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Winter Layering 101


We’ve said it before: the key to staying comfortable in cold weather is layering. Whether you’re skinning up several thousand feet to a snowy summit, braving slushy roads for a ride, or hitting the Nordic track on skate gear, chances are you’re going to begin your workout colder than you end it.

The body expends a lot of energy during athletic pursuits. That energy floods your body with heat, which makes you sweat and feel, well, warm. (Generally followed by a release of elevating endorphins—one of the reasons we here at Nikwax remain avid athletes, no matter what the weather outside is doing).

Starting cold means you’re unlikely to overheat right out of the gate. Once you get going, being warm is good. Being hot is not. And wet? You most definitely do not want to be wet.

Managing your body’s heat can mean the difference between a good workout and a bad one. Why do you want to manage it? Simple.

  1. Comfort. Who wants to stew in damp clothes? Not us, and not you, either.
  2. A matter of life and death. Sounds extreme? Maybe. But those who don’t wick away sweat risk getting chilled. The chills can lead to frostbite (bad) and even hypothermia (worse).
  3. Performance. Your movements are more precise when you can concentrate. When you body gets cold and soggy, your thoughts focus on your discomfort and take away your prowess.

How, then, do you keep dry and cool—not cold, not too warm—during your workout? Through careful layering and proper care of your different layers.

Start with a technical base layer that wicks sweat away from the body and stays relatively dry to the touch. There’s a multitude to choose from: wool or synthetics. Care for these with our BaseFresh or Wool Wash.

Next, add an insulting layer. Fleece or a wool sweater. Think warm and fuzzy.

Follow with a shell that breathes. And then wash that shell regularly. We know what you’re thinking: really? Yep. If you don’t wash it regularly, your shell can get gunked up with sweat, grime, dirt, and the like. A gunked up shell won’t breathe, and that leads to soggy misery. Take care of it with our Tech Wash.

What else is good in your quiver? Warm gloves and a pair of lighter liner gloves. A hat. A pair of dry socks. A thermos with a warm drink and a full water bottle.

Use this system, and you’ll give yourself the edge you need to get outside and keep your heart rate up all winter long.

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Cyclists vs. the Elements: the Chilly Hilly Bicycle Classic


Here in Nikwax’s U.S. Pacific Northwest headquarters, we pride ourselves on being hardy folk. It takes a certain kind of person to live in a place where you can count a month’s worth of sunny days on one hand, the trails are often caked in a thick layer of mud, and riding your bike might often require a full rain suit and fenders.

So it’s fitting that one of the Northwest’s oldest, largest, and best loved cycling events takes place in the biting cold of late February, on a coastal island often battered by the blustery winds off the Pacific Ocean.

For the past 40 years, the unofficial start of cycling season has been the last Sunday in February. The Chilly Hilly Bicycle Classic, presented by the Cascade Bicycle Club, draws thousands of brave cyclists who face cold, and often wet, conditions to tackle 2,675 feet of seriously hilly terrain on Bainbridge Island, off the coast of Seattle.

ChillyhillyThe race, named by Bicycle magazine as “one of the four classic rides” in the nation, begins with an early morning ferry ride across Puget Sound. The course then begins immediately on the docks, as the bundled-up riders take to their bikes to tackle 33 miles of steeply rolling terrain in the bone-chilling cold.

Of course, some accommodations are made to help keep the racers warm. Rather than the standard food and fuel station fare of water and energy bars, riders are greeted at the halfway point with warming hot cider and baked goods. At the finish line festival, there’s a “hot chili feed” for the tired and cold masses, with all proceeds benefiting the local Squeaky Wheels Bike Club.

If you’re thinking about taking on the challenge of the Chilly Hilly, you’ve got to be prepared for the serious conditions presented by late winter in the Northwest. It will most certainly be cold, and likely wet enough to test the limits of your most waterproof gear. Make sure to re-up the waterproofing on all your shells, gloves, and shoes with Nikwax products like T.X. Direct, Fabric and Leather Proof, and Glove Proof.

For more information about this year’s Chilly Hilly on February 24th, click here.

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Shoveling 101: Looking Good, Feeling Better

Layering is key to stay dry doing winter chores. Photo courtesy

Layering is key to stay dry doing winter chores. Photo courtesy

It’s almost President’s Day Weekend, which means families around the country are gearing up to take the Christmas tree down. Or is that just us?

Forget skiing and ice climbing, mundane outdoor tasks take up far more checks on our honey-do list than all of the rad adventures we wish could be top priority. When you add up all the hours in a winter, shoveling the drive, throwing a Frisbee for the dog and walking to the bus take up a lot more space in our pie chart of activities than all the “cool” things we define ourselves by.NW_PieChart

Here at Nikwax, we’re proud that our products are as relevant for chores around the house as they are on multi-day expeditions. We think “how to layer for cleaning the gutters” is just as compelling as “how to layer for your 8th ascent of the Eiger.”

At the core, they offer the same challenges:

  • Manage moisture from the weather and from your own sweat,
  • Maintain a comfortable body temperature based on exertion and layering options, and
  • Choose your outerwear wisely for the best experience.

So move over Conrad Anker. Step aside Gretchen Bleiler and Chris Davenport. We’re impressed; you know we are. But today we salute the heroes of the cul-de-sac: the every day men and women who gauge the difficulty of their ascent by how deeply buried the ladder is in the garage.

How to Dress for Shoveling: Looking Good, Feeling Better

1.    Never underestimate the power of moisture-wicking base layer.

Keep performance and lose the stench with: Nikwax BaseFresh or Wool Wash

2. If you listen to Willie Nelson, watch old Westerns or have ever been on a sports team, you know that certain relationships trump all others. A man and his horse; a cowboy and his sidekick; your feet and your boots. Shoveling is hard work, so it’s not too likely that your tootsies will be cold. Wet, however, is a different story. Nobody likes prune toes.

Keep your feet dry with our range of Footwear Products

3. That fancy new cold weather shell does work for shoveling! It may lack the panache of say…a Glad bag…but it will let the sweat out and keep the snow from getting in. Here’s the not-so-secret tip that has been at the center of a long-held misunderstanding for technical outerwear: WASH IT. Yep, the biggest performance hindrance to breathability in outerwear is the build-up of oils, dirt and grime on the fabric. The key is to wash with a gentle formula designed for technical gear. While it’s a good idea to re-waterproof as needed, washing is the first critical step.

Mangy to marvelous with: Tech Wash

4. Stay hydrated. Every high level performer cares for their body’s internal wellness.Our good friends at Nuun make that task fun. We love doctoring up a boring glass of water with their electrolyte replenishers. And following that, we’re always game for the hydration duo power pack: Coffee (morning) and beer (afternoon).

Enjoy that beer with the knowledge that you’ve just burned 408 calories (assuming you weigh 150-lbs and kept at it for an hour), and you were home in time to tuck your kids into bed.

Here’s to you!



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A Four-Stage Plan for Preventing Cold Hands

NW_GloveCareHow can we put this delicately? Cold hands suck.

If our subjective analysis isn’t persuasive enough, check out the medical proof. The ulnar and radial arteries deliver warmed blood to the hands. As ambient temperature drops, vessels constrict and blood flow slows overall. With less blood going to the extremities, they get cold. That is uncomfortable.

If you’re a woman or an athlete, there’s a good chance you may already have lower blood pressure than other folks. If that’s the case, your body auto-corrects in cold temps and directs blood flow to the heart and away from your fingers and tootsies. Warm heart, cold hands.

That doesn’t mean you’re doomed to suffer through frigid extremities. With a little groundwork to find the right mitts and some consistent TLC throughout said mitt’s lifetime, you can keep your digits warm. Warm fingers, happy heart.

Stage 1: Preparation. Armed with medical proof and forgoing the option of eating a bacon-only diet to raise your blood pressure, stage one is simple. Buy good gloves. That means you should not skimp. That means plunking down at least a C-note on the right gloves.

This might seem extreme, but good gloves incorporate high-tech materials, innovative water-proofing, and superior insulation. This matters because if there is anything we can say with more certainty than “cold hands suck,” it’s that wet gloves are a direct route to miserably cold hands.

Stage 2: Proof. After plunking down a small fortune on quality gloves, the next logical step is to make your investment last. It’s not just an investment in sweet gear; it’s an investment in comfort, well-being and the ability to stay out longer and play harder.

We recommend adding your own waterproofing regimen at home using the Nikwax Glove Proof or Waterproofing Wax for Leather.


Black Diamond Kingpin Glove

Stage 3: Play. If this isn’t self-explanatory, please step outside for inspiration.

Stage 4: Prolong. Add years to your mitts (and warmth to your hands) with some easy care tips.

  • After every use, allow them to thoroughly dry in the open air. Don’t overdo the heat (a.k.a. blast them with a hair dryer) if they’re leather.
  • Apply waterproofing as frequently as your climate demands.
  • Before storing for the summer, take a close look. Do you need to clean or condition the leather? While ski gloves rarely need an intense cleaning, some gloves for motorcycles and other activities will highly benefit. Add a deep waterproofing treatment and allow to dry. If possible, store flat without squishing.

Bonus: Daily Tips for Warm Hands

  • When you know you’re looking at a cold day of Arctic proportions, start out with portable hand warmers. The best strategy is to never let yourself get cold in the first place. Warmers keep the edge off.
  • Manage sweat. Nikwax will keep the elements from getting in, but you’re on your own when mitigating sweaty paws. Take gloves off whenever you have a moment to cool and dry hands.

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Avalanche Awareness: Not just for skiers

Avalanche awareness is critical in any winter snowsports endeavor.

Avalanche awareness is critical in any winter snowsports endeavor.

It’s winter, and for most of us that means spending much of our free time on the snow—on skis, snowshoes, snowboards, sleds, or any other contraption with a sliding surface. We’re a cold-climate tribe, like-minded folks who understand the reward of bundling up and pushing our bodies through the elements.

As we go, many of us venture into the unknown, to the next summit, the next ridge over. And as we do, we may cross from a relatively safe zone into a more dangerous one where risks are greater. Perhaps the most threatening of all is an avalanche.

Tragically, avalanches kill people each winter. Some of the victims are well-known industry experts. Others are less known. They’re out with their friends and succumb to changing conditions, unpredictable circumstances.

Here at Nikwax hearts go out to anyone affected by avalanches in the backcountry. Experience tells us that it isn’t just the extreme skiers who are affected. It’s the cross-country enthusiast. The snowshoeing bird watcher. The snowmobiler.

In the hopes of spreading the word about avalanche safety, we here at Nikwax offer the following tips to our intrepid customers and friends. Please, stay safe in the backcountry.

  • Educate yourself: Avalanches can occur with as little as a few inches of snow. The contributing factors in an avalanche include slope angle, snow conditions, and the type of snow crystals closest to the ground. Snow scientists spend a lifetime studying these phenomenons. You don’t need a Ph.D., but check out the American Institute for Avalanche Safety to learn how to recognize and avoid scenarios that are primed for an avalanche.
  • Take a course: The American Avalanche Institute has been teaching professionals and recreationists how to stay safe in the backcountry since 1973. Check the website for a course near you.
  • Gear up: Avalanche beacons, snow shovels, and probes are de rigeur in the backcountry. However, they’re only as good as the person using them. Buy a beacon—an electronic tracker that emits signals and also tracks them to find bodies buried in an avalanche. Then practice using it.
  • Choose your route wisely: We’re not saying to avoid avalanche terrain. Some of the best backcountry huts, ski slopes, and basic trails traverse avalanche paths. What’s important is to know the risks of your route and do your best to mitigate them using the skills you picked up in your avalanche course.
  • Choose your partners wisely: Make sure you trust the folks you recreate with to make educated decisions.

If this seems extreme, consider this: if you’re in the backcountry anywhere near a slope with an angle, you could be at risk of an avalanche. We don’t want to scare you. We don’t want you to stay home. But we do want you to be safe.

Getting out in the winter is one of life’s most joyful activities. Coming home in one piece is even better.

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To Buy or Not to Buy: That is the question

112811_NY-Times-main_2_F11$65,000. That’s a lowball estimate for the cost of a full-page ad in the New York Times. We don’t know what was actually paid, but $65,000 is a good guess at how much Patagonia shelled out for a 2011 Black Friday advertisement imploring consumers not to buy its products.

You’ve got to hand it to the PR wizards over at the much revered apparel company. The “Don’t Buy This Jacket” ad paid for itself many times over in the additional coverage it garnered for the company’s controversial stance. We’re willing to bet the ad increased the allegiance of an already loyal fan base, and ironically, ended up selling even more jackets.

The reason the ad was successful is that when Patagonia tells us not to buy more stuff, we have no basis to doubt the authenticity of their message. The company, now a B-corporation in California, has a long and proven history of transparently analyzing its own environmental impact. Nikwax is a fan of both the company and of the message that product durability is one of the top tier necessities of environmental responsibility.

Durability (or longevity) is a soapbox Nikwax has unabashedly stood atop for over 30 years. It’s a compelling topic for our pocketbooks, for the environment, for resource use and for peace of mind. The challenge is how to make it sexy for a society that often places higher value on the latest, newest and shiniest toy.

Think about it. When was the last time you heard, “Cute new coat”?

Now, when was the last time you heard, “Wow! If I’m not mistaken, it looks like you may have washed your coat and revived the durable water repellency. That’s hot.”

Highlighting Patagonia again, the company’s Common Threads Initiative is a five-pronged approach to raising awareness to the philosophical and physical ramifications of over-consumption. Coupled with their increasingly transparent life cycle notes and supply chain realities of being a global company, Patagonia is helping consumers understand the actual impacts and stressors of each piece of clothing.

Educating ourselves on the impacts of our purchasing decisions isn’t as easy as it seems like it should be. In a global marketplace, where shipping Zircon containers half-way around the world is cheaper than sewing right next door, consumers need to have PhDs in resource use, production, supply chain management, transportation and technical textile manufacturing.

Take, for example, the 60% recycled polyester R2 Jacket from the New York Times ad. Patagonia, a company known for minimizing negative environmental impacts, shared some sobering production facts:

  • To make one jacket requires 135-liters of water.
  • Transporting the fabric to production, then to the Patagonia warehouse in Reno, Nevada generated 24 times the weight of the garment in carbon dioxide (total of 20-lbs CO2). This doesn’t include any transport relating to making fabric.
  • The production of one jacket (13.1-oz) generates about 8.6-oz of waste.

What will you do when faced with the decision to buy new or not? Repairing and recycling a used jacket isn’t without negative impacts. Shipping a garment for repair will have a carbon footprint. New resources will be used for the repair. Electricity, water, and gas will be eaten up to keep the doors open for the effort. In some cases, recycling a material into something functional can suck up more energy than transforming virgin resources into usable materials.

Nikwax isn’t immune. Washing and treating apparel with Nikwax adds to the sum total of resource use. The critical factor is that you’re investing in an existing, functional piece of gear.

As manufacturers and consumers, we will always be responsible for creating some level of negative impact. Always. The key is minimizing and mitigating at every turn. Anyway you stack it up, the long-term consequences of repairing, reusing and recycling are far less detrimental than starting from scratch every time.

As it turns out, $65,000 is a hell of a bargain for little more clean water, a lot more fresh air and an untarnished outdoor adventure.