Travel

Baby it's cold outside: Staying warm while standing still, football in January edition

  • Jan 03, 2014
  • 1,049 words
  • 5 minutes
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Every day, I walk, run or bike past the seemingly interminable stadium renovations at Ottawa’s Lansdowne Park. And every day, I count down the months, weeks and days until the Ottawa RedBlacks kick off the first professional football game in Ottawa since the capital city’s last franchise folded in 2006. As I anxiously wait for a hometown team to get behind, I can’t bring myself to cheer for a Canadian Football League franchise that I’ll be rooting against next season. (With apologies to the plucky and admittedly endearing Grey Cup champion Saskatchewan Roughriders.)

So I turn my gaze south — or to be perfectly precise more of a westerly direction— toward a small city in Wisconsin that’s managed to do the exceedingly improbable: play host to a big time NFL team in a market not much more than half the size of Regina, the smallest CFL city.

The Green Bay Packers are the ultimate underdogs of North American professional sports. A team from a modest midwestern manufacturing town who have raised more NFL championship banners than the Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys or Pittsburgh Steelers. Who have won more rings than the New York Giants and New York Jets combined.

Hailing from a city roughly the town the size of Lethbridge, Alberta, the Packers have sold out Lambeau Field – their 80,000 seat home stadium — for 319 games running. On crisp Sundays in fall (and bitterly cold ones in winter), fans stream in from across Wisconsin and beyond to watch one of the most improbable spectacles in professional sports. A community-owned and supported franchise that stands up against squads of hyper-fit mercenaries employed by billionaires, and more often than not beats them.

I visited the city to take in a few of the team’s training camp practices this past summer, and it’s easy to see why the Packers inspire the kind of passion that they do. While pro sports franchises have followed the money out of larger cities like Quebec, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Seattle, Cleveland, Baltimore, Houston, Buffalo and even the giant Los Angeles market, the non-profit Packers have toughed it out, not only sticking around town, but giving back to the community that sustains them.

Many professional sports franchises and athletes talk up their contributions to the community, but usually this is little more than a public relations exercise. Not so in Packerland. Just about every park and garden in town seems to bear a plaque commemorating donations that the Packers Foundation have made to their construction, and you can hardly talk to anyone in town without getting your ear chewed off about charitable contributions made to the community by Packers players.

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But what tugs at my own heartstrings is the team’s training camp tradition of riding the bicycles of neighbourhood children to practice. Toothy grinned youngsters line up outside the team’s locker room before practice, and as players emerge, each chooses one bicycle to ride the half kilometer or so to the practice fields, children struggling to keep up alongside. After you’ve seen a muscled 330 pound defensive lineman ride a little girl’s bicycle, it’s pretty tough to root against the guy.

I won’t be able to make it to this Sunday’s wild card playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers, but as Canadian Geographic’s gear guy, I can make a few recommendations on how the lucky 80,000 fans who will get to attend can help keep warm as they knock back cold beer on the stadium’s even colder aluminum bleachers. Mid-layers and base layers are important in extreme cold. A warm jacket or parka will go a long way, but inevitably it will hit its limit. Here are a few mid and base layers that will help your outerwear perform to maximum efficiency.

1. Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer jacket

Usually I wear the Ghost Whisperer as an outer layer, and I always get asked the exact same question: Is that really warm enough? The ultra thin, ultra lightweight down jacket weighs in at just 205 grams, and for the most part, it is warm enough. I’ve had it out in the depths of winter in both Ottawa and Saskatoon, and come away impressed with the insulation it gives. -20, -25 C…no problem. As a mid-layer it’s out of this world. The 850 fill down beneath an outer layer is the sort of set up that would have kept many a polar explorer alive, and will certainly get you through a football game at any temperature.

2. Mountain Equipment Co-op Bolt Toque

Wisconsin’s license plates boast that the state is America’s Dairyland, and proud Packers fans sport foam cheese slices on their heads, but for playoff games in January, a cheesehead alone isn’t going to keep you warm, and the fancy NewEra toques sported by the players won’t do the job either. When windchills break -40, you even need a base layer in your winter hat. Mountain Equipment Co-op’s Bolt toque is ultra thin and quick drying. When the temperature gets really, really low, the Bolt slides imperceptibly beneath a winter hat and your head, acting as a subtle but crucial base layer for your noggin, where much of your body’s heat can be lost. On its own, the Bolt doesn’t offer much insulation, but as a base layer, it will help keep you warm in the coldest of temperatures.

3. Darn Tough Padded Over-the-Calf Cushion Sock

Toes are often the first part of your body to feel the cold, and the first to suffer real damage from frostbite too. Well-insulated boots are key to keeping your feet warm, but your socks are almost as important. I’ve been testing out the various offerings from Darn Tough for the past year, and in every case the Vermont-based sock maker has pulled through with a top-notch product. Their padded over the-calf-cushion sock is a Merino wool blend that wicks moisture away and offers solid warmth. Designed with skiers and riders in mind, for the football fan, the Over the calf sock offers an extra layer below the knee, and with the windchill predicted to be below minus 40, Packers fans are going to need all of the layers that they can get.

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