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


Anonymous said...

I second the hat. And drink warm liquids!

Alex said...

I like to take extended outdoor excursions as much as possible and I'm currently away from home in Colorado where it's a good deal colder at night than DC. Running really helps to keep warm, but I have a bad knee and can only run for about 15 minutes at a time. So I save my energy for when I'm coming back (usually after the sun sets around 4 right now) and run during the coldest part of my hike. Of course you'll be so warm you'd better be able to remove some layers too!

Anonymous said...

Some good advice in here. I think it's important to recognize that not all layers are created equal, especially with the wind whipping around. Having clothing that is wind proof means you can get by with something far less bulky and let your body heat stay in and help you, especially if you are active while outside.

I have one of the popular North Face fleece jackets that keeps me nice and toasty UNTIL there is any significant wind. It blows right through the fleece. However if I throw a single layer wind breaker over the top of that I have warmth that withstands the wind and isn't bulky at all.


Elizabeth | The Natural Capital said...

Thanks everyone for your tips! It's COLD out there!

WashingtonGardener said...

I live in silk longjohns all Winter - even sleep in them.
If you HAVE to look fashionable and can't stand a hat or hoodie - earmuffs can be quite cute - I used to have a whole wardrobe of them.
A trick I learned long ago - but your winter gear up north. Do you know they are different weights? Go to Macy's in Charlotte NC and then to one in Minneapolis - feel the HEFT of what looks like the SAME coat. One year I bought boots and coat in Toronto, still my standbys for the worst winter days.
Finally, Uggs (or Igg knock-offs) are the best for warm tootsies.

Elizabeth | The Natural Capital said...

Kathy, I had never heard that about stores selling different weight coats. I guess it makes sense but it never would have occurred to me! I got a great down coat at Value Village last winter that's been keeping me very happy this year...

Anonymous said...

Socialize, Northerners are always more than happy to help you and give advice on how to stay warm.

Elizabeth Hargrave said...

In my experience Northerners just laugh at my thin skin. :) But they do know their gear!

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