Winters tend to feel long in a good year, but this winter feels especially protracted. In addition to the frigid temperatures and early sunsets, many of us are restricted to our homes, without recourse to all the activities – indoors sports, pubs, travelling, etc. – that make the winter more tolerable.
There are three silver linings, though. One, winter won't last forever; before we know it, the first spring flowers are going to grace the trees, and along with them, we can enjoy more outdoor time again. Two, vaccines for the coronavirus are already rolling out, meaning the light at the end of the tunnel just got a whole lot brighter. Certainly, this spring already looks far more promising than the last one.
And three, there are items you can buy for the winter that make things infinitely more tolerable – enjoyable, even. And that's what we want to focus on in this article: all those indispensable items that help you enjoy the winter indoors and out, from merino wool clothing to kitchen essentials and home items.
In this guide, you'll find our favourite items broken down into three categories, each with six items:
Closet: Wearable items that make the winter easier, warmer and more comfortable, whether you're indoors or outdoors. As you might expect, we're partial to our collection of merino wool travel clothing to keep you warm and looking good, but we're also offering up recommendations for footwear, gloves and a handwarmer.
Kitchen: Gadgets, kits, books and cookware that help you enjoy great food and sorely-needed cocktails throughout the cold months. Here, we're assuming you have the essentials (pots, pans, a pressure cooker, etc.), so we've focused on over-the-top items that hit the spot.
Home: In this section, we're listing home items that make cleaning, living and safely socializing easier. In choosing items here, we wanted to consider your mental wellbeing – what you need to relax and feel good.
While the items listed below are meant to improve your winter experience, you can use all of them (save a couple) year-round. Let's get started.
Whether you're braving the snow for a walk around the city or staying firmly planted on the couch this winter, you need the right clothing. To get you started, here are six of our top picks.
A base layer is the core component of a dependable winter outfit. When you're outside, the base layer is your first line of defence against the cold. When you're inside, and the outer layers come off, it's a comfortable, breathable outfit in and of itself.
You want three things in a base layer: comfort, insulation and breathability. Unbound Merino's socks, underwear and merino wool tee shirts tick all those boxes. Plus, they look refined and sophisticated. Check out the items individually, or save money with our merino wool Bundles, like the 3-Pack bundle, which includes 3 x crew or V-neck merino wool T-shirts, 3 pairs of merino wool underwear and 3 pairs of merino wool socks.
The middle layer of an outfit can be just as important as the base layer in terms of keeping you warm and looking sharp.
Unbound Merino's merino wool sweaters and hoodies marry style and high-performance functionality. They regulate temperature, meaning you can walk from the biting cold outside to the warmth of your home in comfort and ease. And they're sleekly designed – great for casual work environments, social events, dates, travels or just hanging out at home.
Like all our products, they are also odour-resistant. You can wear our Compact Travel Hoodie or Raglan Crew Sweatshirt throughout the winter without ever having to wash them. When the winter dies down, and the pandemic blows over, they'll make a great travel companion too.
There are several worthy boot styles for winter, but if pressed for an indispensable recommendation, let's narrow it down to two: the Chelsea Boot and Brogue Boot.
The Chelsea Boot – the slightly more popular of the two – is the simpler style. It features a smooth, tapered toe and close-fitting high ankle, with a trademark elastic side panel. It's closely related to the Australian Work Boot, a style popularized by the increasingly ubiquitous Blundstones. Whether you go for a classic Chelsea or its Aussie counterpart, what you get is a sleek, versatile boot good for fall and winter.
The Brogue Boot, by contrast, is slightly more ornate, featuring decorative serrations and perforations along the edges. They are also lace-ups as opposed to slip-ons. Ultimately, it's a matter of preference – both styles dress up and down well, and they both combine classic style with modern sensibilities.
Honestly, until recently, it was difficult to love the touchscreen gloves on offer. They felt gimmicky, and companies would often signal their gloves' touchscreen abilities by using a different colour for the fingertip – an oddly emphatic design choice.
But the Moshi Digits Touchscreen Gloves look good. They're simple and unfussy, as they should be. Best of all, they work. It's annoying having to pull your gloves off every time you get a buzz, and the Moshi touchscreen gloves solve the problem without creating a new, aesthetic one.
If you're one of the millions of people who started working from home this past year, you understand that it's not always all it's cracked up to be. Yes, occasionally, it means you can walk around in your merino wool underwear while working. But Zoom calls still require a bit of formality.
The merino wool button-down from Unbound Merino is the ideal work shirt for this winter. It's formal enough to impress but comfortable enough to make you really feel like you're working from home. Beyond work, it just makes a fantastic addition to your wardrobe. Something you can wear as easily to a fancy dinner as to an easy-going hangout with friends.
Not all indispensable closet items are clothing. Case in point: The Zippo hand warmer. Unlike disposable hand warmers, you can keep this one in your coat pocket at all times, flicking it on as you head out the door.
Made by the famous lighter company, it predictably runs on lighter fluid, creating flame-free, radiant warmth that lasts for roughly 12 hours. And like other Zippo products, it has a pleasing, slope-edged, minimal design.
Besides the kitchen essentials – a good cast iron pan, a Dutch oven, some sharp knives, etc. – these are the items we consider to be indispensable in the winter. This isn't to say these items are wholly necessary – but the kitchen should be a place of pleasure, and these items, some of which are uni-functional, make kitchen time a lot more pleasurable. That alone earns them the "indispensable" designation.
The fine line between being "fancy" and simply drinking at home is a brass cocktail set. When it isn't mixing your drinks, it's enhancing the look of your kitchen. That is to say: it's as ornamental as it is functional. Look for a full set that includes a shaker, strainer, bar spoon, muddler and jigger. Cheers!
While the internet has a wealth of recipes, it's also saturated with subpar offerings. If you want a reliable, go-to reference for meals, pick a cookbook from an author you trust, and keep it in the kitchen.
For winter fare, we're recommending these two fantastic titles: The Art of Living According to Joe Beef, a cookbook from the venerated Montréal restaurant (a favourite of Anthony Bordain's); and Kachka: A Return to Russian Cooking, a beautiful reintroduction to an overrated cuisine.
Cast iron gets all the attention, but its close cousin – carbon steel – is arguably better. A carbon steel pan works a lot like cast iron. If you season it well, it provides a non-stick surface. It retains and evenly distributes heat for uniform cooking. And it lasts a lifetime.
But properly seasoned carbon steel is even more non-stick than cast iron, and the care regimen (including cleanup) isn't as fussy. For a lifelong carbon steel that doesn't cost a ton, we recommend the De Buyer Mineral B.
No, we're not talking about a shred of evidence that will pull the whole case together. In this case, "the smoking gun" is the Breville Smoking Gun, an indoor smoker that lets you enjoy BBQ flavours throughout the winter. A handheld smoker with a chamber for wood chips and a hose for transferring smoke, the smoking gun is a favourite of bartenders and haute cuisine chefs.
Can't travel this winter? The best workaround is to bring the world to your kitchen. Travel Haiti with a Ti-Malice hot sauce. Hit the stalls in Chengdu, China, with a doubanjiang. Head back to Thailand with a Nam Phrik. Or sweat in the sweltering Jamaican beaches with a fiery scotch bonnet sauce. If you still can't kick the travel bug, read our guest list of travel essentials (from Tyler Weldon over at Carryology) to tide you over.
The cold weather calls for plenty of roasts. Whereas you might be used to relying on rough estimates of cooking times, as well as the oft-unreliable "poke test," an accurate digital thermometer gets you far more consistent results. For digital meat thermometers, the Thermapen is probably the best out there for the price – it's remarkably accurate and gives a reading almost instantaneously.
This list of indispensable home items is meant to tackle the more unpalatable aspects of winter: the darkness, dryness, lack of social interaction, etc. These may not entirely eliminate your problems – but, at the very least, they'll mitigate them.
In most North American locales, the winter is notoriously dry. This affects everything from your skin to your sinuses to the wood in your home. If your house or apartment feels arid in the winter, a humidifier can be a game-changer, especially an ultrasonic one. Compared to evaporative humidifiers, they are more humidifying, more compact and quieter. (Although, either type will do in a pinch.)
If you're like many of us, you've considered getting an outdoor patio heater this year. With continued advice to forgo indoor socialization, many people are prepared to brave the outdoors for some face-to-distanced-face social time, and an outdoor heater makes that much easier. It's a good investment. Even if the coronavirus blows over entirely by next winter, an outdoor heater is still a good thing to have around for winter parties and outdoor fall dining.
Sometimes, the best thing you can do to get through a long, cold, sedentary winter is daydream about your next vacation – whenever that will be. Peruse our blog for articles on specific destinations, packing tips, and how to feel your best when traveling abroad. And pick up a physical travel guide for some bedtime reading. It shouldn't be much longer until you can pack that guide in your bag (nestled alongside your Unbound Merino clothes) and hit the road again.
A lack of sunlight can significantly affect your mood, especially if you're one of the millions of North Americans with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). There's no perfect substitute for sunshine, but a SAD lamp can get you most of the way.
"You're only as young as you feel." Which means, after shovelling snow for a half-hour, you're about 80 years old. A thankless task, shovelling snow can wreak havoc on your back, which is why we're including an ergonomic snow shovel in our list of indispensable winter items. It won't make the task better per se, but it will make it easier.
Winter equals more time spent indoors. And more time indoors equals more dust (which is mostly made of personal detritus). If you're tired of vacuuming, when you could be planning your next, post-pandemic trip, consider investing in a vacuum robot. The iRobot Roomba, the most popular of the bunch, is only slightly more expensive than a traditional vacuum – think of the extra cost as an investment in your free time.
Don't let the winter win. With the right clothing, kitchen essentials and home items, you can maximize your enjoyment, even as you minimize your outdoor time. If there's any winter item you think is indispensable that didn't make the list, let us know in the comments.