My neighbor is perpetually stoked. He’s a professional kayaker and has the zest for life that typically comes standard with that profession, so he’s excited for rain, drought, a cooler full of beer, a comfortable lawn chair, fresh cut grass, a freshly groomed pump track…there is nothing in the world that can get this guy down. And this summer, my family and I had a taste for what that kind of lifestyle entails. The stoke was high. The global pandemic was, and continues to be, a colossal bummer, but if there was a silver lining to the doom and gloom, it’s that my family suddenly had a lot of time on our hands thanks to the widespread cancellation of “life as we know it.” And we made the most of it. We rode bikes constantly and camped most weekends. I built a climbing wall in our backyard and added a jump line to our pump track. We explored random trails, rivers, and peaks close to home. We caught fish. In a lot of ways, our new lifestyle was cathartic; riding bikes through the neighborhood and orchestrating backyard campouts felt like a wholesome diversion while the world crumbled around us.
But that was when the temperatures barely dipped below 65 degrees. Winter is upon us and I’m worried my family won’t be able to keep that stoke alive. We’re still stuck at home hiding from germs, but it’s not warm and sunny outside anymore. It’s not as easy to rally for a lunch-time bike ride when it’s 32 and sleeting. I’ve been on plenty of winter adventures in my day and I can attest to the fact that freezing in the dark kind of sucks. I have no stoke for that.
But damn it, our lives kind of depend on it. The mental health benefits of getting outside on the reg are well documented. An hour of being outside is basically like taking an anti-depressant. Then you have the long-term benefits of exercise, the health benefits of gathering with friends (which we can only safely do outside right now), and it’s basically a public health imperative that we have to keep the outdoor stoke alive, even as the temperature drops.
Hell, especially as the temperature drops. Layer the global pandemic and economic downturn over the typical seasonal affective disorder that winter brings and we could be headed for a disaster. Basically, what I’m saying is if I can’t get my family outside often, we’re going to kill each other.
Unfortunately, my wife and kids hate the cold. I’m not in love with it myself. I’ll risk losing toes to frostbite if there’s powder to ski, but if there’s no snow? Pour me a whiskey and plant me next to the fire. I have soft southern blood that’s evolved to tolerate mild winters. The whole world saw what my people do when that ice storm hit Atlanta a few years ago. We’re not suited for true winter conditions. Chances are, if you’re sitting in the south and reading this, you’re also from a long line of people who panic and buy all of the milk and bread when snow is in the forecast. But we’re just going to have to toughen the hell up. There are kids in Germany that go to school outside all year long.
Even when it’s snowing. Indigenous people living in arctic climates have survived for centuries without central heating. The Yakut have lived in Siberia, where temps drop to -90 degrees Fahrenheit since the 13th century. Is it so crazy to ask my daughter to put on some faux fur and spend a 20-degree night in a tent?
The good news is, if I can drag my family out into the woods this winter, we’ll probably have the entire forest to ourselves. We sat in traffic jams coming out of our favorite campsite in Pisgah National Forest during the summer because everyone was hiding out in the woods. We worked hard to avoid the crowds, eschewing the more popular trails for more obscure options, hitting lesser-visited districts and going deeper and deeper into the backcountry. But come winter, we should have the classic trails and crags to ourselves. And maybe we’ll be healthier and happier for braving the cold? There’s some science to suggest exposure to cold boosts metabolism, helps fight anxiety, and improves your immune response. I think we could all use an immune system boost.
And listen, maybe there will be snow. Maybe we’ll have one of those “good” winters when the resorts can open all their runs and we can cross-country ski at the higher elevations every weekend. 2020 has given us little reason to be hopeful, but let’s nurture the last ember of optimism that remains and wish for a killer, snowy winter. Either way, I’m determined to embrace the cold. To ski when we can ski and bike when we can’t. To continue the backyard bonfires and weekend campouts. We’ll layer up. We’ll bring cocoa and those handwarmer packets that cause second degree burns. We’ll toughen up and keep the stoke alive!
Winter Gear Here
Here are a few key pieces of gear to help stave off the cold for the whole family this winter.
Solo Stove Bonfire ($250)
The fire is everything during winter, and I’m not just talking about camping. The backyard bonfire has become a staple in our family. It gives us a chance to avoid the Boob Tube cycle on choice evenings and invite neighbors over for a socially distant beer. The Solo Stove makes that tradition safer (the fire is contained inside the stainless steel can) and easier (holes in the top and bottom of the can circulate air through the fire). solostove.com
Therm-a-Rest Honcho Poncho ($115)
Ponchos aren’t just for surf bros spending the winter in Baja. The Honcho adds a layer of synthetic insulation wrapped in a water resistant ripstop nylon with a hood. Sure, you’re wearing a coat and standing next to the fire, but one more layer isn’t going to hurt. My wife and daughter live in the Honcho. thermarest.com
Purist Founder ($56)
It’s amazing what my kids can suffer through if there’s a mug of hot chocolate in their immediate future. I’m going to use this massive carafe, which keeps 32 ounces of bevy hot for hours, as a metaphorical carrot to keep my kids motivated on winter hikes, bike rides, and campouts. puristcollective.com
Rab Hut Boots ($70)
These camp shoes have helped me fight off cold toes on many frosty nights in a tent and by the fire. They’re stuffed with synthetic insulation in a ripstop outer with a grippy sole that’s tough enough to let you wander around camp. rab.equipment
Stanley Master Unbreakable Hip Flask ($40) and Nesting Shot Glasses ($25)
Science says whiskey doesn’t warm you up in the winter and that, if anything, it can desensitize you to the dangers of over exposure. This is the rare situation where I give scientists the finger. If it’s cold, I need my whiskey. This flask keeps it safe in my pocket and the tiny shot glasses allow me to share some hooch without sharing germs. Safety first. stanley1913.com