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October 5, 2009

Preparing for the Cold

Cold weather is right around the corner, and it is a good time to get a few things in order to assure yourself a warm, dry, and healthy winter. Being prepared for cold weather is a simple, common sense measure that can make a big difference in the quality of life. We lose most of our body heat through the top of our head and can maintain a lot of warmth simply by putting a hat on. I wear either wool or polar fleece caps most of the winter, and stay warm even though I may only wear a light jacket. When the house is cold, I even put my hat on rather than turning up the heat. It saves energy, and money!

When it is raining or wet I wear an Indiana Jones style oil cloth hat that sheds water and keeps my head dry. Keeping ones feet warm and dry seems to be the next priority. Personally, I swear by thick wool socks and warm, dry shoes. Waterproof shoes or boots are a wonderful thing. I dress in layers so I am able to manage different climates throughout the day. Layering also allows insulating dead air space between layers. My base layer is a cotton t-shirt and underwear, then a layer of thermals. Best quality for this layer is silk or wool, which not only warms you but provides protection from disease, as they are both antimicrobial.

Wool is great because it insulates even when wet. I can’t afford too much wool and silk, so I opt to raid the thrift stores for sweat pants and shirts for a couple of dollars. They provide nearly the same effectiveness as wool and silk. Over that layer is the street layer, this is what everyone sees. For this I wear my usual work clothes. An all weather jacket that is wind and rain proof provides important protection from the elements. Something like a scarf or balaclava to wrap around your neck is vital in keeping your throat and neck warm and dry. Warm gloves are a great help. Warm mittens are even better.

Mittens allow good circulation of warm air and free movement of your hands, so they are best for warmth. The drawback of mittens is mobility, I find a combination of the two to be best. Whatever your clothing choices are, remember your clothes are your primary home. Experiment with what works and don’t let fashion get in the way of warmth. To recap, the most important thing is to keep warm, dry, and easily mobile. Keep the head covered and dry, keep your feet warm and dry, keep your torso warm and dry with layers, and keep your face, throat, and neck covered.

Moving out into our environment; use common sense to see what kind of day it is going to be, and then plan extra for sudden changes. If you drive a car, have extra blankets, and the old standby, contractor trash bags. Have your vehicle winterized and prepared for weather. Keep a working jack in your car, and know how to use it. Carry extra rope, a little bag with some emergency snacks, such as energy bars, bottled water, and a small tool kit. It is good to note that when faced with a crisis your body goes into readiness mode which causes a dump of insulin so you have to have some food to replenish blood sugar levels.

Have some sort of signaling system. The safest is a strong LED flashlight with a flashing signal mode. Face this in the direction of the most traffic. Aside from a few conventional blankets, keep a couple of inexpensive mylar space blankets on hand. They can be found in most stores in the camping section and cost only 2 or 3 dollars. Jumper cables are a good thing to have as well. Make sure your cell phone is fully charged, and let someone know the route you are taking when traveling in bad weather. If you do get stranded on the roadside, do not venture out into unfamiliar territory. People wander off, and die within a few steps of the road because they got disoriented and lost in inclement weather. Remain calm and phone for help if possible. Shine your flashlight in the direction of traffic and wrap up to stay warm. Do not allow yourself to go to sleep with the heater blasting in your car or you may inhale too much carbon monoxide and you won’t wake back up. Try to keep moving, and keep circulation going. Most important, is to maintain a good calm attitude.

Prepare your house by making sure your furnace is clean and in proper working order. Look at any potential fire hazards and address them with highest priority. Take extra care with candles, open fires, and any stove or heater that could emit toxic fumes. These tips are more for when the power goes out but can apply to everyday life as well. Keep warm blankets on the bed and in the living room. Dress warmly indoors too. Get plenty of rest, and maintain a healthy diet. A whole article on diet in winter is a worthy effort. Lots of soups, and warm home cooked meals. Keep hands washed during cold season, and use common sense when it comes to illness. Here again, a whole article must be written on health alone.

All in all, a little common sense preparedness will get you well on your way to a warm, dry, happy, and safe winter season. I know I have left a lot out, but this will get your mind working in the right direction. As a closing note, don’t be afraid to get out and enjoy the winter months. It is a whole different world from summer, but just as fascinating. Watch the animals, and follow their lead as to how they make it. Keep in mind though that while we can learn a lot from other animals, don’t necessarily eat as they do. Many foods for them are poison for us. They also will drink water that is unsafe for us without purifying it, but that aside, there is so much we can learn from them just by observation.