Finely Tuned Thermostat
Take your temperature and, if you're healthy, it should peg right at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. We take that for granted most of the time. But did you know that in order to maintain that perfect internal temperature, your skin temperature needs to remain at 91 degrees? Your body is in a constant state of testing the environmental temperature and modifying your skin temperature to keep the outside of you at 91 degrees -- regardless of what you are wearing or what you are doing. That's pretty amazing!
When heat transfers from your body to the air, it cools you off. The fastest way to do that is to sweat, which puts moisture on your skin, cooling it by radiating heat away. If you're too cold, you shiver. You put on more clothes because your body tells you to.
Cold Hands, Warm Heart?
You've heard the saying, and it really is true. Your hands may be cold, but your heart is nice and toasty warm. 98.6 degrees, as a matter of fact. So why are your hands and feet the first to get cold?
The body has a priority checklist of what needs to be kept warm at all times. At the top of that checklist are your vital internal organs and your head, where your brain lives. If your body becomes too cold to maintain 98.6 degrees everywhere, the areas that are not so "necessary" get short shrift -- that means your hands and feet are first to feel the effects, being farthest from the core area. You can live with cold hands or cold feet. You can even survive if they contract frostbite and have to be amputated. But your body knows you can't survive if the central core temperature drops below a certain point and it fights to keep you warm.
Learn from the Experts
Early explorers were astonished to find people living quite happily in the most "uninhabitable" places, like the frozen North. But Eskimos and other native people had learned to adapt to their cold habitat by utilizing the furs and skins of the very animals that they ate to survive. They practiced what experts still advise today for cold weather.
Cold Weather Tips from the Mayo Clinic:
- Layered cake approach. Wear layered, insulated clothing that wicks moisture away from your body (like polypropylene or polyfleece) and an outer shell that's windproof.
- Stay dry. If insulated clothing gets wet, it often loses its ability to keep you warm. Combined with wind and cold, this can pose a real hazard.
- Cover your head! Half of your body heat -- or more -- is lost through your head. Putting on a hat keeps it in. Ear muffs are NOT a substitute for a hat, since so much surface area is still exposed.
- Take it easy. Overexertion leads to sweating, and you'll lose more body heat through evaporation.
- Avoid caffeine or alcohol. A cup of coffee or a drink may make you feel warm, but both cause the blood vessels close to the skin surface expand, and cool your blood as a result. This drops your core temperature.
- Avoid the agony of the feet. Even if you're going out for a fun day of cross-country skiing, take extra socks. It might sound silly, but as you move and get overly warm, you'll sweat. That perspiration will soak your socks and your feet will quickly become chilled. Dry your feet and put on the fresh socks for added warmth.
The Science of Comfort
Manufacturers of insulated clothing keep three factors in mind: how fast your body produces heat; how well your clothes insulate you; and what the climate is. They develop fabrics or layers of fabrics that work to move sweat and moisture away from your skin while trapping a layer of air next to your skin as insulation. The better a fiber can trap air, the more effective it is in keeping you warm.
When you are buying insulated clothing, keep these thoughts in mind:
- What are you planning to do in the clothes? Insulated clothing worn during vigorous exercise (like skiing or winter hiking) will have to have different properties than something worn for warmth in normal circumstances. You may need more than one garment, and choose which to wear based on your planned activities.
- What does the label say? Yes, it comes back to the all-important care label again. Check it out. Make sure that the garment you're considering will be serviceable.
- Make sure it isn't too tight. Remember, you'll be layering other things underneath it, and you need to be able to move freely.
- Look for special features. If a garment manufacturer has gone to special trouble to seal the seams or put extra rows of stitching on the zipper to keep snow out, they'll tell you on the various promotional tags attached to a new garment. Remember that oversized zippers are much easier to grip with gloves on.
- Adjustments make for comfort. Zippers not only keep snow out, but make it easy for you to vent heat should you become overly warm. Adjustable sleeve ends do the same. Spend a little extra to be sure you get comfort.