Do remember when you were a kid and your mom always encouraged you to wear a hat when it was cold outside? “Cover your ears, or you’ll get too cold” I can still hear the words engraved into my mind. Turns out she was right. It’s important to know how to keep your head warm in winter. Wearing a hat puts a cap on your body heat. It keeps all that precious heat, you’ve worked hard to hold onto where it belongs. We know all about the importance of layering our feet, body and hands.
To keep your head warm in the winter cold you must keep your head dry and keep the heat in. Your level of activity will determine which type of hat and scarf will work best. The more active you are, the more you will sweat, and the more you will need a hat that will allow moisture to wick through it. And the more active you are the less warm of a hat you will need.
(Quick side note: If you are looking for winter clothing that will keep you warm in sub-zero temperatures even if you get wet, see my article “Fortress Clothing – My Review!“)
For a long time, scientists believed we lost most of our heat through our head. Well, turns out they were wrong. Yes, we lose body heat from our head, but it’s proportional. New research indicates the amount of heat lost through your head depends on your activity level, how much hair you have and don’t have, and if you’re a kid or an adult. Any area exposed to the bitter cold will lose body heat, quickly. So even thought scientists were wrong about how much heat is lost through your head, it’s still incredibly important to cover up! By keeping all areas of your body layered with the appropriate gear, the warmer you will be- from head to toe!
How We Lose Body Heat
To better understand the best ways to keep your head warm in winter, let’s take a crash course in thermal regulation. When it’s cold outside, our bodies naturally will lose heat. But, we can’t lose too much heat or we will die. To keep the body functioning, the warm blood tends to focus on the core. Any deviation of 98.6 degrees and our bodies start to act kinda funny. Anything below 95 degrees and hypothermia sets in. To keep the body temperature at a comfortable temperature we have to prevent the body heat from escaping- we do that by layering our clothing.
We lose our body heat through conduction, convection (wind), evaporation (sweat), respiration and radiation. According to medical experts, we lose about 65% of our body heat through radiation. Radiation happens when areas of your body are exposed to a temperature colder than your core temperature. So, if your hands aren’t covered or your neck is exposed in subzero weather-you are losing precious body heat, fast. To prevent rapid heat loss, you want to look for hats, neck warmers, and face masks that cut down on wind, wick away moisture and prevent body heat from escaping.
When you’re active, one of the first places to sweat is your forehead. When choosing a hat or face mask, make sure it’s made out of a material that will wick moisture. Merino wool and synthetic materials such as polyester and nylon are all great at keeping that sweat away. If your head stays dry, you will most likely feel pretty nice and toasty throughout your whole body. Merino wool is my all-time favorite moisture control material- it’s soft, cozy, insulating and keeps that sweat from soaking your hair and face. If there was an Oscar awards for fabrics, merino wool would get best supporting actor. Why not best actor? Because that’s you! The wool is supporting your effort to stay warm on a chilly day!
Why is it important to wear a hat in the winter? A hat is the best way to keep your head warm in the winter. Hats come in all shapes and sizes. There’s the Elmer Fudd inspired hat that covers your ears. Then, you have your basic beanie. With so many options, how do you find the right hat to keep you warm? Great question. Aside from style, there are few basic things to take into consideration when shopping for a hat. What will you be doing and what’s the weather going to be like?
In general, you want a hat that is waterproof, breathable, wind resistant and again, keeps moisture far away! You also want a hat that fits just right, not too big and not too small. If your hat is too big you risk not being able to see, for starters. Also, if your hat is too big all that heat your trying to capture, will find a way out of there. If your hat is too snug, it may not fit nicely over your ears- and you could lose body heat that way too. Try on the hat before you buy it!
When shopping for a hat look at the label. You want to stay away from anything made out of cotton. IF you’ve been following by blog, you know how I feel about cotton. Cotton kills because it basically acts like a giant sponge. If you sweat a lot, a cotton hat will hold onto that moisture and then turn on you. Then, you’re wearing a wet hat that’s starting to take away your body heat. There goes that hat and then your exposed to the cold weather. This is why you should avoid cotton at all costs. Stick with Merino wool, fleece, polyester, nylon, sheepskin or fur. These are all great choices to keep your head warm and keep the moisture away.
Cover Your Ears
Covering your ears plays an important role in keeping warm. Your ear canal is a direct route for the wind and cold weather to travel to into your body and make you cold. If you don’t like wearing a hat, or its not functional for you planned activity, ear muffs or a head wrap will help take the cold edge off! While I always recommend wearing a hat to stay warm, sometimes its just not feasible. Covering your ears also reduces your risk of frostbite and hypothermia.
Frostbite tends to take a hold on your extremities first: the hands, feet, nose, ears and cheeks. Some doctors also believe ears exposed to cold weather for a prolonged period of time can lead to hearing loss and tissue damage. Covering your ears will also keep your head warmer, for a few hours. If you are really active, then a fleece or wool headband might just be enough to keep your head warm.
However, if you watching your third grader play soccer on the sidelines in October, earmuffs might not cut it! Like winter hats, ear muffs should be made out of fleece, wool, or a synthetic material. If you choose to go with a cozy fleece ear warmer, make sure it has a wind resistant outer shell. Fleece naturally does not block the wind. But, there are several companies that have figured out a way to combine the cozy fleece with wind resistant outer layer.
Cover Your Neck
Your heck is home to a major artery. That artery is supplying blood between your heart, brain your face. The carotid artery is big and it carries a lot of warm blood. When left exposed in cold weather, you lose a lot of body heat. To keep you head warm and your entire body a little toastier, cover you neck! When shopping for a neck cover, remember to look at the label. You want to go with a fiber that will keep you insulated, wicks moisture away, and is breathable!
A scarf is a great to keep your neck covered from the harsh winter weather. Although, a scarf may not be the best option if you are highly active. Scarfs tend to shift and move around, depending on how well it’s tied around the neck. If you’re hiking, skiing or snowmobiling a loosely tied scarf will cause more trouble than it’s worth. You may find yourself tying and re-tying the scarf and in the process of doing so losing out on precious body heat. A scarf is a great choice for walk in the park or a low intensity activity like ice fishing or sitting a blind all day waiting for the perfect buck to come along.
A Neck Warmer is a great way to keep your head warm in the winter. Neck warmers are a great choice for someone who is hiking, ice climbing, skiing, cross country skiing and other high octane outdoor activities. Neck warmers come in all shapes, sizes and in a variety of fabrics. I love neck warmers because they fit just right on your neck and they keep a thin layer of body heat right next to your body. When shopping for neck warmers, you’ll find you have a lot of options.
Personally, I like Smartwool neck warmers because they are thin and made out of mostly merino wool. A thinner neck warmer doesn’t mean it’s less effective, in fact it’s quite the opposite. Plus, a thinner neck warmer makes it easier to zip up your coat- adding another layer of protection to that specific area. The next time you are feeling chilled add a neck warmer to your layers and you’ll warm up in no time- from head to toe!
If really want to keep your head warm in the winter consider a full-face mask. These masks are also referred to as balaclavas. A balaclava is an all-in-one neck, ear and neck cover. It’s all connected so there’s no room for all that nice warm body heat to escape! Some balaclavas even cover your mouth- to reduce the amount of body heat lost through respiration.
I mean, clearly you need to breathe- but sometimes arctic air can hurt the lungs. By covering your mouth, you can still breath, but the air isn’t as cold when it reaches your body. Some balaclavas can be worn several different ways, to adjust to the weather and your activity. Make sure the face mask is waterproof and wind resistant. Also, make sure the material specifically works to manage moisture.
If you’re really active and prone to sweating, a sweaty face mask is the last thing you want to have one. Again, like the hats and ear covers, make sure any face mask your buy is made with wool or synthetic material. This will guarantee you won’t get sweaty and overheat.
If you really want to keep your head warm in winter, throw on a pair of snug goggles or sunglasses. While eye protection is always important, it can help reduce your exposure to sunburn and keep body heat where it should be. If you combine a pair of goggles with a face mask, you will literally have every inch of your head covered. When shopping for goggles, choose a pair with an adjustable strap so you can get the right fit. Goggles also protect your eyes from frostbite- yes, it happens.
Goggles can also keep the wind away. Have you ever skied a groomed run without goggles? Yeah, I’ll never do that again. The wind can make it difficult to see. Plus, wind has a tricky way of stealing body heat faster than a pro pocket picker. If goggles aren’t necessary to your activity, choose a pair of snug fitting mountaineering glasses. These glasses keep your eyes safe from harmful UV rays, even at high elevation. And mountaineering classes wrap around your eyes, so you can create a barrier from the harsh winter cold. Plus, mountaineering classes with give you trail cred, even if you never glissading down a glacier. They look really cool, James Bond cool.
If all else fails, the best way to keep your head warm is to go inside and warm up! While you hate to miss out on all the fun, if you’re starting to lose body heat, you should take a break and get inside. It’s easier to stay warm then it is to get warm. So, if you are cold, you’re best to call it a day. If you hate the thought of peeling off the trail earlier, pack an extra hat and neck warmer. Oh, and don’t forget those goggles!
Related article “How To Dress For Winter Survival“.