It’s winter in Chicago, of course it’s cold. (and some practical tips for surviving)

12 December 2013

I’m always sort of dumbfounded when November and December come around and people are surprised that it’s cold and/or snowy in Chicago. That some how the city and weather are conspiring against them. Maybe the past mild winters have made you forget, but it’s winter in Chicago — of course it’s cold. (And will probably stay cold through March… just sayin’…)

I’ve written on this topic in the past before. (see also: here and here) If it’s your first winter in Chicago, this could be understandable to not really know what you’re in for. For others, well, take the time to prepare. I mean, yes, one things Chicagoans love is to boast that we’re tough and can survive these winters… But there’s being tough and being smart.

So here are some simple, practical tips for helping anyone survive winters in Chicago.*

Protect your body.

bundled up for winter

No, we’re not the Windy City because of the actual winds, but it is decently wind here anyway. 20° F doesn’t seem too terribly bad until you see that the windchill makes it feel like it’s 4°. And yes, it is generally colder by the lake. Make sure you limit the amount of skin exposed. Hat, gloves, scarves. If you can get fleece-lined versions, go for them. Thin knit things won’t keep you too warm, but they’re better than nothing. Just be careful not to get them wet.

Next, because yes, it will stay in the single digits and sometimes dip negative, be sure you dress warm enough for however long you’ll be outside. (And remember, transit runs a little slower in winter.) Layers will be your best friend. Get some thermal baselayers, top and bottom. Or layer shirts and fleece or other sweaters. But don’t be that person who strips down to their tshirt on the bus. Just unzip your coat, undo your scarf, take off hats and gloves — and keep that sh*t contained in your own personal space. If you know you’re going to get overheated on the bus, sit by the back door which will be opening frequently and letting cold air in.

And I highly, highly, highly suggest that you invest in a really good coat. I have a few rules for myself whenever I buy coats: must be warm, must cover my butt, must cover my wrists, must have a hood. Make your own list of musts. And personally, I have a number of coats. My main winter coat is one I can only wear if it’s in the low 30’s or below. (It does much better in the below temperatures…) It’s from Columbia and lined with their omniheat. For me, it works wonders. I have their legging baselayer too and wear them under my jeans. (These are things you can take off once you get to work.)

Lastly, you should also invest in good boots. Good boots will keep your feet warm and most importantly dry. I have Sorel boots and I absolutely love them. Snow drifts by the sidewalks can hide puddles, and I’ve had the misfortune of stepping into one of those without the proper footwear. Rain boots will keep you dry, but they will not keep you warm. If you go this route, get those sherpa liners for them or wear a couple pair of wool socks. (Cotton socks keep moisture near you, so athletic socks are a better option as they’re more likely to wick the sweat away from you. Same with cotton tshirts and such.)

And at some point, you can just forget about trying to be the most fashionable one out there. We don’t see the girls out there in skirts and heels and trendy, but not warm, coats and think “oh, she’s hot”… we think “lordy she is dumb. And cold!” Who cares if you look like Randy from a Christmas Story or if you look like a bear. You’re warm and that’s all that matters.

These are all really common sense, practical things you can do to help you “get through” these tough Chicago winters. And I know, not everyone can afford nice protective things. But do what you can and these investments are (generally) worth the money spent.

Also, if you have old coats or other winter-wear you’re not using any more, please donate them — regardless of whether you’re in Chicago or not, there are always people who could use a good coat.

Ok. So, anything I missed? What’s your favorite way to bundle up? Are you sick of all the “omg why is it so cold” tweets? (Me. Too.) Stay warm out there!

*I’m going to be breaking this up into about 3 posts. In the next post, I’ll help you prepare for winter travel. Later I’ll discuss keeping your home warm and what to do if your apartment is too cold.

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