In the depths of the basement my mom recently found a journal I used to keep when I was eleven years old. I wrote about the normal sorts of things a fourth grader holds dear: school, my friends, sleepovers. But I also describe at length something a bit unusual.

My hatred of winter.

For as long as I remember I have described the season as “that time of year when my soul goes into hibernation.” Between November and March, I feel constantly cold, never fully comfortable, and like the heavy clouds outside are dragging down my whole worldview. Dealing with the season has just not been in my DNA.

Until now.

This year, I decided that in order to thrive in this new city of mine, I would have to learn to embrace the cold against all odds. I would have to learn how to survive winter.

Following the prompting from some very wise friends, I decided the first step toward my goal would be to try out some proper winter gear. Here, I share all that I have learned with you. Read on to discover my top picks for braving the winter, whether you are navigating the concrete jungle of Washington, DC like me, or hitting the trails for some winter exploration in the great outdoors.

Step One: Invest in a Good Coat, Invest in Yourself

As someone who typically tries to get all of my clothing second-hand, I had always considered my cute little wool pea coat I got in Ecuador 5 years ago totally sufficient.

Wrong!

I am not exaggerating when I tell you that having a proper down coat has changed my life. Now, I can go outside and I don’t suddenly want to die!

Here’s my review of some of the top coats out there in the market:

All-Purpose, Be with You TiI the End Coat

First of all, if I had to pack one light-to-medium weight coat that I knew would be good no matter the conditions for a long journey, I would choose Columbia’s Platinum 860 TurboDown™ Hooded Down Jacket. I got caught in freezing cold rain while biking to work one morning, and this coat had my back. It has this silver astronaut stuff on the inside, which Columbia calls Omni-Heat Reflective lining. I don’t know how it works, but I do know that it kept me dry and warm, and comfy to boot. For seriously cold conditions, it should probably serve as a shell underneath another heavier coat, but the good news is that it is so compact that you could roll it up and throw it your bag ready to go anywhere you are heading.

Columbia’s Platinum 860 TurboDown™ Hooded Down Jacket

Making Down Sexy

All right y’all, there’s a relatively lesser-known Canadian brand that you need to get on right now. It is called Arc’teryx, and it is a gift from God. If you are looking for a sleek, almost sexy, form-fitting coat that doesn’t make you look like that little kid from A Christmas Story, look no further that Arc’teryx’s Yola coat.

These people are seriously into their down technology, which I didn’t even know was a thing before coming across their brand. But it is real. It is so, so real. Imagine snuggling yourself into the softest down blanket cloud while you walk through the streets, warm and waterproof. Arc’teryx are by far the softest of all of the coats I tested out – so much so that sometimes I am reluctant to take it off when I get in the house just because it feels so damn good.

Arc’teryx’s Yola coat

Parkas: The Urban Explorer

I tried out Mountain Hardware’s Petrero Parka because fur lined hoods always make me feel like a modern-day explorer. This is a great city coat for getting around town: it’s waterproof, has super soft pockets, and a hood that will make you feel like a warm, safe turtle retreating into its shell. For seriously cold days when I am feeling like a wimp, I have been known to layer Arc’teryx’s Yola coat underneath Mountain Hardware’s parka for a combination that gives winter a wee kick in the ass and reminds the season who’s boss.

Mountain Hardware’s Petrero Parka

Synthetic Jacket

Finally, I also tested out The North Face’s new Thermoball Hoodie, which is made of a synthetic blend to imitate down. This jacket has a nice fit and comes in some fun colors, but in my opinion it can’t compare to the softness of real down. This jacket is perfect for a day of hiking in moderately (but not seriously) cold weather.

Proper Winter Boots Will Make you Feel Empowered

OK listen up, ladies. If you are a newbie at winter like me, maybe you thought just using your cute little leather boots is fine for getting around town. And maybe that works for you. But let me tell you, having waterproof, insulated boots makes me feel like this girl:

When I put on Columbia’s Minx Shorty Omni-Heat Boot, I suddenly transform into Queen-of-Winter-Who-Can-Do-Anything-Good. This is for real, and a serious revolution considering that I am not much of a shoe person. In college, I was voted ‘Most Likely to be Found Barefoot’ (yes, that was really a thing). Believe me when I say that these boots are better than being barefoot. Here are some reasons why:

1. They have that insulating silver astronaut stuff on the inside, which combined with faux-fur means you are snuggly and warm.

2. They are completely waterproof but don’t make your feet feel like they are suffocating.

3. This is the biggie here. I’m not sure how they did this, but I feel like I am walking on a cloud when I wear these boots. I could walk for miles and miles and miles and miles.

For the record, I also reviewed North Face’s Thermoball Booties. There is just no comparison. Columbia’s blows them out of the water. Do yourself a favor and get these boots right now.

Columbia’s Minx Shorty Omni-Heat Boot

Gloves

OK, once I had my bases covered with a great coat and amazing boots, I experimented with two completed different kinds of gloves. For a more city-chic look, I tried LL Bean’s Leather/ Cashmere Touchscreen Gloves. For a more down-and-dirty-get-down-to-business glove, I tried out Columbia’s Trail Summit Running Gloves.

 

Aesthetically, LL Bean’s Leather gloves are really sleek. I feel like a proper woman wearing them. They are warm on the outside and soft on the inside. I didn’t seem to have much luck with the ‘touchscreen’ feature of these gloves, though. One note: these gloves run seriously small. Order a size bigger than you expect!

 

Columbia’s Trail Running gloves are so incredibly functional. They are like having a thin extra layer of skin. Because they are so thin and have mini grippers on them, you will be able to do just about anything while wearing them. Activities that are usually difficult with other gloves (like digging through your bag to find your keys or using your smart phone), will be a breeze. That also means that they just aren’t quite as warm as other, thicker gloves might be.

Socks

Sent to you straight from their mill in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, Wigwam knits are fo’ real. Their super boot socks are an extra thick wool blend that could last you through a midwestern winter. Be warned: they are thick enough that the boots you wear them with will need to be a size or two big to accommodate their awesomeness.

Wigwam Super Boot Socks

Scarves

OK, this is the section where my Art Major self drops the overly functional for the overly beautiful. I figured once I had super practical coats, boots, hats, and gloves, I should be allowed to have something that is just plain pretty. That’s where Ala Mairi’s handmade, ethically produced scarves come in. This new brand collaborates with artisans in Pakistan and Scotland to preserve weaving and dyeing crafts, and their pieces are truly wearable works of art. I used to live in Edinburgh where the company is based and I love artisan traditions, so this one definitely pulls at my heartstrings. If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind piece of clothing to compliment all of your snuggly winter gear, look no further than Ala Mairi.

Ala Mairi Scarf

Well, my dears, it turns out that old dogs can indeed learn new tricks. My age old hatred of winter has begun to thaw now that I am equipped with the proper gear to face the season head-on. I hope that this guide might impart on you some of the same seasonal empowerment so that we may all embrace the goodness this time of year has to offer.

Best of luck bundling up, and may the force be with you this winter!