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As the Scandinavians say, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. “I’ve been warm down to negative 50 [degrees Fahrenheit] because I was dressed appropriately, and then I’ve been cold at 30 because I was not dressed appropriately,” KattiJo Deeter, a dogsledder and an owner of Black Spruce Dog Sledding in Alaska, told me.
The thought of spending time outside in the cold doesn’t have to fill you with dread, and the experience doesn’t have to be miserable. In fact, some chilly outdoor time can be enjoyable, and even preferable to yet another hygge-filled evening at home—especially now. No one’s suggesting that you have a picnic in a blizzard (seriously, don’t do that). But with the right preparations, winter can be good. Winter is good.
Remember that even when it’s chilly, basic safety measures still apply, and they’re even more crucial now, when hundreds of thousands of Americans are getting sick every day. Maintain your distance. Wear a mask. Avoid any situations that increase your risk. “It would defeat the purpose to travel in a car with someone outside your household to get to a place to do an outdoor activity,” says Lisa Miller, an epidemiology professor at the University of Colorado School of Public Health.
Dressing warm in freezing weather can sound daunting, but you need to follow only a few basic principles. Our bodies always give off heat to regulate our internal temperature, and the key to keeping warm in wintry conditions is to retain that heat. You can do that by layering up, starting with a shirt with a high collar and long sleeves to cover as much skin as possible. Pile on a middle layer, such as a sweatshirt, to provide some insulation, and an outer layer that protects against the wind.
On the bottom, avoid jeans, which are terrible for winter because denim doesn’t provide much insulation at all. “I think a lot of people threw out their jeans with COVID,” Deeter said. “Just leave those in the garbage bin.” Layer up, following the same rules for your upper body. Deeter recommends starting with long underwear or fleece-lined leggings, then adding a pair of the soft pants many of us have defaulted to wearing every day. If it’s very cold, top with snow pants. In general, plan to overdress; better to remove a layer if you start feeling warm than to wish you’d brought that extra hoodie.
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An important caveat: Outer layers should be sized bigger than the layers closer to your body. Deeter’s base layer, for example, is a size small, while her outermost jacket is an extra large. Wearing many layers of the same size not only hampers movement; it can make you even colder. Tight-fitting clothing restricts blood flow, and you want blood flowing to your extremities, which are more susceptible to the cold than your core is. One pair of thick socks is better than a rigid stack of three, Deeter said. Avoid layers on your hands too, and go for mittens over gloves, since “separating your fingers makes them colder,” Deeter said.