Having lived in Wisconsin with temperatures AND wind chills below -20o F with wind speeds of 20+ mph, I have learned how important it is to dress for the weather.
The body is divided into 5 areas that need protection from the cold. Here are some tips to help you keep warm when outside in extreme cold weather. I will list, from my experiences, the tips for each area of the body going from the least important to most important.
1. Lower Body
This includes the area above the ankles and below the waist, mainly the legs. Personally, this area of the body hasn’t been a big issue in the cold, but you might want to consider wearing thick pants (jeans are usually thick enough), possibly with sweatpants underneath so you have 2 layers of pants.
2. Upper Body
This includes the area above the waist and below the neck, including the arms but not the hands. This area is not really an issue for me either. Just remember to wear multiple layers of shirts. The thicker the shirts, the better off you’ll be. Remember, it is better to wear 2 shirts that are each a quarter inch thick, rather than 1 shirt that is half an inch thick. Layers of clothing are almost always a good idea when trying to keep warm. You should obviously wear a jacket or a coat of some sort. If it has a hood, that will protect you from the cold even better.
This can be a big issue when wearing normal shoes and when you have to stay in extreme cold for a long time. Your feet will begin to hurt with every step you take when they have been in the cold for too long. I would suggest wearing double layers of socks and possibly getting heated socks or something similar to keep your feet warm.
For me, this has been one of the biggest annoyances. When the temperature and wind chill are below -20o F, wearing gloves (heated recommended), is very important. Simply keeping your hands in your coat pockets without any gloves on usually won’t work too well. The freezing winds figure out a way to sneak into the tiny spaces of the pockets that your hands are in.
If you do not wear gloves in the extreme cold, your hands will go through a process the longer you stay in the cold if you do not put on gloves and elect to use your pockets to keep them warm. Depending on how cold it is (assuming below -20o F), for the first 5-10 minutes you will just feel the cold winds making your hands really cold. After about 15 minutes, your hands will begin to literally hurt from the cold. After a while later, they will begin to go numb. This has happened to me. Trying to find a key in a keychain to open the door to get inside the house can become difficult. You can move your hands, but they will not be able to feel anything so it can be weird. Eventually your hands will totally go numb and fall asleep. You won’t be able to move your hands (just like when your hands fall asleep). At this point, the hands have stopped hurting, but that is because they have gone totally numb. There have been times where I have had to wait 5-10 minutes to make the numbness in my hands go away so that I can use my hands to find the appropriate key in my keychain to open the door to the house to even go in! Keeping the hands warm is very important.
Obviously, if you fail to keep this part of your body warm, you won’t last too long in the cold. For me, the biggest issue are the ears and eyes. The ears will hurt from the cold, and the eyes will get watery from the cold wind. Often when the temperature drops low enough, the hairs inside your nose will freeze and breathing through the nose can become difficult. This should be considered when wearing any scarves to cover the mouth area. You definitely should wear a hat to keep your head and ears warm. If your coat has a hood, then that will protect you from some of the wind. A Scarf over most of the face would also be a good idea. Wearing sunglasses to prevent the wind from going into your eyes will really help. All in all, keep your head warm!
Even when you have all these parts of your body covered with layers and layers of clothing, none of it will do too much good if there are spaces for the wind to sneak through. The most common places for the cold wind to enter through include but are not limited to, the openings in the bottom of your pants, the opening in the area where your coat meets the pants, the opening in the neck area of your coat, and the openings of the ends of your arms in your coat.
It would be wise to cover these openings to maximize the protection against the cold. The space at the ends of your pants near the ankles can be covered by wearing your socks over the pants rather than under the pants, in the ankle area. The space where the coat meets the pants, at your waistline, should be covered by making sure your coat is zipped and that you have your shirts tucked into your pants. The space in the neck area of the coat can be covered by wearing your hood if your coat has one, and/or wearing a scarf around the neck area. The spaces in the wrist area of the coat can be covered by wearing your gloves over your coat rather than under it.
If you want more information, you can download a great free eBook on the topic in the eBook called “Dressing for Cold” by Christine Betz Hall.