Having grown up in one of the coldest parts of Canada, I know a thing or two about dressing warmly.
As I left the Toronto airport late Monday night, I was shocked for a moment by the cold air that hit my face and immediately soaked into my thin jacket. After ten days in Israel and a cool but mild Mediterranean climate, I had forgotten how fresh the Canadian winter can be. I was not dressed for it, as there was no snow when I left. I ran to my car, dug it out of a snowbank, scraped ice off the windows and, after a half-hour drive north, finally began to thaw out.
Whenever I travel and people find out I'm Canadian, they always comment on the cold and wonder how we survive. (I in turn wonder how? You survive in extreme heat, climates full of giant spiders, poisonous insects and horrible mosquito-borne diseases.) enough, when other Canadians find out that I grew up in Muskoka, Ontario's cottage country, where winter temperatures drop to -40 ° C January and February, and that I now live in Bruce County, which is notorious for its day-long whiteouts, they too wonder how I'm doing it.
You see, winter in Canada is not the same all over the country. Some places are much more extreme than others, and while Muskoka and Bruce don't compare to the extremes of the true north, it's certainly harder to live in than southern Ontario – or the "banana belt," as we Muskoka natives like to call it.
So how do we do it? I found an excellent short article by the journalist Caitlin Kelly with the title "Yes, you can survive this cold"! Ten tips from a Canadian." Kelly's great tips got me thinking about what I learned from my parents and other locals about dealing with freezing temperatures. Some of our suggestions overlap, but I have added some of my own.
Don't dress too warm.
This may sound contradictory, but there is such a thing as a coat that is too warm. It may be okay to stand around and do nothing, but who does that? Normally there is snow to be shoveled. It's important not to overheat and sweat, because when you stop moving, you actually get very cold. Layers are important and should always be removed as soon as you feel you are getting a little too warm.
I know this suggestion may not go over well with many vegan readers, but the fact is that wool can't be beat for breathability and warmth. Wool, especially cashmere, leggings or long johns make a big difference. Wool socks are an absolute must, and a wool vest and wool mittens also make life much more comfortable.
Gloves are better than mittens.
I have yet to find a pair of gloves that keep my hands as warm as a pair of mittens. Keeping your fingers together helps create heat. You can't do much with gloves anyway; they're bulky and cumbersome, and you're going to have your hands out anyway.
Always buy boots with a removable lining.
Boots get wet from the outside (slush, snow, ice) and the inside (sweat). It is imperative to be able to take the liners out and put them on a space heater (or under a wood stove, which is what I do at my parents' house) to dry them out. It's much more efficient than putting a snow-covered boot on your head and letting the smell of hot plastic or rubber permeate the entire room.
Consider certain features when buying coats.
It's important to be able to seal potential gaps for cold air to get in. Make sure you can tighten the coat cuffs. Buy a large hood that will fit over a hat on your head and protect your face from the wind. Make sure it can be tightened as well. Fur lining is also helpful if you are familiar with it; fur is a good windbreaker and protects the face from frostbite. Down filling is warmer than synthetics. Make sure the coat has conveniently accessible pockets to protect your hands when needed. Choose windproof material.
Cover your face as much as possible.
The idea is to minimize the amount of skin exposed to the cold. Tie a scarf over the bottom of your face or use a neck warmer that can be tightened down. Make sure your coat collar reaches your chin.
Drink hot liquids.
If you are outside for a long time, bring hot liquids in a thermos flask. Herbal tea and spicy cider are family favorites. They warm from the inside and give your hands, poured into a mug, a cozy place to be. (My family likes to take our mocha pot and small camping stove on snowshoe or ski trips for impromptu coffee breaks, which is always fun.)
Dry your hair!
In high school I walked a mile through the woods to catch the school bus. On those early winter mornings it was often below -20 ° C (-4 ° F). My hair was wet and carefully styled with curling mousse, so I stubbornly refused to wear a hat. Every morning my hair would freeze completely and I had to wait for it to thaw on the bus before it could dry. In hindsight it was crazy, and now I've learned my lesson: dry hair makes a big difference, as do hats. Do not go anywhere without a hat.
If you are warm, you will love winter. If you are cold, you will be unhappy. Dress wisely and you'll see it's really not that bad.