5 tips for keeping warm during a Canadian winter

The Arctic air mass moving across Canada has sent some people reaching for their wool socks and a bowl of soup, while others bundle up and strap on a pair of snowshoes.
A woman braves cold weather as an Arctic air mass brings cold temperatures and wind chill to Toronto on Tuesday. (CBC)

The Arctic air mass moving across Canada has sent some people reaching for their wool socks and a bowl of soup, while others bundle up and strap on a pair of snowshoes.

Whether the snow and cold air is your friend or foe, Mountain Equipment Co-op Toronto's outreach coordinator Eric Clifford recommends these five tips for staying warm and enjoying the Canadian winter. 

Dress for the activity

If you’re watching the kids skate, or heading down the trail for a hike, the key to staying warm is all about choosing clothes that suit your level of activity.

"You don't want to overheat because that's just as bad as being under heated," said Clifford, who runs and bikes all year round.

Instead, find the right combination of layered clothing that suits you. 

Standing around outside means you’re creating less blood flow and are probably best to wear heavier clothing. Outdoor enthusiasts, however, should wear layered clothing that regulates body temperature until they eventually heat up.

Adjust layers for your temperatures

The warm and expensive puffy coat you bought to be indestructible against winter may be doing you a disservice. 

Instead, Clifford recommends a layered approach so you can always adjust your temperature, whether inside or outside.

Start with a base, such as long underwear, and then add a few mid-layers topped with a water-proof or wind-proof shell jacket. The moisture management will keep you well insulated, and your temperature consistent.

"It keeps the elements out and you can adjust accordingly," said Clifford. "The beauty of all this stuff is that it's functional but you can get the style.

 "You don't want to look like you're dressed to go hiking in the Yukon, while in the middle of the city."

Avoid cotton

We all probably have memories of laying out a drenched pair of cotton socks to dry after a long day of playing in the snow.

If possible, Clifford said to avoid the material because it doesn't dry fast and can actually pull heat away from you.

A lot of wool hats are being sewn with a fleece liner, Clifford said, "so the wind won't cut through it as much and adds a bit of a barrier."

"Obviously you need to dress nice so even a pair of merino wool long underwear under a pair of jeans will make a huge difference," he said.

Never forget your extremities

A plan for staying warm should start with your extremities: head, hands, ears, and feet.

"There are some fabulous looking shoes and boots out there that don't do anything in terms of insulation," said Clifford.

He recommends asking the sales staff for advice, and not depending too much on a product's temperature rating because it can be subjective.

"If you have waterproof shoes, or shoes that have a Gore-Tex waterproof membrane, that will make a huge difference in at least keeping some of the wet out," Clifford said.

A pair of ear muffs is also a good start, and all other things being equal, mitts are always going to be warmer than gloves.

Make sure you're well fed

Eat breakfast in the morning, but especially when it's cold outside.

"If you're eating, it helps get your metabolism going, and it helps keep your heat going," Clifford said. "Starving yourself just doesn't help."

Not eating enough if you're feeling under the weather can also make your condition worse and even more susceptible to the cold.

"People always talk about putting on the winter weight, and yes you can definitely overeat in the winter, but it makes a huge difference," said Clifford.