How to Stay Warm through Winter’s Last Gasp

A landscape showing snow and blowing flakes giving way to grass and swirling dandelion seeds.

Today winter is strutting its stuff. The weather app on my phone tells me it’s 11 degrees F, the wind is blowing over 30 mph, and that with the wind chill factor, it “feels like -9 F.” Yay?

“Wind chill factor” was a stroke of genius on someone’s part. It takes our need to exaggerate how awful something is, and turns it into actual science. 11 degrees F is pretty cold. But -9 degrees F is outrageously cold, and therefore much more satisfying to talk about. I mean, can you believe it feels like freaking -9 degrees F out there?!?

But that’s okay. If it were still November I’d be in a panic about surviving an entire season of this. But it’s not — it’s February. So as I listen to the windows rattle in their casements and to the scratching of shrubbery against the side of the house, I feel like I’m listening to some overblown windbag of a politician whose term limit is coming up fast and who has already been voted out of office. Go on, rant and rail all you want, I think. In six more weeks, you’re out of here.

Meanwhile, we do still have those 6 weeks to get through, and another 6 weeks after that of iffy early springtime weather when snow and freezing temperatures can still make a surprise attack. Usually I get a chill in October that I never really shake until April, but this year I’ve figured a few things out. There are some really simple things that have gotten me through this winter in comfort, and I thought I’d share them with you, in case you need a few practical suggestions to get you through winter’s last gasp. Some require a little investment, and some don’t, but all of them are cheaper and more effective than cranking up the thermostat, and more immediately doable than insulating your house or moving someplace warm.

1. Drink a lot of tea. Cheap stuff, fancy stuff, whatever. Drinking tea keeps you warm. Drink tea even when you don’t feel like drinking anything. Hot water with lemon and a little honey works too (and it’s great for sore throats). Hell, you can even just drink hot water. But drink hot stuff, and hold the mug in your hands as much as possible.

2. Buy an electric couch throw. This is ABSOLUTELY the best $50 I’ve spent all year. I’ve got one that turns itself off after 3 hours, which is a nice safety feature. If your also-chilly partner says you don’t need a big one because s/he won’t use it anyway, ignore them and buy a twin size blanket instead of a throw. Or make or buy a bean bag warmer you can heat in the microwave. This isn’t quite as effective as an electric couch throw, but it’s surprisingly close and it won’t add to your electric bill. Heat it up and put it in your lap or under your feet, or get one that wraps around your neck.

3. Wear layers and invest in long undies. I know you know this one already, but if you’re still cold indoors, you need to either wear more layers, or warmer layers, or both. Wear fleece or wool socks. Wear fingerless gloves and warm vests. Wear scarves — even insubstantial gauzy ones make a huge difference! Your neck might not be the part of you that feels chilly, but wrapping it up will contribute to how warm the rest of you feels. I envy people who live in warm houses or have naturally warm bodies and can wear flimsy clothing in winter, but my life got a lot better when I finally accepted that I am not one of those people, and started to dress accordingly. Wear slippers that cover your whole foot, not just your toes. If you’re cold at work, don’t wear flats — invest in boots and warm socks. You can still look elegant and business-professional and be warm. No one needs to know you’ve got long underwear on underneath, and an elegant scarf can cover anything that peeks out of your collar.

4. Don’t let yourself get chilled in the first place. If you need to bundle up under your bathrobe to stay warm for the time between getting your coffee and getting dressed for work, do it, even though it feels like you’re getting dressed twice. If you need to run out to the car, take an extra minute to put your coat and gloves on. Seriously.

5. Eat hot food. There’s a reason people eat a lot of soup and stew in winter. A nice bowl of hot soup will warm you up. A cold sandwich will not. Consider warm pudding or pie instead of ice cream.

6. Buy an electric mattress pad. These are safer than an electric blanket, because the wires inside don’t get all crumpled up, and warmer because heat rises and you’re lying on top of it. If you share your bed, get one with separate controls for each side of the bed so that you don’t have to argue over how hot you like it. And turn the pad on half an hour before you go to bed so that it’s nice and toasty when you crawl in.

7. Take up an outdoor sport. I know this is where a lot of you are going to become extremely skeptical, but trust me on this one — nothing makes you feel more like you can beat winter than going for a good run/walk/skate/ski/hike in 20 degrees and being warm anyway. When you work out hard, you warm up. In order to pull this one off, you’ll need to invest in some high-quality sportswear, especially some really nice super-warm sweat-wicking base layers. Read the product specs and the reviews to choose the warmest gear. February is a great time of year to buy, because a lot of cold weather clothing is on clearance. A plus here is that base layers that will keep you warm outside and moving in 20 degrees will also make excellent long underwear for normal activities in a chilly house or office. You can wear those base layers all the time — more bang for your buck! Fleece pants or leggings and warm socks will keep your lower half warm. For your upper body, a warm base layer with a fleece mid layer or jacket, a wind-proof outer layer, and possibly a super warm vest to top it off if the temperature hits ouch-my-face-hurts-and-my-nose-is-freezing temperatures. A hat that covers your ears and really, really warm gloves or mittens are crucial. A sports tracking app can make it even more fun, and there are a lot of good free ones out there if you have a smartphone. Get out there and get moving — you’ll be amazed at how warm you are if you’re moving fast enough. Then come back inside, feel smug about your accomplishment, and have another nice hot cup of tea.

8. Cuddle! Shared body heat goes a long, long way. Snuggle up with a sweetie, or snuggle with a pet. In college, I had a pet rat that slept wrapped around the back of my neck while I studied, and her little body was surprisingly effective at warming me up. If you’re not a pet person or cuddling isn’t an option, take #2 even more seriously.

9. Think warm thoughts. When I made the doodle at the top of this post, just thinking about dandelions and spring made me warmer. Yes, I know that sounds goofy. It’s also true.

I hope at least a few of these tricks are useful to you. I figure if it’s taken me this many years to figure out how to stay warm, I’m probably not the only one who struggles with it. Do you have any suggestions you don’t see in this list? Let me know in the comments!