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This is my first winter in a really cold place. By cold I mean temperatures varying from -10 to -30 Celcius (yes, all temperatures I mention in this post are in metric). I come from a place which never usually goes below zero, so this is a significantly new and challenging experience for me. I have read and heard about getting accustomed to the cold rather than protecting from it, which has been argued as a better choice to beat the cold. That is the reason I normally decide to walk about a mile to my workplace even though the temperature is -13. However, there are a few things that I would like to ask / reconfirm / seek suggestion to have a better winter lifestyle.

  • Mittens are argued as more heat preserving than gloves. I felt my fingers were very cold today while walking, and I was wearing gloves - I had to keep my hand out of my pocket since I was carrying a thing. I reached my destination quickly and then heated the fingers, but it will not be possible to walk that way longer. Any suggestions? Should I look for something specific while getting a new pair of gloves / mittens?
  • The weather here is very dry. So dry that even after using a thick moisturizer my skin looks chapped often. I have a humidifier at home, and I switch it on during sleep, but still the dryness reappears. It's more prominent while walking in the cold. Any remedies?
  • Reducing the heating, taking a cold(er) shower, eating more carbs / calories are certain things that has been suggested, and I'll be trying out soon. Are they really effective methods to beat the cold?
  • Finally, a little funny and amusing thing for me, and don't laugh - I see people on the street wearing much less winterwear and no cover for the head and seem to be absolutely fine even at temperatures 10 deg below zero and windy! How do they manage to do that?

UPDATE: after a week (and a couple of medium to heavy snow showers) of following and improvising over the ideas suggested:

  1. Putting my thinner woollen gloves within a larger, waterproof glove really kept my hand warm. Now I completely realize the layering idea :-)
  2. I tried all sorts of moisturizers and finally coconut oil as well. Coconut oil is good for half the day, since near the end of the day my skin becomes dry again. Then I improvised on it using a more viscous oil - and this is mustard oil - just before the shower applying on the skin and then take the shower - it was amazing till the end of the day. You can try and let me know how it went - don't put it too much since it may stick to clothes, and not after shower, you may put a light film of moisturizer if needed afterwards. It works!
  3. Colder shower and trying to adjust to the cold helped me a lot. Now I feel much more comfortable walking in the -20 C (-4 F) than I was a week back.
  • bigger mittens, or maybe a bigger coat. your extremities are being sacrificed if you are too cold. – njzk2 Jan 5 '16 at 15:19
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    For those of us who don't think in Celsius, that's -22F to +14F. – ab2 ReinstateMonicaNow Jan 5 '16 at 22:59
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    Fbbt... getting accustomed to the cold? It's called developing a greater pain tolerance. I've lived my entire life in and around the Canadian Rockies, I used to walk to school in -30, and I wear enough protection to defend against an arctic torrent when it's only -10. Buy a big poofy down parka, invest in a lot of thick warm socks, wear long johns, invest in a pair of Sorel Glacier boots and cover every bit of exposed skin when you go outside, I walk around wearing ski goggles at minus 30. You get accustomed in time perhaps, but don't try to force it. – ShemSeger Jan 6 '16 at 4:51
  • Nice it worked for you, thx for the feedback! Regarding the moisturizer I use a less oily one so it's not sticking to other things so easily. But I am applying it to my hands several times a day, and not only once. – Wills Jan 13 '16 at 16:56
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I also can't offer answers to all your problems but on a couple of points:

2) Coconut oil is very good at restoring moisture to your skin. It's quite 'light' in that it won't leave a greasy film on your skin and given how little you need to use it's very cheap. I've also been told that a thin layer of Vaseline on your skin will help prevent it from getting so ravaged by the cold but haven't tried this myself.

4) I've seen people out in -10 wearing shorts. It's difficult to know how far that person is travelling, how recently they left their home / car, and how much they regret their choices at that moment. I wouldn't worry too much about other people's approaches until you get your own figured out.

I recently moved to northern British Columbia from a warmer climate and am struggling to solve the same problems :)

10

You are correct: Mittens work better than gloves, but are usually harder to find. The best mittens come as separate outers and inners.

  • They dry much faster at the end of the day.
  • If they soak through, you can change inners.

    The outers are snow proof. In really cold weather I prefer nylon outers. Close to freezing, leather will keep your hands dryer.

    For inners you can use either wool or fleece. On moderate days you can use knit or fleece gloves as inners. If you are working hard, often wearing outers with no inners works well. Flexibility.

Layering in general: Good idea. The layers depend on how cold it is, and how active you are. Warm still day (-5 to -10) snowshowing, I'll wear running shorts over polypro bottoms, and a windbreaker over polypro top. Take the sun away, or add any wind, and I'll add a light fleece between polypro top and that wind layer.

Sunshine makes an effective difference in the way you dress by about 10 C.

The wind chill charts are made by some obscure process that is more or less meaningless. The first 5-10 km of wind make the most difference. My rule of thumb is that for the first 10 kph, take off 1 C for each k. After that take off 1 k for each 5k. At one point Canada reported windchills in watts/square meter -- how much power did it take to keep a can of water at body heat. This correlated very well with how to dress. 1200 W/m2 meant jacket and toque and something on your hands unless you were splitting wood or running. 2000 W/m2 meant parka, fleece, poly and wind pants, balaclava. 2700 W/m2 (coldest I've been) required parka, light and heavy fleece, fleece pants between the poly pro and wind pants, double toque, scarf over the face unless the wind was behind you, your best fleece mitts inside nylon outers, with careful attention to overlaps. If you had to do anything with bare fingers you had about 10 seconds before they were too numb to use.

Layers

In general you want a wicking layer (polypro) and most of the time a wind layer (nylon) as it gets colder you add layers between them.

Acrylic (fleece) and wool are best. Acrylic doesn't hold much water. Wool stays reasonably warm even wet. Cotton is terrible wet.

Layers should be loose. Trap an extra air layer between them. Layers with separate functions are more versatile, generally easier to dry, and to clean. Buy a wind parka, not a winter parka. You can use a wind parka with different insulation all year.

I've found that a wind layer is more important than an insulation layer. A simple nylon shell zipped close will keep you warm when a loosely knit fleece will not.

Waterproof breathable fabrics

Avoid waterproof outer mitts, unless you are working with wet. They have serious condensation issues. This is where you will really want multiple sets of inners. Waterproof breathable doesn't seem to work at very cold temperatures. But at very cold temperatures water is not a liquid.

Waterproof breathable is an acceptable compromise in a wind parka -- you can open it up when you are warm, and it will vent fast enough to keep you dry.

If used for pants, you want good vent zippers to keep from soaking up. Your leg muscles generate a lot of heat. I don't use WB pants unless I'm working with wet snow, or rain or sleet.

Do NOT use for footwear, unless you are going through puddles. Duck shoes (bottom 1-2 inches rubber) work in spring or fall, but in full winter you get major condensation then cold toes.

Overlaps

Pants: Wear tops outside your foot wear. Don't tuck in. Snow will find it's way inside. This also allows you to tie the tops of boots loosely. This will pump some air in and out with every step, and slow down moisture collection in your socks.

Mitts: When not working (just walking, or using a ski pole) you want the back end of the mitt to allow some air exchange. This reduces condensation in your mitts. (Your hands sweat all the time. That water has to go somewhere.) Good outers have a velcro closer to secure them more tightly when the weather warrants. Again: Adjustable venting gives you more control.

If your hands are cold, put on your toque (watch cap, stocking cap, brain blanket...) Ditto feet. I buy cheap acrylic ones at the dollar store, because I lose them. Having a balaclava, (ski mask) for really cold days is good. Your body will reduce circulation to peripheral bits (fingers, toes) to keep the core warm. Putting a toque on reduces heat loss through your heat, so your body opens up blood vessels to the hands and feet.

For really cold weather, a parka is a good investment. Try to find one that the hood is sewn, not zipped. A: You can't lose it. B: no air leaks. Hood up, but partially unzipped allows slow flow through ventilation that keeps you dry.

Adjust to the circumstances: Very cold: Add a layer underneath. Put your hood up. Warm: throw your hood back. Warm: Take off you toque. Warm: Remove mitts. Cool: Put your wind layer back on.

On an outing it's common for me to add or remove a layer, unzip or zip up, every few minutes. At one extreme, at -45 C with a 20 kph wind, I had my parka over sweater over fleece over polypro, double toque, hood up. Windpants over fleece over polypro, and was still cold. At the other extreme I've had moccasins polypro bottoms, running shorts, and no shirt mushing a dog team over hummocks.

Footwear: Don't stuff more socks than will easily fit. Most cold climate people have winter boots and the rest of the year. Winter footwear should have room for 2 pair of thick socks, or should come with felt liners. The felt liners become mandatory below -30. Purpose built winter boots are already sized larger to account for this. If you want to use regular boots or shoes for winter, be ready to buy them two sizes larger. But try them out with extra socks, and ask for wide sizing if they have it.

Runners can be used in winter if you can get enough socks in them. New Balance has runnings in double E and quad E widths.

If you are out of sight of your car, carry extra stuff. I carry 1 layer more than the worst I expect to wear. I also take a change of socks (in case I break through the ice on a creek or beaver pond)

If you are cold. Eat. Drink (not booze). Fuel up.

9

I can't answer the rest, but for here's my 2c worth for gloves.

Layering : As with other clothes, layering gloves is worth doing. I'd try fairly thin liner gloves inside either mitts or a larger glove than you'd normally wear.

This gives an extra layer of insulation, but also means you can just take the outer layer off when you need more dexterity than mitts allow.

Mitts have an advantage that there's less 'surface area' around each finger so they can stay warmer. Also they allow warmer parts of the hand (palms) to conduct heat to colder parts (fingers) if you make a fist inside the them.

8

Related (4) there you see that (3) is working. There are definitively ways to get used to a colder environment. Of course it's also a matter of faculty/predisposition but still you can train it e.g. with increasing your willpower. Check out Wim Hof who is an expert in surviving cold situations. He can stay in ice water for nearly 2 hours straight. Everybody can improve the ability to withstand the cold better. You just have to leave your comfort zone more often in regular life.

For your question (1) and your problems in cold environments in general there has already been written a lot here. Check out e.g.

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    not just merino, but really any wool – njzk2 Jan 6 '16 at 16:36
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Here are a few things most of which I don't think have been mentioned already:

  • Walk faster: exert the sort of effort you'd exert hiking with a day pack and it will keep you much warmer than strolling. Don't stop unnecessarily (you'd get colder waiting for a bus).
  • Put what you're carrying in a backpack. This has several advantages:
    • Your hands are free if it gets slippery...
    • ... or you can put them in your pockets.
    • The backpack itself insulates your core.
  • For winter hiking I preferred fleece gloves under waterproof shell mittens. The mittens themselves had no insulation value as such but kept my whole hands in a cold-wind-free bubble. If I was hanging around in very cold conditions, silk gloves under the fleece ones were a further help.
  • Get good at getting going quickly -- put on the warm layers just before you open the door (so you don't sweat), then take the minimum amount of time to lock up and gettup to full moving pace. I really feel this cycle commuting even above freezing as there's more fiddling around with a bike.
  • Urban conditions for a short walk are fairly benign. You don't need the best gear, just good enough. High-street brands from the shops in a cold place should be more than adequate, especially in layers.
  • If snow melts from your body heat, you're doing something wrong, like letting it get too far in.

Also, it's been said elsewhere but feet -- keep them warm and dry (boots + double socks).

3

Having lived in various regions with cold winters, I also tend to suffer from dehydrated skin. I tried a whole range of moisturizers, from mainstream nivea skin care and equivalent, to a range of natural oils, with mitigated success..

From those years of experimenting I found that the natural oils were working the best, although they were still leaving me slightly unsatisfied because, just like for you, at some point during the day my skin would feel dry again.. The best were the coconut oil, the jojoba oil, and the macadamia oil (the latter having a relatively strong torrefied nut smell)

Frustration was starting to set in, until, one day, I discovered Shea butter. Since that day, I haven't had that dry, skin-pulling feeling anymore. Shea butter is about as 'light' in applied texture as coconut oil, and won't leave a greasy film on your skin or on your hands. And it's affordable. If you want to try it out, as for the oils, go for the pure natural versions.

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