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13 Tips for Outdoor Winter Fun

There may not be much light these days, but don't let that stop you from getting outside. Here's how to beat the cold.

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Lately it feels like the nights are longer than the days. Maybe that's because they are.

With only a few hours of meek afternoon light, it's tempting to fire up the TV and get to work on making a permanent indentation on the couch shaped just like you. But that's no way to live. Especially since the key to outdoor winter fun can be as simple as a layer of wool, a layer of polyester, maybe one more layer of down, and a thermos of the meanest hot cocoa this side of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory.

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Base, middle, shell. Those are the three magic words when it comes to layering up against winter's chill.

For the base layer, cotton is not your friend. Once you sweat into it, your skin will feel wet and clammy for the rest of the day. So go for a nice merino wool or synthetic base layer.

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The middle layer is all about insulation, trapping your body heat and keeping it nearby. For this job it's hard to beat goose down. The outer layer is the one exposed to the elements, so this is the place for Gor-Tex or another material that will keep rain and snow where it belongs, away from your skin.

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Now that you've got the body layered, it's time to turn your attention downward. Your feet are going to need some extra winter love and attention.

Although it may seem sensible to wear the thickest pair of socks you can find, this can actually cut off circulation to your feet if they make your shoes too tight. Less circulation means less warmth. So go for socks that are warm and thin enough to give your toes plenty of wiggle room.

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Slipping a pair of insulated footbeds into your shoes will add another warm layer between your toes and the snow.

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Not all waterproof shoes are created equal. Sure, a pair of all-rubber boots will do the trick when it comes to keeping water out. But they are powerless to deal with the moisture produced by your own feet. It might be a freezing rain outside the boot, but inside your feet are sweating like they are in the tropics.

Enter Gor-Tex, or any number of similar synthetic fibers that allow sweat to wick away from your socks and feet, but are simultaneously impervious to moisture coming in from the outside. Amazing? Yes, amazing.

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Look outside on a bitter cold winter day and there will be one group of people out there wearing nothing but shorts and t-shirts. Are they insane? Well, maybe a little. But they are also jogging and running themselves right into warmth.

Though you may not want to put on gym shorts yourself, it's still a good lesson. If you want to be warm outside, then be moving around outside. Whatever the activity, make sure you're part of the action and never just a spectator. Warmth aside, life is usually more fun that way.

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The math is pretty basic. Hot food equals hot body.

Capsaicin, the chemical compound that puts the spice in spicy pepper, is a powerful vasodilator. That means it opens the blood vessels and allows more blood to flow more quickly to more parts of the body. That means you feel warmer. And that means an extra shake or two of hot sauce over your morning eggs is a fine idea.

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Even a little kid knows to drink hot cocoa to stay warm on a cold day. But now that you're a big kid, there are all kinds of fun ways to make a mug of cocoa more interesting.

Mix in a heaping tablespoon of peanut butter. Add lemongrass or lavender. Get double warming benefits by sprinkling hot pepper flakes over the cocoa. There are a million ways to kick up a mug of cocoa. Perhaps you should make it a personal mission to try them all before winter ends.

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Hot toddies. Mulled wine. A flask of Scotch. There are no lack of boozy delights designed to keep you warm on a cold winter day. But drinker beware.

Although alcohol does indeed create a sensation of warmth, it actually causes a decrease in a body's core temperature. Because while cold weather makes blood move away from the skin to retain body heat, liquor sends it right back out toward the skin.

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You might still want to spike your cider. But perhaps a half spike will do.

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There's nothing like a toasty coat pocket to get some feeling back in your fingers after a few rounds on the old toboggan. Sure, you could buy a pre-packaged hand warmer. But those can get pricey if you're using them on the regular.

A solution is to make your own. It's easy. According to Instructables, All you need is a Ziploc bag, a smaller Ziploc bag, some water and some calcium chloride ice-melt pellets you can get at any hardware store. Put the pellets in the big bag then fill the little bag with water.

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Squeeze the little bag until it ruptures and starts to leak then put it into the big bag. Seal it up and put it in your coat pocket. Warm hands shall be yours.

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Turns out that whole thing about losing the majority of your body heat through your head isn't quite scientifically accurate.

Apparently, a military survival guide once stated that and it entered popular culture and became accepted wisdom. You can't actually stay warm wearing nothing but a bathing suit and wool cap.

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That said, hats are still mighty handy when it comes to keeping ears and forehead toasty. And because we DO lose heat through uncovered parts of our bodies -- including the head --- a beanie will help keep you warm. Not to mention ever so fashionable.

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It's easy to remember to drink plenty of water on a broiling hot day. It's easy to forget to drink plenty of water when there are icicles forming on your nose.

Yet dehydration is just as real of a danger in the winter as in the summer. You're sweating away under all those layers, and probably eating lots of fatty and salty snacks on top of that. Without enough hydration your body will have a heck of time regulating its temperature.

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So drink up! And if you're having a problem with your water bottle freezing solid, add some electrolyte powder before leaving the house.

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It's debated as fiercely as free trade: whether it's best to wear mittens or gloves. The winner, at least when it comes to the straightforward job of keeping your digits from freezing, seems to be mittens.

By allowing your fingers to warm each other, the inside of a mitten can get far toastier than a glove. That said, if the inside of either mitten or glove gets wet, you can kiss that hand heat goodbye. So no matter which you choose, keep ‘em dry!

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It's called g-tummo, and it's an ancient form of Tibetan meditation that, when done properly, can literally raise body temperature.

Researchers attempting to understand g-tummo have soaked sheets in nearly freezing water and laid them over the backs of meditating monks. Not only did the monks stay warm, but within an hour the sheets were dry.

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Granted, g-tummo is a strict discipline of visualization and breathing techniques that can take years to master. So until then, please keep your coat on.

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Playing outside in the winter is fun and games, but it's not ALL fun and games. Hypothermia and frostbite can be real dangers.

So even if you follow all these tips for staying warm on a brisk winter's day, it's still a good idea to come in from the cold from time to time. If you're in the back country and getting indoors is not an option, at the very least spend some time in a dry place away from the wind.

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But if you're hiking near a town, or just out your own backyard, there's no shame in coming in for a while to warm your feet by the fire. And don't rush. Winter will be waiting right outside for a few more months.