Before moving to the north I would have thought myself to be pretty used to and knowledgeable about cold weather just on account of being a Canadian and because I’d been through 20 + years of Montreal winters.
Now I realize I didn’t really know anything about actually surviving and protecting yourself in extreme cold weather. In the city, the most time that you spend outdoors when it’s below 10 degrees Celsius is the 10-15 minutes you wait at the bus stop for the bus to arrive. If it gets below 20 you probably just avoid going out as much as possible. If it’s minus 30 you just stay in bed!
Well, here in the subarctic north the regular temperature from December to March is between – 30 to -40. In April it’s – 20 to -30. Unfortunately, as much as we may want to, we can not hibernate during those 4 months! So we still get up every day and do our groceries and go to work and even take walks because we need the exercise. When it gets down to -50 then we have late starts, where school and work will start later in the day because it is too cold to go out early in the morning, we wait for the sun to come out and warm things up to at least -45 before heading out.
So what did I learn about surviving this extreme weather?
1 . Always be prepared
Even if I’m just planning to run out to my pre-warmed up truck and then jump out of it and run to my destination when I get there I still make sure to wear or bring a full arsenal of protective winter clothing, including snow pants, parka, hat, neck warmer, mitts AND gloves, woolen socks and winter boots. A shovel, water and first aid kit and if possible a means of communication are also good to have (unfortunately where I am, the means of communication is iffy because we do not have reliable cell phone service).
You never know what might happen on your way from point A to B and you need to be prepared. I learned this the hard way during my first winter when I got into my coworker’s truck with just my parka and nothing else since we were just driving 2 blocks to go to another coworkers house for supper. On the way there it was snowing and very windy, and the gusts of wind and loose snow were creating snow drifts and big piles of snow all over the place. It was very hard to see because of this and when she made one of the turns she ended up driving into a big pile of snow that had blown there where the entrance to where we were going was supposed to be. We got out of the truck to see if we could get it out but it was too stuck and we ended up having to walk the 1 block to where we were going to get help. 1 block does not sound far but when it is -45 and there are 60 km gusts of blowing snow coming at you and you are improperly dressed it feels like your face is being cut by tiny knives. Which leads to the next thing I learned…
2. Windburn is a thing!
And it hurts just as much as sunburn. But lip balm and protective face balms that act as a barrier against cold and wind can help. I like Kalaya Wonder Salve for lips and on my face as a protectant and also to heal if I do get windburned.
3. Dress in layers
Wearing several different layers will help keep you warmer than just clothing and a big parka will. Thermal underclothes that fit closely to your body really help. I am a big fan of those leggings that look like regular leggings but are lined with fleece inside. I’ll wear those under a pair of pants and then a windproof insulated layer on top. I also like to wear a thin pair of gloves under the necessary heavily insulated waterproof mittens. That way if I need to use my fingers to pick up or handle something small when I take off my mittens, I still have a layer on my hands so they are never directly exposed to the cold. Gloves alone are not warm enough but the two combined work well.
4. Eat before going out
I never knew this before but if you eat before you go out, you will actually feel warmer than if you go out without having eaten. I looked it up after noticing that I felt much colder and had more trouble regulating and getting my body to feel warm even with warm clothes when I had not eaten recently or had missed a meal and found that it’s actually a proven thing. Apparently the process of metabolism after you eat raises your body temperature as it works to convert the calories of the food you just ate. As well your body needs calories to help itself produce heat and stay warm. I’ve also noticed if I’ve been busy or didn’t feel like eating supper and maybe just had a small snack instead of a proper meal before bed that I will wake up feeling very cold and unable to warm up even with many blankets. I’ve even heard recommendations to have a small snack before bed on really cold nights.
5. Don’t Drink or Drink in Moderation:
However although it makes you feel warm, drinking alcohol is NOT good for keeping warm! It may feel as if it is warming you up but it actually causes you to lose body heat as it does so through the process of drawing blood to your extremities. I’ve experienced this personally too after going out with the guys for a few drinks and then waking up completely freezing and shivering despite being buried by covers in bed and unable to warmup on my own. So it’s a good idea to drink moderately when it’s extremely cold or at least bring one of the guys home to help warm you up 😉
Bonus: Did you know that being lonely makes you colder? I recently read this article that said that researchers from the University of Toronto had found that lack of social contact can cause people to feel colder. All the more reason to find a cuddle buddy…