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Layered clothing provides warmth from winter cold


MASSENA - Layering.

That’s the secret to outdoor survival on those particularly cold and nasty winter days, according to officials from the Nature Center at Robert Moses State Park.

Recreation Education Specialist Linda Besio and Program Specialist Joel Danko led day three of a week-long Winter Day Camp on Wednesday teaching about a dozen youngsters the secrets to dressing for the winter cold.

“Suit Up to Survive” advised them that layering clothing was the key, but knowing what layers to put where was also essential.

Ms. Besio said there were five different ways they could lose heat while outside - radiation, when the heat comes off their skin but doesn’t return; convection, when a person gets wet and cools off; conduction, when they touch something that’s cold; and perspiration, when they sweat despite the cold; and respiration, when they exhale hot air and inhale cold air.

“You can sweat in the winter, too,” she said.

“When you sweat, you lose a lot of heat,” Mr. Danko added.

But there were ways to protect themselves from the cold, Ms. Besio said.

“The first thing is to cover your skin. We’re going to cover ourselves in layers. Layers help keep the heat in,” she said. “We’re also going to need something to cover our head. You need to keep your head covered. A lot of heat goes through the top of your head.”

“And ears,” Mr. Danko said, noting animals in the Arctic have “tiny, stubby little ears so they don’t lose heat as fast.”

It was also important to keep hands covered, they said.

“If you’re out in the cold and need to do something, it’s best not to take your gloves off. Your body will always cool off your feet and head first,” Ms. Besio said.

The day camp participants, who ranged in age from 5 to 12, were invited to try an experiment - opening a small bag of candy with gloves or mittens on their hands.

“Here’s our incentive. We need to eat,” Ms. Besio told them.

She and Mr. Danko also stressed the importance of using the proper materials when they were wearing layered clothing. Cotton, they said, should not be the first item closest to the body.

“When you’re out in the cold, one of the sayings is cotton kills. It absorbs sweat. You get sweaty and wet and you’re going to stay wet. So cotton is not a good thing to wear next to your skin,” Ms. Besio said.

The best material, Mr. Danko said, was a Spandex-style or synthetic fiber material that would keep sweat away from the skin.

The next layer should offer insulation, using a material such as wool or fleece, Ms. Besio said.

“When fleece gets wet, it will still keep you warm,” Mr. Danko noted.

Wearing the appropriate pants was also important, with a underlayer of long underwear, followed by an outer layer of snow pants.

“They keep you dry. It also blocks the wind,” Mr. Danko said.

Nylon was also a good outer material, he said. It could be balled up and put in a person’s pocket until it was needed, and would be windproof and waterproof when used, he explained.

Fur hats were good for covering heads, and scarfs were necessary for covering bare portions of the face and neck, they said.

Without proper clothing for the winter weather, several issues such as frostbite could pop up, Ms. Besio said

“Frostbite can be bad, but not as bad as when you’re frozen totally,” she said.

When a person’s extremities such as fingers or toes freeze totally, they will eventually die and fall off, she said.

Anyone suffering from frostbite should slowly warm up that part of their body, she said, noting that warming up too fast could damage the skin.

Hypothermia was also a big winter concern, Ms. Besio said. That’s when the body temperature starts to fall.

“The first thing you’re going to do is start shivering really bad,” she said.

That’s followed by a feeling of sickness and a loss of coordination. And as the body temperature continues to fall, the person’s behavior become “strange,” Ms. Besio said.

“For example, suddenly they think they’re warm and take all their clothes off. The brain is not working properly. Your brain is going to start freezing before your heart and lungs freeze,” she said.

She suggested that drinking something warm could help, as well as eating something sweet.

“When you take in sugar, your body uses energy to digest it and creates heat,” Ms. Besio said.

The Winter Day Camps continue at 10 a.m. today at the Massena Community Center with a presentation on “Under Cover,” learning how to make a natural shelter and fire. Participants will also make a survival flag.

The week wraps up on Friday with “Trail Mix,” as participants learn about foods in the wild. They’ll also make their own trail mix and high-energy snacks.

For more information, call the Nature Center at (315) 705-5022, email, find the “Friends” on Facebook or visit their website at

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