Walking in a winter wonderland may sound perfect, but having an outdoor adventure without the proper winter gear might prove to be hazardous to your health. Don your best gear, whether it has snowed or not, and protect yourself from the cold weather blues.
The Head – We have all heard various statistics about how much warmth you lose through your head, but we still find ourselves wearing hats that are more for decoration than warmth. The ideal head covering? Natural fiber is warmer than synthetic fibers, but there are several hybrids that incorporate the natural warmth and wicking of natural fibers while providing the quick-drying and light weight of the synthetic options. Opt for a hat that covers both your head and ears to maximize the “warm and toasty” factor.
The Neck– Many people wear scarves all the time now, and if you are one of those people, you have probably noticed that they really do help your body stay warmer. When dressing for winter conditions, however, don’t just wrap that scarf stylishly around your neck. Use it to cover your nose and mouth. Not only will you stay warmer, but you will protect the sensitive skin on your face from winter chapping and even frostbite. Oh, and a quick tip on how to avoid the “wet face” that often happens when you cover your mouth: 1) use naturally-wicking fabric and choose something that holds the heat, even if it gets wet, 2) breathe in through your mouth and out through your nose to decrease condensation, and 3) wrap your scarf tightly enough that it will stay in place, but loosely enough that you can pull it down away from your face if you need to.
The Hands – Speaking of frostbite, your fingers are vulnerable to frostbite and need to be protected, too. Should you wear gloves, mittens or the hybrid glittens? The short answer? It doesn’t matter what you put on your hands as long as your hands stay warm and dry! Again, wicking is key to a good choice for hand gear. Moisture should be able to get out if your hands sweat, but whatever you are wearing should keep the winter snow from melting and seeping in to make your hands wet and cold. If you make a poor choice, your hands can become totally saturated before you finish building your first snowman! Choose your material well, however, and you can move on from your snowman to sledding without any fear of frostbite! If you are planning on a longer time out in the elements, it never hurts to pack an extra pair of gloves in your pockets, where they will provide a warm and dry alternative. Finally, you might invest in a few hand warmers if you are going to be out in the cold for an extended period of time.
The Bod – Coats are important, but they are really only a part of your body’s core warming experience. Think of them as the outer shell that protects the other layers from the elements. As such, they must be weather resistent, but can actually be relatively lightweight. One wool coat may look nice, but when it comes to cold weather, layers are the best option. Layers allow you to adjust to the weather and your activity level. Choose a coat that will hold heat in, but will. . .yep, you guessed it, wick moisture away. This goes for all of your layers. Body-hugging long underwear and a jacket or winter shirt and pants should all help you stay warm and dry.
The Foot – Layers are important here, too. Can you guess why? Well, in case you have missed this recurring theme, warm and dry feet are happy feet. A thin wicking sock under a thicker wool sock does the trick!
The Feet – Your feet are warm and dry, so now what? Go for traction when you pick out your winter shoes. Do not wear smooth soles or heels when it is cold. You never know when a surface will freeze over, and you will find yourself hitting a patch of ice. Wear boots or shoes that will provide you with the gripping power you need to traverse the winter landscape. Remember, just because they are boots or are shoes with bumpy soles doesn’t mean that you actually have the traction you need. Some boots have very slick soles, and even sport shoes with lots of nooks and crannies on their soles can provide nothing but slippery footing. Rubber and neoprene soles are the best for traction. Ignore fashion and go for security when it’s really cold!
The Eyes – Lots of people wear goggles when they go skiing, but surprisingly few people wear sunglasses when they walk from class to class on a sunny day. Sunglasses become especially important when it is cold outside. For winter protection, wrap-around sunglasses are the best. They protect your eyes from UV rays and from the bright reflection of the sun on show and ice, but they also give protection from the wind and cold. Proper eye protection now can prevent eye damage that can show up as cataracts or other age-related eye conditions later on. Don’t forget the sunglasses when you go out in the cold.
The Skin – In addition to protecting your skin from the elements with the clothing described above, consider wearing sunscreen. The sun shines, even on really cold days, but the added reflection from snowy surfaces can reflect that sun right back at you! Now you are facing those rays from above and below. Best pay attention to your skin and apply some sunscreen. Protecting your skin from both wind and sun will keep you warm and protect your skin from burning while you are out enjoying a winter walk or a snowy adventure!
Finally, keep both the outside temperature and your expected activity level in mind when you get dressed. Watch local weather forecasts so you know what to expect throughout the day, and layer accordingly. Winter walks are lovely, as long as you know how to protect your body from the harsh wind and cold temperatures. If you dress warmly, instead of singing a song from “Frozen,” you can hum your favorite tune while having as much winter fun as you can manage!