Dressing For Cold Weather: Know Your Body
By Ian Connor
Dressing for cold weather requires more forethought and planning than any other time of the year. There are a number of important factors that need to be considered in order to properly dress for cold weather: knowing your body, nutrition, intensity of your activity and the weather conditions. Failing to take these factors into consideration when dressing for the cold can mean the difference between being comfortable and being miserable, or worse.
The first step in considering how to dress for the cold (or when assisting a customer) is to know how your own body reacts to the cold. There are a number of factors here, such as adaptability, body composition, metabolism, fitness and medical conditions that affect your ability to stay warm and ultimately influence how you will prepare for cold temperatures.
It’s no secret that people who live in cold climates have bodies better adapted to cold weather. This is why someone who lives in a place like Florida will constantly feel chilled when visiting cold weather climates. “Non-natives” should dress with warmer, thicker layers in order to provide as much insulation as possible. Conversely, “natives” will likely want to dress with multiple, thinner layers since their bodies have adapted to the climate. It is interesting to note that it usually only takes two weeks for a non-native to adapt to cold climates, so someone who has relocated to a cold climate from a warm climate may very well discover how they dress will change in time.
Body composition is another important factor to consider. People with physiques that are very lean typically do not have the layer of insulation to help them retain heat. People with too much fat tend to get cold extremities (hands, fingers, feet and toes) because their skin is insulated with their natural body heat. People with adequate and evenly distributed body fat tend to handle cold weather better. Knowing your body composition, or that of your customer, will help you decide how to best dress for the cold.
Your metabolism, the rate at which your body turns food into energy, also plays an important role in how your body responds to the cold. People with a higher metabolism generate more heat than those with a lower metabolism. Someone with a lower metabolism will need to dress with warmer, insulating layers, while someone with a higher metabolism will want to dress with layers that place a premium on wicking and moisture management. It is important to note that people with higher metabolisms will need to continually “stoke the furnace”, so to speak, with proper nutrition throughout the day.
Your level of fitness and how much you exercise on a regular basis comes into play when determining how your body will react to the cold. People who regularly exercise tend to stay warmer in cold weather. When the skin and extremities stay warm, your body can concentrate on keeping your core warm. Exercise promotes blood flow to the skin, hands and feet and helps to minimize your body’s natural reaction to increase the blood flow your extremities need in order to keep them warm.
The last factors to consider when determining how your body might react to the cold are medical conditions. Issues such as cardiovascular disease can slow or restrict blood flow, causing the extremities to receive less blood. Raynaud’s disease causes blood vessels in the extremities to temporarily constrict when the body senses cold. The effects of either of these conditions can be overcome by using warmer, insulating layers that keep your core warm, as opposed to using layers that are lighter and better at moisture management.
Once you know, and understand, how your body reacts to the cold it becomes easier for you (or your customers) select the proper base layers and insulating layers to use for cold weather activity.