Tips on Staying Warm When It’s REALLY COLD

Maybe it’s a little early for me to start giving you all the 411 on staying warm, but it’s really cold in Wyoming this week, in case you hadn’t heard.


The weekend before last, Matt, our friend Phil, and I attempted to climb at the Pole Mountain area in Medicine Bow National Forest. I think we can safely say we enjoyed the time we spent there, but will not be returning any time soon. It was TOO COLD.

The trail up to the climbing area
The trail up to the climbing area

The main problem is that rock climbing requires the use of your bare hands, and when there’s snow and ice on the climb itself, your fingers get cold really quickly.

Phil mantles off of a snowy ledge.
Phil tries to escape a snowy ledge, with his awesome purple legwarmers

We got a pretty gorgeous view on the hike back down, though. Almost worth it!

Sunset reflects off settled snow
Sunset reflects off settled snow

Anyway, I feel I’m making this list of tips as much for my own reference as for yours. Enjoy!

Tip 1: The right fabric

  • Some fabrics are warm; some are made for twirling on sandy toes just short of the incoming tide (read: linen). I jump at the chance when I see the following on a clothing label at Goodwill: wool, cashmere, or silk. Some high-quality sweaters have a blend of wool and cashmere or wool and silk to tone down the itchiness inherent in merino wool. To note, wool is one of the few fabrics that will keep you warm even when you’re wet (think rain-soaked sheep!), so if you happen to fall in a partially frozen pond or get sweaty in a wool baselayer, it will continue to insulate!
  • Anything flannel-lined (these flannel-lined jeans are amazing – just ask my friend Tallie) or down-filled does the job too. Down blankets, down sweaters, down sleeping bags…

Tip 2: The right gear

  • Hats: I’ve been told but have not scientifically verified that you lose most of your body’s heat through your head, which makes it imperative to cover that sucker. If I’m going to be outside for a while, I’ve found it’s important to have a long beanie that you can pull down over your ears, since my ears start to hurt in cold and windy weather. Try to find beanies that are lined with flannel, particularly around the ears; this will keep you especially warm! Note: if you try on a beanie in the store and it seems a little tight, it WILL ride up until it pops off your head, most likely in the middle of your run. Buy the right size!
I love this wool hat with ear flaps!
I love this wool hat with ear flaps!
  • Scarves: If you lose heat via your head, then I’m sure you lose plenty through your neck as well. Knitted scarves made of wool or cashmere blends are perfect. If you’re doing something active and don’t need a long scarf tripping you up, infinity scarves, neck “gaiters” or warmers, and even balaclavas are great too. In very cold/windy conditions, you want to cover your mouth and even your nose.
  • Mittens vs. gloves: I have really cold hands. Seriously, the room I’m in will be 70 degrees and the skin temperature on my hands will be ~45. (It’s a hard life.) Mittens are always warmer than gloves. You should only opt for gloves when (a) you’re not that concerned about getting cold, (b) you really need finger dexterity, or (c) you couldn’t find the mittens. I invested in a pair of waterproof mittens that has built-in glove liners, and they’re amazing. Added bonus of mittens: you feel like giving lots of thumbs-up because your normal array of hand gestures are very limited.
  • Jackets/coats/parkas: One thing I learned the hard way is to buy a down jacket WITH THE HOOD. Hoods are amazing, particularly if they’re lined with lots of fuzzy fake fur that severely limits your peripheral vision, meaning it also limits wind exposure. Your cheeks will thank you. Also, if you can, find one with the hand pockets located underneath the insulating layer, which will help to keep your mitten- or glove-less hands warm if you’re, for example,  just trying to make it through the Target parking lot. Wool coats are great if you don’t mind the weight; down, on the other hand, is significantly lighter, but can’t get wet.
  • Baselayers: A number of brands like Smartwool and Ibex make light, non-itchy wool shirts and long underwear designed to be worn under other layers. There are also some great poly-blends that insulate and wick moisture, like Patagonia’s capilene line, and the ubiquitous UnderArmour.
  • Socks: Wool to the max! I really like Smartwool socks, and Matt prefers Darn Tough. I have never worn socks as often as I do now, in Wyoming. Thick wool socks designed for hiking or skiing are seriously essential.
Wool socks + hiking boots = my commuting attire
Wool socks + hiking boots = my commuting attire

Tip 3: The right sustenance

  • Hot drinks: I’ve discovered the following unfortunate dilemma. I wake up and, realizing it’s a cold morning, I go by the local coffee shop to get a tea latte, only to lament the entire way to work that the hand holding this disposable cup is getting really cold doing so (yes, even colder than my hands normally are!). Most travel mugs, despite their name’s implying a safe journey, leak everywhere if you so much as turn them upside-down or let them float around in your purse. My solution is the insulated water bottle, or a thermos with a very tight lid (screw-top is better than a seal). I make tea at home, pour it into my insulated water bottle, throw it in my purse, and I’m on my way. Best of all, your drink won’t get cold during the commute! And, once you get to your destination, everyone knows how awesome you feel while holding a warm drink.
  • Hot foods: Honestly, this is what I want to eat when it’s cold out – potatoes, stews, noodle or rice soups, spicy curry, and mac and cheese. Even the heartiest quinoa-kale-salmon salad won’t do when it’s single or negative digits out. Need a soup suggestion? Look no further!

Tip 4: Keep moving

  • If at all possible, don’t just stand around in the cold. Walk! Shovel the driveway! Get the mail really fast! One way I’ve managed to convince myself to go for runs in the cold is to literally warm up inside. If you spend just 5-10 minutes doing dynamic stretches (lunges, squats, high-kicks, etc.) in your living room in the clothes you plan on wearing outside, your body will be warm and ready (or as ready as possible) to conquer the cold.
Stay warm, everyone!
Stay warm, everyone!

One thought on “Tips on Staying Warm When It’s REALLY COLD

  1. Pingback: Ode to Snow – The Taker of Seeds: A Blog of Vacillations

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