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How to Keep Warm Playing Winter Sports in a Cold Climate

Techy Gran grew up in one of Canada's coldest provinces and shares information for others on how to make it safely through the winter.

All the great hockey players played on outdoor rinks, or so the myth goes.

All the great hockey players played on outdoor rinks, or so the myth goes.

Warm Bodies Playing Cold Sports

A good part of my life has been spent in one of Canada's coldest provinces: Saskatchewan. Surprisingly, 31 out of 100,000 residents of that frigid province live to be 100 years or older, the greatest longevity of any province or territory in Canada.

Canada, as a country, currently provides about 43% of hockey players to the National Hockey League (NHL). Over the years, most hockey players in the NHL have come from Saskatchewan (2.5 of 100,000 population).

When I grew up, there was no real technology behind staying warm as a hockey player. Many of the boys and girls played hockey outdoors on ponds, neighbourhood streets or flooded yards and rinks in parks.

Most often, kids played on organized teams in rinks. Although the rinks generally began to rely on "artificial" ice inside a building, the place was still pretty cold, but nothing like playing on the ponds or in the schoolyards where children might chase a puck around at temperatures in the range of 0 degrees down as a low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit/Celsius. A smelly 'heated' shack was often where the kids went to warm up. There is still pond and outdoor public skating. It is a tradition in all the cold winter countries.

In the old days (up until the 1970s), kids just threw on their gear and headed towards the door with their skates draped over their shoulders before their mothers noticed and could call them back and insist on an extra undershirt, mittens, or a wool scarf.

They were a stoic crowd.

Roch Carrier (as a child). He wrote "The Hockey Sweater," a story about a boy who outgrew his Montreal Canadiens hockey sweater and when his mother reordered, they were sent a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater by mistake—wonderful story and now a musical.

Roch Carrier (as a child). He wrote "The Hockey Sweater," a story about a boy who outgrew his Montreal Canadiens hockey sweater and when his mother reordered, they were sent a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater by mistake—wonderful story and now a musical.

A Grandmother's Suggestions for Staying Warm During the Game

  • Eat enough to fire up your energy. Calories from carbohydrates are highly recommended. Porridge sticks to your ribs. Ask your grandma if you need menu suggestions.
  • Wool wicks moisture away better so you stay warmer. Dress in layers.
  • Wear a wool toque/beanie. Warm air escapes from the top of your head. Keep your ears covered because they freeze fast, as do your other tender protrusions: nose, lips, fingers. Wear a scarf or a ski-mask (balaclava) to cover your face. Fasten your mittens on a string and pull them through your jacket sleeves if you tend to leave them somewhere.
  • Grow a beard if possible.
  • When you aren't actually part of the action, be sure to keep moving. Jiggle up and down. Rub your arms. Clap your hands. Do jumping jacks. Okay, maybe not jumping jacks. Try to get into the game.
  • Go warm up as often as you can in the dressing room/washroom/warm up shack.
  • If your hands get really cold, remove one mitten and join both hands, rubbing each other and clasped together, inside one mitten.
Snow Ball: Football in the snow . . . brrr.

Snow Ball: Football in the snow . . . brrr.

Football Players Check-In

Playing football and soccer outside, like hockey, involve physical contact, often with the frozen tundra. Here are some helpful suggestions from NFL players for avoiding hypothermia:

  • Rub a lot of Vaseline (petroleum jelly) on arms if you are running with those exposed. It is messy but really does act as a sort of insulator from the wind. Read up on cautions about using vaseline on other body parts (lips, etc.)
  • Have a hot chocolate or a chicken soup at the intermission time, and cozy up to a heat source then.
  • Dressing in layers is a given, especially with socks or gloves, although now players often use little battery-operated hand warmers taped on top of their feet under cleats, in their gloves, and taped inside the ear hole of the helmet.
  • If available, take advantage of the pre-heated helmet warmers before the game or your head will freeze on contact with the frozen helmet.
  • Sit on warm benches (up to 40 degrees Fahrenheit).
  • Keep hydrated with water and electrolyte drinks (Gatorade, Pediolyte) before and during the game.

Gel Packs Keep Your Fingers Alive

A gel pack can be used to heat up pockets. The gel pack is heated in the microwave oven and then placed in the pockets of the jacket to warm it up along the flanks and allow for warming of the hands. There are several sorts of chemical heating packs that have been used over the years, but the rechargeable battery pack appears to have caught on as being effective, safe, convenient, and environmentally friendly.

This little girl is not dressed to Canadian standards, but she is very cute.

This little girl is not dressed to Canadian standards, but she is very cute.

DIY Hand Warmers

You can make hand warmers by using a couple of Ziploc bags (one fits inside the other, so one large, one medium or small), some salt (we use the kind that we put on walks to melt the ice here in Canada, which you can buy from the hardware store), and tap water.

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Battery-Heated Outerwear

The concept of battery-heated outerwear took a long time to hit the store racks and regular people's backs in this Canada, this land of overwhelming winter. I think we all heard about battery-heated mittens back in the 70s. Most of us didn't know that motorcyclists, skiers, and other more elite winter athletes were plugging into battery-operated heated outerwear in the 1990s. The closest many of us came to electrically-heated comfort was the driver's battery-heated car seat.

The human body strives to produce and retain heat under environmentally chilling conditions not just for health reasons, but also to be comfortable. In very cold weather, it is necessary to keep moving, to metabolize to produce heat. Shivering is the hypothermic body's last-ditch attempt to pump up the heat.

Traditional cold-weather outerwear is often bulky and prone to get damp (and then cold) with precipitation or overheating that produces sweat (as in the fellow who shovels snow from his driveway.) One must keep moving to keep warm. The stress of being cold and wet takes its toll on the immune system.

Well, the age of battery-heated outerwear has arrived! For about the cost of a vacation for one to Hawaii for two weeks on the beach in January, you can outfit yourself and your favourite grandkids to keep warm in those white-out walks in a prairie blizzard. (I forget, why do people live where they have blizzards?) You can even get a battery-heated mat, bed and bowl for Bowzer (bowl?) so that he doesn't have to be uncomfortably chilly either.

For example, an Ororo women's soft-shell heated jacket can be warmed up, in 3 heat zones on your back and chest, to a satisfying 113 degrees Fahrenheit (whew, that's hotter than on the beach in Hawaii).

  • The technology is such that you can turn the temperature up and down (like an old-fashioned, pre-computerized home thermostat) for comfort and for convenience, the ultra-slim battery pack does not have to be re-charged for up to five hours (*depending on how high you are hiking that baby up).
  • The shell has three handy layers that resist light rain and snow, act as a windbreaker, and the laminate layer helps the jacket to breathe so you don't over-heat.
  • Inside cuffs and cinch cords at the waist prevent heat from escaping or cold from coming in.


© 2010 Cynthia Zirkwitz


Cynthia Zirkwitz (author) from Vancouver Island, Canada on May 09, 2020:

Thanks for coming by and reading about some possible ways to alleviate the negative features of cold winter weather. Cold winter climates can make for very strong and long-living peoples, but like you, I prefer to live somewhere more moderate.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on May 07, 2020:

Useful information. I can not withstand winter. It is really piercing.

Cynthia Zirkwitz (author) from Vancouver Island, Canada on December 12, 2019:

Yes, this is likely never going to be an issue for the people of California. Where I live-- West Coast on Vancouver Island-- it doesn't often freeze or snow either, although we do have a ski mountain near where we live and they did the training for the Winter Olympics there a couple of years ago. Thanks for reading and your comments!

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on December 12, 2019:

I live in the Central Valley of California and we don't get much colder than 32 degrees around here. I had never heard of vaseline as an insulator. Good to know.



Cynthia Zirkwitz (author) from Vancouver Island, Canada on January 14, 2015:

Hi Diyana, I'm thinking you are talking about military-designed weather-wear by DefCon5? Pretty funny! Thanks for dropping by and commenting.

Dear RTalloni- Thank you for dropping by and commenting! I no longer live in the cold heartland, but I can say that there have been a lot of improvements in outdoor garb since I was a girl, 50+ years ago, and children get driven and picked up more often than we ever did. I would now agree that wearing all the products at once would probably be most comfortable way to go, and thanks for the link to the hand warmers! ~Cynthia

RTalloni on January 13, 2015:

Having grown up in Florida, now that we live in the Carolinas I love to see fluffy white stuff and to play in it for a while but I would definitely have to have the heat controlled jacket if I lived further north. I know it's a different kind of cold, but child, cold is cold. My best friend this time of year is HotHands, , but I'm not sure all of their products used at once would meet the need of a Canadian prairie winter!

Diiyana on December 27, 2014:

I was seruoisly at DefCon 5 until I saw this post.

Cynthia Zirkwitz (author) from Vancouver Island, Canada on October 18, 2010:

thanks for your comments ed... i believe that a battery-heated pair of gloves or a vest would not go amiss even in this tropical british

ed on October 18, 2010:

Do I still wish I was in Saskatchewan? NO. But maybe I would have checked this out if they were available then.

But of course much of Canada is cold during what can be a long winter.

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