Warm Body, Warm Feet: 10 Tips for Winter Warmth
Here in the Pacific Northwest, the cold rain has started to fall, snow is beginning to accumulate in the mountains, and it’s time to make the shift from our fall hiking and camping routine to a new, chillier normal. While it might be tempting to pull the down comforter over our heads and wait for spring, that would mean missing out on all of the beauty of the winter woods and the joys of snowshoeing, hiking, and snow camping. There’s a better way! That’s why we make snow boots with KEEN.WARM insulation that’s light, compressible, and retains its insulating properties even when damp. Plus, it’s available in three different temperature ratings, from warm to warmer to warmest. To find out more, check out our guides to selecting the best winter boots for adults and kids.
While insulated boots can be a big help, if you’re not taking care to warm the rest of your system, your day hike might end in uncomfortable shivers when you’re an hour or two in. So we’ve compiled a few tips for head-to-toe warmth, whether you’re moving to the mountains from a more balmy climate or you just want to make getting outside in cooler weather more enjoyable.
1. Eat Up
The process of digesting food raises your body temperature slightly. That’s why experienced campers often have a snack before bed to help them stay warm through the night. The higher the calorie count, the greater the thermogenic effect, so calorie-dense food like nuts and dried fruit are a good choice. Remember: your body is working very hard to keep you warm, and it needs the extra energy!
2. Have a Warm Beverage
You might think you don’t need to drink as much because you’re not sweating, but you can become dehydrated in cold weather too. Drinking a hot beverage may not raise your core temperature, but it will encourage you to drink more so you stay hydrated. Plus, the feeling of the warm cup in your hands and the steam on your face makes it soothing as well as motivating when you’re outside in the cold. Try apple cider or hot chocolate packets for an energizing boost of sugar. If you’re feeling salty, bouillon cubes or soup are a sugar-free warmup. Bring herbal tea bags in your pack, or mix your usual electrolyte solution with hot water instead of cold.
3. Add Some Spice
From cinnamon to nutmeg, there’s a reason we associate certain spices with the winter months. Warming herbs and spices stimulate circulation and aid digestion, which can make us feel warmer. Try adding some grated ginger and a dash of turmeric to your usual tea, or make a pot of chili with some extra cayenne pepper. Other herbs with warming properties include cloves, orange peel, garlic, and cardamom.
4. Check Your Iron
If you always have cold hands and feet, you could have an iron deficiency, which is called anemia. Iron helps your red blood cells carry oxygen throughout your body, so if your iron levels are low, it may cause poor circulation and cold extremities. You don't need to eat red meat to boost the iron in your diet. Beans and dark leafy greens like spinach are also high in iron.
5. Layer Up
It’s the cardinal rule of winter adventure, and for good reason. Clothing layers help trap the heat your body produces to keep you warmer, longer. Think sweat-wicking materials like synthetics or merino wool close to your body, a fleece or down jacket, and if it’s raining or snowing, a waterproof layer on top. Don’t neglect accessories: hats or balaclavas, gloves and glove liners, scarves or neck gaiters, and extra socks all contribute to the overall warming effect.
KEEN tip: Pre-warm your gloves and boots on a radiator or heating vent before going outside. Toasty!
6. Move Around
Your clothes can’t produce heat; they can only hold in the heat that your body creates. So if you’ve stopped for a break from your hike and start to feel the chill, your best bet is to get moving again. If you’re at the campsite and need to warm up, simple movements like arm swings or jumping jacks get the blood pumping and help warm you up.
7. Pace Yourself
If you go too hard in cold weather, you can really work up a sweat, which can leave you clammy and chilled once you stop moving. Find a pace that allows you to feel comfortably warm, but not too sweaty.
KEEN tip: When you stop for a break, sit on your pack, not on the cold ground.
8. Pay Attention to Pee
If you’ve ever found yourself having to pee a lot when you’re outside in cold weather, you’ve experienced cold diuresis. When the body feels that you may be in danger of hypothermia, it starts to constrict your blood vessels to reduce blood flow to the skin and preserve warmth for your internal organs. This raises your blood pressure, which causes your kidneys to filter out excess fluid to reduce the pressure and leads to your sudden urge to leave the trail and find a private spot behind a tree.
While cold diuresis is normal, it also is a warning sign that you may be getting too cold. “A full bladder is a place for additional heat loss, so urinating will help conserve heat,” says Rick Curtis, the director of Princeton University’s Outdoor Action Program. If you notice cold diuresis happening, add more layers, do a few burpees, or have a warm drink so you can safely enjoy your time outdoors.
9. Avoid Alcohol
We’ve all heard tales of intrepid St. Bernards rescuing stranded climbers in the Alps, traipsing through the snow with casks of brandy attached to their collars. It turns out that while the dogs are real, the brandy is a historical myth. A good thing too because while you might think that alcohol is good at keeping you warm, in fact the opposite is the case. Alcohol gives you a temporary warm flush, but that’s because it makes the blood vessels in the skin expand. Alcohol actually draws heat away from your vital organs and lowers your core body temperature. So no matter how tempting a shot of whiskey or a hot chocolate dressed up with schnapps might be, it’s not the best idea when you’re out in the cold.
10. Try Vase Breathing
Tibetan Buddhist monks practice a form of breathing combined with visualization called tummo, or vase, breathing. Some monks have been able to raise their temperature up to 17 degrees and create enough heat to steam and dry hot towels on their shoulders. You may not be able to (or want to!) achieve such a feat, but vase breathing can help you feel warmer. Scientists believe it works by giving you some control over your autonomic nervous system and raising your metabolism. To do vase breathing, start in a sitting position and hold your breath. Then, for five to 15 seconds, contract your abdominal and pelvic muscles, creating a hollow, vase-like shape. As you do so, imagine a flame at your core that spreads out. Find out more about the technique here.