Winter Survival Tips From People Who Live in Cold-Ass Climates

Surviving a Cold Climate Man Repeller

Oh no, it’s cold.

I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, where the first crocuses stumbled out of the soil in February, and by the spring equinox — my birthday — the world was green and lush, the rhododendrons a lip-smacking pink on the branch.

Then I moved east.

What’s so bad about winter? I thought. Who could complain about the way the snow brings a silence that makes it seem as though you’ve stepped back in time? That optimism held through the crisp-chill of November, the melancholy sparkle of December, right through until about January 15th, when I first felt the snot inside my nose freeze into solid hunks as soon as I stepped outside and thought, Oh holy hell, this is winter.

There is nothing good about winter after January; there is nothing to look forward to except its end, or the brief interludes you can spend away from it, like that spring break trip to Cancun you swore you’d never take but are clamoring to book come March 1st. By May in New England, where I now live, I tend to forget that there are any seasons other than “unending bleakness.”

But since moving to Boston, I’ve met people who actually seem to thrive during winter. One friend even heads further north, to her cabin in Maine. She sends photos of sunripe days on black-blue ice, her friends skating for hours in the cold silence. “People there just don’t let winter affect them,” she says. “On New Year’s Eve we all bundle up and snowshoe to the top of the mountain and drink champagne. It’s amazing.”

As many of us are staring down the frozen barrel of another five months of cold weather, I asked a few people who have lived through extreme winter to share their survival strategies. Please share your own in the comments, please friend, I’m just so cold.

Surviving a Cold Climate Man Repeller

Listen to the Fireplace (or Scented Candle) Roar

“Embrace your home. I cook a lot. Connecting with goddesses of the home and hearth makes me feel like I’m being intentional and working with the season to improve the health of my family and myself.”
-Taylor, Minnesota

“Work on perfecting recipes like soup and bread that take a long time on the heat. Standing at the stove warms you up, and the radiant heat warms the whole room.”
-Jillian, the mountains of Lesotho

“Hygge has been done to death, but the Danes really want to spend time indoors. We hurry home after work, light some candles, and eat some kind of seasonal cookie or pastry. And cuddle!”
-Phoebe, Denmark

“The winter months are historically a good time to take up tarot or other forms of divination. Once, when the power went out, we made vision boards by the light of a lantern. The early dark days are perfect for taking candlelit baths, and celebrating solstice (return of the light) always felt like a good way to remind myself that we were over the hump and it would be warm again…in five months.”
Taylor, Minnesota

“Create activities and projects for yourself to do at night. The long nights are the worst part. It’s dark for so many hours and you can go crazy alone. Make lists of dumb fun stuff so you’re not just shivering, staring at a wall.”
Jillian, the mountains of Lesotho

Surviving a Cold Climate Man Repeller

Baby, It’s Cold Outside (But You’re Going Out Anyway)

“The thing that got me through five years of Michigan winters was Cute Nights. You don’t actually have to dress up for Cute Nights. Cute is a state of mind! Put aside the misery of the weather and whatever winter stresses you have and just Be Cute for a couple hours. My best friend and I would go to a cozy speakeasy-type bar every Wednesday and get appetizers and Manhattans and hang out, just the two of us, somewhere warm and atmospheric and inviting.”
Chloe, Michigan

“My first winter here, I got weirdly into winter mythology. I made a point to take a walk in the woods or on the frozen river each day to connect with the spirits of nature. It sounds a little nuts, but reading about Cailleach, the Ruler of Winter in Gaelic folklore, helped me feel like a badass for braving an extreme climate. I took classes on fire-making, bow building, etc. Learning primitive winter survival skills made me feel like I had some power over the season.”
Taylor, Minnesota

“Make nighttime plans well in advance, and stick to them. When the sun sets at 3:30 p.m. and it’s freezing, the only thing that gets me out of the house is the commitment to my friends and to the Hot Toddy I make to pump myself up. We do a themed potluck dinner series where we rotate hosts, consume copious amounts of wine and cheese, and always have a dance party while we’re taking care of the dishes. Recent themes have included turtlenecks, potatoes, and bold lipstick. Community and human interaction are the best combatants to winter isolation.”
Emily, Montreal

“If you dread shoveling snow, you’re never going to dig out to your car or go anywhere. But clearing that first hurdle makes everything so much easier. That means having easy access to a good shovel, one that is properly sized and stored somewhere convenient. And get some heavy duty, dedicated shoveling gloves so that you won’t be too miserable while clearing.”
-Marina, an island in Maine

Surviving a Cold Climate Man Repeller

Say, Lend Me a Coat (Also Some Long Underwear Thx)

“Buy winter gear you like and will actually use. My suggestions are North Face Denali gloves, basically any North Face Triclimate, and a handmade wool hat. High quality winter gear is expensive, for sure (you can find adequate stuff at Goodwill), but it’s investment worthy, if possible. My winter coat is my most worn piece of clothing — 8 years later it’s still going strong and I actually like wearing it.”
Marina, an island in Maine

“I keep a humidifier beside my bed and drink two liters of water daily. It makes a huge difference for dry skin. I switch over to a Boscia Charcoal balm as a cleanser, and follow that with a layer of Herbivore Botanicals Orchid Face Oil. And if I know I’m going to be outdoors, I’ll add a layer of cold cream or vaseline around my eyes and mouth.”
Katelyn, Edmonton

“Just wear all your clothes at once. My colleagues call this the ‘walking wardrobe’ method. I particularly relied on leggings with fleece on the inside, a fleece vest, and those Under Armour turtleneck base layers. This includes hats and socks when necessary, even while sleeping. Wear blankets as fashion.”
Jillian, the mountains of Lesotho

“In Denmark, people like to say, ‘It’s not actually cold, you are just wearing the wrong clothing.’ It sounds like a no-brainer, but people here just know how to layer. I’ve invested in a ‘flyverdragt,’ which is essentially an all-in-one snowsuit you slip over everything to stay warm and dry, which lets you ride your bike all winter long.”
Phoebe, Denmark

“Use winter as the impetus for finally cutting off all your hair. You don’t want wet hair. It will freeze.”
Jillian, the mountains of Lesotho

Surviving a Cold Climate Man Repeller

Waves Upon a Tropical Shore (Spring Break!!!)

“There’s no reason to wait until summer to have fun. My friends and I throw summer-themed parties — we once had a margarita and pop punk party in our living room.”
Taylor, Minnesota

“When the sun is out and you aren’t chained to your desk, be outside. It seems counterintuitive to be outside on a cold day, but you need vitamin D. Adjust your schedule to accommodate this by waking up earlier. Really, every minute that the sun is out, you should be up and moving and soaking in the light. And if you can, get a dog. Watching my dog play in the snow makes me laugh and feel so grateful for the weather, instead of being bitter that my outhouse froze over again.”
Jillian, the mountains of Lesotho

“Leave! If you can, plan trips to warm places. Puerto Rico in January is the perfect escape.”

Taylor, Minnesota

“Try to change your mindset about the cold. Danes believe that the cold, fresh air makes the perfect sleeping environment for babies. Everyone leaves their babies sleeping in strollers outside of cafes, restaurants, and shops, and this is especially deliberate in winter. If babies can enjoy the cold sun, you can, too.”
Phoebe, Denmark

Collages by Madeline Montoya.

Meghan Nesmith

Meghan Nesmith

Author Meghan Nesmith is a writer and editor living in Boston.

More from Archive