A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO WORKING OUTSIDE
Are you trading in office life for something a little more hands-on? Maybe you’ve just bought a property that needs more outdoor maintenance than you thought. Or maybe you’re taking up a hobby or sport that puts you outside in the elements in the colder seasons.
In any case, spending a lot of time working outdoors in the winter means you need to follow a few basic rules to stay warm, dry and safe. We’ve been working in the cold since 1954 and we like to think we’ve got a little bit of expertise about what it takes to work outside. But, we were all new at our jobs once, so we’d like to share some of the wisdom we’ve learned along the way.
Here are 10 tips for working in the cold:
Cold Tip #1: Stay Hydrated and Avoid Caffeine
Drinking plenty of water is important for everyone, but people who work outside in the cold need it more than most.
You likely won’t feel as thirsty when it’s cold out and that makes you less likely to keep fluids on hand and to drink enough of them. Keep drinking water even when you’re not thirsty and keep an eye out for the most common symptoms of dehydration: headaches, dry skin, light-headedness and feeling tired.
Drink extra water if you’re doing a lot of manual labor outside—you’ll still be sweating, even if you don’t realize it immediately. Water is preferred, but warm, non-caffeinated drinks like decaf or herbal hot tea can help keep you hydrated.
Limit or avoid caffeinated beverages, like coffee. Caffeine dehydrates your body, so it’s actually working against you in many ways when you’re working outside in the cold.
Cold Tip #2: Eat Well
Working outside in the cold burns a whole lot of calories; so, it’s a good idea give your body the fuel it needs.
Complex carbohydrates, such as whole grain bread and pasta, are your friends here. Lean proteins, like beans and meat, are good too. For the best effect, you should eat them around two hours before you start work and eat between 2,400 and 4,000 calories per day if you’ll be working outside for a long time.
Cold Tip #3: Dress in Layers to Match Your Activity Level
If you’re doing an outside job that involves lots of physical activity, such as landscaping or logging, your body will probably work up enough heat that you should choose a slightly lighter option for your outdoor winter workwear. This kind of work usually also means you need more flexibility in your gear so that you can bend, stretch and lift with no trouble.
For more active folks, we’ve got great new choices for light but tough workwear that keeps you warm without restricting movement. Insulated bib overalls give you a full range of upper body motion with serious cold protection. Combine that with some flexible upper body protection, like our PolarForce® Sweatshirt with built-in Performance Flex™ technology, and you’ve got the perfect team.
If you’re mostly sitting in one place in a cold environment—as a machinery operator for instance—you’ll probably need more heavy-duty insulated workwear but less flexibility. If you’re braving the cold while driving a forklift or using other big machinery, you might want something thicker like our legendary Iron-Tuff® Collection. From insulated parkas to coveralls, Iron-Tuff® has been serving outdoor workers for over 50 years, including the folks who braved the brutal Alaska winters to build the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline.
Only you know what your job involves, so think about what kind of protection you’ll need. At RefrigiWear®, we’ve got you covered, no matter your activity level.
Once you’ve chosen the outer layers of your cold weather gear, think about how conditions might change throughout your shift. Then, layer on insulated gear to give yourself flexibility to add or remove warmth as needed. The concept is super-simple but effective: if the weather starts to warm up, you can remove layers until you’re comfortable—and, in the meantime, each layer keeps doing the job that it’s designed for.
Your base layer goes closest to your skin and should include moisture-wicking to keep your skin dry and warm. You mid-layer is often an insulated sweatshirt, fleece jacket or insulated vest. Then, top it off with your outer layer, such as a parka or coveralls, to block out wind, snow or rain and provide extra warmth.
Cold Tip #4: Cover Your Head
The old idea that you lose 80 percent of your body heat through your head isn’t true. You lose about as much as through any other part of your body. But what is true is that if you’re all bundled up everywhere but your head, your head becomes the “hot zone” giving your heat away.
RefrigiWear® has tons of options for cold-weather headgear. Whatever level of protection you need, we’ve got you covered.
Cold Tip #5: Don’t Drink or Smoke
Most people wouldn’t think of drinking on the job anyway, but it bears repeating: Alcohol and cold weather work don’t mix. It might initially make you feel warm, but it’s doing more harm than good. Number one, it’ll dehydrate you, which—again—is always bad. And number two, alcohol has some effects that can lower your body’s core temperature rather than raising it—so it’s a bad deal all around.
Meanwhile, smoking cigarettes is never good for your health, but it’s way worse in the winter. Your blood pressure is already higher in the winter, and smoking can make it worse and increase the risk of heart disease. It also increases your risk of getting sick with a cold or the flu, so skip the smokes whenever you’re working in the cold.
Cold Tip #6: Stay Dry
Keeping your body dry is one of the most important things you can do to stay warm. And what’s often your number-one enemy when you’re trying to keep your body dry? Your own sweat. Once sweat cools on your skin, it can quickly make your body much colder and even contribute to hypothermia.
That’s why you need a moisture-wicking base layer under your clothes, especially if your job is more active. Moisture-wicking fabric draws or “wicks” the moisture away from your skin and collects it in a fast-drying fabric. That can make all the difference when it comes to keeping your body warm and dry.
RefrigiWear® has great moisture-wicking base layers designed especially for working outdoors in the cold.
Cold Tip #7: Wear Sunscreen
Sunburn in the winter? Is that even possible? Unfortunately, that’s a big “yes,” and it happens a lot more often than you’d think.
Understandably, most folks don’t even think about sunblock when it’s cold outside, but that doesn’t mean the sun’s gone away. It’s especially a problem if you’re working where there’s a lot of snow on the ground since the snow bounces the sun’s rays up to your skin and can give your face a nasty burn. The risk also increases at higher elevations, so people who work at ski and snowboard resorts are particularly vulnerable.
The bottom line? Even in the winter, you should put a coat of sunscreen with at least SPF 30 on exposed skin whenever you’ll be out in the sun for more than a few minutes. Your skin will thank you!
Cold Tip #8: Wear Safety Gear
When you’re working in the cold, you can’t help but think about staying warm. But you’ve also got to think about how your cold weather outdoor gear can pull double-duty as safety equipment.
If your job requires high-visibility safety gear, you might prefer to wear HiVis sweatshirts, HiVis bib overalls or HiVis insulated jackets rather than adding a safety vest over other workwear. You also don’t want to get sideline by a hand or foot injury, like a smashed finger or a nail in your boot.
RefrigiWear® makes gear that’s as tough as it is warm. We’ve got rugged solutions for protection wherever you need it, like heavy-duty reinforced footwear to keep your feet from getting crushed or stepping on sharp objects. For your hands, try our line of rugged work gloves with features like molded impact resistance pads, cut resistant knits and ergonomic grip designs. Your hands and feet are some of your most valuable assets, so keep them safe!
Cold Tip #9: Check Your Equipment and Weather
Cold environments can require a lot of different special equipment to get the job done. Think about other things that will help you do your job in the cold besides just clothing. For many people, there’s a lot!
You might want extra drinking water, HotHands hand or foot warmers, insulated blankets or pallet covers for cold-sensitive cargo, back braces, a first aid kit or safety glasses to protect your eyes from dust and flying debris.
You’ll also want a weather radio or an app on a smartphone to help monitor the weather. Winter weather can be brutal and you’ll want to know if icy conditions or falling temperatures will impact your workday.
Cold Tip #10: Watch for Hypothermia and Frostbite
There are some things you just don’t mess with—hypothermia and frostbite are both on that list. You need to know the warning signs of these dangerous conditions and be aware enough to spot them.
Warning signs of hypothermia include weakness, confusion or feeling tired, slurred speech, shallow breathing and shivering.
Warning signs of frostbite are numbness (especially in fingers, toes and ears), skin changing color, hard skin with a waxy appearance and clumsiness.
If you suspect you or someone else might have one of these serious problems, get them somewhere warm right away and get medical help. You can die from hypothermia, and frostbite can create permanent injuries including losing fingers and toes, so take action if you see the signs.
Cut Through the Cold with Confidence
It takes a tough person to suit up and get out in the cold to work. With smart practices and well-insulated cold weather gear from RefrigiWear®, you can feel like a regular Ernest Shackleton. Just remember that when you put our outdoor winter workwear on, we’re behind you every step of the way as you cut through the cold to get the job done!