Doug Writes

Pencil Pusher for Hire

How to Dress for Cold Weather

Boonville, MO Blizzard of 2011 by robertstinnett, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  robertstinnett 

Statistics Canada reports one hundred and eleven (111) Canadians died from effects of  cold weather in 1997. This included ninety-two (92) people dying from hypothermia, two (2) persons dead from chilblains, and one (1) poor soul dying  from complications of  frostbite in the hand. That was just an average year!

Basic cold weather  survival is all about keeping warm.

Dress for winter before you get in the vehicle.

It always amazes me how many people get in the car in winter in T-shirts, jeans, and street shoes. People assume that the car will never break down, no tires will ever go flat, and help is always just minutes away.

Dress as if you plan on walking for a great distance in the cold weather and blowing snow. Many  experts advise you to carry winter clothing. But to them “winter clothing” means your heavy coat, hat, etc. If you are wearing jeans and a T-shirt and have to get out of the vehicle to change a tire in minus forty degree weather, you will be freezing by the time you get dressed in that winter gear. You will be uncomfortably cold with heavy winter cloths over thin cotton regardless of how good your coat.

This doesn’t mean you have to wear all the winter clothes inside the car. Place your heavy coat and boots in the back seat for comfort, but handy for quick retrieval.  However, leave the T-shirts and jeans at home. Neither will hold body warmth well. Flannel shirts, fleece vests, sweaters, and lined pants are the “Dress of the Day” when traveling in cold weather outside cities.

Wear loose clothing in cold weather.

Not all heavy winter clothing is equal. Remember: blood circulates heat to the extremities. Tight footwear and hand wear cut that circuit of heat and frostbite is a real possibility. Better to prevent frostbite, than lose a finger or toe.

Mittens instead of gloves.

With that in mind, wear mittens, not gloves. Your hands will be less agile and you may think you look “dorky”, but the goal is to stay warm, not cool! (Pun intended!) As well as improving  circulation to the fingers, mittens allow the fingers to share heat. Small heat packs for your mittens are readily available at drugstores, hardware stores, and general retailers in snow country.  They work well and last on average 4 hours.

Wear a balaclava!

For a hat wear a balaclava, commonly called a ski-mask. Your nose and ears can get frostbitten too. Image how you would look without a nose and then decide if you should buy a balaclava.

Do not get too tight a fit, make sure it is woolen, and if possible choose one with a hole for your mouth. The moisture you exhale can rapidly wet the balaclava. Even if the balaclava is woolen this wetness is nasty.

If it is not too cold and there is little wind, roll up the brim and wear the balaclava as a toque or watch cap. Just make sure to cover your ears as they are especially vulnerable to frostbite.

Good cold weather footwear starts with winter socks.

Winter socks are either wool or a wool-blend. Some people, both men and women, buy silk inner linings for comfort. The silk then wicks the moisture away to the wool. This is a great idea if you need to walk a fair distance as wet wool will soften your skin and rub it raw, causing blisters or worse, chilblains. If you decide to use the silk inner linings, they clinging more than the wool, but not tight enough to hinder blood flow.

Wool socks are worn loosely to aid the flow of warmth, but not so loosely as to fall about your ankles.  If they are too loose, they will soon be slipping under your heel and gathering beneath your arch, resulting in sore cold feet.

The next layer on your feet are a quality pair of felt liners for your boots. These are not the thin liners you put in the sole of your shoes for comfort, but heavy liners that look like booties. They fit inside your boots and cover the sides as well as the sole. Make sure they are loose with plenty of toe wiggle room. It is best to buy them at the same time as your boots or immediately afterwards to ensure a proper fit.

Finally the boots go 0n. Make the boots  water proof to handle the snow, have good firm grips on the bottom to hold on ice, and have leather uppers to allow your feet to “breath”.

Yes, your feet will feel heavy and it will take more effort to walk. However, your feet will also stay warm. If you have ever had truly cold feet, you will know how very painful that is. As they used to say in the British Infantry, “Take care of your feet, and they will take care of you”. 

The trick to beating winter’s cold weather is layering.

It is best if your coat is windproof and waterproof, but not too heavy. Some quilting is desirable to retain warmth, however the coat’s principal purpose is to protect against the wind and snow.

Instead of a massive coat, think layers. The bottom layer is your undershirt, wool or wool blend. Next is your flannel shirt (long sleeves, naturally), then a wool sweater, and maybe a goose-down vest. Only then the is coat added.

Some outdoors men wear wind-pants. Wind-pants are a thin shell of polyester formed into trousers and wore over your regular pants. They cut the wind and are water-resistant.


Protect all skin surfaces.

Human skin will freeze in under 30-minutes when the temperature is -40 degrees. This process is accelerated by wind.  If it is windy enough and cold enough your skin can freeze in under thirty (30) seconds.

This combination of cold weather temperatures a winds cooling effect is referred to as Wind Chill. Wind Chill does not lower the actual temperature of objects, but rather the rate at which they lose heat. The faster the wind, the faster the heat loss. Therefore, in cold weather at any given temperature wind will both make you feel colder and endanger your health quicker.

So I repeat:  THE NUMBER ONE RULE FOR COLD WEATHER:  Protect all skin surfaces.


14 May 2011 - Posted by | Northern Living | , ,

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