As the temperatures slip lower with each passing week, I’ve been pondering the cold. I’ve been cold in my time and I don’t particularly care for it.
On one cold night sitting alone halfway up the Grand Teton, stuck between a rock and hard snow, soaking wet, I shivered violently through the night. When I look back on the experience I realize that one of the things that saved me from serious harm was that I was wearing the right clothes. Because I was wearing good material, my clothes dried out after a couple of hours and I stopped shivering to the point that I fell asleep — head resting on a wall of snow and butt sitting on a bumpy granite block.
So I offer up some advice about staying warm in cold situations. Tell yourself that this winter you want to really enjoy fun activities outside — and stay comfortable. With the proper preparation, it’s realistic for most anyone. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Tune up your engine. A body — especially your heart and circulatory system — that is in good condition (think the ability to run a few miles without stopping) will warm up faster and stay warm with outside activity. Muscles in motion warm up a body. Think of your circulating blood as the body’s central heating system.
2. Manage your sweat. With heat comes sweat, which is intended to cool you down. But you don’t want to be wet in the cold of winter. Make sure you are wearing clothes that wick moisture from your skin. This goes for everything you wear, from your underwear (including bras) to your outer wear. None of these items should be cotton, but rather warm/wicking cloth such as synthetics or wool.
3. If you suffer from cold hands or cold feet, fight back with heat pads, which can be used everywhere on your body. Get the kind that stick to the toes inside your boot, fit inside your gloves, stuff in pockets or even pants or bras. Climbers sometimes put them in chalk bags, so that each time they dip in their hands they get a shot of heat.
4. Eat and drink. Nibble on high energy foods to keep the fire burning in your belly. Warm or hot drinks work wonders to heat up the body quickly. Bring along an insulated bottle that keeps hot drinks hot all day. Staying hydrated also helps with blood circulation.
5. Dress in layers, starting with a base layer matched to the conditions. Base layers (think long johns) come in different weights. If your activity involves some standing around, you’ll want to go heavier. If you plan on cross-country skiing or snowshoeing or skinning up a mountain to ski down, go with the lighter weight undies. The next layer is the insulating layer. Mid-weight fleece pants and a sweater will often do the trick. For the outer layer, a light shell jacket and pants will usually suffice. I like to bring along a light-weight puffy coat (filled with down) in case it gets cold or I stop moving for extended periods. If you’re camping and doing a lot of sitting around, heavier down pants and jacket come in handy.
6. Don’t neglect your head. I like to have a beanie for most situations, but if it turns colder, I dip into my pack for a balaclava (kind of like a ski mask) or a neck gaiter.
7. For feet and hands, bring back-ups. I like to have two weights of gloves for changing situations. Gloves with room for heat pads can be useful. For my feet, I bring along plastic grocery store bags to pull over my feet if the temperatures drop to an uncomfortable level.
Remember that these are just some strategies for enjoying the outdoors in winter. If you have things that work for you, feel free to email them to me.