How to Dress for the Cold Snap: Advice from Northerners

With the latest blast from the Arctic slated for DC tomorrow night – and forecast to bring single digit temperatures and below-zero wind chills – I thought to myself: how the hell do you dress for that level of cold? I grew up in the Central Valley of California; we didn’t spend a whole lot of time below 32°F, let alone down below zero with the wind chill. My mother’s family, though, grew up on the shores of Lake Superior, and some of them have ventured further north into Alberta, Canada. My uncle would regularly work in Fort McMurray, Alberta, four hours north of Edmonton at 56 degrees north latitude.

I asked them to help us stay warm this week, and they came back with the following:

Margaret Bridge (six years in Minnesota & Wisconsin) says: Layers, layers and more layers. If you can, try to get a wool layer as the bottom layer. The winter of ’07 in Minneapolis, we had a cold snap for 2 weeks where temps did not get above 0. My basic uniform for those two weeks was long undies under my blue jeans, a thin long sleeved shirt, a thermal henley, and then a sweatshirt. I wore my navy peacoat on top of all of this plus a hat and scarf. One morning I couldn’t find my gloves and I ended up wearing socks on my hands as I drove to work. One of the main things to remember is that your exposure to the outside is actually quite limited – it’s not like you’re going to go galavanting for hours in 0 temps. When you do go outside, make sure as much of your skin is covered. Your boogers and tears will most likely freeze and it’s a very interesting sensation. Walk fast and with purpose to your destination.

Bill Strand (40+ years in Alberta, Canada) says: 

1. Feet,  two pair socks, inner pair cotton.  Zip or buckle up overshoes.  If your feet get really cold go inside.
2. Body, Margaret’s layers are good.
3. Hangy down parts.  High specific surface,  ears, nose, fingers.   These are a problem.  A good balaclava helps with ears and nose.  A wool scarf over the head  and ears helps.  For fingers an outer coat with big pockets. You can get insulated gloves at places like Cabellas.  If you get really cold go inside.
4.  Don’t sweat. The most important rule for cold weather.  Put the last layers on after you are outside.  If you are working like shovelling snow or walking a longer distance set a pace that keeps your core warm but you are not perspiring.  If you are sweating and stop work suddenly outside you will take a chill in no time that can be quite serious.
5.  Stay hydrated.  You need fluid, not calories.  I drink a lot of weak coffee.

Tiffany Bridge (Grew up in Pittsburgh, PA) says: Have you looked at fleece-lined tights, ladies? There’s a great Etsy store that has a few and has a wide variety of sizes.

Bob Strand (Lives in Beaver Bay, MN, where it is currently -11°F): Ryders Thinsulate Jeans are my favorite.  Merino wool socks, long sleeve T-shirts, wool shirts and hoodies.  Mad bomber hat and thinsulate gloves and your good to go.

>So there you have it. Remember: Layers, don’t expose your skin, keep a layer til you get outside, and don’t sweat. Stay hydrated.

Also, remember that DC has a hypothermia hotline that you can call to make sure that everyone’s inside when it’s below freezing outside. You can call 1-800-535-7252 when you see someone who may need a hand getting to shelter.

I live and work in the District of Columbia. I write at We Love DC, a blog I helped start, I work at Technolutionary, a company I helped start, and I’m happy doing both. I enjoy watching baseball, cooking, and gardening. I grow a mean pepper, keep a clean scorebook, and wash the dishes when I’m done. Read Why I Love DC.

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