I love summer, heat, and sweat, and for a few months each year I get to enjoy my favorite seasonal temperatures. For the other 8-9 months, living in Vermont means living in cool to freeze-your-ass-off temperatures. Heading to work in below-freezing temperatures and sending kids to school knowing they will be outside for significant stretches of recess time as long as it’s above zero puts some ruggedness into your step and adds a chip to your shoulder.
Let me be clear: I don’t enjoy my eyelashes freezing or losing feeling in my fingertip during quick trips in and out of the house, but having spent the last 20 years in Vermont has turned me into someone who has little sympathy for people who complain about being too cold when it’s not even cold enough to snow. I promise you that chilly temps don’t have to keep you indoors, though. And since we are sliding into a pandemic winter faster than creepy men slide into my DMs, let’s have a chat about ways we can still be outdoors even when the temperatures drop because it’s still safest to socialize outside.
Invest In Proper Gear
Your best bet for enjoying outdoor socialization is to have the proper outdoor clothing. With the right boots, gloves, hats, etc. you can easily keep yourself warm even in frigid temps. I realize this may be an extra expense but it’s also an investment in your mental and physical health. If you can’t afford to buy brand new gear, look for gear swaps at local sports or retail stores. Used clothing shops and Facebook Marketplace are also great ways to find used but quality boots, snow pants, and jackets. When I get moving, either on a walk or a run, I often end up taking off a layer or unzipping my jacket while outside. If you can’t stay active or don’t want to, hand warmers can also be used to keep you more comfortable while outside. Some people use the disposable, single use HotHands in pockets, boots, and gloves to stay toasty. Consult with your physician before use if you have sensitive skin or other conditions that could limit your use.
I am not suggesting you need to become a winter Olympian, but there are so many winter sports you can try alone or with a friend and still maintain social distancing. Downhill or cross-country skiing, ice skating, ice hockey, snowshoeing, ice fishing, and sledding can all be done outside and within safe CDC guidelines when visiting parks and outdoor facilities. Most equipment can be borrowed or rented, so check out your local sports store or parks and recreation department to see if you can try gear before investing in a new hobby you might not like. Don’t be afraid to fail; new adventures can be intimidating but even the worst is usually funny later. And honestly, can it get much worse, people? Bring along a thermos with coffee or hot chocolate (or something stronger if you can enjoy it responsibly) or add a fire to the mix to make it even more fun and social. If nothing else you, will be in open air watching other people roll off of sleds or fall on their asses on the outdoor rink. If you don’t want to deal with people, consider setting up an ice rink in your yard.
One year a friend of mine set up an outdoor scavenger hunt that required us to use maps and a compass. It didn’t end well for my team, but it was a lot of fun and helped make a cold and dreary day a lot better. Also, night sledding is pretty awesome when you add headlamps and glow sticks.
Screw It, You Want To Sit
Walking, sporting, snow stuff isn’t your thing. I get it. You want to be warm and idle and still able to see your friends. Gear alone isn’t always going to do the trick when it comes to being outside without physical activity so that great, old fashioned invention called fire may be your best bet. Homemade and purchased fire pits are relatively inexpensive ways to keep you warm while (socially distanced) close to your loved ones. Depending on your budget, you could invest in a fire ring that burns natural gas or runs on propane. Call your local government to see what the backyard recreational fire laws are in your town. And please use your fire pits responsibly.
Outdoor heat or warming lamps are great options too but can get expensive. If you are saving money on travel or other usual pre-pandemic activities it may be worth it, though. Be sure to follow the instructions and if you know kids are going to be around, be vigilant about setting boundaries and teaching them how to safely navigate around them.
After the experience I had with the small above ground pool I installed for my children this summer, I am not spending money on anything that isn’t professionally installed—and I don’t have money for that. But like backyard inflatable pools were all of the rage this summer, inflatable hot tubs are gaining traction this winter. If you have lots of extra money to spend, a permanent hot tub can be a lovely and sweaty option to stay warm while outside. These spaces are smaller so be sure you can enjoy them while maintaining space with someone who doesn’t live in your house. And consult your physician if you are worried about the risks of submerging yourself in hot water.
This pandemic is exhausting and I know you are tired, but keep going. Gear up, get out, and do your best to enjoy some fresh air with a friend even if it means bitching about crummy weather. It will be worth it.