For many, staying outside in the cold isn’t a choice, it’s a necessity. Delivery people, police officers, and EMTs are just some of the people whose work forces them to stay outside despite the weather.
For Eric Larsen, this is familiar territory. Larsen is a Wisconsin-native, as well as a polar adventurer, expedition guide and educator. His work has brought him to the North and South Poles, and part of his work is teaching people how to survive in sustained periods of deep cold. These are some of his top tips for dealing with the frigid weather.
1. Have a positive attitude
Larsen explains, "Physically, I don’t think you need to be stronger than any other person to be able to withstand severe cold. I think you just need to be smarter and have a positive attitude, and understand that you can be comfortable no matter what the conditions are."
2. Layers, layers, layers
"I always say there's no such thing as cold weather, just not enough layers," says Larsen.
Layers are the key to remaining safe in the cold weather, not only because they provide insulation, but they can also be removed if conditions change (more on that later). Larsen says there are specific things you should look for in each layer of your clothing.
"Generally next to my skin is a light wicking layer, that helps keep moisture away from my body and then I add several insulating layers of fleece or down, and then a shell to protect from the wind," he says.
"Vapor" layers, like plastic bags around the feet or surgical gloves beneath the gloves, can also be helpful during the cold weather.
3. Start with a wicking layer
"Quite honestly, one of the biggest things that I'm always concerned about in extreme cold weather because I'm generally working very hard, is getting too warm. Your body actually generates a lot of heat and as soon as you overheat you sweat, and that sweat next to your skin actually replaces the layer of insulating air that's right next to your body," Larsen explains.
This bottom layer of clothing should be snuggly fit to your body and can be a synthetic or natural fabric. Long underwear is an example of a wicking layer and can include any fabric that successfully absorbs sweat and keeps it away from your body.
4. "The polar striptease"
While bundled up in the freezing weather, it can be easy to overheat, especially if you're working. If you find yourself getting hot to the point of sweating, Larsen encourages you to be thoughtful and consider taking off some clothes.
"As you start getting warm, taking layers off or unzipping or putting down your hood or whatever," he says.
5. Keep your feet warm
Our feet are particularly vulnerable to the cold and a very important in keeping our bodies warm.
"Just standing on a cold surface you lose a lot of heat through conduction, so anything you can do to insulate your feet from the ground is really important," says Larsen. "Part of that might be adding an extra pair of insoles inside your boots."
6. Be aware and diligent
"The biggest challenges are just keeping on top of all of your systems and not relaxing," says Larsen. When people stop paying attention to their bodies and ignoring warning signs, they're more likely to get into dangerous situations. Remember to keep managing layers and body temperature.