Across the U.S., the first snowflakes have fallen, temperatures are dipping and the days of pandemic-friendly park hangouts and outdoor dining feel like they’re fading along with the daylight hours.
But with the right mindset and know-how, outdoor socializing can keep going all year long.
“I live by myself, so I’m constantly thinking about how to meet up with my friends and family without putting them or myself in danger,” says Linda Poon, a journalist in Washington, D.C. “And I’m someone who hates the cold.”
Poon, a reporter for CityLab who recently wrote “How to Socialize in the Cold Without Being Miserable,” and a few outdoor enthusiasts share their advice.
The care and feeding of your heat
A big part of staying warm is retaining the heat you’ve got, so Poon suggests bringing along a blanket, cushion or pad.
“You want to bring something warm to sit on,” she says. “You don’t want to plant your butt on a metal bench or the frozen ground.”
And don’t feel guilty about scarfing down a second s’more or hot chocolate, Poon says. Extra calories help generate metabolic energy to stay toasty.
“You want something high in fat, calories and protein,” she explains. “If you want a Snickers bar, now is your chance to eat a Snickers bar.”
Hydration is important too, but Poon advises steering clear of excessive alcohol. While a spiked cider may provide a quick boost of warmth, it won’t last and just ends up cooling the body’s base temperature in the long run.
Dress like an onion
It may sound basic, but it’s worth repeating: The right outfit can go a long way.
“Dress like an onion, so it’s all about layers,” says Clare Arentzen, an Appalachian Mountain Club guide in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.
But avoid cotton for that first layer, says Paul Sannicandro. He owns Moose Woods Guide Service in Millinocket, Maine, where the air temperature can dip to 20 below zero in January.
That’s because cotton loses its insulating properties when you sweat.
Instead, go for a tight-fitting base layer made from wool or a synthetic fabric to wick away moisture. Next, add insulating layers like flannels or a down coat and finally a shell, like a good windbreaker or raincoat.
“You want pants and a jacket with a hood that’s going to block the wind,” Sannicandro says.
Dress right, Arentzen and Sannicandro say, and winter can be magical.
The season can be “kind of intimidating,” but Arentzen says this year’s winter is “perfect” for trying something new.
Winterizing your mind
The art of weathering winter isn’t just about nailing the gear. It’s also about adopting a new mindset.
“In Norway, we have a saying: There is no such thing as bad weather. It’s only if you have bad clothes,” says Bentie Lier, secretary-general of Norsk Friluftsliv, a consortium of outdoor groups in Norway.
Friluftsliv means “free, outdoor life,” and there’s a long tradition of it in Norway.
“The snow is something we welcome when it comes,” Lier says. “Norwegians, we are born with skis on our feet.”
So when restaurants recently shut down in Oslo, the Norwegian capital, Lier didn’t cancel plans with a friend.
“We lit a bonfire and made food in the open air,” she says. “And that probably made it even more cozy than the original plan.”
In Norway, embracing winter is a way of life. In Edmonton, Canada, they’re working on it.
In 2012, city planners launched an effort to reinvent how people think about winter. The program became Edmonton’s Winter City initiative.
“We realized all our favorite memories were winter memories, and somehow as adults we lose that, especially when we hibernate away from it,” says Ben Henderson, an Edmonton City Council member.
The city now invests in making winter just as vibrant as summer.
It keeps playgrounds open, plows trails, sponsors programming like winter festivals, promotes outdoor dining in all four seasons and builds “warming huts” in public parks.
There are even efforts to think about how cities and public spaces can be designed and built better to maximize sunlight and block wind in the wintertime.
Henderson says more cities are catching on. Winter City’s advisory committee has been asked to present at conferences around the world.
“We need to think about winter in a different way and not hide from it, but take joy in it,” he says.