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Keeping warm in Winter
Some different ideas for keeping warm in extreme cold while riding a bicycle and other wintertime activities such as astronomy, etc.

Please note: This article is NOT complete. More info and photos will added on a time permitting basis.


I am NOT a medical doctor, nor am I a physical therapist, nor do I have any training whatsoever in any of the fields discussed in this article. What I do have is some experience riding a bicycle and doing other outdoor activities in cold weather.

The information in this article is presented as food for thought. Some of the ideas may work for you and some may not. I have put a great deal of time into experimentation and research and to the best of my knowledge what is presented here is accurate and safe for use when exercising in COLD WEATHER. But as always, USE AT YOUR OWN RISK! If you try some of these ideas and end up getting cold anyway, GET YOURSELF INSIDE a nice warm place, IMMEDIATELY if not sooner! After all everyone knows you will freeze you A$$ off trying to ride a bicycle in the winter! Then there are those of us that don't know any better...


I have seen some people try to use the following information to try to lose weight by causing the body to sweat excessively by wrapping the body in plastic, saran wrap or rubber. I have been unable to find any scientific evidence that this has any permanent effect on weight loss. Any weight loss achieved by this method is temporary and is most likely due to the excessive amount of water lost by sweating. That is if you survive! As a matter of fact, rubber suits were banned for this use by the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) after the deaths of three wrestlers in 1997. The athletes were attempting to lose weight by wearing these suits while exercising in HOT WEATHER! Many additional reports of similar close calls were reported after this news broke. Yes they did loose weight but some of them died of dehydration and hyperthermia. This article is about keeping warm in COLD WEATHER! If you don't know what you are doing then DON'T DO IT or if something isn't working as expected then STOP!!!

And ALWAYS remember to drink, especially in winter when the air is dry as it's extremely easy to become dehydrated. I am told there are three times you should drink when exercising in winter. When you are thirsty. When you are not thirsty. And in between! For a real treat find an insulated water bottle and take along something warm to sip on! If you are properly dressed this can make a tremendous difference. If you want to keep something warm keep it in contact with your skin under the layers of insulation.


Keeping warm while outside in the winter months is a subject that I have always been interested in as there are several things that I like to do in the winter such as astronomy, bicycle riding, just enjoying the outdoors, etc. I suffered from severe allergies spring, summer and fall for many years of my life so winter was really the only time I could go outside and enjoy what nature had to offer. Being on the small, thin but somewhat muscular side I don't have much in the way of layers of fat to insulate my body from the cold, although I tend to generate a LOT of heat most likely coming from the layers of muscle which I've put on over the years. I've noticed that anywhere there is bare skin exposed to the cold atmosphere I can see smoke (actually water vapor) radiating off the skin. However, all that water vapor and heat being radiated tends to cool the body off in short order and finding the best way to trap that heat is the basis of this article.

What I found odd is the muscular parts of my body never got cold even when exposed directly to the atmosphere! It was only the extremities, like my toes, fingers, etc. My upper legs, arms or the central core of my body seemed to be immune to the cold. So like many people I made the mistake of thinking that the answer to keeping warm in the winter was to bundle up those areas of the body that felt cold. Although you certainly do need some protection from the cold over these parts of the body, little did I know that the parts of the body that were getting cold was NOT where the main problem was!!! You would think that when the body sensed the fingers and toes were getting cold that it would turn up the heat to those areas of the body by increasing blood flow to those areas. However, that is NOT what happens. The body does EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE! It starts shutting down blood flow to those areas. Why?

There is a thing called the survival mechanism which we all have. When the body is exposed to cold it goes into survival mode. The priority is to keep the internal organs warm at all cost even if it means sacrificing the limbs of the body. Rather than try to maintain normal temperature at the extremities of the body, these parts are slowly cut off by reducing blood flow to those areas in order to preserve the core body temperature consisting of the chest, abdominal area and head.

Until you know what is going on it doesn't make sense to bundle up those areas that feel warm as one would think you would then become too hot in those areas! The reason you don't notice the cold as much in your chest, abdominal area or head is due to the survival mechanism. You don't feel the cold in these areas simply because they are NOT cold and they are NOT cold because the body is working overtime to maintain normal body temperature in those areas. Reduce the heat loss in these areas and not only will your feet and hands not get cold but you will have more energy available for other tasks!

I find it amazing that those that are first to complain about cold feet usually have little or nothing on their heads! When I mention this to them they come back with it's my feet that are cold NOT my head! What they fail to realize is that something like 30 to 40% of the heat loss they are experiencing is through the head! What is going on is the survival mechansism of the body has been triggered and it's shutting off the flow of blood to the feet to maintain internal organ temperature which is why your chest, abdominal area and head don't feel cold or not as cold as your feet! You aren't going to survive very long with a frozen brain or heart but you can survive a LONG time with frozen feet and hands! Not a pretty picture but you get the idea. Your body knows this and that is why the the feet and hands get cold first.

The most important reason to insulate your head from the cold (in addition to help maintain body temperature) is the brain requires the most blood, and needs that blood to be the right temperature. Your brain controls everything else in your body (your ability to think and act, as well as the ability for your body to maintain a particular temperature). Symptoms of hypothermia include confusion, weakness, and slowed breathing. It's really critical to make sure your brain is getting all it needs, or else your body will begin to shut down!

Heat loss from the human head during exercise

Rasch W, Samson P, Cote J, Cabanac M.

Department of Physiology, Laval University, Quebec, Canada.

"Evaporative and convective heat loss from head skin and expired air were measured in four male subjects at rest and during incremental exercise at 5, 15, and 25 degrees C ambient temperature (Ta) to verify whether the head can function as a heat sink for selective brain cooling. The heat losses were measured with an open-circuit method. At rest the heat loss from head skin and expired air decreased with increasing Ta from 69 +/- 5 and 37 +/- 18 (SE) W (5 degrees C) to 44 +/- 25 and 26 +/- 7 W (25 degrees C). At a work load of 150 W the heat loss tended to increase with increasing Ta: 119 +/- 21 (head skin) and 82 +/- 5 W (respiratory tract) at 5 degrees C Ta to 132 +/- 27 and 103 +/- 12 W at 25 degrees C Ta. Heat loss was always higher from the head surface than from the respiratory tract. The heat losses, separately and together (total), were highly correlated to the increasing esophageal temperature at 15 and 25 degrees C Ta. At 5 degrees C Ta on correlation occurred. The results showed that the heat loss from the head was larger than the heat brought to the brain by the arterial blood during hyperthermia, estimated to be 45 W per 1 degree C increase above normal temperature, plus the heat produced by the brain, estimated to be up to 20 W. The total heat to be lost is therefore approximately 65 W during a mild hyperthermia (+1 degrees C) if brain temperature is to remain constant."

65 watts of energy loss through heat being dissipated through the head is significant when you consider that it's been estimated that the energy output of the human body while riding a bicycle is approximately 200 to 250 watts. The key to keeping your fingers, hands, toes and feet warm is reducing heat loss from the core areas of the body. Namely, head, chest and abdominal area. Insulate those areas from the cold as best as you possibly can and you will find your hands and feet won't get cold. Or at the very worst it will take a LOT longer before you begin to feel any sign of cold in those areas of the body. You will also find that you won't need anything exceptional covering your feet or hands. If riding a bicycle about the only thing you need to do is protect them from wind blast. Normal blood flow will keep them nice and warm but only if you pay attention to maintaining core body temperature. If you do not have sufficient insulation to maintain core body temperature then the first place you will feel the cold is in your toes, fingers, hands then feet and it will continue to work it's way to the center of your body and no amount of insulation covering your feet and hands will make any difference. The only way they will stay warm is if there is sufficient blood flow to those areas to keep them warm and the only way to do that is by paying attention to maintaining core body temperature.


I first became aware of how the human body adapts to cold when I was in high school. During the last three years of high school I was required to take gym class daily. One day during the first of those three years when it was cold with several inches of snow on the ground the instructor informed us we were going OUTSIDE to play a game of soccer! Everyone was dressed in the usual skimpy shorts and very thin T-Shirt so we thought this was a joke until he tossed the ball to one of us and headed toward the door. Of course we had no choice but to follow hoping all the while that he would turn around and tell us it was a joke but that never happened.

To make a long story short, those of us that were playing the game never noticed the cold! It was only those that were taking a less active roll that started to have difficulty with the cold and the more they stood around the colder they got until the instructor noticed them just standing there shivering and told them to go back inside.

The lesson I learned here is that if you are active enough you don't need much to keep warm in cold weather. However, as activity level drops you will start to become cold and the colder you become the less active you will be so it's a vicious cycle. Let nature take it's course and you will doze off never to wake up again.


I tried riding a motorcycle ONCE during the winter. I think I got about a 1/2 mile down the road before turning around and coming back home! Expecting to have some difficulty with the cold I bundled up to the point where I had some concerns about even being able to operate the bike. It didn't seem to matter. It started with the wind blast over my fingers which froze almost immediately. Then my hands got cold followed by my toes, feet, and arms. By the time I got back home it was all I could do to park the bike, make it up the steps and get back inside. That was the first and LAST time I ever rode a motorcycle in winter!

The second time I became interested in bicycle riding I had a reason. I wanted to be able to use the bike to haul groceries and run other errands. Thinking back to my horrible experience with trying to ride a motorcycle in the winter I had some doubts about attempting this. But then I remembered my experience in high school. There was a HUGE difference between sitting on a motorcycle and doing practically nothing physical and riding a bicycle, especially when hauling a load of groceries up a hill! I already knew that I was generating more than sufficient heat to keep me warm. If I could just find a way to trap that heat!

Many people told me the answer was wool as it maintains its insulating properties even when wet (like from perspiration). However, I found out immediately that this was NOT the answer for me. I started itching the moment I touched anything made out of wool and it only got worse after I put it on. It was the most uncomfortable material I've ever came into contact with. I have to assume I'm allergic to it! This might work for you. But there is NO WAY it will ever work for me!


I always had an interest in astronomy and at times there were events that occured in the winter that I wanted to observe. The only problem is I always had extreme difficulty keeping warm. It didn't matter what I put on my feet, they got cold. Same with my hands. When it got to the point where I was shivering so bad I couldn't even look through the eyepiece I'd have to come inside and get warmed up only to repeat the process. It got to the point where it was too hot in the house and too cold outside so I was either sweating or shivering. There had to be a better way! That's when I started doing some research as to why the hands and feet are the first to get cold and discovered the survival mechanism. I then began looking for ways to maintain core body temperature.

Please note: This article is NOT complete. More info and photos will added on a time permitting basis.


To be continued...

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