|Killing the Chill
By James A. Swan, Ph.D.
Fall and Winter weather mean deer hunting, ice fishing, late season waterfowl, rabbit hunting, skiing, snowmobiles, etc. – thoroughly enjoyable outdoor sports opportunities so long as you can stay warm and avoid frostbite and hypothermia.
When I was growing up, I can remember ice fishing on Lake Erie when it was so cold that if you reached into your fishing hole and splashed some water up into the air a couple feet, the droplets would be frozen by the time they fell to the ice. -15 degrees was what the thermometer said, and that was before factoring in the wind chill, which at least doubled that, which would make it almost like Fairbanks on a balmy winter day. I had on the heaviest army surplus parka and aviator gloves, and still an hour was about as long as I could take it without finding an ice shanty to retreat into to get warm.
Living at sea level in California these days, if it gets down in the 30’s people around here think they are in the Arctic, and you know what, it does feel cold, if you’ve lived here long enough. The point simply is that “feeling cold” is relative, and you can adapt. Eskimos are outside happily doing things in weather many of us would never want to set foot into.
Regardless where you live, you want to keep warm when it gets cold, but there are some misconceptions about the cold, including there being no direct connection between being exposed to cold weather and catching a cold.
According to Andrew Weil, MD: “According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, none of the many studies it has funded has shown that weather conditions or getting chilled or overheated affect either the development or severity of colds. However Cold weather may also promote drying of the nasal membranes making them more vulnerable to infection.”
Cold weather may not mean getting a cold, but you do want to protect yourself from frostbite, which attacks the skin, especially the extremities, and hypothermia, which lowers the core body temperature. At or below 32’F, blood vessels close to the skin contract, and the skin temperature drops, which can lead to damage to skin and tissue. Preventing frostbite is pretty straightforward – dress in layers, cover your face and ears, your hands and keep your feet warm and dry in very cold weather.
Hypothermia is sneaky. You don’t need sub-zero temperatures to get it. All you need is to lose enough body heat to start dropping your core temperature below 95’F. That can happen when the thermometer is in the 60’s if you are not properly protected.
When hypothermia begins, your metabolism drops and you begin to lose critical thinking ability, focus, and eventually you will pass out and go into a coma. To prevent this, I recommend that all outdoor sportsmen that if they venture far from their cars they should carry a space blanket. Small, lightweight and compact, that shiny silver blanket can save lives by keeping you warm, and double as a reflector if you get lost and want to send a signal to searchers.
Another common belief is that if you want to stay warm you should keep your head covered, as there is more heat lost from the head than any other part of the body. This belief is both false and true, according to the Wilderness Medicine Newsletter. Blood flow to the head, which carries heat, is supplied by the four carotid and vertebral arteries. The head normally accounts for about 7% of the heat lost. However, the harder your heart beats, the greater the blood flow to the brain. When you begin to exercise, there is increased cerebral blood flow, which increases the percentage of heat lost through the head to about 50% of total body heat loss. As you continue to exercise, the muscles demand more oxygen which increases blood flow and heat loss from the head drops back down. Once sweating begins, the percent lost through the scalp returns to 7%.
However, and this is important, if a hypothermia victim is shivering, the percent of heat loss via the scalp can increase to upwards of 55%.
You wear a covering for your head in cold weather to trap body heat by layers of air space, which have to be much more dense than human hair to provide a thermal barrier. Beards are great, but they do not keep you any warmer, the experts say.
As a bald-headed guy, I feel cold when I am outside in cold weather, and don’t have a hat. That is due to the head, face, and neck being especially sensitive to cold.
You lose heat in cold weather through conduction, convection and evaporation. To reduce the amount of heat lost through conduction, you need insulation with lots of dead air space within its structure and resist compression if weight is applied to it, between you and an object you make contact with.
To reduce heat lost through convection, use a windproof outer shell that you can wear over your insulation layers. This helps cut wind-chill.
You reduce the amount of heat lost through evaporation by staying dry, including wearing fabrics that will wick away perspiration.
What inspired this discourse on staying warm is a recent morning spent in a duck blind in the Sacramento Valley, with a north wind blowing and occasional showers washing though the rice fields, AND, a gift that a friend from Wisconsin recently sent me called the “Chill-Killer.”
Now you know that the people in Wisconsin are a little different when you watch them wearing head coverings that look like big chunks of cheese to football games. The Chill-Killer, fortunately is not made to look like Swiss cheese. It is a neck wrap made of highly insulated poly wicking fleece material that blocks the wind, provides insulation, traps heat and definitely makes your neck feel warmer. And believe it or not, the cheeseheads love this, including the Green Bay Packers.
Of course you can use a wool scarf to wrap around your neck. I have one that I bought in England with the tartan on my family Clan, Clan Gunn. It works okay, so long as the wool does not touch my neck and face, which I find prickly. The scarf is four feet long, which can be clumsy, as well as bulky.
I like fleece clothing. No itching. It’s lightweight, it wicks away perspiration, and it keeps you warm. So, I put on the Chill-Killer wrap, which is a one-size-fits-all collar, and found that immediately I felt warmer. To my surprise, not just on my neck, but above and below the wrap. I suspect that a major way you lose body heat from all around the trunk as it moves upward to the exposed neck area.
Scarves, balaclavas, and turtleneck shirts all help keep body heat in and protect your neck. But there is a special feature of the Chill-Killer for those of you who live in really cold climates that makes this more than just a comfortable way to keep body heat in and protect your neck area.. You can insert a two Grabber hand warmers into two pouches on the neck which are positioned over the carotid artery on either side of the neck.
Even without the hand warmers, wearing the Chill-Killer makes me feel warmer in cold weather. And that made me curious. My guess was that by placing the warmer pouches (even without the Grabbers) over the carotid arteries, a major source of warm blood to the head and brain, it slightly elevates the temperature of our blood going to the head, as well as keeping your neck warm. And, the heat also might make your neck muscles relax, which would facilitate warm blood flow.
To test out this theory, I asked Chill-Killer inventor Dane Charles to send one to Dr. Mike Billig in Vermont. Mike is a nationally-known chiropractor, as well as being an avid waterfowl hunter, outdoorsman and sponsor of harness racing.
I gave Mike a couple days to test it out. When I talked with Mike, he had just come in from shoveling Vermont’s record-breaking snow. Mike said that he had used the Chill-Killer all day and he really liked it. “The first place we get cold is the episternal notch, in the front of the neck,” he said, and so the Chill-Killer cover that perfectly. Then, he tried muscle testing according to the Applied Kinesiology system. “The scores were good,” Mike reported, noting that “if they weren’t I would not endorse the product.”
Chill-Killers come in black, camo or orange and run $19.95. You can get them through Amazon.com, many sporting goods stores, or directly through