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Simple Tips to Keeping Warm and Staying Safe in Winter

Bill Malchisky  January 4 2014 02:30:00 AM
Updated - I expanded the General Warming Tips section, and articulated better a few points therein.

In the midst of some quite cold temperatures experienced over the northern USA this week, into the weekend and coming week, I thought I would put together a quick list with a goal to keep you warm--as this is an area of expertise for me. It is amazing to me that even with activities quite common for many to most, how cold people still get when say attending a football game, shoveling snow, running errands, volunteering at an election poll, sledding, skiing, snowshoeing, etc. As I really enjoy cold weather, getting outdoors whenever I can regardless of what mother nature throws my way and did make a few mistakes along the way, I wanted to provide an informative list of simple ideas to assist my readers. Below are a few tips so you can enjoy (or at least better tolerate) the cold weather when playing or working outdoors.

this is hardly a compulsory or complete list, but touches upon several lessons learned from my time as a Boy ScoutTM through snowshoeing as an adult in sub-zero temperatures on a regular basis.

Standing Outside/Attending an Outdoor Sporting Event

1. First thing that is important to know, if your footwear contacts concrete, metal, asphalt, ice, snow pack for a long period of time, your feet will get cold -- no matter how many layers you wear above your ankles. Proper insulation between your foot bottom and the heat sink is imperative to success. Wearing very warm boots designed for sub-zero temperatures like SOREL boots are a great starting point, for example
2. Next, corrugated cardboard is a great ally in insulating your feet. Let's look at the pros: NYC street vendors. I was amazed when working in Manhattan how in single digit weather, these hard working business people would stand outside on concrete for 12 to 16 hours per day -- day after day. How? They all stood on cardboard. I attended a professional football game recently and brought two pieces for a friend. She had warm boots, but not great. She put the cardboard under her feet which remained warm, long after a couple of guys next to us had to leave with cold feet. Free and effective solution, allowed into stadiums
2a. You can also take an old foam camping pad and cut-out foot inserts which you place into your boots (easier with a removable liner), or place a piece or two under your feet
2b. Multiple layers of wool or insulated socks help; leave the cotton (socks, jean, shirts) at home, as cotton is worthless for insulating in the cold
3. Longer coats are warmer when sitting than popular shorter jacket length styles. Why? Basic thermodynamics. Just because you are warm when standing in your driveway or outside tailgating, doesn't mean that warmth transfers into the stadium or bleachers. As soon as you sit, you lose precious heat along the length of your femur -- which did not occur when standing. Wear a below the knee coat, or a grab a blanket and cover your legs
4. Insulating your gluteus and upper hamstring when sitting is important too. If the stadium bench is metal or plastic (typically high schools tend to use aluminum, pros use plastic), you need to insulate your flesh from the seat which is a heat sink of varying degrees. Try a few layers of cardboard, a seat cushion or two, long wool winter coat, or an extra blanket

Snow Shoveling/Removal
-- Safety Advice
Less about warmth, more about being smarter. Traction on one's driveway decreases with snow and ice. Too many times I see people shoveling their driveway with rain boots, sneakers, or work boots, none of which provide adequate traction on a snow/ice covered driveway when friction decreases. You may get away with it when on a flat surface, but if you add even a slight incline to your driveway or walkway, the chance for injury multiplies. Poor traction means you need to work your leg muscles harder to hold onto the surface while removing snow with your shovel or blower. This creates fatigue and possible injury as you compensate for the lack of traction with each stride. If you lack proper quality footwear or think that, you would rather not bother with putting on your boots as it's just your driveway, you only have to slip or slide once to impact your day.
- one of the best remedies is to get some creepers. They strap onto your shoe in seconds and provide great traction so you can 'creep' around in the snow and slick surfaces with confidence. Some people refer to them directly by the popular brand names of Yaktrax®, Stabilicers®, and Microspikes®
- keep a pair of creepers in your commuting vehicle. Thus, if you come out from work and find your car buried in snow or icy conditions, you can wear the traction device and make quick work of the clean-up, safely -- keeping warmer in the process

General Warming Tips

1. Dressing in form fitting layers is better than one layer and a bulky top-coat. There exists no shortage of articles, reports, stories on this subject but what the authors always omit is why you should and which layers to use.
a. Simply put: air pockets create cold spots. Your body loses heat to warm that air; when you lose heat, you become cold; in sub-zero temperatures, these cold spots are where you can get frostbite along with exposed skin
b. Form fitting layers trap your body's heat allowing it to insulate itself from the cold, whereas large bulky down style shorter length parkas tend to restrict arm mobility and create air pockets
c. Thus from my experience, several warm wicking layers (e.g. Duofold® or Wikmax®) with wool clothing work better, with a shell on the outside to block wind or precipitation
d. Again, avoid cotton as it absorbs rather than wicks moisture, causing you to get cold faster and freezes when exposed to the elements; wool is the only natural material that keeps you warm when went and is quite warm
e. Combine your layers with an insulated outer layer and you'll feel like you are in the Mojave Desert in no time  

2. Keep the back of your neck, ears, and head covered as you will lose the most heat there; one of the best all-in-one convertible options is a balaclava
3. Standing on your garage floor (i.e. concrete) in the low teens or colder temperatures without properly insulated footwear, can cause frostnip in just a few minutes. Trust me on this, I speak from experience here -- you also want to avoid frostnip
4. Gloves may be cool (looking) but mittens are warm. If you are concerned about being outside with cold hands, wear mittens. If dexterity is important, then wear an under-glove/glove liner made of polypropylene or WSI® Sports Wikmax material, then you can remove your hand from the mitten, open a pocket easily all while keeping your fingers warm
a seasoned marathoner I know prefers convertible mittens with or without a glove liner--depending upon the temperature.
4a. One of the best warm hand combinations I found is a polypropylene glove liner with a pair of $10 ragg wool mittens. Few things keep you as warm. I ski and snowshoe with double weight ragg wool mittens plus a glove liner, while adding a GORE-TEX® shell to block wind while providing a grip on ski poles. I've seen many people pay $150+ for gloves that give them cold fingers when temperatures drop, while for considerably less money my hands are so warm they can sweat (YMMV)
5. When sitting down, you will need to keep your quadriceps covered -- a blanket or longer coat help tremendously
6. When purchasing an outdoor cold weather coat and if you are of average height or taller, try on the tall size; the extra few inches of length can add a lot of warmth for your legs; women may not always have this option -- I just learned
7. In your home -- keep glass windows covered with a blanket, pillow case, curtain or blinds. If you have Venetian blinds turn the slats upwards to close, which keeps the cold air trapped behind the blind and your room warmer.
the slat position here makes a big difference; I have tested this theory multiple times

Where Can You Buy It?

As most of the tips above require just simple adjustments in how you already might do things, the three bullet points below should help in-case you are missing some equipment or were wondering where to find it:
* A short list of vendors I patronized over the years. Familiar names with quality products include: L.L.Bean®, SOREL, Woolrich®, REI®, Eastern Mountain Sports®, and Cabela's®
* Individual sites/stores for specific equipment needs: WSI Sports, Yaktrax, Microspikes, and Stabilicers
* A good cost-effective list of ragg wool hand garments from an old school mom and pop army surplus shop in Colorado, started by a WWII Marine Corps veteran; they were courteous and processed my two orders very quickly for me -- true to their story

All the names on the above list have good options, so work with a vendor you trust to keep warm and safe while being comfortable.


1. WSI Sports is a small Minnesota company that manufactures all of their items locally. They outfit the Green Bay Packers to keep them warm while playing football in frigid outdoor temperatures along with 45 other college and professional sports teams, plus they sponsor the USA Ski Jumping team. I tried their Wikmax HEATR® socks under my ski socks when skiing in 4 F temperatures (-15.56 C) all day and my feet were considerably warmer longer in my ski boots than without them; I expanded my cold weather undergarment inventory with several of their products -- including their glove liners and ski socks
2. Woolrich remains family owned since 1830 with a wonderful 180 year history that you can read here; they offer incredibly warm blankets and wool/wool lined garments.
3. L.L.Bean celebrated its 100th Anniversary in 2012, and offers arguably the best on-line retail shopping experience that I found
4. SOREL is the gold standard for cold weather footwear; if you are outside, even to walk the dog or shovel a walkway, your feet will be warm and dry with their boots


WSI, Wikmax, Wikmax HEATR are trademarked by WSI Sports
L.L.Bean is a registered trademark of L.L.Bean Inc.
GORE-TEX is a trademark of W. L. Gore & Associates
Woolrich is a registered trademark of Woolrich, Inc. - Woolrich, Pennsylvania
Microspikes is trademarked by Kahtoola Inc. in Flagstaff, AZ
YakTrax is a registered trademark of Implus Corporation
Stabilicers is trademarked by 32 North Corporation in Biddeford, ME
REI is a trademark of REI and its subsidiaries
EMS and Eastern Mountain Sports are registered trademarks of Eastern Mountain Sports
Cabela's is a registered trademark of Cabela's
Boy Scout is a trademark of the Boy Scouts of America
Duofold by Champion is a trademark of Hanes Brands Inc.
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