Weekend Pundit's Guide To Country Living - Part III

I find I must continue to impart my extensive knowledge to those considering a move to “the country.” While this advice is aimed more towards those considering a move to rural New England (particularly northern New England), some of it pertains to almost any rural area that experiences harsh winters. Some of this knowledge and advice will be new and some previous advice given in Parts One and Two will be repeated because it fits in better with this post.


It gets cold around here. That means you will need to dress appropriately for the conditions. There are a number of things to keep in mind when thinking about winter apparel, one of them being this simple rule – layers. Buy your winter clothing with dressing in layers in mind. This is a far better method of staying comfortable over the cold and dark winter months. Wearing a number of lighter layers is far more efficient and comfortable than wearing one or two heavy layers of clothing. It also also allows you to add or shed clothing in order to stay comfortable as either indoor or outdoor temperatures change throughout the day.

Footwear should be warm and dry. Ditch the fashionable high heel knee boots with faux fur trim or your Rockport shoes and go for something that will keep your feet warm and dry. Winter fashion dictates utility and not looks. Always figure that you're going to be standing outside for quite some time even if all you're doing is making a run to local Dunkin' Donuts to pick up a dozen donuts and some coffee. You can never tell when you'll be forced to wait outside in less than great weather. If you aren't sure where to look for such things, check out L.L. Bean.

Think polar fleece. Also called Polartec, polar fleece is one of the warmest materials out there. You can find everything from sweatshirts, sweaters, hats and gloves, to longjohns and jacket linings made from polar fleece. It's warm, light, and inexpensive. Some Polartec clothing even looks fashionable.

Wear a hat. It keeps your head warm and your body doesn't have to work quite as hard to keep it warm, which means that your hands and feet will stay warmer. Why? Because the body will send more blood to the head to maintain the proper temperature and in order to do so will decrease blood circulation to the extremities. Keep the head warm and the feet and hands stay warm.

Use mittens rather than gloves when you're going to be outside for any great length of time. If it's bitterly cold outside, mittens will keep your hands warmer. If you're going to be exerting yourself, then gloves will probably do just fine.

Flannel sheets. One of the easiest and more comfortable ways to stay warm in bed. You immediately feel comfortable and don't have to wait for them to warm up. Far better than an electric blanket and they work even without electricity.

Seal windows and doors to keep the cold air out and the warm air in. Newer homes usually have decent windows and doors that seal properly when closed, but older homes (like the old lakeside house where I once resided) have old wooden double-hung windows that don't seal very well and require sealing with things like Mortite or heat-shrink plastic sheeting. It can make the difference between staying toasty warm on even the coldest winter nights or being chilled and using a prodigious amount of fuel trying to keep the indoor temperature above freezing.

Use a humidifier in your house. Believe it or not, this inexpensive device can actually make you feel warmer. During the winter the air inside can get quite dry. This can make it feel colder than it actually is. By increasing the humidity inside, a given temperature feels warmer, meaning the thermostat can be left at a lower setting, saving fuel and money. If you have forced hot air heating or a wood stove, then a humidifier is an absolute must. Without it the air can get so dry you might actually suffer nose bleeds because the sinuses dry out so much. You don't need to by a fancy (read expensive) humidifier to do the job. I have used something as simple as a $16 Vick's warm mist vaporizer to do the job. They're readily available from places like Walmart, which means you can easily afford more than one to keep the humidity high enough in your house. Even if they only last one winter they are worth the price.

Keep an emergency kit in your car/truck/SUV. You never can tell when you might get stranded during a snow or ice storm. It's usually a good idea to stow a few essentials in your vehicle just in case. A good basic kit includes a shovel (collapsible is OK), food (something that doesn't require cooking and is individually wrapped), a flashlight with extra batteries, an empty container of some sort (can be used to melt snow for drinking water), a blanket or sleeping bag, and, above all, jumper cables. You might also want to consider adding a towing strap, just in case you or someone else needs a tow. I also keep a change of clothing in the truck (mostly underwear and socks, and sometimes a Polartec pullover and pair of pants).

Keep the gas tank full. It's usually a good idea to not let the fuel in a vehicle to go below half a tank during the winter. This serves two purposes – it prevents condensation in the gas tank if your car/truck/SUV is prone to such a thing (which can lead to a frozen fuel line), and it gives you a comfortable reserve should you get stuck out on the road in bad weather. You'll be able to run the engine from time to time to keep the interior of your vehicle warm. If you do get stuck, make sure to keep your exhaust pipe clear to prevent carbon monoxide build-up inside your vehicle (that's one use for your collapsible shovel).

Listen to the weather forecasts. If forecasters say a major Nor'easter is headed your way, believe them. In New England, Nor'easters are the worst kind of snowstorm, not so much because of the winds but because of the amount of snow they can drop. The blizzards of 1978, 1993, and 2003 were all Nor'easters and they dropped feet of snow in a single storm. Nor'easters can kill, so pay attention and plan accordingly if one is forecast.

If you must travel during a winter storm, let someone know. Check in with them when you leave and again when you arrive at your destination. Think of it like a pilot filing a flight plan. If nothing else if you find yourself stranded you won't have to wait so long for someone to start looking for you.

Get a two-way radio. Whether it is a CB radio or you go the route of getting your amateur radio license and installing a ham radio, you 'll find that quite often it will let you call for assistance when your cell phone has no signal.

In light of the early blast of winter weather we've seen this week, these next two are repeats, but well worth mentioning again.....

Snow tires, your winter friend. Despite having your car/truck shod with all-season radials, you'll find that a good set of snow tires is worth the investment if you live in a part of the country where annual snowfall is measured in feet rather than inches. All-season radials are a compromise at best. Snow tires just plain work better in the snow. They can mean the difference between making it home safely or ending up in a ditch waiting for someone to (hopefully) pull you out before you become a corpsicle. If you are driving a pickup, consider a good set of all-terrain (AT) tires. They serve well for off-roading as well as driving through heavy snow. You can also leave them on year round if you so desire. Just be aware there is likely a gas mileage penalty for having your truck shod with them. Also, consider investing in a good set of tire chains if you regularly receive heavy snowfall or are prone to ice storms. (No, they aren't cheap, but even if you only have to use them once you'll believe they were worth the cost.)

During a heavy snow storm there is no such thing as a short trip to the store. If you know a storm is coming, get everything you need well beforehand. A trip that normally takes 10 or 15 minutes can take up to 2 hours if the roads are covered with a foot or more of snow. Of course that assumes you don't get stuck somewhere along the way to or from the store. If you do get stuck you might be lucky and they'll find your frozen corpse before the spring thaw.


I think that's enough when it comes to surviving with winters in “the country.” While some of the above may seem overblown, I and family and friends have all experienced one or more of the scenarios outlined above.