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Preparing for Winter

"There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing"

How to Dress for Winter

Dressing for the Wisconsin cold winter weather will require some different approaches that what you might be accustomed to. Please read on for advice on how to dress appropriately!

  • Wear layers of clothing. Layers of clothing provide warm air insulation between the layers, and you can take off top layers if you get too hot.
  • Protect your extremities. Wear a hat, gloves/mittens, and a scarf. These are essentials for your cold weather toolkit!
  • Wear a good coat and boots. Check on these links for our advice on how to choose quality winter clothing, and some shopping options.
  • Be aware of weather alerts. Snowstorms are predicted ahead of time, especially through apps on your phone. Good anticipation and preparation can help you avoid bad situations in the storm.

How to Choose Winter Clothes

Winter in Wisconsin can last until April or even May! Prepare for a long season. Here are tips on how to choose the best winter clothing.

Choosing a Good Winter Coat

  • Insulation - When shopping for winter coats, you will be looking at one of four types of insulation: wool, fleece, synthetic or down. Experts agree that the winner of the warmest insulation category is down.
  • Type of down - Down coats have a "fill power," and the higher the number, the warmer the coat, but pay attention to how much down is actually used. For example, a coat with 500 fill power and 10 ounces of down may be warmer than a 800 fill power jacket with 5 ounces of down. Goose down is generally better quality than duck down.
  • Windproof and water resistant - This is a minimum when looking for a warm jacket. Gore-Tex is the most well-known of the waterproof technologies, but it is usually more expensive and not a necessity.
  • Hoods versus hats - This is a matter of personal preference. Some people prefer a hood attached to their coat. Others prefer to wear a "beanie" hat. Either way you choose, the more your hood or hat covers your ears and protects from the wind, the warmer you will be.
  • Length - All other things being equal, the longer the coat, the warmer you'll be.

Choosing Good Winter Boots

  • Warmth - Look for good insulation. Sometimes boots will advertise temperature ratings. Some boots will have special insulation in their sole as well.
  • Room for sock(s) - Many people wear thicker, warmer socks during the winter. Some people even wear multiple socks! When you try on boots, make sure you wear the socks that you plan to use during the winter. You may need to buy a larger size of boot than what you normally wear in shoes in order to accommodate for thicker socks.
  • Breathability - If you will be wearing your boots indoors for long periods of time, like attending classes, or walking for extended periods of time, consider a good "breathable" boot. This will help make your feet more comfortable and keep them dry.
  • Comfort - Good boots should feel comfortable! There is a "wear-in" period when your boots will stretch after you first start using them, but your feet should not hurt when wearing your boots. Helpful tip: Keep the tags on your boots and wear them indoors at home for a couple hours. If your feet start hurting, consider returning the boots and finding a different pair.
  • Traction - Look for deep lugs and good quality rubber. This will be important when walking on snow and ice.
  • Waterproofing - Your boots will accumulate snow and ice as you walk, and they will get wet. Good water proofing will help keep your feet dry and warm.

Where to Shop for Clothes

Note that we do not endorse any particular retail store or brand. We are simply providing some options that are available in the Madison area.


Sierra and T.J. Maxx

These stores are excellent options for clothing at a discounted price. They are especially good for winter clothing, coats, and boots.


Sometimes referred to as "Burlington Coat Factory," this store has a large selection of coats and other clothing, and their prices are discounted too.

Hilldale Mall

This mall is close to campus and features the outdoor clothing store L.L. Bean, department store Macy's, and Target. Prices may be higher than buying at discount locations.

Fontana Sports

This store is located downtown just off State Street. It is an outdoor sports store that will have many high-quality options. Prices will be higher than discount locations.

St. Vinny’s

Get secondhand clean clothes, furniture, and other household items that are sold at a lower price.
Learn More


Get secondhand clothes, households items, and other cheap things at Goodwill.
Learn More

If you need a ride to any of these stores, please get connected with us. We often take international students to shop and prepare for winter.

Winter Driving

Some Good Winter Driving Tips

  • Take the bus, and leave the driving to us - Instead of driving yourself, let the bus system take you where you need to go. Did you know that UW students get a free bus pass? Note that buses may be running late due to the snow. Make sure to check the bus system status on their website.
  • Stay at home - In the middle of a snowstorm, it is dangerous to be driving, especially if the roads have not been plowed yet. Plan ahead. Buy enough groceries for a few days, so that when the snow comes, you don't need to drive. 
  • Wear your seatbelts - This is the law in Wisconsin and required. 
  • First is worst - In the first storm of the season, most drivers have forgotten their safe winter driving skills. They’ll drive too fast and try to stop too quickly. Go slowly. Increase following distances. Drive defensively. Relearn your skills. You may want to practice in an empty parking lot before going out on the roads.
  • Go slowly - Drive well below the posted speed limit. Posted limits are intended for summer months on dry pavement. Avoid sudden, sharp turns. Use light braking by gently pumping the brakes.
  • Plan ahead - Plan on trips taking extra time. Leave earlier. Consider an alternate route. Stay home if conditions are too bad.
  • Use your head, use your feet - Never use cruise control on slippery roads.
  • Lighten up - Turn on your headlights. To prevent glare, avoid using your high beams during a night storm.
  • Give snowplows room - Snowplows are wide. They often need to operate very close to the center line. Sometimes they throw up clouds of snow, which affects your vision. Slow down and give them as much room as possible. On roads with a posted speed limit of 35 mph or more, the law requires drivers to stay at least 200 feet behind a snowplow when its red or amber lights are on.
  • Keep a full tank of gas - Cars actually start better when you have a full tank of gas, which is important during the winter because the cold weather can make cars more difficult to start. Also, it is dangerous to run out of gas in a snowstorm.
  • Be prepared - Keep some basic supplies in your car, such as a snow shovel, kitty litter (for traction if you get stuck in the snow), and a cellphone charger.
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