One of my first “gigs” as a brand new EMT was providing first aid at the finish line of a marathon. It’s there that I also made one of my first mistakes “in the field.” The forecast called for frigid rain and I forgot my warm gloves at home. For several hours, I wrapped runners in space blankets and tended to boo-boos with painful, half-frozen lobster-esque hands. Fortunately, the cost of my error was only a few hours of discomfort and diminished fine motor control; however, that same mistake could be life or limb-threatening in other circumstances.
It takes preparation and the right gear to operate effectively, comfortably and safely in cold weather. Most of us know the basics, such as the importance of warm gloves (doh!), but there are other tips and tricks to help keep the cold at bay. Layering clothing is critical, but there’s a technique to it. There should be three layers – a base, insulation and shell. The base lies next to the skin – it should feel comfortable and wick moisture away. The insulating layer’s job is to trap warmth by trapping air and the shell keeps out the elements such as wind and rain. These three layers can be built in a wide variety of combinations. A simple example would be a polypropylene long underwear base, a fleece sweater for insulation, and a waterproof/windproof Gore-Tex coat.
A common misstep is wearing layers that are too tight. Layers of clothing need to be tight enough to avoid exposure to drafts of wind or leaks, but loose enough to allow warm air to collect between the fibers of the material. I learned this lesson the hard way during a snowy winter search and rescue training by wearing high-quality insulated boots and wool socks but ending up with miserably cold toes anyways. The problem was that both layers were essentially too lofty and made for a tight squeeze when paired together, squishing away a warm insulating layer of fiber and air. I now wear those boots with thinner socks or liners and pair the thick wool socks with roomier, lighter boots.
Wearing a thin yet warm glove liner under a thick, warm mitten allows you to enjoy the best of both worlds – the warmth of mittens when your hands are at rest and the dexterity of a thin glove for tasks like writing. Keeping your hat and gloves tucked in a pocket close to your body will keep them warm for when you need to put them back on.
When it’s cold outside, it’s easy to forget that your eyes and skin are still prone to sun damage, especially in the snow or at high altitudes. Snow blindness and surprise winter sunburns are no joke, so don’t forget the sunscreen and sunglasses or goggles with UV protection.
Hydration is another important consideration often neglected in cold weather. Your sense of thirst may be diminished in the cold, so consciously work to stay hydrated. Keep water bottles upside-down in your pack or wherever they may freeze so that a barrier of ice doesn’t keep you from your water. Staying warm takes up a lot of energy so you may need more calories and carbohydrates than you normally consume.
Now that you’re all geared up with your Everest-worthy Michelin Man coat and tacti-arctic balaclava, the question is – can you shoot? Have you tried driving with your winter boots? As Brian R. Johnson and Greg L. Warchol wrote in an article for Police Chief Magazine “[. . .] officers often appear for their training wearing their cold-weather gear. When they prepare for their training, however, they take off their heavy outer jackets, gloves, and hats; shoot their qualifying course; put their cold-weather clothing back on; and go back to working the road.” Don’t just gear up for winter – practice for it.
For those of us who don’t get snow days, working through the cold doesn’t have to completely suck. It just takes a little clever bundling up.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.
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