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A Beginner's Guide to Working Outside: Essential Dos and Don'ts

Are you trading in office life for something a little more hands-on? Maybe you’ve just bought a property that needs more outdoor maintenance than you thought. Or maybe you’re taking up a hobby or sport that puts you outside in the elements. In any case, spending a lot of time outdoors means you need to follow some of the basic rules of staying warm, dry and safe.

At RefrigiWear, we celebrate the hard-working folks who go outside and get the job done every day. Whether it’s on a ranch, an oil field, a fishing boat or anywhere else that people are on the job outdoors, we make the ultimate all-weather workwear they need. We’ve been at it since all the way back in 1954, and we like to think we’ve got a little bit of expertise about what it takes to work outside. But we were all new at our jobs once, so we’d like to share some of that wisdom we’ve learned along the way.

1. DO stay hydrated.

Drinking plenty of water is important for everyone, but people who work outside in the cold need it more than most. You likely won’t feel as thirsty when it’s cold out, making you less likely to keep fluids on hand and to drink enough of them. You can help make sure you’re getting enough hydration in cold weather by taking some simple steps recommended by doctors.

  • Keep drinking water even when you’re not thirsty.
  • Know the symptoms of dehydration like headaches, dry skin, light-headedness and feeling tired.
  • Bring some warm, non-caffeinated drinks like decaf or herbal hot tea with you.
  • Drink extra water if you’re doing a lot of manual labor outside—you’ll still be sweating, even if you don’t realize it immediately.

2. DON’T drink too much caffeine.

There’s nothing like a hot coffee on a cold day—but enjoy it in moderation. Caffeine dehydrates your body, so it’s actually working against you in many ways when you’re working outside in the cold. It’s also worth noting that drinking a hot beverage doesn’t do all that much for your body temperature. Instead, it’s a short-acting boost that makes you feel better in the moment but not for the long-term, so don’t rely on hot drinks for keeping warm.

3. DO choose what you’re wearing by how active you’ll be.

If you’re doing an outside job that involves lots of physical activity, such as landscaping or logging, your body will probably work up enough heat that you should choose a slightly lighter option for your workwear. This kind of work usually also means you need more flexibility in your gear so that you can bend, stretch and lift with no trouble.

If you’re mostly sitting in one place in a cold environment—as a machinery operator for instance—you’ll probably need more heavy-duty protection but less flexibility. Only you know what your job involves, so think about what kind of protection you’ll need. At RefrigiWear, we’ve got you covered, no matter your activity level.

  • For more active folks, we’ve got great new choices for light but tough workwear that keeps you warm without restricting movement. Insulated bib overalls give you a full range of upper body motion with serious cold protection. Combine that with some flexible upper body protection, like our PolarForce™ Sweatshirt with built-in Performance Flex™ technology, and you’ve got the perfect team.
  • If you’re braving the cold while driving a forklift or using other big machinery, you might want something thicker like our legendary Iron-Tuff line. From parkas to coveralls, Iron-Tuff’s iconic technology has been serving outdoor workers for over 50 years, including the folks who braved the brutal Alaska winters to build the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline.

4. DON’T neglect your headwear.

The old idea that you lose 80 percent of your body heat through your head isn’t true—you lose about as much as through any other part of your body. But what is true is that if you’re all bundled up otherwise but missing your headwear, your head is the “hot zone” that’s giving your heat away. RefrigiWear has tons of options for cold-weather headgear. Whatever level of protection you need, we’ve got you covered.

  • Our classic knit caps are stylish, low-profile and ultra-warm. We offer them in a ton of styles, including hi-vis, skinny caps, fat caps and more.
  • For when you need full face and head protection, try our masks and balaclavas.
  • If you want some light protection for a chilly fall day, our RefrigiWear ball caps are a great choice.
  • Gaiters and headbands are some other versatile and comfortable headwear choices with ultra-warm designs.

5. DO use layers to stay equipped for any temperature.

Layering up is important for any time you’ll be outside in the cold, but especially when you’re hard at work. The concept is super-simple but effective: if the weather starts to warm up, you can remove layers until you’re comfortable—and, in the meantime, each layer keeps doing the job that it’s designed for. There are plenty of different strategies you can use to layer up, but most of them break down into three basic parts.

  • Bottom Layer: Closest to the skin, you should use a moisture-wicking layer to help keep your skin dry and warm, like our Sport Wick Long Sleeve. (See tip number seven below.)
  • Middle Layer: The middle layer is typically the layer where you’ll put the most insulation so that heat doesn’t escape from your body. This is a good layer for a fleece or another light but well-insulated top like our Thermal Lined Sweatshirt.
  • Outer Layer: A good outer layer helps you fight against weather conditions by blocking out wind, snow and rain. In heavy conditions, parkas make a great outer layer, such as our Chillbreaker® Parka.

6. DON’T drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes when you’re working.

Most people wouldn’t think of drinking on the job anyway, but it bears repeating: Alcohol and cold weather work don’t mix. It might initially make you feel warm, but it’s doing more harm than good. Number one, it’ll dehydrate you, which—again—is always bad. And number two, alcohol has some effects that can lower your body’s core temperature rather than raising it—so it’s a bad deal all around.

Meanwhile, smoking cigarettes is never good for your health, but it’s way worse in the winter. Your blood pressure is already higher in the winter, and smoking can make it worse and increase the risk of heart disease. It also increases your risk of getting sick with a cold or the flu, so skip the smokes whenever you’re working in the cold.

7. DO keep your body dry.

Keeping your body dry is one of the most important things you can do to stay warm. And what’s often your number-one enemy when you’re trying to keep your body dry? Your own sweat. Once sweat cools on your skin, it can quickly make your body much colder and even contribute to hypothermia.

That’s why you need a moisture-wicking fabric layer under your clothes, especially if your job is more active. Moisture-wicking fabric draws or “wicks” the moisture away from your skin and collects it in a fast-drying fabric. That can make all the difference when it comes to keeping your body warm and dry. RefrigiWear has great moisture-wicking products designed especially for working outdoors in the cold like the Sport Wick Long Sleeve and the Flex-Wear Bottom.

8. DON’T neglect your sunscreen.

Sunburn in the winter? Is that even possible? Unfortunately, that’s a big “yes,” and it happens a lot more often than you’d think. Understandably, most folks don’t even think about sunblock when it’s cold outside, but that doesn’t mean the sun’s gone away. It’s especially a problem if you’re working where there’s a lot of snow on the ground since the snow bounces the sun’s rays up to your skin and can give your face a nasty burn.

The risk also increases at higher elevations, so people who work at ski and snowboard resorts are particularly vulnerable. The bottom line? Even in the winter, you should put a coat of sunscreen with at least SPF 30 on exposed skin whenever you’ll be out in the sun for more than a few minutes—your skin will thank you!

9. DO protect yourself from scrapes, cuts and punctures.

Of course, you also have to think about concerns other than just temperature. You don’t want to get sidelined by a cut or a nail in your boot, so if that’s a concern in your work environment, choose your workwear accordingly.

RefrigiWear makes gear that’s as tough as it is warm. We’ve got rugged solutions for protection wherever you need it, like heavy-duty reinforced footwear to keep your feet from getting crushed or stepping on sharp objects. For your hands, try our line of rugged work gloves with features like molded impact resistance pads, cut resistant knits and ergonomic grip designs. Your hands and feet are some of your most valuable assets, so keep them safe!

10. DO make sure you’re fully equipped for the job.

Cold environments can require a lot of different special equipment to get the job done. Think about other things that will help you do your job in the cold besides just clothing—for many people, there’s a lot! Some of the accessories that RefrigiWear offers include:

  • A full range of HotHands Hand Warmers, including large-sized Body Warmers and long-lasting Super Warmers.
  • Insulated blankets to cover and protect cold-sensitive cargo.
  • Braces and sleeves to protect your body and keep your most important muscles in good shape.
  • Safety glasses to protect your eyes from flying debris, machinery and other hazards.

11. DON’T dismiss the warning signs of hypothermia or frostbite.

There are some things you just don’t mess with—hypothermia and frostbite are both on that list. You need to know the warning signs of these dangerous conditions and be aware enough to spot them. If you suspect you or someone else might have one of these serious problems, get them somewhere warm right away and get medical help. You can die from hypothermia, and frostbite can create permanent injuries including losing fingers and toes, so take action if you see the signs.

Hypothermia

  • Weakness, confusion and feeling tired
  • Slurred speech
  • Shallow breathing
  • Shivering
Frostbite
  • Numbness (especially in fingers, toes and ears)
  • Skin changing color
  • Hard skin with a waxy appearance
  • Clumsiness

12. DO eat more calories when you’re working in the cold.

Working outside in the cold burns a whole lot of calories, so it’s a good idea to load up on extra fuel for your body. Complex carbohydrates, such as whole grain bread and pasta, are your friends here. Lean proteins, like beans and meat, are good too. For the best effect, you should eat them around two hours before you start work and eat between 2,400 and 4,000 calories per day if you’ll be outside for a long time.

13. DON’T work in the cold if you’re sick or injured.

Working in the cold when you’re not at 100 percent is a bad idea. Cold can make existing sickness or injuries worse, and you’ll be less productive when your body isn’t at its best. Try to rest and recover or work inside if you can instead.

14. DO expect the unexpected.

Remember, there’s a lot of things that can happen when you go up against the elements. You can’t be ready for everything, but you can make yourself more prepared and more attentive:

Check in with your co-workers to make sure everyone’s feeling good and staying warm.

Keep on the lookout for sudden weather changes by setting up alerts on your smartphone’s weather apps.

Pack some extra hand warmers, water and a first aid kit.

Make sure you know what to do in emergency situationsin the cold, and have a plan with your co-workers for how to handle it.

It definitely takes a tough person to suit up and get out in the cold to work—but with smart practices and well-insulated clothing from RefrigiWear, you can feel like a regular Ernest Shackleton. Just remember that when you put our garments on, we’re behind you every step of the way as you cut through the cold to get the job done!