How Do You Stay Warm Shoveling Snow?

Dress Right to Avoid Discomfort -- or Even Frostbite

Man shoveling snow
Sonia Jansson / Folio Images/ Getty Images

How do you stay warm shoveling snow? It is not a trivial question, since frostbite is possible in extreme cases. The key to staying warm obviously lies in how you dress, but the devil is in the details.

Stay Warm Shoveling Snow by Dressing in Layers

First and foremost, dress in layers when shoveling snow, especially up top, so that your vital organs are protected from the cold. The layers trap warm air, effectively insulating your body.

For example, to keep your torso warm, wear:

  1. A long underwear top
  2. A sweatshirt
  3. An insulated vest

Dressed in this manner, you will stay warm while shoveling snow but maintain your flexibility. An insulated vest works better than a long winter coat, because such a vest impedes your movements less. Since shoveling snow is essentially a "workout," flexibility is important.

Protect Your Head and Hands

Besides dressing in layers, be sure to keep your head and extremities warm while shoveling snow. Most of our body heat escapes through the head, making it critical to wear a warm winter hat, such as a stocking cap, on very cold days. If you find that your ears get cold in spite of your wearing a warm hat, you can place ear muffs right over the hat to insulate your ears further from the cold. If the temperature is fluctuating between freezing and above freezing, you could encounter some rain while you are shoveling snow.

To avoid getting your stocking cap wet, you might want to supplement it with a hat meant for protection from the rain.

Wear hand protection that is warm but flexible. This issue brings up the old mittens versus gloves debate. When comparing mittens and gloves of the same quality and made of the same material, mittens keep your hands warmer than do gloves, for two reasons:

  1. Mittens allow your fingers to stay in contact with each other and share their warmth.
  2. With gloves, more surface area is exposed to the cold, as your individual fingers jut out like little peninsulas into a frigid ocean.

This extra warmth does, however, come at a cost. Gloves are more flexible than mittens and will allow you to grip the snow shovel better. In my estimation, the added flexibility more than makes up for the small loss in warmth.

Besides, if your fingers are especially prone to getting cold in winter, you can now buy heated gloves. There are various kinds of heated gloves. Some run on a battery. In other cases, the heat is generated by chemicals. In this latter type of heated glove, you sometimes activate the heat by applying pressure to an activation disc. Other times, heating up is accomplished by using a microwave oven. Either way, you improve your chances of keeping your fingers warm throughout your shoveling session.

Don't Overlook Footwear and Those In-Between Places

Wear water-proof boots and insulated socks so that your feet stay warm while you are shoveling snow. One of the surest ways to feel cold is to get your feet wet. For extra insurance that your feet will stay dry, bring your pant legs right down over the tops of your boots and secure them with elastics.

That way, there is less chance that snow can get over the tops of your boots and fall down onto your feet. If you are worried about your hands getting wet, you can likewise seal the gap in between your wrists and your hands by bringing your sleeves over your gloves and securing them in place with elastics.

While on the subject of sealing gaps in your winter attire, do not overlook the importance of that classic piece of winter wear, the scarf. It is particularly important to keep your throat protected from the elements during cold and flu season -- which is precisely when you will be shoveling most of that accursed snow off your driveway. You can use these same tips to keep the kids warm while they are doing something much more fun with the snow than shoveling it: namely, making a snowman.