Your guide to getting outside this winter — yes, even if it’s really, really cold — and being happy about it.

Winter is not traditionally a month of languid outdoor activity. And not being able to linger in places that are not your home, bundling your face for every outing, rushing past others on the sidewalk with your head bent — these sensations have become the general feeling of 2020.

But hear me out: without downplaying just how difficult this pandemic winter will be, it also has the potential to be a really nice winter for those of us lucky enough to just be extremely bored right now. Suddenly, everyone agrees that the frigid outdoors is actually the best place to be right now. And there’s never been more plentiful advice for how to stay outside as long as humanly possible. If there’s one thing this winter may be good for, maybe it’ll teach us all to slow down a little, explore our own backyards, and go beyond what we usually think of as quality cold outdoor time.

“The true goal of winter clothing is to create a layer of (warm) air that you carry around with you.”

But first things first: you’re going to want to nail your strategy for creating a personal warmth bubble. You will be astounded at how easy it is to brave the cold if you just know a few tricks. And there are all kinds of folks who hang out in the snow for a living whose tips we can steal this winter. Their rules are not always as intuitive as “lots of warm layers!” but they do apply to everyday clothing, so you don’t have to invest in a Gore-Tex suit or an expedition-grade parka.

The basic idea: you have everything you need already — your own body warmth. As dogsledder Blair Braverman writes, “the true goal of winter clothing is to create a layer of (warm) air that you carry around with you.” For your innermost layers, it’s actually more important to go for materials that discourage moisture and sweating than a thick layer right off the bat. Building out from there, focus on bulky and loose layers that trap air and keep wind out. This illustrated guide to dressing like an onion from NPR is a handy little visual. If you’re going to be moving, there’s a reason lots of athletes go by the “ditch one layer before you head out the door” rule — you’re going to warm up quickly, and you’ll stay warmer if you’re not trapped in a ball of your own sweat. If you’re going to be sitting on a patio drinking hot cocoa, paranoia is the way to go: there’s no shame in wearing the longest jacket, busting out the handwarmers, and maybe even tucking a hot water bottle into your jacket. You’re not going anywhere fast, are you?

 
 

Your face mask is going to do some heavy lifting as the temperatures drop, too. It’s time to break out the thick masks that seemed like a smart idea during the summer but truly, who wanted to put that on their face at the time? The CDC’s recommended cotton face mask now feels replete with possibility: there are double-layered masks, masks covered in warm and fuzzy materials, masks that double as earmuffs. If you’re going to be on the move and want something more breathable and stay-put — we’ll point out that performance balaclavas are very much a thing this year.

What you do now, resplendent in your warm personal pocket of air, is not a matter of what gear you own or whether you consider yourself a hardy person who knows 20 different ways to slide down a hill. Some of the things that will make this winter memorable will be the everyday activities: an evening walk in the snow, some frigid stargazing, morning coffee sipped outside just a little earlier than you’d usually be willing to breathe in that chilly air. You may want to invest in small luxuries to make your most regular activities that much more pleasant: a great thermos, some traction cleats you can quickly attach to any pair of shoes. 

“I personally will be thinking about this winter as a kind of hibernation, a time dedicated to quiet and rest and reflection, and that kind of mindful pause can help us come out the other side of the pandemic with a clearer sense of what’s important to us and how we want to live our lives.”

For group gatherings, this is the time of year (and year in general) to lean into hot drinks and comfort food. Having more to burn will quite literally keep you warmer; the likes of polar explorers always make sure to stock up on calorie-rich foods like nuts, or even better, nuts in the form of Snickers bars. You could turn staying warm into the centerpiece activity — now’s the time to learn how to build a fire and up the ante on your game of charades. And if you’re all feeling especially adventurous, you could go a step beyond enjoying the cold and have a shock-inducing (in a nice way?) cold-weather swim at the end of the night.

It turns out that by doing any of these things, you’ll be participating in the beloved Norwegian tradition of friluftsliv, or embracing low-key time outside because it’s cold. It’s exactly the mindset that could bring a sense of peace, and even purpose, to this strange new winter. Not to mention, it has the (intended) side effect of making your indoor time feel that much cozier. Take it from Kari Leibowitz, a Stanford scholar who studies how Norwegians thrive in the winter: “I personally will be thinking about this winter as a kind of hibernation, a time dedicated to quiet and rest and reflection, and that kind of mindful pause can help us come out the other side of the pandemic with a clearer sense of what’s important to us and how we want to live our lives.”