I never believed that I was a ‘cold weather’ person. I spent most winters hiding inside and dreaming of days that my car had no trouble starting. This mind set changed pretty quickly when I began working as a dog sled tour guide and suddenly found myself outside chipping away at frozen dog poop at 6 am. Some days were trickier than others, and occasionally I would spend extra minutes standing in the on-site porta potty because it heated up a few degrees warmer in the sun.
Average temperatures for running tours were usually around -15°c (5°f) to -27°c (-16.6°f). On colder days we would cancel tours for dog and guest safety, but there were still chores to be done even if the weather was dipping in to the -30°c range.
First and foremost, the dogs were looked after. Smaller, older, or shorter haired dogs have jackets put on in between every tour on cooler days, and during cold nights. Also, along with regular food in the morning and evening, each dog gets a warm soup in between every tour that is mixed up with delicious treats. Lastly the guides are always checking paws and ensuring that dogs with sensitive feet get booties to protect them.
Eventually I got used to the routine and learned how to prepare for my day and dress accordingly to make even the coldest days bearable. Here are some of the things I learned from my experience..
Plan your snacks
A great way to keep your body warm is to keep it fuelled. If you are planning a long day outside, you need to make sure you are drinking lots of water and eating meals that will give you plenty of energy. For work days, I would pack snacks like trail mix, crackers, and beef jerky so I could eat all day without the disappointment of finding my lunch frozen solid in my bag (Mars bars and Oh Henrys may freeze solid, but a Kit Kat is delicious at all temperatures). I would also bring one Nalgene bottle of water and an insulated water bottle filled with hot tea or an electrolyte drink. I tried to get my fruits and veggies in before and after work simply because they would have frozen solid on site, but would usually pack an apple or orange for the drive.
Don’t wear cotton clothing
Clothing keeps you warm by keeping the air near your body warm. Cotton fabric will absorb moisture from sweat or precipitation and keep it close to your skin, making you colder. Choose fabrics that will wick away moisture and maintain their insulating properties. Good options are merino wool, fleece, and various synthetic fabrics. Down insulation is great for very cold days, but note that it does hold moisture, so opt for layers with a synthetic insulation on wet days.
Be choosy about your socks and mitts
The first step to keeping your hands and feet warm is to keep them dry. A nice pair of merino wool socks will do wonders for cold toes. I always changed my socks at least once during the day and carried extra pairs in my pack just in case. The first mistake I noticed that guests made was wearing cotton socks, and the second was that they would wear multiple pairs at the same time. All of those extra layers jammed in a boot will likely just limit your circulation and make you colder. For mitts I would try to choose waterproof over knitted options, and switch out between 2-3 pairs during the day. I often wore a thin pair of gloves underneath because I needed to use my fingers to do up snaps and untangle lines.
Layers, layers, layers
The day of a dog sled tour guide consists mostly of running and lifting, but we also needed to be warm if we weren’t moving. It’s important to always have layers to add or take off to control your body temperature. On a typical work day, I would wear a t-shirt, long sleeve, fleece, and a winter jacket with a down puffy and wind-proof outer shell. For bottoms I would often opt for a pair of fitted athletic pants under my snow pants. A buff around your neck and a warm toque will also keep your head nice and toasty. I always carried an extra sweater and extra base layer in my bag in case it got cooler than expected or if a guest was cold. Its also a good idea to keep a stash of neck warmers, toques, and mittens in your pack.
The best way to warm yourself up outside is to get moving. Guests often figured that sitting in the sled with a blanket would be the warmest, but the real heat comes from running uphill with the dog sled. Run, do some jumping jacks, wiggle those fingers and toes, and get out there and enjoy the winter!
Winter is too beautiful to pass up in fear of being cold. If you’re prepared, you will enjoy the snowy season to its fullest potential. Happy trails!