The Comprehensive Guide to Staying Warm This Winter

Not sure if you’ve noticed, but it’s getting a bit nippy outside these days. There aren’t too many places left in the U.S. where you can wander around without a jacket. (If you found one, please let us know, and we’ll join you there!) So what do you do if you must be outdoors when it’s chilly? And what if working in cold weather is part of your work environment? We’d like to help you keep warm when it’s (literally) freezing!

The definition of “cold” fluctuates widely based on several factors that we often ignore. ‘Cold’ depends on far more than the weather app temp on your iPhone. Wind speed, humidity, amount of physical activity, work/rest ratio, and amount of protective clothing also play a part. Keeping that in mind, let’s start warming up:

Braving the elements: 

CHILL OUT: Ignore the actual temp when you’re looking into the weather and skip straight to the wind chill factor. Wind chill determines how your body will react to the temperature, which is all that’s important when you’re working outside. Cotton may be your favorite fabric in warmer weather, but don’t ignore the old outdoorsman’s saying, ‘Cotton is rotten,’ during the winter. Instead, opt for hydrophobic (water-repelling) materials like polypropylene and wool. 

STAY DRY. Did you know that water conducts heat away from the body at a 25x faster rate? At the very least, wear extra layers so you can shed the top one if you get wet. Keep an extra pair of Goretex socks on hand at all times so you can keep your feet warm. If you know you’ll be working in wet weather, make sure your outer layer is waterproof.

BUT KEEP HYDRATED. This might seem counterintuitive at first, but…drink more water, just like when you’re pouring sweat in summertime. However, stay far away from the hot toddies and eggnogs, as alcohol decreases your body’s core temperature. In case that wasn’t enough bad news, caffeine drains your body temp, too. We know, it challenges what you’ve always assumed, but there’s plenty of evidence to back it up. Don’t trust us? Trust Mythbusters!

WORK IT: Take breaks throughout the day if you’re working in cold weather. Employers should designate a warming space in especially frigid temperatures. Your employer should also consider a chart such as this one.


WRAP UP: Do you need a coat or a jacket? Ask Swackett! Swackett is a free app that takes all the guesswork out of how to dress to accommodate the temperature. If you’re wearing the right clothes, science says it’s possible to be outside in any weather (for a short time!).

Be on the lookout for these medical conditions:

Hypothermia: Believe it or not, hypothermia typically happens in much warmer temperatures than you would expect–between 30 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit–because people are more likely to underestimate the effects of cold weather at these temps. Symptoms of hypothermia include the following: Loss of dexterity, slurred speech, muscular rigidity, confusion, and skin that is blue-gray in appearance. Use the buddy system to watch out for early signs of hypothermia and frostbite on your co-workers; you might notice something they don’t.

Frostbite: We hope this never happens to you, but if you start to show signs of frostbite, go inside and warm up immediately. First signs of frostbite include white, waxy-looking / red, blistering fingers and a pins-and-needles sensation. Don’t apply direct heat! Instead, wrap warm, DRY cloths around the affected area. Ideally, you should avoid movement as much as possible and treat frostbite under medical supervision.

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