I have a pen pal in her 60s from Alberta who emails me pictures of her outdoor adventures all year long. Even in the harsh Canadian winters, she regularly heads outside to go cross-country skiing, ice skating, and hiking. “Today we had a bit of a blizzard…woohoo!” she once wrote, without a hint of sarcasm.
As she always likes to remind me, she takes her motto from her German grandmother: There is no such thing as bad weather, only poor clothing.
Lucky for her—and the rest of us—clothing options for winter activities are only getting better and better. Gone are the days when you’d overheat in a cotton sweatshirt then end up freezing once it got soaked in sweat. Now you can gear up in thermoregulating wool that’s actually soft, water-resistant fleece that keeps you dry, strategically reflective details that keep you seen on dark roads, and plenty of other smart designs that help you stay safe and comfortable.
As someone who often trains for marathons and ultras through the dead of winter, I totally rely on these kinds of details. Because I know that pieces that keep me even just a little bit warmer can make the difference between actually getting out there and sitting inside making excuses.
So when I heard about ObservaMé’s shirts and jackets designed with a special opening for your smart watch, I was instantly intrigued. Getting access to your watch is super annoying on winter runs. I have friends who’ll strap theirs on the outside of their jackets, but the one time I tried that myself I ended up getting a little toasty a few miles in and wanted to roll up my sleeves—but I couldn’t, because the watch was in the way. I usually resort to just placing my watch between the end of my sleeve and the start of my gloves, but that still leaves a little skin exposed, so it only works until it gets down to the single digits.
One night, it was so freezing during a speed workout of short intervals that I just kept my watch underneath my jacket, and to start and stop each rep, I pressed the button through the fabric without looking. It wasn’t until I got home that I found out I’d mistakenly double pressed it in the beginning, which meant I had tracked all of my rests, then stopped the watch whenever I was actually running. (Face palm.)
How ObservaMé solves the wintertime watch problem
ObservaMé’s design is meant to avoid all of these headaches. Created by marathoner Karen Fultz-Robinson, the sleeve comes with a hole right on your wrist that’s tight enough to hug your watch without exposing any skin. There’s also an extra band of fabric you can layer on top of that if you don’t have a watch on, or it lays just next to the watch. When ordering from the ObservaMé site, you choose whether you want the hole on the left or right wrist, depending on where you typically wear your watch.
Curious if this could be the answer to my wintertime watch dilemma, I tried out the Power Hold half zip shirt, slipping it on for a few morning runs during some of the first 40-something degree days this fall. It worked: The fabric around the hole fits snugly around my Garmin without any tugging or moving around—or any skin showing. It creeps up on the sides of the watch just a bit, but not enough to get in the way of pressing the buttons.
Although the extra band of fabric made it feel like kind of a lot of stuff around my wrist at first, I found that within a few minutes of my first run with the shirt on I forgot about it. And the sleeve always stays perfectly in place—with my watch readily available—through all my miles, no matter how fast or slow I’m going.
A few other features I enjoy
The sleeves also come with thumbholes, which are always a favorite detail of mine when I'm running in cooler temps—it keeps my hands and knuckles covered, and just feels cozier. Though I find that if I wear my Garmin as far back as I usually like to place it on my wrist, there isn’t quite enough sleeve left on the ObservaMé top to fit over my thumb, so I have to inch up my watch just a scooch.
I also appreciate the large zippered pocket in the lower back where I can stash my phone, gels, or even a reusable roll-up bag to grab some groceries after my run. Although I was afraid it might bounce around with every stride, the compressive material of the shirt helps it stay put (as long as I wasn't doing extra-bouncy running drills like high knees or butt kicks).
Overall, the fabric doesn’t feel quite as luxe to the touch as something you might get from Lululemon or Vuori. The zipper in particular seems a little cheap for something at this price point. But the sweat-wicking polyester/spandex material keeps me dry (even in a light rain) and the tight fit keeps everything in place to avoid chafing. The shape and color also held up perfectly after a trip through my washing machine.
One other bonus: I especially like how the cut dips right at the back, helping the buns stay a bit warmer in chilly temps.
Who might appreciate ObservaMé
As I was running, I was thinking that the watch hole would really only be useful for nerdy runners like me or adventurers like my Canadian penpal who want constant access to their stats. And even though I got the half-zip shirt, it’s really the ObservaMé jackets that would come most in handy for when it’s truly bitter out.
Then I stopped to grab some food before work after one run, and got caught in the rain on my way home. I was cutting it close to the time I needed to get back and started to grab my iPhone out of my pocket to check the time, but then I remembered that my watch was right on my wrist, and all I needed to do to see it was to look down. I didn’t have to fight with wet fabric, or rearrange the bags I was carrying to grab my phone. Which made me realize: Even if you’re not tracking your splits or mileage, it’s really nice to have a watch easily available to just, you know, tell the time.
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