How To Stay Warm (When Freezing Climates Are Not Your Thing)

Some people do well in the cold. I am not one of them. Being even a little bit cold makes me crabby. I am prone to all sorts of cold injuries, including being pre-hypothermic a handful of times.

Some people have generations of northern heritage passing on cold climate strategies. Not me. My fathers side comes from southeast Asia. He still doesn’t wear socks in the winter and his “layering” is typically a giant coat over summer clothes. My mother’s side is mostly Scandinavian. You’d think that’d be better but a salient story is how my mom frostbit her thighs walking home from school in a miniskirt.

I grew up convinced I would leave this climate, yet I fell in love with one of those northern woodsmen. So in the last decade or so I’ve also learned to fall in love with winter. Through education and practice I’ve learned how to stay warm even in the deepest cold. 

Through over 10 Minnesota winters I’ve biked and run commuted. We’ve done nine winter camping trips, sleeping under a tarp for over 20 nights and down to -30ºF (-34ºC). While it isn’t always “fun” it does instill incredible confidence. Winter woods are also stunningly beautiful.

Check out my upcoming online interactive workshop! I designed it for people like myself 😉

Clothing Layering Basics: 

This is the info you’ll see everywhere. 

  1. Thin “base” next to skin layers. These layers wick moisture away from skin so your skin stays drier and warmer. Cotton dries very slowly. Even if you are not a “sweaty” person, cotton is a poor next-to-skin layer unless you are trying to cool off. Always wool, silk, or synthetic activewear. 
  2. Thicker “mid” insulating layers. These trap your body heat in air preventing radiation heat loss. They also reduce conductive heat loss by padding where you make contact with cold things. 
  3. Thin “shell” protective layers. These slow convection (wind) and evaporation (of the sweat that your base layers wicked to your mid layers), and keep you from getting wet from the environment.

But OMG – this is not enough info. 


“Cold” or “winter” is not just one experience. 

  • Temperature (plus wind, humidity, precipitation etc). The difference in how you layer for 20ºF vs -20ºF is drastic. 
  • Activity. The difference between how you layer for being highly aerobic in 20ºF vs mostly sedentary in -20ºF is even more drastic! 
  • Duration. The difference between how you layer to go outside for 1 hour is different than 1 day is different than 3 continuous days outdoors. 
  • Acclimation. 40ºF can feel fucking freezing when you’re used to 90ºF and that’s OK! 20ºF can feel thick and balmy when you’re used to -20ºF.  Same temperature, different season can lead to different layers!
  • Personal physiology. Some people generate a lot of heat and sweat. Some people get cold and stay cold easily. Don’t make assumptions based on appearance or body type. What works for one person isn’t necessarily best for another. 
  • Food and hydration. The same temperature will feel very different even just slightly deficient vs having lots of calories and hydration in your system. 

Video compilation demo of most of these variables!

Layering clothing – beyond basics

Be an onion or a nesting doll. 

  • Overlap! At wrists, ankles, waist, neck. Even if you can’t see gaps, layers that don’t overlap or just barely overlap leak heat. Tuck things in! 
  • Micro adjustments! Having several options (not just un-zipping) is key to adapting to changing variables. It’s not all or nothing. Don’t wait until you’re too cold or too warm. Constantly make micro adjustments to your layers as your activity level or other variables change. Avoid products that combine layers (a puffy jacket combined with a rain shell) making it hard to adjust.
  • Layers for your head! Have several options that layer. These accessories are fairly small and easy to pack. For example, one or two thin Buffs (seamless fabric tube) that can be used around the ears or neck, a scarf (or something thicker that can protect the face), a hat, and a hood. These can be worn separately or together.
  • Layers for your hands! Thin glove, insulating mitten, and shell mitten is your best option for warm hands. Again, having these layers be separate gives you great versatility. You can operate with one of the layers or different combinations of the layers.
  • Layers for your feet! You can wear a thin base layer sock, a thick fuzzy sock, and then the shoe is the shell. If the shoe is too tight to accept the layers then it’s not the right shoe. All these layers can be adapted. Maybe you wear two base layer socks under a light weight running shoe. Maybe you wear the base, insulating, and a thick soled boot. 
  • Wet! Sometimes getting wet is just unavoidable. Sometimes there is no way to not sweat through your layers. Sometimes there is no way to keep all the precipitation out. Sometimes the best thing to do is pack a set of dry layers. 

Vapor Barrier Layers (VBLs)

Evaporation is incredibly effective at cooling you even when you are already cold and think you can’t possibly be sweating. VBLs are a critical step when treating or preventing hypothermia in delayed care settings (AKA wilderness). In this context, we’ll focus on just using them on hands and feet. VBLs are very effective but can feel very weird and used poorly can make you more cold. 

  • Use plastic (or similar material)
  • Wear as close to skin as possible. This can be directly on skin or over a very thin base layer.
  • Make the tightest seal possible.
  • Insulating layer on top of VBL.
  • Concerned about wet coming from the environment? Use another VBL on top of the insulating layer(s).

You will be drenched in sweat under the VBL. It may feel weird or gross. If you were clean before the VBL, the sweat itself is salty; antibacterial and clean.


  • If there are holes or gaps in your VBLs they will not work.
  • Be prepared to get warm and dry after removing the VBLs. Do not take off the VBLs unless you can do this.

Beyond clothing

Staying warm is more than what you wear.

  • Skin! Keep your skin healthy. Dry cracked skin doesn’t do a good job of helping regulate your body temperature. Use body oils or creams (without alcohol in them) and use extra protection for skin that will be exposed to the air. Warm Skin and Dermatone Spot Protection Stick are my two most regular products.
  • Heat! Yes, there are those disposable hand/foot warmers, I’m not a fan. Hot water bottles to hold and a thermos of hot drink are my preferred heat sources. Fire is the original heat source, but not always available. Stealing someone else’s body heat (think cold feet warmed up on someone’s belly) is also effective but usually not safe or available.
  • Eat! Eat more! Eat easily digestible warm things! Being even a little hungry while battling the cold not only makes you colder, it makes it harder to do the other things that will keep you warm. EAT!  
  • Move! Move more! Move vigorously until you feel like you’re actively generating heat. This can feel like a lot of work. If you wait until you’re too cold and you don’t have enough calories in your system, this is really hard to do. Once you feel yourself on the verge of sweating, then lower the activity level, but don’t just sit down. 

Between Your Ears

Disliking or being afraid of the cold is not irrational. Don’t let anyone dismiss your cold concerns. Cold injuries can be mild to severe. For a long time I hated the cold because no one took my cold discomfort seriously. As a teen, there were a couple instances where adult leaders pushed me to near dangerous levels of cold before allowing me to get warm. It was physically and emotionally traumatic. Fear of cold is like fear of heights. It’s there to keep you safe. First make sure you actually are prepared to stay warm. Second, know what your safety back ups are. Sometimes that’s just going back inside. If that’s not an option, make sure the people you’re with can and will help you re-warm. Third, emotionally and mentally prepare. 

Mentally embrace that you are a durable resilient physical being capable of enduring temporary discomfort. You’re not going to get your layers 100% perfect every single time. Some days you’ll get it right, some days you’ll over or under shoot. You’ll adjust. Your preferences will change over time. Even when you are super experienced and have all your layers dialed perfectly, you’ll usually be somewhat uncomfortable for some amount of time. Yet with knowledge and practice you’ll have the confidence that you can be safe in the cold. 

Winter is a magical beautiful season. Ice is fascinating. Nature year-round is healthy. Don’t let the cold stop you! Get out there!

Have fun out there!

If you want to learn more, reach out, I can help!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Post Adventure Blues? 10 Questions to Help you Reflect and Plan

This was written for and published by Garage Grown Gear! Check them out!

It’s done. The BIG ADVENTURE you planned and planned and trained and prepped for. It dominated your life, it defined you, it absorbed all conversation. It’s over. 

Maybe it was a wild success. Maybe it was a little embarrassing or disappointing. Whatever it was, maybe you’re left feeling rather adrift. You’re feeling a bit aimless wondering ”What even happened out there?” and “What’s next?” 

It’s normal after a big goal is over to have a bit of the blues, to feel a little at a loss. The post adventure “Blahs” are something you can help yourself with. 

Here are ten questions to ask yourself. They should help you really absorb your experience and set new goals to inspire and motivate you. 

It’s quite the list, feel free to work through it over a couple days. It might be something you journal about or something you talk through with a friend. When you’re done you’re going to feel amazing! 

1. How many stars would you give your adventure? 

Pretend you’re giving your adventure a Google review. How would you rate it and why? This isn’t a judgment on yourself, it’s an overall ranking for the whole thing. Would you do it again? Would you recommend it to others? 

Continue reading
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Years in the Making (AKA Sara’s Bigfoot 43 Race Report) – by Sara S.

Introduction by Coach Kym

This is a beautiful epic story of a single race by a self described “mediocre” runner. You might be inclined to think “why do I care about a middle of the pack runner?” Don’t we usually get our inspiration and direction from Olympic level athletes? Or the other end of the spectrum, the tragic-to-triumph stories? Yet, aren’t most of us middle of the pack average athletes? Most of us will rarely (or never) be on a podium or be dead last either. Most of us are not overcoming monumental obstacles, just the mundane ones. That doesn’t mean your story isn’t any less important or inspirational. As is Sara’s. 

Sara on a solo backpacking adventure

In January 2016 Sara came to me for coaching. Her goal was to solo backpack the 30mi outer mountain loop of Big Bend National Park in early 2017. With a year of specific training and preparation hikes, she was very successful. Later that year she backpacked 50mi in the Wind River mountain range of Wyoming. These and other backpacking trips were and continue to be what feeds her soul. Yet in 2018 she decided to train for her first running event. She skipped right past 5k and even marathon. Her first race was the Zumbro 50mi in April. It happened to get the most classic Minnesota spring weather; snowy blizzard, gale force winds, sleet, and knee deep mud. Between battling a mysterious knee injury and wildly challenging race day weather, many people would have gotten out of ultra running. Sara has embraced the constant problem solving of both her body and logistics continuing to do two other very successful 50mi ultra-runs before this story of her Bigfoot 43 mile ultra race. 

It has been an honor to coach Sara through these years. I am so proud to have guided her from novice athlete getting used to following a five hour a week training plan, to now where she writes her own complex plans. 

I hope you enjoy her story of this one long day that was years in the making. 

Continue reading
Posted in Adventures, Enterprise, Fitness | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

No Strippers, Yes Climbing (AKA Epilogue to our Wind River Adventure)

Previously: Adventures Delayed (AKA Prologue to Wind River Adventure) and Fun Layers (AKA Wind River Adventure in Three Parts)

Fourteen days for our pre-parenting adventure. Some people call it a babymoon. But that makes me think of lounging on beaches with virgin piña coladas. Not our style. Although if babymoons are supposed be like honeymoons, I guess ours has some similarities. Our honeymoon was 19 days of traversing the Canadian border by canoe in the BWCA. Not very romantic. Very dirty. Very Type 2 Fun. So it’s fitting that the first seven days of this adventure had been pretty gritty.

After seven nights in our tent, four of which rain was the least of our concerns, it was time for our one night in a bed. 

We pulled up to the independent family owned motel. Their clean cute website and reality didn’t match up.

Continue reading
Posted in Adventures | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Fun Layers (AKA Wind River Adventure in Three Parts)

Previously… Adventures Delayed AKA the prologue to this story or AKA how I ended up backpacking 52 miles while pregnant.

August 2021 – 21 weeks pregnant. McDonalds breakfast in hand and starting the two day, 15 hour drive to Lander Wyoming! 

After a pandemic year of canceled adventures and a general sense of being cooped up at home, it felt great to be driving out west. That drive, even when it’s seemingly empty and monotonous is also astoundingly expansive. The slower you move through a landscape the greater the sense of awe and connection. Flying is so unsatisfactory. 

Part One – We started with so much Type 1 Fun in Spearfish SD

At the Spearfish campground. We deeply enjoyed this creek.

How very fortunate that our first two days had gone so smoothly. Type 2 Fun was just around the corner. 

Continue reading
Posted in Adventures | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Adventures Delayed (AKA Prologue to Wind River Adventure)

Years of anticipation.  So many desired and delayed adventures. Then it all seemed to happen all at once. 

2008 Kym dating Will, “Kids some day? Yes?” 

“Yes. Someday.” 

“Good. Someday.” 

Then for many years we embarked on wonderful adventures… our BWCA honeymoon, and Ironman, and winter camping… and every year we’d repeat some version of that conversation. 

Summer 2019 “Let’s start training for an ambitious adventure.” 

Continue reading
Posted in Adventures | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Pick One: Fast, Easy, or Cheap – backpacking edition

Originally written for all types of goals on my blog in January 2021 and then updated and republished for Garage Grown Gear

Want a recipe for disaster? 

“I’ve never slept in a tent before but I’m going to get a FKT on the PCT* next season. I also don’t have the time and energy for this to be hard to prepare for. Does someone have an easy to follow template for a couch to FKT plan? It also needs to be free. I don’t want to spend money on new gear, or guides, or training.”


Fast + Easy + Cheap = 😭. The goal doesn’t get achieved, or your body breaks, or your relationships break, either in the short or long term. Taking all the shortcuts at once rarely yields success. 

Continue reading
Posted in Enterprise | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

This is Fun?!? 6 Tips For Taking A Loved One Backpacking (or any outdoor adventure)

Originally written for and published by Garage Grown Gear

“Never again!” Is not the response you’re hoping for when you take your spouse or kid or BFF backpacking. You love this shit. You want to share the magical beauty and wonder of days immersed in nature unplugged. This can be your chance for deeper connection and making memories to reminisce over for decades to come. Or the trip will be remembered with resentment that represents the gulf between you. 

“I’ve been thinking about what to tell people about this trip. And nothing against you two, but I don’t think I could call it fun. There were times yesterday I wanted to go home.” 

That is what my sister Annalesa said to my husband Will and I on day three of our winter camping adventure. It was a challenging Type 2 Fun trip, but it was also filled with giggles and actual fun (proof). 

Three years later this is what she has to say about it now, “It was a phenomenal experience. I would absolutely do it again. The amount of confidence it gave me is remarkable.” 

Between Will’s Outward Bound work, my coaching, and accumulated personal experience; here are our six tips for taking your loved one into the woods: 

Continue reading
Posted in Adventures, Enterprise | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Planning the Big Picture so You Can Have Fun and Not Die

I think we can all agree that a successful adventure does not include helicopters and body bags. Preferably, no hospital involvement either. So how do you avoid that disaster scenario? Even better, how do you have a trip that isn’t just “not a disaster” but absolutely amazing? There are a zillion considerations in adventure planning, such as gear, budget, food, etc. Those are important, but take a step back, zoom out. 

These six elements of adventure planning encourage you to plan the big picture before narrowing in on decisions like whether or not to cut the handle off your toothbrush or eat nothing but cold bean paste out of a Talenti jar. 

They are:

1️⃣ Mental/Emotional wellness and group dynamics

2️⃣ Camp Craft

3️⃣ Technical Skills

4️⃣ Location and Navigation

5️⃣ Fitness 

6️⃣ First Aid and Evacuation Plans

You can read all about them on the article I wrote for Garage Grown Gear:

Planning the Big Picture: 6 Critical Considerations for Every Adventure

Continue reading
Posted in Adventures, Enterprise | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Breaking News! New Type 2 Fun Adventure!

I have nothing against Type 1 Fun. I love naps, watching Pixar movies, or beers with friends. I’m writing this in bed with Pigeon curled up in my lap. 

Type 2 fun is where it’s at. Will and I are all about the type of fun where it’s miserable at the time but makes the best story later. Whether it’s wilderness adventures like our honeymoon trip or athletic challenges or running our Zest Ed business, we expect some worthwhile suffering for great memories.

Will and I are embarking on the most Type Two Fun adventure ever. It was the most rational-irrational and selfish-selfless decision we’ve ever made. We are attempting to create a healthy happy human to positively contribute to the world. It’s going to be epically hard in so many ways for so many years. Just like any other adventure, it should also be incredibly rewarding and filled with love and laughter. 

Expecting it to start by the end of 2021!

It was a long and difficult road to get to this trail head. For years we put it off, feeling insecure financially and feeling scared of all the unknowable changes and challenges.

Every year we’d say “Not yet.” Eventually became now-or-never. So months before the pandemic we didn’t know was coming we said “Screw it! We’re competent adults. We’ll figure it out.” 

I have some bones to pick about my teenage years of sex-ed. There is so much more to know that is so empowering. What you need to know to prevent an unwanted teen pregnancy is so different than what you should know to get pregnant in your late 30s. Initial excitement turned to bewilderment to disappointment and frustration. Over a year later we were about to start the infertility journey. 

Then on my 39th birthday I took a pregnancy test, not expecting anything because nothing ever happened, expecting just to get the permission to drink some special birthday beer. It was positive. 

This has been a whirlwind of physical, emotional, and logistical (insurance 🙄) experiences. I was and am super fortunate to have a small circle of friends to talk to. Yet the overwhelming message was to KEEP IT ALL A SECRET. Which wasn’t all that different from when I got my first period. For all sorts of reasons the message seems to be “Shhhhh 🤫 don’t talk about it.” 


Puberty, menstruation, conceiving, pregnancy, miscarriage, birth, postpartum, menopause, and all hormonal changes by choice or not are part of a healthy human experience! People going through any of these biological experiences should feel free to talk about them without stigma or taboo. It is when they are in the light of day that people can get the mental and emotional support they need. Everyone can be more educated and less isolated. 

If someone shares part of this process, listen and pause before any knee-jerk standard responses slip out. 

I just happen to be in a peak frenzy on the long journey of the biological experience of living. It’s going to be a pretty intense year.

In the meanwhile we are still competent adults with full lives we are excited to share with a new human. We will continue to be endurance and adventure athletes with goals. I still hope to do the Arrowhead 135, just not next year. We still have big rock climbing, backpacking, and paddling plans. I’m still primarily a self-employed coach working hard to build a sustainable business. We still live in a tiny apartment. It’ll all have to look a little different, but we are not the first adventure and entrepreneurial family. Our lives are about to get more “fun” in every way possible.

Posted in Adventures, Enterprise | Tagged , , | 1 Comment