Enjoying Your Winter Walks: A Guide to Being Prepared
Have you ever walked when the temperatures and wind chills together are below freezing? Have you enjoyed it? I have on many occasions gone out and walked 10 kilometers when the weather advisories tell us not to be out and about. If you prepare yourself for winter walking, you can have a really lovely walk. Here's a few tips to follow.
Dressing in LayersEveryone always tells you to dress in layers. What does it really mean? In order to feel comfortable as your body adjusts to the outside air and you "work up a sweat" from your exercising, you have to have clothing that can easily be shed if you start overheating.
Very heavy weight turtle necks or wool sweaters do not allow you to cool down enough while walking. Light weight long underwear under a light weight turtle neck, fleece and/or nylon outerwear works well until the temperature goes below freezing. Then a sweater or tee shirt also layered with the other clothes or a down vest will make up the difference.
I usually wear long underwear, sweat pants, turtleneck and tee shirt with some sort of down filled outerwear when it is really cold. I add one of those scarves that has head covering built in as well as a ski headband, glove liners and mittens when I start. Usually the scarf and mittens come off once I warm up but I still am protected from the effects of the wind.
If the temperatures rise as I walk, I take the outerwear off and tie it around my waist while still warm enough in the other three layers. If long underwear is too warm for you, try tights or leggings under unlined cotton sweat pants. The two layers cut the wind that will otherwise seep through one pair of pants or sweats. Don't wear denim jeans as they give zero protection from the cold.
Shoes and SocksGood shoes and socks are also essential for winter walking. Shoes that stand up to snow and rain will keep you from the misery of damp cold feet that become cracked and sore. I almost always use hiking boots in snowy weather even on paved surfaces. I found that walking shoes leak while good hiking boots keep your feet dry and they keep you from sliding in the snow and ice.Invest in a good lightweight boot that is just a bit larger than your normal shoe size.
Wear a thin sock liner and a heavy pair of socks leaving a little room so your feet don't get cramped and they won't get cold. Never wear smooth soled walking shoes in wet or snowy weather as their traction is negligible on wet leaves or icy patches. You need lug soled shoes or you risk injury from falling.
The Well Equipped Fanny PackAlways take a fanny pack with the following items: tissues, lip protection, a fold-up poncho, sunscreen (yes, winter sun is harmful), dry skin cream, sunglasses (to cut glare on snow and ice), and water if you are away from convenience stores as water fountains are turned off in the winter. If the weather looks the least bit threatening I also carry a small travel umbrella hanging by a loop from my fanny pack belt. I have quarters for pay phones or soda machines. My fanny packs are larger than normal but I feel much better prepared while walking.
What is Too Cold?Here in the Atlantic States, the weather in January and February can be brutal. We have had days with wind chill indices below zero and I have walked 10 KM walks many times. But when the wind is blowing extremely hard and it is very damp, I have wimped out and done 5 KM and headed for the nearest place to get hot chocolate. Wind chills below zero may damage the skin on your cheeks if you do not protect yourself. I do have a ski mask that I have worn once in order to protect myself. If you sense body parts getting numb, shorten your walk and don't risk injuries to yourself. I spent one month working above the Arctic Circle in Alaska and I have seen what can happen when you ignore signs of frostbite.
I walked many AVA events here near Washington DC in temperatures in the teens and found them very pleasant walks because I adapted my clothing and accessories to the climate. The splendor of the Korean War Memorial at 9 AM on a brisk snowy Sunday morning is a pleasure few people have experienced. An amazingly bright day at Bombay Hook Wildlife Refuge Delaware in February with the hundreds of water fowl and very few people was another pleasant walk even though icy wind-driven snow was all over the walk route. There the wind chills were in the single digits but I very much enjoyed that walk.
You will never enjoy your walk if you are sliding on icy pavement or your hands or ears are freezing. Taking a little time to prepare makes it all worthwhile.