Having good, warm winter clothing is important to living and working outdoors in Maine. In this blog entry I will explain a few tips that I have found to be helpful in my quest to stay warm. I have included items of winter clothing that are long wearing and fairly inexpensive. I learned a few of these strategies from my own experiments and some have come from my experienced co-workers.
1. Keeping Hands Warm
When it is extremely cold, mittens are the best.
I have found that mittens are the warmest since your fingers are all together to help keep each other warm.
If you are trying to do work in the cold weather where you need more dexterity, then of course gloves are the next best option.
An inexpensive alternative to ice climbing or ski gloves (which may get damaged doing outdoor carpentry work) are the acrylic knit "Frost Breaker" by Kinco. Our local hardware store sells these gloves for $3.99 a pair.
I appreciate that the latex palm and finger coating offers good grip and dexterity. The down side is that the acrylic knit doesn't offer much insulation.
A better glove with thicker insulation and thinner latex rubber is the "Thermal Knit" glove made by Bellingham. These gloves cost about $6.00 a pair.
Two examples of inexpensive winter work gloves:
on the left, Frost Breaker made by Kimco.
on the right, Thermal Knit made by Bellingham
Keeping the wrists warm is key to keeping the fingers warm. Blood flows close to the skin at the wrists and it is this blood supply that keeps your hands warm.
To get more warmth when wearing thin gloves, try pulling on old socks or old sweater sleeves that have been sewn with a thumb hole. Pull these on over the wrists and palms.
R - Sock tops and Hot Hands hand warmers.
You can keep the warmers in place nicely under the layers of wrist warmers.
If one's feet are cold it is basically impossible for any other part of the body to feel warm.
Feet are challenging to keep warm for a few reasons.
- wet feet
First, feet are always giving off moisture which inevitably undermines insulation such as socks and boot liners, this dampness will quickly lead to cold toes and feet even with the best boots and thickest socks.
- can you wiggle your toes?
Good blood flow to the feet is also important. Most boots have stiff soles which restrict movement and contributes to decreased blood flow. Imagine how cold your hands would be if you put them in tight mittens that were made with a stiff panel under your palms and fingers like the soles on work boots; the inability to move your fingers would really discourage having warm hands.
"Tight boots are cold boots", the saying goes.
Ideal cold weather footwear allows the feet and toes to move and also encourages the moisture from the feet to move away from the skin.
Pac boots, like the Sorrels in the photo below, best if several sizes larger than summer shoes are a good choice as one can remove and dry out the insulated felt bootie at night.
I have utilized carpet underlayment as insoles to add insulation and wicking ability to my boots.
One or even two insoles can be added if the boots are large enough.
Steger Muckluks, USMC Wellco Muckluk with Canadian Military surplus wool liners, Sorrel Pac Boots.
In terms of what style of boots are good for extremely cold weather, mukluks are my first choice.
Steger Mukluks are a good choice for commercially made traditional (read: native North American) footwear. The USMC had a nice mukluk boot made by Wellco Enterprises, Inc., and the Canadian Military also made an impressive mukluk boot.
All three of these factory made mukluks have rubber soles which is helpful when temperatures are not below freezing and there is a chance of stepping in a puddle.
Both new and used military mukluks are available on ebay. With the military mukluks, the original wool liners are often missing, but these can be easily replaced with Sorrel or Steger liner booties.
The Canadian military liners are the best I've found, they can be used in any mukluk boot.
They are made of a double thickness of heavy wool which can be separated out for drying.
3. The Base Layer
The first layer of clothing right against the skin is also called the base layer. It is the most important element in minimizing the chilling effects of sweating, which inevitably occurs when one is starting and stopping activity in cold weather.
A base layer that dries quickly and wicks moisture away from the skin is ideal. I have been wearing thin cashmere sweaters as a base layer on top. (I have been lucky enough to find all of mine in thrift stores.) Since no one seems to manufacture cashmere long john pants though, I wear the silk-weight synthetics than are now available. Some brands are Under Armour and Patagonia silk-weight capilene. Silk weight tops can also be layered under the sweater top.
For a natural fiber, pure silk tops and bottoms are also available.
4. Some General Advice
Staying warm in the cold makes being outdoors more enjoyable. It takes a long time to warm back up after getting cold, so it is better to put the effort into keeping properly and fully warm.
It's important to avoid the excess moisture in clothing from sweat, so dressing in layers that can be adjusted to one's activity level is a good tactic. Taking a hat on and off is a good way to let off extra warmth as the body will prioritize keeping the head (brain) warm over other body parts.
If your fingers get cold, take off your gloves and try putting them directly onto the back of your neck.
I used to breathe warm air into my hands when my fingers got chilled. Unfortunately this makes them wet, which chills fingers further. The best way to rewarm cold hands (and toes) is skin to skin contact, because it is warm and dry.
It has been a long cold winter here in Maine. I found that these techniques kept me warm as I was working outdoors putting up exterior siding or doing outdoor chores.