A newbie’s information to staying heat outdoors

As a dog sled driver, one of the biggest misconceptions I’ve come across is that I have to be stricter things than other people, or that I just don’t mind being cold. In fact, I am a baby. I like soft and comfortable things and my circulatory system is very average. But staying warm in the deep cold – or even the shallow cold – is not something most people are born good at; It’s a skill anyone can improve, and it opens up an entire season of outdoor opportunities.

Perhaps you spend your winters longing for spring and dreaming of long weekends outside again. Perhaps you’ve just moved to a colder place and have no idea how the locals do it. Or maybe you are looking for ways to get out of the house safely without violating social distancing guidelines. Have no fear! Here are ten principles to help you start your warmest winter yet.

Hug the train

(Photo: Blair Braverman)

Much of the advice that keeps warm is focused on layering, but layers of clothing are nothing magical. The real magic is the air that becomes trapped in them. The real goal of winter clothing is to create a (warm) layer of air that you carry around with you. Expensive cold weather clothing? They’re just fancy ways to hold your breath. And any jacket that you advertise as “slim” is more focused on making you look small than on keeping you warm, which can defeat all of the purpose.

Whether you’re shopping for a new parka or layering the clothes you already have, focus on the crowd. When it comes to outerwear, look for thick, light insulation such as down or primaloft – and avoid waistlines or other details that reduce your personal air bubble. If you are laying sweaters or fleeces on top of each other, add a windproof or windproof outer layer (if in doubt, try to breathe through the fabric) so that the wind doesn’t blow your air bubble away.

Go long

Hot air rises. The longer your coat, the more air you’ll be carrying around (and even if it’s loose at the bottom, the warm air won’t “fall out”). At the very least, look for coats that extend past your hips to allow warm air to surround your torso. This is also why insulated skirts are so great – and the longer, the warmer. I like the kind that you can completely unzip to slip over the rest of your outfit.


It’s a myth that you lose 40 percent of your heat through your head, but that doesn’t mean hats aren’t important. In fact, people lose heat through the least covered parts of the body, which are often heads. Other common offenders include tears in wrists, ankles, neck, and waist, which can cause cold air to get under the edges of your clothing. Add a neck seal, tuck your pants into your boots (or socks), and wear wrist warmers under your gloves.

Stay dry

Blair dog pets(Photo: Blair Braverman)

Moisture can cool you down quickly. So when you are out in the cold it is important to minimize sweating. Your winter outfit should have a way to cool off quickly, either by removing layers or unzipping. and if you want to be active (and thereby generate warmth) you should dress in a way that makes you feel cold when stopped. Cotton does not insulate well when it is damp. So if you wear a base layer (the layer on top of your skin) of a non-cotton material like polyester, wool, or silk, you’ll feel more comfortable throughout the day. And don’t skip your antiperspirant! I have friends who even put antiperspirant on their feet to keep their toes dry and warm.

Add insoles

Shoes are difficult because they are in contact with the ground and you lose heat faster through contact with liquids and solids than through contact with air. (See also: Contact with frostbite; see also: Why 50-degree water feels colder than 50-degree air.) So your boots and shoes need to put more mass around your feet and insulate them from the cold ground.

When you sizing your winter boots, leave room for extra insoles (without pinching your feet making them – you guessed it – colder). I like 13 millimeter wool pads. Then when you get in, pull the insoles out of your boots so they can dry completely. And when you’re outdoors every day, a boot dryer can be a game changer. My husband swears that double boot dryers are the key to a happy marriage.

Try hand and toe warmers

I know people who worry that using hand and toe warmers will be fake, or that relying on artificial heating is dangerous because you may not have access to it in a survival situation. Look: Unless you’re interested in remote, high-risk winter activities, there is no need to think about it. Hand and toe warmers are great. They are roasted. And you can be creative with them! I sew a small bag in my hats so I can put a hand warmer against my neck, which feels super cozy. Slap a sticky toe warmer on the back of your phone and the cold won’t drain your battery as quickly. And when you get cold, put a warmer in your crotch (but not directly on your skin – burns cause a completely different problem). It warms the blood in your femoral artery, which in turn helps warm your entire body.

Eat snacks

Snowy Dog Blair(Photo: Blair Braverman)

Meals make you colder because blood flows into your digestive system. But snacks will make you warmer because they’re easier to digest and hot drinks will warm you up inside. If you’re out in winter, bring a thermos and a bag full of chocolate, dried fruit, or other quick snacks. If you really want to be fancy, you can use a trick I learned from legendary musher Martha Schouweiler: fill a Gatorade bottle (or other wide neck bottle) with Trail Mix and you don’t even have to take off your mittens ” Drink it

Stay hydrated – and keep peeing

Go to the bathroom frequently as a full bladder will make you noticeably colder. But don’t avoid drinking so you don’t have to pee – you need to stay hydrated too.

Warm up properly

Blair-Dog-Warm-Right(Photo: Blair Braverman)

Once you’re back inside, it can be tempting to keep your layers on while you warm up. After all, they make you warmer, don’t they? No! Your coat and boots will keep you cold just as they keep you warm. Strip down to the base layer and bare feet and you will warm up much faster.

Fat also maintains temperatures. So if you have more body fat, it can take longer to get cold – but it can also take longer to warm up again. Hot drinks (and / or sharing a friend’s body heat) can keep you warm. If you’re still cold, a bath or shower usually cuts right through the persistent chill. (Note: If people are very cold, hot water can cause damage by heating too quickly. Avoid taking a hot shower or bath after swimming in cold water – and if you are hypothermic, seek medical attention. Warming.)

Make yourself comfortable

Blair Dog yarn(Photo: Blair Braverman)

Winter happens outside, but also inside – and when you want to embrace winter, embrace the cosiness! Drink toddlers, make a fire in the fireplace (or light candles), charge blankets, knit – this is all part of the season, and coming inside and drinking hot chocolate by the fire is special, while your ears warm up. It may take some time to learn the intricacies of how your body reacts to cold, but the process should be fun, not daunting, and you can proceed at your own pace. There’s no right or wrong way to enjoy winter – it’s about seizing the opportunities and finding out what’s right for you.

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Main photo: Blair Braverman

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