Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Southerner's Guide to Staying Warm Outdoors in Winter

DC is in a funny middle ground, geographically speaking. Is it the northern edge of the south, or the southern edge of the north? Having spent good chunks of my life in much warmer climes, DC is about as far north as I'm willing to live. I'm just not a big fan of cold weather. (If DC is as far south as you're willing to live, this post might not be for you.)

I am a big fan of being outdoors, so I try not to let the cold keep me inside all winter. Every year as the thermometer takes a nose-dive I have to remind myself of all the coping strategies I've come up with:

>> Do you have tricks for staying warm outside? Leave a comment below.

Sugar Plum Snowflake
Photo credit: CaptPiper
Stay dry. Moisture is a killer in cold temperatures. This is the number one rule, underlying several of the others on this list.

Removable layers on top. If I'm going to be moving around, I know I'll stay drier (and therefore possibly even warmer) if I can easily take off a layer once I warm up.

Long johns on the bottom. My discovery of long underwear after leaving Florida for college changed my experience of winter from agony to a reluctant truce. I've got three different weights (silk, polypro, and fleece) so I can aim for just the right level of insulation. For me, this is a below-the-waist solution: most long john tops actually make me too hot.

Learn to live with hat-head. Every day I cringe on my way to the metro when I see people walking around without a hat in this weather. How do they do it? Mom was only partially right: it turns out your head is no more efficient than any other exposed part of your body at losing heat. But if it's the only part of your body that's uncovered, you'll lose a lot of heat that way. And your head is more sensitive to cold than other body parts. I'd rather go with a hat and lighter clothing than the other way around.

Matt in the snowy forest
Photo credit: The Natural Capital
Mittens are warmer than gloves. Somehow, pooling the body heat from all four digits makes a huge difference. This is another item I have to take off once I get moving. But it's so nice on a cold winter day to have warm hands!

Europeans know how to tie a scarf. You do wear a scarf, don't you? I just learned this trick last year: fold your scarf in half, put the folded scarf around your neck, then tuck the loose ends through the fold. This is much warmer than just wrapping: it seems to stay a lot snugger on my neck.

Keep moving. Inside your layers, you'll generate a good amount of heat if you keep moving. But there's a corrollary that goes back to rule #1: don't get all sweaty.

Adjust your attitude. I'll admit it: this is the hardest one for me. But if I go outside expecting to be miserable, there's a much better chance that I'll be miserable. There's always something beautiful in nature to be discovered, even on the coldest day. But you have to go outside to find it!

How do you stay warm in winter? Leave us a comment below.

Photo credit: gfpeck