Fact 1: I am from south Alabama.
Fact 2: It is not cold in south Alabama.
Fact 3: I now live in Alaska.
Fact 4: It is cold in Alaska.
Fact 5: I have now been permanently reduced to a shivering, whimpering, sniveling, sad little excuse for a person.
Fact 6: It is necessary to bundle that shivering, whimpering little person up in all manner of clothing and warm accessories in order for her to survive.
I present this chart, documenting various stages of Alaskan coldness, for your consideration:
It hit -40 this morning, which is a new low in our experience up here (the lowest it’s reached in the past was -36).
The thing that frustrates me is this: when it reaches -40 is when you really, really don’t want to walk anywhere. You want to jump into your nice, warm car and drive places. BUT, when it reaches -40 is also when it is too cold to start your car… so it is when you have to walk everywhere.
It’s all backwards.
Have you ever choked on a frozen drink, like an Icee? You know that horrible, choking, burning/freezing sensation that settles in your throat and makes you think you’ll never be warm again?
That’s what breathing in -40 is like… but it’s in your lungs. It feels like all the moisture in your body has frozen solid, and is now choking you to death, slowly and surely.
When you step outside in -40, your face turns red instantly. It goes numb. Your nose starts running inexplicably, but you don’t realize it because you can’t feel it. Your nose hairs freeze every time you breath in, then thaw every time you breath out. Nothing feels stranger.
It is very important to be properly prepared before walking anywhere in cold like this. And so, as I began the process of bundling up this morning, I took notes. As I tromped off through the woods to work (quite a bit later), I took notes as well, careful to notice the parts of my body that needed further protection from the cold.
You see, the key isn’t just in what you wear. It’s in how you wear it. Putting your clothing on in the correct order- and in the correct way- is essential for survival.
For example, this morning I wore the following: a t-shirt, a long-sleeved t-shirt, jeans, long johns, two pairs of socks, boots, snow pants, a hoodie, a coat, a scarf, a hat, and gloves.
But you can’t just toss all those clothes on and go on your merry way. You have to really think through the getting-dressed process.
It’s all about making sure that you are fully airtight… cold air seeping in between layers of clothing is the main cause for discomfort and frustration in these temperatures.
You have to put on your first pair of socks before the long johns. This ensures that they are securely under the long johns, and no air is going to creep in. Then you carefully put the second pair of socks on over the long johns, creating a backup airtight seal.
The long sleeved t-shirt goes on under the normal t-shirt, and gets tucked into the jeans. The normal t-shirt gets tucked into the snow pants.
The snow pants get tucked into the boots, the scarf gets tucked into the coat, and the gloves get tucked into the coat sleeves. It’s a tucking frenzy!
If your hat buttons under your chin, you are wearing a backpack, or you need to do anything involving fine motor skills (such as unlocking a door), you should probably take care of all that before you put on your gloves.
There are several other details to consider:
You have to take your tennis shoes or dress shoes in a purse or backpack, because boots can be cumbersome and annoying to wear all day. Plus, they are noisy when walking on wooden floors.
Purses are actually a bad idea… opt for a backpack. If your purse is like mine, with short straps, keeping it on your shoulder while wearing all those layers is pretty much impossible… and you don’t want to just carry it, because being able to stick your hands in your coat pockets helps add another layer of warmth to that important part of your body.
Please note that you may want to allow some extra time for getting ready in the morning… up to 20 minutes if you are new at this, maybe 5 if you’re a super-fast boot-lacer-upper.
The last problem is that of going inside. People tend to heat the tar out of buildings up here, in an effort to compensate for the cold outside. Barreling through the snow and into a building that is hotter than July while wearing about 15 layers is an uncomfortable experience. It may take you a full 10 minutes to get all of those clothes on, but I promise it won’t take more than 15 seconds to take them off in a situation like that.
My advice? Stay where it is warm. Less layers, less drama, less time getting dressed. And if you are forced to go somewhere where it is not warm… well, resist. Or practice your boot-lacing and general tucking skills.