6 Tips for Staying Warm During a Polar Vortex

Outsmart frigid temperatures with a little know-how from someone who braves the elements every day: Matthew J. Hickey, secretary of the Mountaineering Club of Alaska and a captain in the U.S. Army Alaska who specializes in cold-weather operations.

Photo by Juho Kuva/Getty Images

1. Stay well hydrated.
A hot cocoa will mentally warm you up but won’t necessarily raise your body temperature. However just staying hydrated helps your body regulate its internal temperature, keeping you warm when it’s cold outside, and vice versa. Consume lots of water or decaffeinated tea.

2. Fine-tune your layering technique.
Layering your clothes underneath a coat traps air to provide great insulation. Much of your warmth level depends upon what you wear close to your skin, and since you’ll move from outdoors to indoors, there’s a chance you might break a sweat. Perspiration cools the body, so you need clothing that removes moisture from skin. (FYI: That’s why you shouldn’t wear a cotton T-shirt when shoveling or working out. It won’t dry quickly, and you’ll be freezing.) Start with a base of silk long underwear or a tee and tights made of synthetic fibers, like nylon or a technical fabric, such as Nike Dri-Fit. Next, add an insulating layer, such as a wool sweater or a fleece zip-up. Top it with a wind-resistant shell for sporty activities, or a puffy coat insulated with down (or an alternative, like Primaloft) for everything else.

3. Don’t skimp on accessories.
When your body gets cold, it slows down blood flow to areas farthest from the heart, which is why your extremities get hit hard. Even though adults only lose 10 percent of heat through their head, wearing a hat certainly helps. Plus it also takes care of your ears, which feel cold quickly because they lack fat and have no surrounding muscles to keep them warm. The same for your nose. If it’s really blustery, wear a scarf that can be pulled up over your face. As for hands that feel like icicles, opt for mittens over gloves because they allow your fingers to share heat.

4. Bundle up your feet.
Boots lined with real fur or shearling are extremely toasty. (The faux stuff may not provide as much as warmth as advertised.) But this raises ethical issues for many. While typical leather styles should be adequate, it’s smart to go up half a size in winter boots so you can double up on socks. Slip on a pair of tights or thin polyester socks to absorb sweat, then pull thick wool socks over them. This strategy is especially useful if your shoes aren’t particularly winter-friendly (rubber Wellies, for instance). In general, too-tight shoes are a problem in the cold. They can restrict blood flow and cause you to lose warmth.

5. Get moving.
Yes, jogging in place does work. It gets your heart pumping so the blood starts flowing everywhere to warm you up. Even shivering is the body’s attempt to generate heat by rapidly contracting and relaxing the muscles.

6. Eat something.
Forget the old adage that you get cold because blood rushes to your stomach during digestion. Blood flowing to your tummy means it’s also flowing in your whole body, and that helps warm you up. Plus, when the body is digesting food, that’s like internal exercise, generating heat. So go ahead and satisfy your appetite.