Cold weather has its charms. Kids love seeing their own steamy breaths floating on the air. Snow is source of more outdoor activities that I can count, and can make any landscape into a gorgeous vista. Mainers retain their childlike love of the winter months through most of their lives. Maine’s winters are a popular attraction for skiers, snowshoers, and other winter sports lovers. Maine’s State Park system offers unique occasions to celebrate the cold months of the year with the Maine State Park Ski and Snowshoe Trailer, First Day Hikes, and Winter Family Fun Days.
But cold weather can be stressful on the body, dangerous, and even life threatening. For those of you who love to go out on winter days, here are some tips for keeping safe and healthy while hitting the trails this winter.
You don’t sweat as much during the winter, but you still loose moisture through breathing and physical activity. It is just as important to drink water during the winter as it is during the summer.
Carrying water outside during freezing temperatures can be a bit of a challenge. Insulated thermoses can keep your drink from freezing. Thirst is a sign that you are already dehydrated, so drink before you get thirsty. Also try getting water from food, like fresh fruit.
Active.com has more tips on winter hydration.
Trapped air is one of the best insulators there is. Wool fabrics naturally trap air inside of them and are well known for retaining their insulating power when wet. Wool also wicks sweat away from the body.
Cotton is much more common in clothes and is less suited to keeping people warm during the winter. It doesn’t wick moisture and it losses heat more rapidly than wool.
Orvis.com has a more extensive article about the advantages of wool clothing.
Use Caution and Judgement around Ice
Winter provides opportunities you wouldn’t normally have during the summer. How often do you get to ice-skate outdoors or walk on a lake? Walking on ice can be dangerous and there are a few precautionary measures you should take before venturing out.
If you intend to go out on ice, try to go to places where the ice is regularly monitored. Parks, resorts, and sporting clubs sometimes commit to regularly monitoring ice. If you can’t find information about the quality of the ice, consider asking some locals who live nearby and observe the ice closely before venturing out. Ice may not be safe to walk on if there are cracks, holes, flowing water, signs of thawing and re-freezing, and pressure ridges from water currents. The safest ice is blue to white in color and at least 4 inches thick.
Before going out, pack some spare dry clothes in a water proof container and consider bringing an ice pick was well. Don’t go alone and make sure someone else knows where you are.
WikiHow has an excellent guide on outdoor ice safety. Read it for more advice on staying safe on ice.
At some point you may have heard that drinking alcohol warms you up. This is not true.
During cold weather the body naturally conserves heat by restricting blood flow to your extremities, that’s part of the reason why extended exposure to cold can cause you to feel numb. Alcohol opens that blood flow back up.
Opening up blood flow to your extremities can make you feel warm, but it also causes you to lose heat more rapidly. Alcohol also decreases your body’s tendency to shiver, which generates extra heat through muscle activity.
The University of Rochester Medical Center has more tips about dressing for the winter.
Winter days have a reputation for being short and dark, but UV light can still damage your eyes. The winter sun might actually be more dangerous to your eyes than summer sun in some ways. When the sun is lower in the sky, UV light comes into your eyes more directly, and snow and ice reflect UV light in all directions.
Some experts say that you should wear sunglasses all year long. See this article at WebMD.com for more details.