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Friday, September 30, 2011

Staying Warm Outdoors

Now that we are shifting into autumn, it is only a matter of time until the cold weather hits us.  Many people shift their activities to indoors when the cold arrives but the outdoors is still a great place to be in the winter.  It can be just as enjoyable as the warmer times provided that you prepare accordingly for the cold weather.

A lot of information is available about how to stay warm in the cold weather, but in some cases, that information is nothing more than a carefully disguised advertisement to convince you to buy some really expensive high-tech clothing.  While there is no doubt that this clothing works well, there are many other more affordable alternatives and methods to use.

To successfully stay warm outdoors, there are really four key elements to think about:

1.  Know the weather forecast and plan accordingly - What are the precipitation chances, wind speed/direction, and temperatures by hour?  Often, shifting an outdoor activity by just an hour or two can reduce the risk of exposure.  If you don't know the weather details, you can't plan accordingly.

2.  What activity will you be doing? - Is it going to be strenuous, low-activity or a combination of both?  Activity generates heat so you must understand the activity level to begin to dress correctly.

3.  Clothing - what is the right amount to wear?  How many layers to wear?  What materials to wear? - This is the tough one but here are some guidelines that can make your outdoor experience much more enjoyable.
  •      First and foremost, stay dry; hypothermia occurs much more often when the body is wet because it loses heat much faster than when it is dry
  •      Cotton is a killer!  It soaks up moisture and then is slow to dry plus it isn't wind resistant
  •      Dress in three loose layers; tight clothes wick heat out of your body while loose layers create "dead air pockets" that are very insulating.
    • The first layer closest to your body should be designed to pull moisture away from the body so polyester and polypropylene are very good choices.
    • The middle layer should be "fluffy" to trap warm air.  Wool and polyester fleece (not cotton fleece!) are great choices here.  As "old school" as it is, wool continues to stand the test of time and is never a bad choice.
    • The outer layer must block wind effectively plus make it easy to move in.  Many materials fit the bill here but ones that are also waterproof get the nod for best in class.
  • Head, neck, hands and feet are also very important.
    • Keep your ears and top of head covered with a material that blocks the wind.
    • Neck coverings such as scarves or gaiters block the cold wind from touching your skin and creating a chill
    • Gloves are nothing more than layering for your hands.  Make sure they are long enough and close tightly around the wrist so that the cold wind can't get to your hands.  Mittens are great but not when you have to have finger dexterity.
    • Boots are critical for foot warmth but make sure they are not too tight.  You need layering on your feet just like the rest of your body.  For the best results, use polypropylene sock liners, wool socks and insulated boots one half to one full size larger than normal will keep the feet warm as long as they stay dry.
4.  Something often overlooked in staying warm is eating and drinking for warmth.  Multiple high-fat meals per day will provide the caloric intake that your body needs to stay warm.  Complex carbohydrates are good while simple sugars should be avoided if possible.  Drink lots of water to stay hydrated; warm drinks such as coffee or tea are good but avoid alcohol.

Hopefully these tips will help your winter be an enjoyable one outside hiking, skiing, hunting or doing whatever activity you choose to do.  Have a warm and great one.

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