How to keep your whole family warm when walking in sub-zero temperatures

Guest post by Karen

Brrr! It’s been a pretty chilly past few weeks here in the Hammer (Hamilton, Ontario). My family only has one car, which my husband uses to commute an hour to work each day. But that doesn’t stop my family from going out and enjoying our neighbourhood. I still drop my son off at preschool a few mornings a week, enjoy library programs, and our awesome local fair-trade coffee shop.

If you’ve got two feet, a heartbeat, and some basic gear, sub-zero temperatures and snow can’t get in the way. Here’s how we’ve been staying toasty:

Have EVERYTHING ready and laid out

You don’t want to be searching for a missing mitten in the middle of “suiting everyone up.”

Get yourself suited up first

First, make sure diapers have been changed, and everyone has gone to the bathroom. Since I can tolerate getting toasty in the house a wee bit more than the kids, I get my stuff on first, followed by my son (if he gets too hot he can wait on the porch) and then we get the baby in her suit.

Make sure everyone has cold weather accessories

A hat covering your ears, scarf, good quality mittens, and boots with good traction. Also having a pair of ice cleats handy is a great idea. And Kleenex!

Extra warmth

I make sure a hot water bottle is tightly sealed and covered, and place it on top of my daughter in her stroller that is covered with a weather shield. If days are really cold we also place a blanket on top OR a bunting sleeping bag if it’s really frigid.

Make sure everyone is fueled up

It’s too hard to eat with mittens on!

Now go out and enjoy the fresh air.

I’d love to hear some helpful suggestions on how others brave the wind and snow.

Comments on How to keep your whole family warm when walking in sub-zero temperatures

  1. The hot water bottle idea is great! I may do that for myself. Although I drive to work, my car is very, very old so the heater doesn’t work that well. I think I will adopt your hot water bottle idea to myself and place it in my lap on really frigid days.

  2. Hello! Fellow southern Ontario resident.

    I do a lot of these already, but it just doesn’t seem to help in February. It’s not just sub-zero, it’s -30 degrees! Even with double socks, tights under pants, tank top, shirt, sweater, gloves AND mittens, hat & hood, etc… I freeze after more than 10 minutes.

    Since I don’t have the option to drive (seizures), and the bus doesn’t go directly to my door… Does anyone have any tips for Advanced Frostnip Fighting? The Cold Gremlins seem to get especially into my toes, despite multi-layered thermal socks and waterproof boots.

    • More layers!! Seriously, when it’s that cold, I wear two pairs of legwarmers, two sweaters, arm warmers and two scarves (one inside my coat for my neck, and one outside my coat for my face/wind protection) in addition to the boots and glove/mitten combo (why did it take me until the polar vortex to learn about this combo??). I also take public transit, and when I get to work, I take a few minutes to strip my layers of acrylic, but it’s worth it!

      I used the boot & glove warmers mentioned above when skiing when it was -2 F, and they really helped. Of course, when the boot warmers wore off, my toes started to freeze.

    • Constantly keeping moving helps me. I have less layers than the kids because pushing them both at least generates more heat for me (great work out too- haha!). My husband is a mail carrier and he really likes using the hand and foot warmers. I find my hands stay warmer in mittens compared to gloves. Hand knit wool socks (thanks to my sister) are way more toasty too than other synthetics.

      • Hmm, I started knitting a sock for the first time about a month ago and had set it aside and forgotten about it. Thanks for the reminder to keep working on it! I’m sure my feet will be much happier once I learn how to make my own wool socks 🙂

    • I live in Moncton, NB, and winter can be tough here. You could consider buying or borrowing winter boots that are one size bigger than your usual size. This way, you can move your toes to prevent frost bites.

    • I live in NY, and we’ve been having really freezing days here lately too (-20F). Here are a few tips I can offer that have kept me warm while waiting for a bus:
      -Wearing a super puffy down jacket, while pricy, helps immensely! My torso has yet to be cold in my down jacket (similar to this: I bought my jacket in the spring online when all the stores were having sales, and got it for much cheaper than the listing price.
      -I’ve recently discovered fleece pants, and wearing them with fleece-lined tights keeps me really warm even at -10F! I’d probably add a wind-blocking layer once it gets colder/windier.
      -Make sure you have room in your clothes, mittens, and boots for air; you can loosen your boots to give your feet some room. Air is one of the best insulators once it warms up from your body heat! Mittens are always better than gloves because the heat from each finger helps to keep the others warm.
      -I don’t know if you have them in Canada, but here in the U.S. we have handwarmers called HotHands. They are AMAZING and have saved my fingers and toes this winter! They heat for 10 hours, long enough for both your morning and evening bus commutes.

    • I’ve never experienced that level of cold, but I do know that even here in the (relatively mild) temps of the Colorado Rockies, multiple layers of socks can actually hinder circulation and make your feet colder.

  3. We use the 7am enfant outdoor bag for our 2.5 year old and an Rosk cover over a double thick fleece zip up stroller bag (think Walmart) for our 7 month old in our tandem double stroller. They both wear their snowsuits inside the bags when it’s -30 celcius out. We also have a wind\snow cover for our stroller that we rarely use because when the wind is strong enough it blows the thing right off the stroller. Can’t recommend the 7am enfant enough… Anything -15 celcius and above, you don’t even need the snowsuit. Just a sweater, hat and boots!!

    • Glad to hear another adventurous winter walker. How do you find your double stroller does in the snow? I only have a sit and stand versio so the wheels aren’t great so I do find I have to navigate into the street sometimes (being super careful of course) on the quiet side streets.

      • We have the Phil and teds explorer double stroller and its amazing. The inner tubes for the tires have blown out on us a few times (which sucks) but very rarely considering its rough daily use. With the two kids, gear, and stroller , I am iteraly a 100+ lb woman pushing a 70+ lb stroller through the snow in crazy cold temps. The coldest this year was -42 for a 7min walk to a friends. Insane, but other then rosy cheeks the kids were fine. Too bad it take 35min to get ready to leave the house!!

  4. Another Ontario resident here (I’m from Ottawa and it has been bitching cold this winter). This was the year I opted for snowpants. I’m a teacher and have to do my share of outdoor duty, plus we don’t own a car so I absolutely MUST be able to keep warm when out and about. I stopped wearing snowpants in junior high because duh, I wanted to look cool, but this was the wear I decided that function was WAYYY more important than fashion (a very Canadian sentiment). Mountain Equipment Co-op has amazing snowpants in all kinds of weights. Mine are not bulky but add an excellent extra layer and provide a nice shield from the wind. Embrace snowpants. Buy the best you can afford, layer up, and don’t forget your sun protection in addition to your winter gear.

  5. Slightly off topic, does anyone have recommendations for keeping one’s hands warm while using the computer? We keep our apartment at 60 F for financial reasons, but my hands get so cold and it aggravates my arthritis. I have fingerless mittens, but of course it’s my fingers that need the warmth. Any miracle solutions out there?

  6. How has no one mentioned long underwear???

    Modern long underwear is like tights you wear under your jeans/snowpants, usually made of silk, cotton, or silky synthetics. You’ll often find them sold as “thermal underwear” or “thermal pants” or something like that. You could probably just use regular tights too.

    Just slip ’em on, then put on your jeans, and BOOM! You are a snow goddess and the cold can’t touch you. I use them anytime it goes below about 10-20F.

    Be aware: they won’t fit under really tight jeans and they can make you too warm inside (I sometimes slip them off in the bathroom and throw them in my purse). However, I think they’re pretty breathable and I’m comfortable in them whether I’m in my 65-degree office (yes, it’s cold) or on a 5-degree sidewalk.

    Long underwear for the win!

  7. Wool/silk base layers.
    Ibex, Wintersilks, Smartwool, Icebreaker, Redram, and for a short time Costco had nice wool or silk baselayers. Both fabrics are great at regulating body heat, wicking away moisture, and keeping you warmer and less stinky than cotton. Merino wool isn’t itchy and is silky soft. I’ve gotten mine on sale at Sierra Trading Post for cheap before and have over the years slowly built up a wardrobe of wool layers. Wool scarves/buffs/hats/socks are also great.

  8. All of the above, and this year, I actually belted a blanket over my down coat. Friends said I looked like a Sand Person from Star Wars (I also had on a face mask, ski goggles, and a moose hat) but I was warm.

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