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Safety Tips For Cold Winter Weather

Updated on January 20, 2020
2014's thick coat of snow may be pretty, but the wicked cold it brought with it has its dangers, too.
2014's thick coat of snow may be pretty, but the wicked cold it brought with it has its dangers, too. | Source

The brutal winter weather has set in, and there’s no end in sight. When temperatures dip too low, it can get dangerous, but these tips I’ve picked up after living in Minnesota for over ten years will help you get through to warmer weather unharmed.

Avoid Cold Weather Injury With the Rule of Three

The biggest dangers the unprepared face in extremely cold weather are frostbite and hypothermia. Fortunately, both of these problems can be easily avoided with dressing in layers. Although it’s tempting to pile on the sweaters when it gets cold, three layers is usually enough to stay comfortable.

The first layer should keep heat close to the skin but not retain moisture.

Long underwear is widely available in colder climates, but make sure it’s made out of a breathable fabric. If you have close fitting shirts or pants made for working out, they would work as a first layer in lieu of long undies.

Other options include:

  • Long sleeved shirts
  • Leggings
  • Tights
  • Pantyhose

The reason you don’t want moisture near your skin is that it will make your body temperature drop when it evaporates, putting you at greater risk of developing hypothermia.

This pair of black leggings and corduroy pants have kept me warm during quite a few chilly days.
This pair of black leggings and corduroy pants have kept me warm during quite a few chilly days. | Source

The second layer should be thicker. A sweater or sweatshirt on top and pants made from a thick material on the bottom usually work well. Personally, I favor hooded sweatshirts and corduroys at home when winter hits. This layer provides insulation, which helps preserve more body heat.

The third layer is your winter coat. There are quite a few varieties out there, but your best bet is to go with something with some down or synthetic stuffing. The fabric should be water resistant. When selecting a winter jacket, it should extend past the waistline and preferably cover the hips as well.

Snow pants work for the bottom, but I tend to reserve those for when I know I’ll be out for extended periods of time. I’ve also used fleece pants as a third layer in the past.

However, unless you find yourself stuck in dangerous cold, or a situation with dramatic wind chills, you may get away without a third layer on the bottom. The most important parts of your body to protect are your torso and your head.

A Great Example of a Layered Outfit For Cold Weather

Feet, Head and Hands

Don’t forget to protect your feet, head and hands, too!

If the temperature gets cold enough, frostbite becomes a very real danger, and the first parts of the body it’ll set in on are the fingers and toes.

The rule of three can be easily applied to the feet. A thinner pair of socks under a thicker pair keeps the feet nice and warm. The final layer will be your winter boots.

When selecting boots, avoid high heels, and go for something with a good tread on the bottom. If you find a good pair with built in insulation, your feet will be warmer, but those types of boots also tend to be more on the expensive side.

The most important thing to remember when buying boots is to go for water proofing. Wet feet are pretty miserable in warm weather, but they can be downright dangerous in the cold.

The hands can be a little trickier to keep warm, since they still need to be somewhat accessible.

I’ve found that wearing a thin pair of stretchy gloves under a thicker pair of mittens does the trick for me. When I need to fumble for keys or something, I just slip the mitten off long enough to get the right one. There are also some wonderful flip-mittens out there as well.

Ski gloves alone work very well, too, but it can be a bit difficult finding a pair that fits well if you happen to have small hands.

These knit gauntlets do a surprisingly good job of keeping the hands warm both indoors and out.
These knit gauntlets do a surprisingly good job of keeping the hands warm both indoors and out. | Source

I also use knitted gauntlets to keep my hands warm indoors. They leave my fingers free, while conserving heat along the palm. They also prevent drafts from getting in through the cuffs of my sleeves.

If you take public transit, consider investing on some hand warmers. You can find disposable warmers in camping stores or the camping section of stores. They’ll last you for around 8 hours, depending on the brand you use, and do an excellent job of keeping you cozy while on the go.

As for the head, wearing a knit hat, perhaps with a hood over it, works very well. You always want to keep your head covered to conserve body heat, since most of it is lost through the top of the head.

Don’t forget a scarf, either. Scarves help you to avoid drafts, but if you have any sort of breathing problem, breathing through the material will prevent your lungs from tightening up because of the cold.

Scarves are also very useful in windy situations, too. They’ll cut down on the sting of cold air and prevent frost bite of the nose and cheeks.

Wintertime Car Safety

Unless you’re new to an area that gets nasty winter weather, you may already have brought your car into the shop for winterizing.

This includes an oil change (if needed), tune up, replacement wiper blades and winter tires.

However, you’ll also want to put the following things in your car, especially if the cold is severe and you’re expecting lots of snow:

  • Extra windshield washer fluid
  • Jumper cables
  • Blanket
  • Kitty litter or sand
  • Small shovel
  • Extra gloves and boots
  • Ice scraper/snow brush
  • Spare tire and necessary tools to change said tire

As pretty as snow may be blanketing the ground, it gets very messy very quickly on the roads. That means everything gets coated in dirt, including your windshield. That’s why you always want some extra fluid handy in case you run out.

Driving Tips For Driving On Slippery Roads

Jumper cables are a good idea to keep at hand in case your battery, or someone else’s, decides the quit because of the cold. It’s no fun being stranded, especially when your engine just needs a little extra help to get restarted.

In case you get stuck in the snow, you can use the shovel to dig some of the excess away, and spread the kitty litter or sand to add a little traction.

However, if you get in an accident on the highway, do not exit the vehicle unless absolutely necessary! Slippery conditions for you also mean slippery conditions for other drivers, and if another driver loses control, you’ll be far more protected in your car than outside of it. Instead, call 911 and wait for help to arrive.

The blanket will come in handy for warmth, in case you end up stranded in your car for an extended period of time and the engine doesn’t want to start.

Of course, it’s always wise to keep a fully charged cell phone of some sort on hand in case of emergencies, as well.

If you know you’ll be driving through a remote area and there’s a risk of severe winter weather, bring some extra water and a little food with you just in case. If nothing happens, at least you’ll have a snack and drink for the ride home.

Although the cold can be far from pleasant, these tips will help you enjoy it as much as possible while remaining safe until warmer months arrive.

Hand Warmers - HotSnapZ Reusable Round & Pocket Warmers
Hand Warmers - HotSnapZ Reusable Round & Pocket Warmers
These types of hand warmers are easy to use, and small enough to carry in pockets. They'll also save you money in the long run, because they're reusable.

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