Fifty days of below-zero temps this season. Repeat: 50 days! That’s the reality this winter in Minnesota, my frozen home state on a latitude that’s surprisingly only halfway to the North Pole.
This past Monday, as the mercury dipped again into the negatives, the National Weather Service confirmed the string of frozen days. It’s a cold snap unseen for decades in these parts, though I tried not to let it keep me down.
In contrast, I embraced winter more than ever — skiing, running, snowshoeing, building snow forts, pulling kids in sleds, and biking through the cold days. Here are a few random bits of wisdom I’ve learned (and applied this winter) living my whole life in the icebox of America. —Stephen Regenold
Get Used To It. It takes some tempering, but the body adapts to the cold. I am unsure of the physiology (or psychology) involved, but each winter my tolerance to low temps slowly increases as we head toward spring. This year, after all the below-zero time, a day at 15 degrees feels almost warm. Expect to see people in shorts all over Minneapolis on the first day over 40.
Sunshine Matters. A mercury reading is only one gauge. A still, sunny afternoon when it’s minus-5 can feel vastly more tolerable than a 10-degree overcast day. The winter sun can be intense in the afternoon hours, and the early sunsets are often gorgeous in an icy sky.
Mukluks! These soft boots can stand in for running shoes. I have been tromping in the snow and pounding out some miles in leather Steger Mukluk boots this winter. The soft, flexible boots are comfortable to jog in and remind me of the minimalist running shoes I wear in the warmer months. (Full review here.)
Go Studs! Studded tires are a good idea on a bike. When it’s below-zero even municipally-applied road salt does not melt the ice on the road. For commuting in the cold I put tires on my bike from 45NRTH equipped with carbide studs to dig in for grip. (Full review here.)
More Studs… Ditto studded shoes. Icebug running shoes have saved me from slipping on icy runs this month. The Minneapolis ped paths are so thick with ice that you could skate down them. But these stud-equipped shoes let me run with mega grip, never slipping on the slick surfaces. (Full review here.)
Dog Sledding. Neighborhood transportation via “dog sled” is doable when it’s so cold the sidewalks never melt. My kids get chauffeured to the bus stop each day in a plastic sled pulled by our Weimaraner. Dog and kids love to trip.
Wind Pants. Not so sexy, but it works… nylon wind pants can be worn over jeans as a simple solution to keeping warm. I wear non-breathable nylon pants over jeans, with long johns underneath, and I can stay warm to around zero degrees walking outside in snow.
Appropriate Below-Zero Gear. Mittens (not gloves) and neck gaiters (not loose scarves) are key. (I use Buffs as my neck gaiter of choice.) Keep your fingers together to retain the most heat, and under your chin use a tight neck gaiter to seal off an area where the heat can escape.
Fuel The Body For Cold. Snacks help when you’re outside in the cold. Bring energy bars, nuts, or other hearty foodstuffs if you hike on a dank day. Bonus points for a Thermos filled with hot cocoa to break out halfway down the trail.
Take or leave my random advice. But keep your head up, winter warrior. March is here and spring is on the way. Now, where’d I put those mukluks….
—Stephen Regenold is editor of GearJunkie.