We’re in the coldest part of the year here in Southern Ontario, and I’ve been feeling the chill lately. I’m without a vehicle, and kidlet’s bus stop is about a kilometer away. The school transportation system says it’s their policy that a six year old should walk up to a mile to reach their bus stop, so we’re out of luck when the weather is frightful.
While he’s only got 20 minutes to walk home (his legs are little), I’m usually out in the cold for the better part of an hour between getting there, waiting, and going home.
This isn’t the Woodland’s Guide to Surviving the Frozen Wasteland. This is just an urbanite’s guide on how to survive the winter without a car.
Students, you may want to listen in, too.
Know when it’s not safe to be outdoors.
You can get frostbite in warmer weather if you’re outdoors for an extended period and not adequately protected. The risk of frostbite increases rapidly when wind chill values go below -27C. Just taking out the garbage is one thing, but if you really need to be outdoors, and for longer than a few minutes, you may want to spring for a cab today.
Drink lots of water.
Your body acts (to some degree) like a hot water bottle. You’ll stay warmer if you’re well hydrated than if you’re not.
Have a good jacket and treat it right.
If you don’t have a good jacket, go shopping. Right now. January/February can score you an excellent coat that’s normally out of your price range for a decent price. Fashion jackets made out of wool are for fall. An adequate winter jacket will fall below the waist on a woman. Look for something thigh or knee length if you can. Try to find something stuffed with down (men and women’s). Follow the care like gospel, but don’t wash it too often. If your coat seems like it’s kinda flat and has cold spots, put it in the dryer only on a NO-HEAT air fluff cycle to bring some life back to it without washing it.
Opt for mittens.
Having your fingers clustered together will keep those fingertips warmer than having them separated in gloves.
And don’t just put them in your pocket.
When your body gets cold, blood flow is restricted to the extremities to keep the core warm. Your fingertips are more likely to go painfully numb, even in the relative safety of your pockets, if they’re sitting still. Even something as simple as making fists in your pocket every minute or two can keep them toasty.
Get some hand or boot warmers too for the bad days.
You should always have some in case of an emergency. The non-reusable ones can be bought for like $1 and they are small enough to tote in your pocket until you need them.
Also invest in good, winter-weather-proof boots.
I don’t care how fashionable they are. If you’re going to buy a pair of Uggs, choose the heavy, rubberized Adirondacks. You don’t want frostbite on your toes any more than you want it on your fingers, and keeping your toes warm can improve your winter-staying power a lot. It’s totally worth splurging a little for a quality boot designed for low temperatures. They’ll last for years if you take care of them; all you have to do is swap out the insoles every year or two.
…Or at least some woolen socks.
Winter-proof boots like Uggs’ Adirondacks are nice because not only are they rubberized they’re lined with sheepskin, which is what makes them good for temperatures below -30C. But if you can’t afford a pair, at least invest in thick wool socks and layer them over the top of regular socks.
And more layers…
At the very least, you want to keep a barrier between your skin and the outer layer garment. This sounds super obvious, but how many people put layers under their jeans? Buy some thermal pants to wear under your jeans, or snow pants for over top. A full set of thermal underwear isn’t a bad idea–just wear it underneath on the bad days, and dress normally over top.
Move it, move it!
Seems kind of obvious, but no matter how layered up you are, you’re only going to be as warm as the body heat you’re making.
… But don’t sweat.
Try to pace yourself so that you strike a balance just below the point where you begin to perspire, which is something your body does when it’s trying to cool down. This is not desirable, and not just from a B.O. perspective.
Eat lightly before trekking.
A heavy meal can slow you down and reduce the blood available to flow to the extremities.
Use petroleum jelly to protect exposed skin from frostbite or chapping when the wind is brutal.
Let’s face it, scarves and ski masks can be a PITA. A layer of Vaseline can offer amazingly good protection from cold and wind-blown snow. Just make sure you clean your face well afterwards to avoid breakouts.