By Haley Kennedy, Recovery Coach – 1.28.2022 –
Try to line up early for a spot in a local homeless shelter. If you are not able to or do not want to go to a shelter, find a good place to sleep. This can include overhangs that will protect you from rain or alleyways that are out of the wind. In extreme circumstances, you may have to find an area that is warm even if it is not permissible for you to be there; this can include hallways in apartment complexes, subways, public buildings or even unoccupied housing units. When you sleep at night, be sure it is somewhere warm. Hypothermia can set in while you are sleeping if you lack adequate warmth.
Avoid alcohol. Alcohol expands the blood vessels and can cause you to slip into hypothermia faster.
Hygiene is important to fight off illness. If possible, shower or wipe down, and change your socks and undergarments daily. Use clean clothing and try and not to sleep in the same clothing that you wear during the day.
Dressing yourself for the cold:
- Wear layers, but not too many, as it will make you sweat. Heavy sweaters, or sweatshirts made of cotton, or other natural materials help your body retain heat. Put mittens over your gloves – layering also works for your hands.
- Use long underwear, hats, gloves and scarves to cover exposed areas.
- Try to limit the use of synthetic materials: they can cause the skin to overheat and sweat.
- Clothing that is restrictive makes your body work harder than it has to in order to keep you warm.
- You can insulate yourself with multiple layers, but if you’re still cold, try newspaper. By crumpling it up and stuffing it between layers of clothing you can create insulating pockets of air that will help keep you warm. You could also try foam pieces or blankets between your clothing, both of which are much warmer than newspapers.
- Don’t use fiberglass insulation (often pink fibers between layers of paper, used in houses). The tiny glass fibers will cut your skin and could cause infection.
- Wear a coat/jacket at least one size larger than your normal size to make it easier to add more layers if the temperature falls.
- Think about using a plastic bag over you if you don’t have a waterproof layer: if you get wet, you get cold.
- If your socks get wet, make sure to dry your feet before changing them.
- Water resistant boots are great, but if you only have cloth shoes (like sneakers) you can put a plastic shopping bag over your socks then put on your shoes. It isn’t perfect but it will help to keep your feet dry.
Sleeping in cold weather:
- If you can’t find a tent, stringing up blankets from trees can help create a makeshift shelter.
- To keep your sleeping area clean and dry, try to set your tent up on a base (like a wood pallet) to keep your body off of the ground. You can also cover it with cardboard or plastic to help keep the space dry.
- You want to then cover the floor space with heavy blankets, a mat, or foam pieces. Air mattresses or pads will easily transmit the cold to your body.
- Plastic is not a good cover for your sleeping bag or body. Use plastic to line the floor of the sleeping area, or the outside of the tent.
- Make sure that you have enough space to stretch out to prevent cramping while you sleep when you’re setting up your sleeping area. If using a two-person tent, make sure this is the case for both people sleeping there.
- Try to get hot food right before you go to sleep. The meal can help you warm up and keep you warm enough to get into bed while your body still has heat. Keep in mind that fattier foods are going to be better for keeping you warm (cheese, canned beans, cream of mushroom/chicken soup)
- Try to avoid drinking at least an hour before you’re planned sleeping time. This’ll cut down on those annoying middle of the night bathroom breaks and will keep the warm air inside your tent.
- Go to bed when you’re warm. If it’s cold outside and you are cold going to bed, you’re not going to be able to warm yourself up. Do what it takes to get warm before you get under your blankets or into the sleeping bag. Run around, windmill your arms, do jumping jacks.
- A down filled sleeping bag that has is large enough to move around in is a good choice for the long winter sleep-out. But try not to breathe inside of it, so it doesn’t get damp.
- Wrap yourself with blankets and then get into the sleeping bag for maximum warmth.
- If you can find a metallic survival blanket, cover the torso area at least of your sleeping bag with the survival blankets.
- On particularly cold nights, you might have to stay awake and in motion to stay warm. A body in motion creates heat and will help you keep warm. If this means moving around during the night and resting during the day that may be a trade-off you will have to make. However, you must be cautious not to overheat and start sweating. When you sweat, you leave moisture trapped in your clothing and on your skin which can cool you down.
Using snow as an insulator:
- After heavy snowfall, use the snow to surround the base of your tent. This will keep the cold wind from blowing into the sleeping area and keep your space warmer.
- Use plastic to cover the outside of the tent to keep the snow from freezing which can cause leaks or tear your outer shell.
- Make sure to not allow snow to build up on your tent or get too deep on your walking paths.