Why Is It Important to Wear a Hat In Winter?


Why Is It Important to Wear a Hat In Winter? Wearing a winter hat keeps you warm, dry and prevents hypothermia and frostbite from setting in.  A hat is designed to keep a cap on your body heat, literally.  Keeping your head and ears covered with a quality hat, could be the difference between enjoying that winter hike or having to turn around early because you’re too cold to go on.  Please see also our article entitled “How To Keep Your Head Warm In Winter“.

Plus, wearing a hat keeps the rest of your body heat where it belongs, next to you.  Most people who spend a lot of time outside, focus on layering hands, feet and legs and torso.  All those layers work in unison to keep your body heat at a comfortable 98.6 degrees.  Even the slightest deviation of that body temperature and you will start to feel chilled from head to toe.  Wearing a winter hat, protects your ears and head from the cold winter elements and can actually keep the rest of your body warm as well.

Keep A Cap on Body Heat

Our bodies lose heat four basic ways: evaporation (sweat), conduction, convection and radiation.  To understand why it’s important to wear a hat, we need to understand how our bodies lose heat- and how a hat keeps a cap on that body heat. No pop quizzes here, but you might want to take notes!

How We Lose Body HeatWe lose body heat when we sweat, also know as evaporation.  If sweat hangs out on our skin too long, all that moisture starts to draw heat from your core. When your body loses heat in cold temperatures, you’ll start to suffer from hypothermia. We’ll get into this a little latter on in this article.  By wearing a hat with material designed to wick away moisture, you are keeping the sweat from your head from working against you.  A moisture wicking hat, such as one made out of merino wool or synthetic material will keep your head dry.  When you are dry, you are warm!

We also lose body heat through the process of conduction.  Conduction occurs when your body touches a surface or object colder than your temperature.  When this occurs, your body heat is transferred to the colder object.  If you are laying in the snow or engaging in an activity where your head may come into contact with a cold, wet surface, you will lose body heat.  A hat with a waterproof outer layer will prevent you from losing all that precious body heat to the snow or ice.

Even if you aren’t laying in the snow, it’s a good idea to choose a hat treated with a durable water repellent (DWR).  That way, if you suddenly find yourself in a blizzard or a hail storm, you don’t have to worry about moisture penetrating your hat and seeping into your nice hair do.  Just kidding, I know you’re not worried about your hair.  But, seriously you want to keep the moisture away, so you stay warm and dry, regardless of the weather conditions.

Convection is a thief of body heat.  Convection is the process of wind taking away your body heat faster than the winning car at the Indy 500. THAT fast.  This is why you naturally feel more chilled on a windy day, then a calm day.  Ever notice how you can feel nice and toasty and then the wind picks up and suddenly you are shivering.  That’s the process of convection.  To prevent the wind from stealing your body heat, you need to wear a wind-resistant hat.  Wearing a hat, will reduce the amount of heat the wind is able to get away with.  Fleece hats are super cozy, but alone, the material let’s wind right through.  If you can’t go skiing without your lucky fleece hat, make sure it has outer protective layer to keep that wind from getting to your body heat.

Radiation is another way we lose body heat from head to toe.  In fact, it’s the most common way you lose heat from your head.  Radiation occurs when you leave areas of your body exposed to temperatures colder than 98.6 degrees.  Do you ever notice how when you take your hat or helmet off after a long day of skiing and your head is steaming- you can literally see the body heat leaving your head- that is what we call radiation! By wearing a hat in the winter, you keep that body heat from escaping into thin air, never to be seen again.

Hat Keeps Your Entire Body Warm

Woman With Winter ScarfYou’ve made all this effort to buy a high-quality pair of merino wool long johns, the best down mid layer a top of the line outer layer to stay warm in the bitter cold of the back-country.  You are all ready to go on your next winter adventure.  Gloves? Check.  Glove Liners? Check.  Fancy socks? Check.  Boots? Check.  Hat? Uhhhh. That’s what I thought.

What good are all those layers, if all your body heat is escaping through your neck, ears and head? We all know layering is important to staying warm, but it’s only effective if you have every square inch of your skin covered or protected from the harsh and unforgiving winter weather.  In fact, some outdoor guides will tell you if your feet start to feel a little frigid, you should put on hat.  Make sure those ears are covered too.  Your ear canals are a direct route for cold air to enter your body.  By covering your ears, you will block the cold weather from even getting close to your body!

Wearing the appropriate layers from head to toe, will make sure you stay warm and you survive your next outdoor adventure.  However, you want to make sure to always go for breathable hat- that allows sweat and moisture to ventilate, without letting out body heat.  A breathable hat will prevent you from getting overheated.  If you get overheated, you may be tempted to take your hat of.  While it may feel good in the moment to expose your hot head to cool weather, you can actually lose too much body heat.

There’s a saying among outdoor guides: it’s easier to stay warm, then it is to get warm. This means you never want to expose your skin to cold temperatures when your outside for long periods of time.  Doing so, will release body heat and once that happens, it can be difficult to generate new body heat.  Wearing a breathable hat prevents this all together!

Preventing Hypothermia

HypothermiaEvery year, more than 700 people die in the United States from hypothermia.  In most cases, this serious medical condition is preventable.  Quite often you will hear rescue guides attribute hypothermia cases to the clothing the victim wasn’t wearing. Either the victim was wearing cotton- which can actually kill you in cold weather or they weren’t wearing the right layers.  As humans, we have to work hard to preserve our body heat in the cold.  We don’t have a lot of hair to insulate our body- so we have to create that insulation with various layers.  That means we need to cover our body in the right gear from head to toe to stay warm and stay alive.  Wearing a winter hat is critical component to staying warm on cold days.  Please also see our article “What Are The Best Brands For Warm Winter Hats?”

Our bodies function best at a nice and cozy 98.6 degrees.  At that temperature, our vital organs do what they are supposed to do: our brain is on full alert, our heart is pumping warm blood to our entire body, our lungs are breathing fresh air! All of this is possible at 98.6 degrees.  However, once our body temperature drops below 95 degrees, our body starts to shiver and enter the beginning stages of hypothermia.

If there was a fire alarm in our body, this would be about the time it would be activated.  Help! Help! But, there’s no alarm- only subtle signs and symptoms that come on so gradually, you may not even notice until it’s too late.  Signs of hypothermia include shivering, slurred speech, fumbling around, confusion and extreme drowsiness.  It doesn’t have to be subzero temperatures for hypothermia to set in either.

In fact, you can suffer hypothermia at 32 degrees, add in a wind chill and you can be shivering within a matter of minutes.  You can also suffer from hypothermia when fully submerged in cold water.  When on land, the best way to prevent hypothermia is wearing the appropriate layers designed to wick away moisture, insulate your body and keep wind and water away with a quality outer shell.  Wearing a hat will keep you body heat in check and prevent you from suffering hypothermia.  Of course, a hat is only effective if you are wearing the right layers every where else.  For more information on why it’s important to wear layers in winter, check out my other blog here.

Preventing Frostbite

FrostbiteWearing a winter hat reduces your risk of frostbite.  Frostbite is a medical condition where exposed tissue crystalizes and freezes- literally.  Frostbite most often affects hands, fingers, feet, toes, ears, nose and cheeks. When it’s really cold outside, our body tends to focus it’s heat on the core, to keep your vital organs warm.  That means it’s up to you to keep those hands, feet and head warm.  Of course, you’re still getting warm blood to those areas, it’s just not as much as you’d like.

The best way to avoid frostbite is to wear layers that will manage moisture, keep you insulated and keep the weather away.  You can get frostbite, even if you are wearing gloves and a hat.  This usually happens when the gear gets wet and starts stealing body heat.  While it’s important to cover those areas, you have to make sure your gear is made out of the right material: wool or synthetic fibers are the best choice!

During the beginning stages of frostbite, your tissue will start to turn bright red and perhaps you’ll feel a prickling sensation.  This is about the time to start heading inside to warm up.  If you warm up and notice blistering, it’s time to seek medical help.  While still consider a minor case of frostbite, you’ll want to get it checked out by a medical professional.  Advanced stages of frostbite will damage not only skin tissue but, muscle and bones as well.  In severe cases of frostbite, amputation of the extremity is the only treatment.

Wearing a hat will keep your ears covered and reduce the risk of those lobs suffering the grip of frostbite.  In fact, a lot of people often forget to cover up their ears for whatever reason.  Ears are exceptionally vulnerable to frostbite.  When shopping for a hat make sure it fits and it covers the ears.  There are plenty of hats on the market today that actually have flaps to fit snug over your ears.  If a hat isn’t your style, you can always opt for ear warmers or a winter headband that wraps around your ears.

Cheeks and nose are also prone to frostbite.  While a hat won’t keep those areas covered, a full-face mask will do the trick.  A face mask covers your entire head, ears, nose and mouth- your eyes are the only are exposed.  An all in one face mask is a great choice for those extra cold days.  Plus, a face mask covers your neck too, which can release a lot of body heat when left exposed.

When choosing a face mask, make sure it will wick away moisture and it’s breathable. A jacket hood, helmet or another hat is a great addition to a face mask on an exceptionally bitter cold day.  You know, those days where the sun is shining and it’s 5 degrees outside. But, you head outside anyway because, well, there’s three inches of new pow pow up at the ski hill!

Wearing a winter hat will keep you protected from whatever Mother Nature throws your way. Blizzards don’t stand a chance.  Unless, you are going to Dairy Queen. Did someone say ice cream? Back to hats.   There’s nothing worse than cutting a trip short, because you’re too cold to go on.  Also, wouldn’t it be nice if you came back alive? Yes.  I think so.  Wear a hat and you’ll keep hypothermia and frostbite far, far away.

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