Cold Truth

Cold Truth

If it’s not “Snowmageddon” out there, it’s “Coldmageddon”! That’s the nature of winter weather reporting these days. You don’t dare go outside because you’ll freeze solid in a matter of minutes!  It’s “bitterly cold”,”dangerously” cold. It’s the worst cold ever! (It’s not.) Well, yes, if you are dressed for summer with tennis shoes and no jacket or whatever, it is certainly dangerous to get stuck outside when the temperatures take a nose dive. But if you dress properly, you can play outside for hours. A cold spell is NOT the apocalypse it’s winter.

Ice at Mirror Lake State Park

Ice at Mirror Lake State Park

Over the holiday weekend, lots of people have been out enjoying the Wisconsin weather. It may have been cold over the last few days, but at least we finally had some sun! The cold weather has accelerated the feezing of the lakes and ice fishing is full on.  While there’s not enough snow to snowshoe, folks are still hiking the trails, skiing at the resorts and hunting down amazing ice floes around the area.

Yesterday, I had the job of minding the fire for the annual First Day hike here at Devil’s Lake State Park, so I spent about 4 hours standing around… (And flying my kite!) After standing outside for that long, even dressed for it, I’ll admit my toes were starting to get cold! I felt bad for the one person who came for the hike dressed in a light winter coat, sweats, and tennis shoes. They suffered for sure and that’s the thing, you just have to be aware of the cold and dress for it.

Kite Flying at First Day Hike

Kite Flying at First Day Hike

I’ve come to think that most meteorologists have defaulted to the idea that no one knows how to survive outdoors these days. Nature is something strange and deadly to their audience. So instead of offering a reasonable explanation of cold weather safety and preparation, they simply tell everyone hell is actually freezing over and they must stay indoors. Of course, that’s not the case and we should be doing a better job telling folks that temps around zero with less than a 10mph wind, even calculating a -20 “windchill” is not that bad if you dress for it and stay busy.

The first thing I tell anyone who wants to be comfortable outdoors in the winter is that they must ditch any cotton, that includes blue jeans! You also don’t want to wear materials that don’t breath or let air move through them. I’m sure you’ve all heard something about wearing “wicking” layers. Wicking materials do two things; First, they move moisture and sweat up and away from your body to keep you warm and dry, second, they breathe or allow some air to move through the material which keeps you comfortable so you don’t sweat too much to begin with. Ultimately when sweat gets trapped against your skin, you get cold! When you shop for winter clothing don’t assume certain materials are wicking or breathable. Make sure it is stated on the tags or labels.

When it comes to dressing for the cold I start out on top with a thin, longsleeved wicking base. (UnderArmor makes some nice ones.) Over that, I will wear a much thicker wicking fleece. Then my winter jacket. For me, that’s enough. (My wife often wears 3 or 4 thinner wicking layers under her winter coat.) I should mention here that a winter jacket should be breathable, windproof and waterproof. (While puffies are all the rage today, they don’t seem tough enough for trekking through the forest on a sloppy, windy sleety day which I tend to do!) For my lower half, I wear IceBreaker merino wool leggings, under oldfashioned snow pants I grabbed at Gander Mountain before they went bankrupt! (Again, my wife adds another wicking layer!) I will usually wear 2 pairs of wicking socks, one thin and one thick for comfort and then I wear a nice pair of boots. I find there is a trick to boots. You don’t want totally waterproof boots because when water gets in them (or sweat) it has nowhere to go. However, more breathable but well-insulated boots with a rubber outsole will keep you warm and still keep most water out. To keep my hands warm I have a nice pair of big mittens purchased from Farm & Fleet. Nothing special other than they feature 3M’s Thinsulate and mittens are warmer than gloves. Again when it comes to boots and gloves my wife has a variation. She often adds “HotHands” hand and foot warmers! Lastly, when it comes to hats we’re again looking for wicking materials. When it’s totally brutal out we’ll also wear fleecy balaclavas to cover our faces and necks. It takes a bit of time to figure out what works for you, but with experimentation, you’ll find you can eventually spend all day out in some pretty cold temperatures without feeling uncomfortable.

Of course, if you’re outside for any length of time, it’s also important to stay hydrated and have a snack now and then as well! The cold (Not to mention carrying all those extra layers!) can zap you of your energy!

The point is, it gets cold in the winter. Yes, it can be dangerous. You can frostbite your fingers, toes, and face in no time at all if you are not prepared. (We should also talk about emergency gear to have with you if you’re out all day, but that’s another blog!!) However, being prepared is part of living in Wisconsin. Dressing for the weather is a given, a “no-brainer”. Well, at least it should be. It’s not the cold winter weather of Wisconsin that’s scary. What’s scary is that so many people are so far removed from their own environment that they have to be intimidated and terrified by the hyperbolic weather reports just to try and keep them safe.

**Just a reminder, is owned by Skillet Creek Media and is not associated with the Wisconsin DNR in any way. My opinions do not represent those of the park or the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.



  1. Beth

    We went out for a hike on New Year’s Day and found that bundling up with layers was good and we hiked until I had toe failure…..cold feet!

    A beautiful day and we love winter hiking.

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