Dressing to survive sub-zero temperatures

Let me say this up front. If you want to remain fashionable in sub-zero temperatures then this post will not appeal to you. The plain truth is, vanity jumps headfirst out the window when you are worried about frostbite and hypothermia.  I’m not gonna lie, I am a warm-weather lover at heart, but I’ve survived arctic weather conditions in Minnesota, Milwaukee, London and Toronto by planning ahead and using sheer will power. Not once in that time did I see any sane-looking GQ models or Vogue fashionistas strutting around. (Kindly note the use of the adjective: sane. LOL)

Snow, snow, snow

That’s why dressing wisely for a cold-weather vacation matters. Don’t take the process lightly! It involves careful planning and targeted shopping to get it right. The ultimate sweet spot is if you have a friend in your size range who can lend you the major things you’ll need. Thankfully, I did on my last trip to Canada. My fall/winter gear was so not equipped to usher me into the realm of minus degrees!

Tip # 1: Layer your torso

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ll only need to dress warmly for extreme sports like sledding, snowboarding or cross country skiing. When it’s cold outside, you WILL need to bundle up, even for a 15 minute dash or walk outside.

Start with a base layer next to your skin, I recommend tights or long johns. For the greatest warmth, use items that are made from fabrics like polyester, flannel or other blends that dry quickly. Ditch anything made from cotton because it soaks up sweat and moisture, and that  conducts heat away from the body.

When in doubt, go with fleece. It's warm and not too pricey.
When in doubt, go with fleece. It’s warm and not too pricey.

Make the second layer a long-sleeved shirt, sweater or vest and comfy pants, preferably in cozy fabrics like fleece, cashmere or wool.  The outer layer should be a jacket or parka stuffed with down or very warm synthetic fibers, with a fur-lined hood. Get one that is knee-length so it will shield your legs from the biting wind, and zip it all the way up to the neck to protect your chest. To top things off, you can add some pizazz with a colored scarf that also protects your face and neck.

Multi-colored winter scarves
Multi-colored winter scarves

Tip #2: Cover your head and ears

There are different schools of thought on this but in my world, even if my chest and legs are well insulated, I need to cover my head and ears to keep warm. Choose head gear made from fabrics that will trap heat and keep you dry. I opt for tams (beanies) over hats because they are softer on my brow and I can slide them over my ears with ease.

Pick you style and color
Pick your style and color

A fleece headband is another alternative.

Tip #3: Protect your hands and feet

Go for gloves with liners or insulated mittens on your hands and woolen socks on your feet.  True cold-weather experts say mittens are actually better than gloves because they keep your fingers together, which makes it easier to retain warmth.

You've gotta add some swag sometime!
You’ve gotta add some swag sometime!

On my Toronto trip, I also learnt first-hand about the miracle-working power of hand and toe warmers. They are very handy items to have when the wind chill picks up. The ones I used were sold in small flat packages and they lasted up to 7 hours, per use.

Look for the Grabber brand of toe warmers and stick them over your socks in the area below your toes.
Look for the Grabber brand of toe warmers and stick them over your socks in the area below your toes.

Tip #4: Finish the ensemble with the right boots

For serious weather, you will need lined boots with heavy-duty treads on the bottom. Try to acquire ones that are waterproof as well because the moisture from continuous contact with the snow will seep inside quickly. Read my lips, “leather boots, though far more sexy, definitely won’t do the trick.”

Always look for lined boats, that extra insulation makes all the difference in the world.
Always look for lined boats, that extra insulation makes all the difference in the world.

Those are my tips. Feel free to share some of yours!



  1. Rose

    Awesome post! Packed with useful and fun loving advice for “northern” survival for native northern and vacationing not so northern folks…..

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