The Ultimate Guide to Surviving North Dakota Cold Weather

Danielle Ice fishing feature

Because I hate feeling cold, I’ve picked up many tips and received lots of advice on how to survive North Dakota cold. Common sense during freezing temps goes a long way, but I wanted to share some lesser known tips to help you stay warm as the cold drags on. In extremely cold temperatures, frostbite can set in on exposed skin in as little as five minutes.

Recently, I competed in an ice fishing tournament where no ice fishing shelters were allowed. Everyone fished out in the open, exposed to the winter elements. Dressing appropriately was extremely important.

Above is a picture of Jared and me at the tournament in some of our winter gear. It was around -8 that time of day factoring wind chill, but at least we were warm. Below are 21 tips I used to keep warm during the tournament and any time I’m outside during the winter in North Dakota:

1. Invest in proper winter weather gear. Winter coats and apparel were not created equally. Shop around, read labels or ask a sales associate for help. Winter gear designed for outdoor activities such as snowmobiling or ice fishing will be warmer in general than trendy looking winter gear from a clothing department store. Look for key features such as:

a. Waterproof
b. Breathable
c. Sealed seams
d. Moisture wicking
e. Highest thermal insulation value
f.  Venting
g. Adjustable cording or straps to seal off gaps such as on hoods or cuffs
h. Removable liners for multi-seasonal use
i. Buy loose fitted gear, so you can layer underneath

2. Choose the right winter gear insulation. Goose down is warmer ounce for ounce than any other insulation. However, goose down won’t keep you warm if it gets wet. Synthetic and wool insulated winter gear will still retain heat when wet. Personally, I prefer my synthetic insulated outdoor gear for North Dakota winters. It’s also easier to clean.

3. Cover your seat. Coat lengths that cover your seat will be warmer than those that stop at your hips.

4. Snow bibs will be warmer than snow pants. Bibs prevent snow and wind from reaching your waist or hips too.

5. Mittens are warmer than gloves. Fingers will stay warmer when in contact with each other.

6. Get long-cuffed or gauntlet style mittens. These are designed to be worn over your coat sleeve, instead of at the cuff. They’ll be warmer by preventing wind and snow from reaching your wrists.

7. Proper winter boots should feel relatively light on your feet, have lug soles for good traction, feel fitted with enough room to wear a good moisture wicking sock or two, and plenty of insulation to keep your toes warm. You’ll be more likely to wear your boots if they aren’t weighing you down, feel sloppy, or uncomfortable.

8. Wear eye protection such as glasses, sun glasses, or goggles to help protect your eyeballs and eyelashes.

9. A winter aviator hat (a.k.a. bomber hat or trapper hat) will be one of the warmest choices for winter caps. I’ve owned one since junior high school, and have never needed anything else to keep my head and ears warm. It’s the black one pictured. I have my sunglasses on top and a brimmed hat on underneath my bomber hat. It was really bright out. Jared is also wearing a winter aviator hat.

10. Wear behind the head earmuffs, if you dislike wearing a hat. These earmuffs will help you avoid the inevitable hair crease on top of your head with normal earmuffs. You can even get earmuffs with built in headphones. Bonus!

11. Don’t forget your scarf, mask, or neck warmer. Covering your mouth and nose from the cold will protect your lungs.

12. Layer your clothing. For extreme cold, start with a non-cotton, moisture wicking, thermal base layer of socks, pants and a shirt. Then layer on loose fitted clothing that you can remove if you get too warm. Fleece and polyester fabrics work best.

13. Avoid cotton fabrics. Cotton absorbs and retains moisture. Moist clothes will rob you of body heat.

14. Keep an extra pair of socks with you. We forget that feet sweat. Even with the best winter boots on, your feet will get cold if your socks have collected enough moisture.

15. Keep your feet dry in a pinch with some antiperspirant. Although, I recommend buying foot powders designed for keeping feet dry instead. Dry feet are warmer feet.

16. Bring pocket warmers with you. They are small, cheap and an easy source of extra heat if you need it. They comfortably fit into mittens, boots and pockets.

17.  Remove jewelry and in particular facial jewelry such as earrings. Metal becomes very cold much quicker than skin, which can lead to frost bite faster in those areas.

18. Reduce your caffeine or alcohol intake. Your morning cup of joe may help you feel warmer initially, but your body will lose heat more rapidly with caffeine in your system. Try switching to decaf or herbal tea to help you warm up.

19. Eat enough calories before you head outside. Your body needs more calories to keep warm. The morning of the fishing tournament I ate a larger than normal breakfast knowing that I would be fishing over the lunch hour. I also brought quick snacks with incase I needed some extra fuel.

20. Take a thermos of hot liquid with you. Soups or herbal teas work well to warm you up when you need a boost.

21. Look for a vacuum sealed thermos. These retain heat and cold longer than any other insulated containers I’ve owned. I filled one with decaf coffee and cream for the fishing tournament. Over 9 hours later and back at home the coffee was still too hot to drink immediately. Awesome!

I hope these tips help you winterize your body to stay warm. Don’t forget to share what’s worked best for you too!

Danielle Betteen is a web designer in the Communications department at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota.

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