Surviving the Winter

Every season offers challenges to those of us who live outside. While the summer has us fussing about the never-ending heat, the winter will ruffle our feathers a different way. This guide is intended to provide some useful insights on how to make it through the winter in temperatures below freezing.

 Clothing

Although your biggest concern are nighttime temperatures, many parts of the world have ridiculously low temperatures during the day as well. Now, some of this is common sense: Dress in layers, wear long underwear, and keep your head, hands, and feet covered. However, other important methods of staying warm are often neglected.

  • Keep your feet dry, warm, and clean at all times. This means changing your socks at least twice a day (before and after bedtime). If you tend to have sweaty feet, take an extra pair and change your socks around the middle of the day as well. Even a little bit of sweat can moist your socks and feet just enough to cool your body down considerably. Absorbent socks are helpful. Also, try to give your feet some air every day. When you live outside during the winter, your feet will most likely be covered 27/7. This is a perfect condition for bacteria to grow and blisters to form. Air, hygiene, and the use of body powder on your feet will help prevent these conditions.
  • Invest in a good pair of boots. Depending on where you live, your feet may have to deal with excessive rain, snow, and sub-zero temperatures. As previously mentioned, it is crucial to keep your feet warm and dry. A pair of waterproof and well insulated boots can make the difference between healthy feet and loosing a toe. Personally, I prefer waterproof boots from Keen. Here in Colorado we have to deal with snow and temperatures down to 10° F  ( – 12°C) in the city and much lower temperatures in the mountains (I’ve experienced temperatures of – 9° F ( – 22° C) within the city limits – be prepared for the worst). In additionit can be useful to wear gators if you have to deal with extremely wet and snowy conditions. These are strapped around the bottom of your boots and usually extend to your lower leg. Gators keep snow and water out and, depending on what size gators you have, also keep parts of your pants dry. In extreme temperatures, we hobos simply cannot afford to have wet feet, socks, or pants.

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  • It may be time to regress to onesies. While light one-piece underwear can be useful during the day, I find them most helpful during the night. Footy Pajamas and onesies cover most of your body and keep you toasty warm. Shirts and pants may move during your sleep and expose your body to the elements; onesies will stay exactly where you put them. Footed Pajamas have the advantage that they keep your feet warm as well.

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  • Your head gets cold too. But more importantly, you loose a lot of heat if you don’t cover your head. A cheap little beanie will do the trick day and night.

Sleeping in a Vehicle

If you are fortunate enough to own a vehicle, you have the advantage of wind and rain protection. In addition, you are able to store blankets, sleeping bags, and plenty of clothing needed for cold temperatures.

  • Don’t kill yourself trying to stay warm. Believe it or not, sleeping with your car running greatly increases the likelihood of you not waking up again. Personally, I reserve this option for the most desperate of situations and to this day never had to turn on my car to stay warm (knock on wood). If you absolutely have to run your heater, do so while you are awake and only for short periods of time. In addition, make sure your exhaust pipe is clear of snow, ice, standing water, or anything else that hinders the exhaust fumes from escaping.
  • Do I really have to mention propane heaters? If you are tired of your life, go ahead and try running one inside your vehicle.
  • That one candle… may actually keep you alive! Now, I have used candles before in order to stay warm, but I’d much rather rely on layers. Don’t expect miracles; a candle will not keep you comfortably warm.
  • Being invisible can be rather difficult. Who wants to worry about the authorities when trying to stay safe and warm? Unfortunately, an increasing number of cities view homelessness as some sort of crime and make our lives more difficult than it already is. During the winter, a person inside a vehicle equals fogged up windows. It´s a dead giveaway. Thanks to the gentleman who made this Youtube video, we now know that a sock full of kitty litter takes care of the issue.Considering that he intended the video for people who experience fogged up windows after entering the vehicle (and not while sleeping in it), I increased the number of socks from one to three. So far, it works great. We´ll see how good they are this winter!  (Oh btw., don´t be an idiot, like I was, and try filling the socks in your vehicle. You will have kitty litter everywhere for the next month!) In addition, cracking a couple windows will decrease fogging as well.

Sleeping Bags

Similarly to onesies, a sleeping bag keeps you tucked in safely and ensures that your body heat can´t escape. While it makes sense to buy a sleeping bag with an extreme temperature rating, these can be very expensive. Alternatively, you can purchase a regular sleeping bag and add some extra padding on top or on the inside. I recently made a couple sleeping bag inserts that add a layer of insulation and save money by allowing me to wash the inserts instead of the actual bag. I made one out of cotton and one out of fleece.

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Another important piece of advise: Get off the ground. Try to get some padding (cardboard boxes, yoga mats, mattress, anything really) or elevate yourself (bench, vehicle, etc.). I´ve slept on the ground several times before and unless you manage to heat up the ground with your body, you´ll never get warm. In the winter, forget about it!

Too Darn Cold

Even the hardiest of us can get overwhelmed by extreme temperatures. It’s not all about the physical challenge, but persistent cold weather can wear you down emotionally as well.

  • Try adding a little wellness and relaxation to your week. For example, if you have a fitness center membership (which I strongly recommend) make use of the sauna and/or hot tub. Treat yourself. Go to the movies. Or watch a documentary in the library. Go to a concert, an opera, somewhere you can get your mind off of your worries.
  • When shit hits the fan… don’t be afraid to admit that it is too cold. Call a friend or family member, hang out inside a Walmart, 24 hour fitness center, find a homeless shelter, a church, a police station, a hospital, somewhere warm, if you can’t stay warm enough to survive. Hypothermia often goes unnoticed until it is too late. This website offers a short overview regarding this condition. Also, if you are helping someone who is about to freeze to death, make sure the person does not undress herself. The phenomenon isn’t very well understood, but some individuals on the verge of freezing will experience a sudden subjective feeling of intense heat and thus try to rid themselves of their clothes.

That´s it; I hope you will find this helpful. Do you have additional advice? Leave a comment!

Stay Warm!

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