5 Essential Tips for the Outdoor Winter Worker

Stay Informed

Article originally published Feb. 4, 2016, and updated for accuracy and relevance.

In the immortal words of "Game of Thrones," winter is here. Luckily for us, we don't have to worry about facing the army of the dead in 100-foot-high snow drifts. There are, however, plenty of outdoor workers who will be exposed to the harsh elements this season. As conditions start to deteriorate, brush up on these 5 essential tips for every outdoor winter worker.

1. Get the Right Footwear

What goes on your feet is critical when working outdoors in the winter. Wearing the wrong shoes can put you at greater risk of frostbite, hypothermia, or fall-related injuries. Waterproof boots are always a sure bet. They keep your feet warm and dry by shielding them from outside moisture. Your boots should also be “breathable.” This allows perspiration to escape through the shell of the shoe, reducing wetness on your feet.

Insulation is another important factor. You might think that bulky, heavier shoes would do the trick, but that’s not always true. In fact, it’s usually the opposite. Many brands now use thinner material made of fine, small fibers that make boots toasty and more ergonomic. You also can’t forget about the “gram” rating. Based on a scale of 100 to 1,000, a higher number indicates a warmer boot. (Shoes with a 1,000 rating are built for the most extreme cold environments. We're fascinated by anyone who needs a pair of those.)

2. Say “No” to Coffee…

Coffee and other caffeinated drinks can reduce body heat by increasing the blood flow at your skin’s surface. They can also speed up your heart rate and cause dehydration. You’d be better off drinking herbal or low-caffeinated teas. They might not be your beloved morning cup of energy, but your body will love you for it.

3. …But “Yes” to Carbs

It requires much more effort to work in heavier clothing and trek through thick snow. Before heading out, enjoy a high-calorie dish like pasta to help sustain your energy.

4. Protect Your Skin

Blisters. Numbness. Pallor. These are the kinder effects of frostbite, which hunts exposed skin in freezing environments. Severe cases could mean permanent damage to skin tissue, muscles and joints. Fortunately, you can help avoid all of that by covering up appropriately. Purchase loose, lightweight clothing that fits well beneath your outerwear. Wool, silk and polypropylene are some of the best materials for inner layers because they trap heat inside. For outer protection – particularly against bitter wind – woven, water-repellent fabrics are ideal.

Your gloves should also be easy to work in and provide adequate protection from exposure. Be sure to check how well-insulated they are. Wool and fleece are some of the most effective types of insulation. For extra warmth, consider getting a liner. Purchasing gloves with a waterproof shell is also a smart move. This will help protect your hands from outside moisture.

5. Heed Warning Signs

Outdoor winter work is risky, even if you take the right precautions. Always listen to your body. This is especially true with hypothermia, one of the hardest cold-related conditions to detect. If your body temperature drops below 95°F, you could experience fatigue, shivering, confusion, and loss of coordination. If left untreated, it could lead to arrhythmia, unconsciousness, or even death. Go somewhere warm immediately if you notice these symptoms. Put on dry clothing, and cover yourself with layers of blankets if possible. Drink warm liquids to help stabilize your body temperature (but still avoid the coffee).