How Do Arctic People Get Through the Winter

This month’s weather - alternating blizzard and extreme cold - has led me to wonder how people get through the winter where this sort of weather is normal. I understand the idea of appropriate clothing - despite the unusual cold I’ve managed to dress warmly enough to be comfortable even outside - but it seems to me that wearing sufficient gear for the weather is heavy. By the end of the day I feel like it is literally wearing me down. I find, even if dressed warmly, doing anything outside in the cold exhausting.

So… do people eventually adapt to this sort of thing, somehow? Do they simply pace themselves? Do they try to spend as much time indoors as possible? What?

I don’t even live that far north, but here’s my take:

Northern communities are better prepared for winter and have more/better infrastructure - snow removal plans, parking lots with plug ins, central heated homes, etc.

Yeah, ya gotta dress for it.

Don’t spend much time outside. If you do, it’s doing a sport like skiing or hockey, which will keep you warm.

Spend more time inside - catch up on family together time, or have a hobby.

It’s kind of like Arizona in the middle of summer - they stay inside because it’s too hot.

Oh yeah, I also own a special light designed to make up for the missing spectrum during the short daylight hours and keep me from getting SAD and offing myself.

The adaption is more emotional than physical!

Hi Broomstick,

Can I ask, where do you live? What do you mean by Arctic? Anywhere north of the 49th parallel? I’m just being facetious, but I live in Winnipeg, Canada and we have had a month straight of -30 Celsius with wind chills around -40 to -45. It’s not unusual for this part of the country, but for some reason, it is getting a lot of attention.

The snow drifts are 2-3 feet deep, and when I put my dogs outside they can’t pee fast enough. Our house has central heating to be sure, and a high efficiency furnace, but we also have ensured our house is insulated to at least an R12 rating which is the minimum for this region. Also, triple pane windows or sealed argon units help a lot. Lots of caulking around the doors and extra insulation in the attic. We are not quite as cold as Antarctica, but we do have to dress for it with warm parkas and snow pants, a heavy pair of mitts and snow boots. Our cars are probably different from most vehicles in N. America, since a lot of Winnipeggers buy cars that are built in Canada specifically for cold weather. We have a block heater so the car can be plugged in at night and start real easy the next morning. My Acura drives nicely when it’s toasty warm.

One of the saving graces in weather this cold, is that Winnipeg gets lots of sunshine, so seasonal affective disorders are not that prevalent. However, sunny skies do mean colder temps in general, and I actually like a cloudy and warmer day every now and then.

Hope this helps


People who regularly deal with sub-zero temperatures will also invest in more specialized winter gear. A nice down parka from a company like Marmot will be warmer and afford greater freedom of movement than a cheaper coat from J.C. Penny’s. The same can be said for base layers, gloves/mittens, boots and the like. I used to balk at paying $30 for long underwear or $15 for a pair of SmartWool socks, until I got a job in Alaska.

I’d have to agree with that; if your winter clothing is actually heavy enough to wear you down, it’s not very good clothing or well fitted. My spring/fall leather jacket, which I wear just because it looks good, is actually heavier than my winter parka. Boots are a little heavy but if they’re fitted properly they’re not that bad. My winter boots are no heavier than, say, an ordinary pair of steel toed work shoes, which you get used to quickly. The winter boots I had in the Army were ridiculously warm and sensationally light; I’d love a pair of those again, but they’re expensive.

If you don’t have proper very-cold-weather gear and are just throwing stuff on in layers in an effort to stay warm, it’ll keep you warm but it’s not actually the way you would dress in a cold place. You’d actually buy proper parkas, boots, mitts and hats.

In the actual Arctic, above the Arctic Circle, the Inuit are completely adapted to their environment. Fur parkas, arctic mittens (not gloves), and mukluks are standard attire. For younger folks, more modern wear is common. They get around on snow machines or in heated vehicles when possible, and the time spent outdoors when not hunting is pretty limited. Even so, people die of exposure. It’s easy to get lost in the whiteout of a ground blizzard or not be able to see an open lead on the ice, or to drink too much and pass out and freeze to death.

Further south, below the Circle, a city like Fairbanks has spells of -40F or colder. Cars have block heaters, everyone has central heating (usually hydronic baseboard), and you dress appropriately when you go out. Otherwise, life goes on as usual: shopping, movies, etc.

Not everyone has the common sense to live in the far north. People who should know better freeze to death every winter, or asphyxiate themselves with carbon monoxide. But by and large, one just either adapts to bitter cold or moves further south.

As everyone else said, it’s a lot of little things:

[li]Some car engines don’t like to start when it’s cold. The solution is to install a block heater in your car and plug it in wherever you stop for long periods. Main street in Havre, MT has places to plug in, which you don’t find in Boca Raton.[/li][li]You get better clothes, and you get used to wearing the kinds of clothes you need to wear. As mentioned above, if your clothes are holding you back, you need better clothes. Which means you need a store with a good supply of such clothes. You don’t find that anyplace they grow oranges, but you do in Great Falls, MT.[/li][li]Driving and walking on ice is just experience. Knowing what a really badly iced walkway even looks like is experience, as is recognizing loose snow sitting on top of smooth ice. Northern people get in the habit of salting walkways and northern cities have the trucks needed to salt and gravel roads. I wouldn’t want to bet on the City of Miami being able to salt much more than a driveway. I also wouldn’t want to be on the roads in Miami if it ever needed to.[/li][li]Houses are built with different climate control systems. In the high desert of New Mexico where Deming is, a lot of places don’t have AC but do have swamp coolers. Older construction in Missoula, MT will frequently lack AC as well, but you can bet the houses here all have heaters, going back to the late 1800s. This, again, reflects a multi-decade process of people building to the climate.[/li][li]Speaking of buildings, a good number of them have a separate entryway area, so people can stomp snow off their boots before coming in. If you are entering a private residence, you might well be asked to remove your footwear down to your socks.[/li][/ul]

Go to a store that sells hunting supplies and general outdoorsy stuff and find something you like. Coveralls might be a bit much unless you’re doing seriously outdoorsy stuff, but boots, insulated pants, heavier shirts, gloves, hats (that cover the ears!), and a really good coat should all be available.

(It felt odd spelling that out. Of course hats cover the ears. Unless you’re somewhere where they don’t, I suppose.)

So, generally, we get by because of the culture around here which is adapted to the cold, and everything the culture has done in response to that cold.

I’ve never heard of this before. How are they different from other North American cars?

There are lots of hat designs that do not cover the ears.

Eskimaux can winter on the polar ice, right? That’s what we read in grade school. With prolonged cold and darkness, they become increasingly dependent on seal meat and blubber. The blubber supply can be gauged by the number of oil lamps they keep lit. One means they’re at the verge of starving and living in perpetual darkness.

As an Eskimo (or Native Alaskan for the PC) who lived just north of the Arctic Circle and visited places further north I can tell you that we have highly specialized and unique items that allow us to live:

Heaters powered by stove oil

As a personal nitpick eskimo is not the new n-word, at least not in northwestern Alaska.

I think that many of us would be delighted, if you could expand on all of that.

Food consists of moose, caribou, seal, whale and an ungodly amount of fish among other harvested stuffs. People often boat to other places to pick berries. Huge amounts of berries.
In Kotzebue, Alaska people often barge in big ticket items during the summer. Other than that goods have to be flown in.

I would love to hear more!
Please, please start a thread called “ask the eskimo”!

What is ‘stove oil’?

What are your houses like?

I’m aware they’re not ‘Igloos’.

Well insulated houses. Many houses are warmed with stove oil furnaces in conjunction with electricity. There are no forests around Kotzebue so wood stoves are not that popular.

Kotzebue is like many other small towns just a lot more isolated. However Kotzebue is the commerce hub for the villages in the NANA region so living there is easier than in surrounding villages

Sorry for the hijack and check MPSIMS.

Well… it’s does state in the location field I live in NW Indiana… :wink:

I’m well aware that architecture varies by location. This is why buildings in my area (by and large - there are always exceptions) can withstand higher winds than buildings in, say, Buffalo, NY. We get more high winds than a lot of other places. I’m well aware that my current residence was not built with current conditions in mind.

And I’m not going out and buying new gear for the current weather because it is an unusual winter for this area and, frankly, I haven’t got the money for such a thing unless it became typical. I do own wool socks, long underwear, down parka, and hats that cover my ears. I suspect what’s available in Winnipeg might be of better quality than most selections down here.

It seems we’re having a Winnipeg winter… but our homes here aren’t as well insulated, we don’t have double much less triple pane windows, our cars don’t have engine block heaters, and I’m gobsmacked by people who come into the store where I work with bare heads, no gloves/mittens, and wholly inadequate coats - sure, fine if you’re just dashing from a heated car into the store, but what if your car breaks down?

Gary - anyone who wore any of the hats in your pictures in the Artic would probably not live long.

Greenland has the highest reported suicide rate in the world, by a surprising margin. Arctic communities generally have higher suicide rates than temperate and tropical regions. Interestingly, it’s not the winters that do it. Suicide rates in Greenland spike in the summer, apparently because of insomnia caused by the constant daylight.