Staying Warm in the Cold

I promised myself I would go to the nail salon to have a pedicure with hot wax the moment I stepped into the frigid stream and discovered my boots were not waterproof as advertised. Getting one’s feet wet to get the shot is not usually a big deal, but at minus 34 degrees Celsius wet feet was not good. Preparing for the trip to the Canadian Rockies in January centered on getting camera gear, extra batteries, many layers, socks and warm boots packed. Preparing for photographing in the cold is one thing… dealing with it and the consequences is another.

While my photography friends and I were removing multiple layers of clothes for dinner I looked over at my new friend and noticed that he had blisters on his fingertips! “Oh my gosh! You have frostbite!” Usually this is accompanied by pain, but he did not feel any pain until pull-ing his glove off and in fact had decreased sensation in most of his fingertips.

Usually the first symptoms of frostbite are in the digits and tip of nose. This could be painful digits that progress to numbness or tingling. Once sensation is gone this is a sign that frostbite may have developed.

Ways to prevent frostbite include starting with appropriate layers, Arctic-rated boots, wearing thick, warm socks, and/or using hand/toe warmers. Moving around to keep your blood circulating helps to prevent frostbite especially if standing while awaiting sunrise. Jumping jacks and squats are personal favorites. It is important to look at your digits if they become numb to check for whitened/pale skin, blisters, or blackened skin. If one notes any of these signs or symptoms get out of the cold environment immediately.

Re-warming techniques include removing the cold, or wet clothing, and gently rewarming in warm but NOT hot water. Do not vigorously rub the cold skin. If blisters are present try to leave them intact and go to your nearest Emergency Department. If a Burn Center is available this would be ideal. Expect to have your tetanus updated, blisters may or may not be removed and to have bandages placed. Antibiotics may be started to prevent infection. And certainly DO NOT go back into the cold!

The healing process can take 10 days to two weeks and at this time one can determine if the frostbit tissue will return to normal or whether it will become ischemic and die (finger-tip amputation). One of the most crucial aspects of healing is to prevent infection.

Frostbite is preventable as long as you pay attention to your extremities and check them occasionally. If you are having difficulty staying warm despite multiple layers, hand/toe-warmers and rewarming techniques get out of the cold and get warm. No photograph is worth losing fingers or toes.

Do you have any winter travel tips or winter photography spots? Please share with us in the comments.


Do you have any travel tips or unique photographic spots in South America? Share with us in the comments.


About the author: Seattle-based photographer and Emergency Physician Jennelle Marcereau travels the globe to capture landscapes that remind one to slow down and appreciate the splendor of nature. See more of her work at

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3 Responses to “Staying Warm in the Cold”
  1. Larry T. Reed

    Cold weather photographers need to wear no gloves or very light gloves to operate their cold cameras which means cold or frost bitten fingers. I use a muff, an insulated tube with straps that fasten around the waist. Keep your hands inside the muff until ready to shot and return between shots. Being a tube you can lock your hands together, friends keep each other warm, in extreme cold add a hand warmer. There is room for small accessories that can be kept warm between uses. A word of caution about relying on external sources of warmth, they can fail or become so hot they can burn exposed skin. Muffs can be found in sporting goods stores that cater hunters.
    A cold head means cold feet. In cold weather I wear a thin synthetic balaclava. The balaclava it thin enough that it doesn’t interfere with a hat and keeps your head very comfortable. I get mine at a snowmobile shop. In extreme weather I wear a fleece balaclava that fits over a hat. They can be found at hunting shops.

  2. Jorene Doria

    I was hoping for information on how to prevent camera damage during winter and rainy fall adventures. I struggled with my photography during the Iditarod and Fall hunting.