How to Stay Warm Outdoors in the Winter
Cold: it offers up a frozen wonderland to those willing to test their limits (read: ice climbing, empty surf breaks, alpine hikes), but it can also feel pretty miserable if you aren’t prepared for it. To get ready for the coldest of seasons, I asked for some field-tested advice on fending off the chill from a slew of athletes who know a thing or two about playing in sub-freezing temps:
Plan ahead for changes in body temperature
“Obviously the main thing I do is bring a lot clothing,” says Colin Haley, an alpine climber who’s tackled routes in frigid areas of Alaska and Patagonia. He knows the importance of layering to maintain ideal body temperature, but he’s learned to anticipate changes in body temperature as well: “When I’ve been stopped and I’m about to start exercising hard, I make sure to strip down a couple of layers before I even begin. It takes discipline to strip off layers when you’re already cold, but you’ll be way too hot otherwise. If you are too hot, then you sweat too much. Sweat makes your clothes wet, which in turn will make you way too cold when you stop.” Likewise, Haley makes sure to pile on the layers when he stops to catch his breath, helping his body retain heat. Rock climber Chris Sharma reminds us that eating well and getting enough calories is also crucial to an even body temperature.
Protect your body—all of it
“After freezing my eyeballs (literally) during a windy, single-digit 100km race, I learned not only must we cover our skin, we need to cover everything,” says Krissy Moehl, an ultra trail runner. That means investing in sunglasses or clear lenses for cold weather running or climbing, and goggles for snowboarding and skiing. Be sure to coat skin in a layer of SPF to prevent sunburn (yes, it can happen in the winter, too!). “Cover your extremities,” says Sharma. “We lose a lot of heat from our head, neck, hands and feet.”
Wear the right fabrics
Like it or not, cotton has no place in cold temperatures, and that includes denim. According to Haley, even wool is no match compared to synthetics, but Moehl argues that it all depends on where you live. “Living in the Pacific Northwest, and now in Colorado, I’ve learned that 40 degrees and wet is much colder than 25 degrees and dry,” says Moehl. She combats the difficulty of layering against wet conditions by slipping on lightweight wool layers closets to the skin. A lightweight, waterproof shell jacket and pants can cut out bulky layers by blocking wind and rain.
“Fingers and toes always seem to be the things that suffer the most for me when it’s cold out,” says rock climber Olivia Hsu. She battles frigid digits by using hand-warming packets, or brings along hot tea in a Thermos. Mittens are warmer than gloves, and Moehl suggests wearing a wool glove liner so skin isn’t exposed completely if you need to slip off a mitten.
Keep a stash of dry clothing in the car
“A key to cold, wet conditions is to remove all layers as soon as you’re done,” explains Moehl. Keep dry base layers in the car for a more comfortable ride home, and a “fuzzy warm favorite” nearby for added coziness. Taking off heat-zapping wet layers will aid your body in returning to a normal temperature more quickly.
Learn from friends
The best tips are from the field, so ask friends and fellow outdoor athletes how they stay warm—they’ll often have tips you won’t find in a book. “Putting on ice-cold climbing shoes can be miserable when it’s cold out,” says Hsu. “Not only is this painful but it can hinder your performance—I like to put my shoes in my down jacket so my body heat can keep them warm while I’m belaying.”
And lastly, go camping with someone you like
Sharma’s parting tip for staying warm? “Have a cozy bed partner.”
What is your tried and true method for fending off the chill (or at least coping with it)?
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