I wear a sweatshirt over the shirt. I still wear boots but not the insulated ones. I also prefer in the spring, summer and fall to wear a cowboy hat so I get maximum protection from the sun. All seasons of the year at high elevation the sun can be hard on skin because the weather is so pleasant that it is easy to get over exposed without realizing it. When I saw what the sun did to my tender seedlings in my garden I realized that we were exposed to strong sun ultraviolet rays at this altitude.   

I do not maintain a large wardrobe of clothing but what I do maintain has been carefully chosen. When making a purchase, I consider durability foremost since our terrain is rough and the weather and stresses on clothing and shoes are demanding. Properly dressing for the outdoors makes working or playing more comfortable. Clothes that are fashionable or trendy in the city are just not suitable for live in the mountains in my opinion. Durability and dressing for conditions is the best method to stay warm and comfortable. 

Bruce and Carol McElmurray live in their small cabin with their four German Shepherds at 9,800’ elevation in S. Colorado. To read more about them and their lifestyle go to their blogsite at: www.brucecarolcabin.blogspot.com

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