William Shakespeare didn’t have actual weather in mind when he wrote “now is the winter of our discontent” but everyone freezing their ass off this winter will certainly consider “winter” and “discontent” as linguistic peas in a frozen shut pod.
According to the Farmer’s Almanac, Americans should be preparing for an extremely cold winter with above average snowfall in the South, heavy snow in the Pacific Northwest, and below-normal temperatures in the Northeast and Midwest. If you don’t trust a secret forecast formula locked in a black box, fine, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also predicts it’s going to be pretty damn cold, with below average precipitation in the Pacific Northwest.
That’s … not good. What should you do if you don’t have access to U.S. military cold-weather tech or $825 to dress like Drake on an Arctic vacation? You’ve got to rely on what we know scientifically about how the human body works and plan accordingly.
The average human body core temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. When a body’s temperature falls below 95 degrees, you’re at risk for hypothermia. As the body gets colder, it allocates the blood of your extremities to your vital organs (it’s why a person going through the stages of frostbite feels it first in their fingertips, toes, nose, and earlobes). But that’s a bodily last resort: the brain’s hypothalamus triggers shivering and teeth chattering to stimulate a warming of your vital organs.
At the risk of sounding like a fitness instructor constantly harping on the core, may we present the secret to eternal warmth and triumph over winter: layering to preserve your core. Your core is where your vital organs are and if your core is warm, your extremities — like the toes that never seem to be toasty no matter how many socks you pile on — get to keep their blood.
To strategically insulate your core you have to create “dead air space.” This is trapped air that your body heats and turns into a cozy air blanket. The elements make the air closest to the outside lose heat, but at the same time your body is constantly heating the air closest to it. Layers trap air between them, which creates the dead air space. Experts at the Guardian say that to stay warm in Antartica, the ideal number of layers is four: “a thermal base layer, a mid-layer fleece, a jacket, and then a waterproof shell or down-filled parka.”
If you have a waterproof shell on the outside, then you don’t need to worry so much about having waterproof under-layers. The best materials for your base layers are wool and polyester because they resist moisture. Moisture is your enemy when it comes to staying warm. This is why you can over-layer and get sweaty — sweat, like moisture, is bad. A sweaty, moist person ends up damp, and if you end up damp, you end up cold.
In that vein: Don’t decide not to layer because you’re wearing a hat. We’re sorry to inform you that your mom lied to you: You actually don’t lose most of your body heat from your head. Researchers from Indiana University found that covering one body part keeps you warm just as much as covering another body part — it’s just that your face, head, and chest are more sensitive to changes in temperature so you think it’s helping. If you think you don’t need your base layer because you’ve got your beanie on, you are mistaken.
For max warmth, choose mittens over gloves. These mittens should also be breathable, waterproof, and windproof — so we’re talking serious, hardcore mittens, not the mittens your crafty friend knit you. Make sure these mittens cover your wrist because if your wrist gets cold, your fingers will quickly succumb to the cold as well. As you might guess, the mitten is an insulator; because each finger is kept together, your digits warm each other up.
And one last tip: Drink and eat hot, spicy things. This may seem obvious, but eating spicy food and gulping a few cuppas turn up the dial on your body thermostat. Nothing like a hot toddy to offset the chill.