Staying safe this winter means a lot of time outside. Here’s how to stay warm.

This winter is going to suck. We know because the rest of this year sucked, but we also know because the main nausea respite was summer – for those who live in much of the northern hemisphere, the warmer weather. meant it was much nicer to be outside, where the coronavirus is less likely to spread.

But now winter is coming and no one seems to know what to do. America is in the midst of a third wave of Covid-19 cases in a lame presidency where little is likely to improve. Local governments are close schools while keeping bars open to try to avoid any further economic collapse. The restaurants that remain open are building elaborate “open-air” dining spaces literally just indoor dining spaces.

What we do know, however, is that if you have to leave your home, it is much safer to be active outside than indoors elsewhere. This means that many Americans are going to have to learn how to face the cold and how to dress.

Fortunately, there are people who are experts in this particular field, for whom brutally cold environments are only part of the job. Cathy Geiger is a professor at the University of Delaware and has studied the behavior of sea ice at the Arctic and Antarctic Poles for more than three decades.

Having worked on 10 polar expeditions, Geiger has seen a lot of them (including coarse frostbite that involves eyelashes; more on this later). For clarity, since the overlay for subzero temperatures is quite complicated, the following information will be distilled through a convenient question-and-answer format.

What is the best method of layering?

Geiger adheres to a few main principles of stratification. The first and most important of these is to wear a lot of loose layers – the key word here being “loose”. This is because the insulated air that circulates between each layer is what keeps you warm. The more active you plan to be, the fewer layers you should wear.

Another important tip she points out is that good body circulation is key to warmth. “If you’re wearing 700 diapers and you’re like the Michelin man and can’t move, all that padding will do you no good if you block your circulation,” she explains. “[If you wear] four pairs of plush socks in one boot, your toes are going to be frozen because everything is too tight. There is no blood there.

Cathy Geiger, 200 miles north of Barrow, Alaska, on an expedition in 2007. “Note the use of a baseball-type cap.”
Robert harris

When Geiger sets out on an expedition where temperatures can dip anywhere from 30 degrees to 40 degrees below zero, she usually layers around four pairs of oversized long underwear made of moisture-wicking synthetic fabrics or merino wool, a Dickies bib, a turtle fur. for his neck and face, and at least three pairs of gloves (the thinnest layer goes first, military surpluses last), topped with a Carhartt jumpsuit and knee pads. With that, she wears an extra-large LL Bean jacket for extreme weather conditions.

“The shell prevents the cold from breaking through, so it’s like resisting the elements: your body is a personal shelter. In very cold weather, you want to wrap your body like you would insulate your home. “

What are the best fabrics to use for wind and cold protection, and how do you lay them?

Conventional wisdom says to stay away from cotton because it has virtually no moisture wicking property. Instead, Geiger says, make sure the fabric closest to your skin is made from synthetic fabrics or merino wool.

Why are moisture wicking fabrics so important? “Sweat is what will kill you,” she said. “The most important thing to do is [move] slower than you might think. Once you get into the digits zero you don’t want to start running and warming up to the point of sweating. “

And no matter what you think of Canada Goose, they’ve done the balaclavas well. Geiger recommends hoods with a fur (or faux fur) trim because “the fur creates friction that holds the wind”.

What’s the best way to protect my skin from the elements?

You should always wear sunscreen on your face, but before heading out into a snowy environment, there is one place people might miss – the underside of their noses. “The snow reflects!” she warns. Once back inside, go for the usual suspects that promise to hydrate: heavy lotions, balms, and petroleum jelly.

On January 31, 2019, commuters in downtown Chicago walk past a sign reading

Chicago downtown commuters on January 31, 2019.
Scott Olson / Getty Images

Do hats really matter?

Yes! And they also need their own layering methods. While you probably don’t wear glasses on your commute to work, you can still trust the principles that arctic researchers use to protect your eyes and face.

“If you put on a baseball cap and [then] a snow hat, the ball cap creates a brim, [and] it’s amazing how much sun is blocking, ”she said. “It’s an excellent windbreaker.” Another practical use of baseball caps: when you wear sunglasses, the brim traps heat that would have been lost through the top of the blinds.

And now this is the part of the conversation where Cathy said something really wild to me; in order to describe it well, I’ve included the full transcript:

The eyeball is a really serious place where you don’t want things to freeze over.

Wait, how do your eyeballs freeze?

You will notice this because you will notice that your eyelashes are starting to freeze.


We’ve had situations where people have gone, “Oh my god, what did I just do? Please look at me. “There was a little tearing because when the wind blows really hard in your eyes you start to tear, and it can freeze your eyelashes. If you try to open [your eyes] too fast, you can actually pluck the eyelashes.

Oh my God!

It happened to a friend. When you speak -20, [you see] freeze contact lenses and pluck out your eyelashes because they froze together. If this happens, the first thing to do is to keep your eyes closed. If you have sunglasses or whatever, take them off and put your mittens right over your eyes. Warm it up before you try to open your eyes and pluck your lashes.


So yes, hats matter.

My feet really sweat if I wear bulky socks. What’s the best way to layer your feet?

Remember the thing with the loose layers? It’s important here too. “If you’re really, really, really cold, you actually want your feet to be in something so loose that your shoe wiggles around a bit,” Geiger says. She never puts on more than two layers of socks (more and your feet will slip as well a lot): a moisture wicking closest to the skin, followed by a thicker pair of wool. And of course, wear a waterproof boot because, again, “the humidity will really kill you.”

A woman walking in Brooklyn on January 31, 2019 holds her scarf over her nose with her gloved hand.

A woman walking in Brooklyn on January 31, 2019.
ANGELA WEISS / AFP / Getty Images

What stupid things do people do in the cold that they really shouldn’t be doing?

Oddly enough, one of the worst mistakes people often make is more mental than physical. “If you’re excited and tense, you’re going to be blocking your circulation,” she says.

Instead, the key is to warm up before you go out. “Saunas come from northern cultures for a very good reason,” she explains. Try to drink hot soup broth before going out rather than coffee or tea, as “tea pees”.

How do I know if I have frostbite? And what should I do about it?

Your first warning that you are too cold is the feel of your fingers and toes, as they are the farthest from your heart. “When I took students out on the ice, that’s the first thing I asked, ‘How are everyone’s fingers and toes doing? All 10? All 20? I wanted them to know that they can count the 20 digits because these are your remote sensors. “

Geiger emphasizes that cold extremities should be treated immediately. If your hands and feet start to ache, stop what you are doing and warm them up, either by entering or using the tools available to do so (there are some strategies used by Alaskan fishermen and Inupiat that involve using clean snot and / or pee which hopefully you never have to use). Any sign of “dark white skin,” she adds, also means that the blisters may have already started.

So, uh … what’s up with the sea ice?

One of the most shocking things Geiger has said is that although she has been working on sea ice for decades, over the past 10 years it has become so thin that it is not safe to go there. camp.

A 2014 satellite image of the polar vortex that covered the entire northern United States.

A 2014 satellite image of the polar vortex that covered the entire northern United States.
NOAA via Getty Images

“I have been on the ice since 1984 and at the time it was awesome. We just took a boat up there, walked on the ice, and worked on it. 2007 was the last time we could really camp on the ice. As of 2007, the ice is too dangerously thin to come out and no longer work on. You have to work on a boat.

Because his work has been loaded with political baggage due to the Trump administration’s denial of climate change, polar research has largely been suspended since 2016.

And yet, despite what politicians may think of the term ‘climate change’, that unfortunately doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Geiger explains that because the planet is heating up so quickly, the temperate climates many people currently experience will no longer exist at all.

“The point is that as the poles heat up, things Wavierand as the going gets tough, the tropics and the poles are all we have left, and we don’t have this nice, comfortable, temperate, temperate climate, ”she says.

“And I think if the news could communicate that, people would say, ‘Holy curse. There is no longer a temperate zone? It’s like, ‘Yeah, it’s a consequence of the poles warming faster than the tropics – you’re losing the temperate zone. And once you do that it really makes life miserable. That is, the coronavirus is not the only extremely depressing part of this winter.