Winter Clothing: Stay Warm and Pursue Winter Activities

Manage your body heat with the appropriate winter clothing to get the most out of winter activities.

| November/December 2009

Winter Wear: Materials Matter 

Trapped! You’ve had enough of being indoors, but it’s winter and you hate to be cold. Learn to be comfortable even at zero degrees Fahrenheit, and understand one of the most important ways to stay warm is to keep from getting too hot.

Since you’re a warm-blooded creature, you make your own heat. Your core contains the organs that keep you alive, including your head with its precious brain, and it needs to be a specific temperature – 98.6 degrees. If it gets too hot, over 105 degrees, or too cold, below 93 degrees, your life is threatened.

Your body regulates its temperature. When your core gets too warm, you sweat, and evaporation cools you down. Blood vessels dilate to bring more blood to your skin in order to carry heat away from the core. If you get too cold, the blood vessels constrict so more blood within the core can stay as warm as possible. This is similar to shutting doors and turning off heat in unused rooms to make it easier and more economical to heat the most important rooms. Exercise makes you warmer, so if you get cold enough, you shiver: Shivering is involuntary exercise.

To stay safe out in winter’s chill, use what you know about your body’s ability to regulate temperature. Don layers of clothing that will serve as insulation, trapping small pockets of air that are then warmed by the body. The colder the temperature, the more insulation required. A tightly woven layer on the outside, such as windproof pants, jacket or coveralls, keeps the wind from stealing away the trapped warm air.

Because your head has lots of blood vessels, and it’s often exposed, it can be a source of considerable heat loss in cold weather. If your hands or feet are cold, wearing a hat or balaclava can help “push” more warm blood to those other extremities. Add a windproof hood to your hat, and you can keep the wind from robbing head heat. Windproof mittens are necessary when it’s really cold. If you work with gloves instead of mittens, an extra layer or two on your core will help keep your fingers toasty warm. 

Fuel the furnace

Metabolic heat is fueled by the calories you consume. Thus it’s important to eat often when active outside in the cold. Small, high energy snacks that don’t require much cool-down time to consume can keep you warm for as long as you care to stay outside. And as important as it is to manage calories, you will need liquids, too.

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