Cold-Weather Tips From Arctic Expert Sue Aikens

By Life Below Zero’s Sue Aikens

Things have gotten very cold for many of you in the Lower World! While this is something I live with eight months out of the year, it can be an unexpected and brutally frightening experience for many who are not used to the Arctic temps. Here are some tips that will help you keep all of your fingers and toes!

Understand How the Body Regulates Itself

The body is designed to protect your core, the fragile heart and organs, first. It will draw heat away from other parts of the body to do this, making exposure even more dangerous. What can you do to help this? Dress in layers, but dress the right way!

Layers are good! First, you’ll want to start with long underwear. Choose materials that help wick away moisture from the body, such as wool. In the Arctic we say, “Wet is Dead” meaning that moisture anywhere on your body is something to avoid at all costs! Why? As sweat or any moisture evaporates, it cools. If the moisture is against the skin, it will cool the skin- thus enabling the Hypothermic conditions.

Sue’s Attire Tips:

  • Wear a layer next to the skin which will wick the moisture away. Long underwear of a natural material is best, though some man-made materials are good too, such as pajama bottoms or pantyhose. Layer with a turtleneck, then a sweater or wool, then a jacket. Again, think warmth. You do NOT want to be HOT, you want to be warm.
  • Your ears, fingers, nose, head and feet are the first concerns and risks for frostbite. Wear warm headgear that has ear flaps. Scarfs and/or neck gators are good for the neck and also prevent cold air from getting to your chest. Hands and feet MUST be dry and MUST be warm! I use the hand/foot warmers you can buy at the store. First, I put knit gloves on my hands, then drop a warmer into each mitten and put the gloved hand into that. If I need dexterity I pop my gloved hand out do what I need, then get it back inside the mitten. For feet I also drop the warmers in after they have warmed up and wear a natural fiber sock such as smart-wool or wool. I have multiple layers of gloves and socks readily available to me so I can swap them out. Feet can sweat and when they do… out with the damp…. on with the dry!
  • Remember, your body is pre-programmed to keep the core warm. It will do so by slowing or eventually stopping the blood-flow to your extremities. Let’s say you are stuck in the elements for a while… take a few warmers and put them on your core. If your core is already warm, the body continues the circulation of blood to your extremities. Also if you keep your bladder empty, then the body won’t waste energy keeping the contents warm as it is within your core. Empty bladders help to circulate the blood to extremities.

Other tips:

  • Take a cell phone with you. Batteries die rapidly in cold temps, so bring a charger. Let someone know when you go somewhere, and when you should be back. Check with neighbors and the elderly or families with small children. If you band together, more gets done without as many vehicles on the streets.
  • Leave faucets running slightly to help them from freezing. But don’t stop there! Open your cabinet doors so the flow of warmer air can reach your pipes. Fill a few jugs of water at the outset, so if you do freeze your pipes, you have water.  Store enough so your pet is covered as well. Bring the pets inside or give them adequate shelter. Pets can be frostbitten too!
  • Your heater wont feel like it can keep up. It can’t. Be satisfied with being warm, but possibly not 68-70. If you lose your standard heat source, be aware that not all things that cause heat are safe for the indoor applications! Call neighbors and maybe you can combine a household and share the heat supply. Some sources of heat will leave dangerous fumes that can kill. Do not go into the garage and run the car with closed doors to stay warm. Call your local authorities on the best choices for you, or help if it is truly needed.
  • The food you eat will help you. If this is an extended event, eat frequent small meals with plenty of calories. Make sure that with protein you add a fat source. Fat is a ready source of high energy calories which fuel the body to be warm.
  • Exercise is OK, but don’t overdo it! Move the limbs to keep blood-flow going, but if you work up a sweat, evaporation of the sweat lowers the temp. Wet is Dead!
  • Most importantly, if you don’t have to go out in the weather, then don’t! The weather will change, so if you can wait it out please do so.

To learn more about arctic temps and Life Below Zero visit and look out for an all-new season, coming soon!


  1. Linda Rutter
    January 28, 2014, 5:50 pm

    Thanks Sue for the strong advice! Nice to hear it from someone who really knows what she’s talking about! Stay safe, stay warm! Love your show!

  2. Rebecca Saenz
    Weslaco, Texas
    January 28, 2014, 6:01 pm

    Wow Sue. You are rapidly becoming an even more and more valuable person to everyone on the planet! Love your brain and wisdom. I never think about it, as extreme South Texas doesn’t know what “polar” or “vortex” means. Stay warm and safe my cherished heroine! If you ever need tips on how to stay alive in 110 degree F temps and 90 % humidity, ask me. It’s way simpler with heat: Take off most of clothes and continue along your business. 😀

  3. Lisa MacDonald
    United States
    January 29, 2014, 7:18 am

    When does the new Life Below Zero season start?

  4. Fletcher O'Flaherty
    London,Ontario, Canada
    March 6, 2014, 8:16 pm

    Rebecca I live heartburn we had three 100F plus days a few summers ago and the humid like to have killed me. Just lime with cold move slower.
    Sue thank you so much for this advice.uU are invaluable

  5. Fletcher O'Flaherty
    March 6, 2014, 8:18 pm

    That was *I love heat* New old phone.

  6. […] best way to dress for the Arctic weather is to layer up. This allows you to keep your temperature at an optimum level and ensures you will […]

  7. Paul
    July 4, 2014, 3:05 am

    That is just plain mean to post a pic like that of Sue… That full on frost beard is not attractive… That is as worse than calling her the Kavik Klondyke.

  8. Carolyn
    March 8, 2015, 5:42 pm

    I agree with Paul on the tactics of posting this pic of Susa. Nat Geo knew exactly what they were doing when they posted this unflattering pic. Not nice, Nat Geo!