Jan 19, 2024 - Culture

How to stay warm in Chicago's subzero temps

Photo of a woman bundled up in winter outerwear

Monica enjoyed many subzero walks during the recent cold snap. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

I'm obsessed with finding hacks to stay warm — indoors and out — during Chicago's chilliest days.

Why it matters: After five years of research and interviews with cold weather experts, I've distilled my best tips to get you through this next subzero snap.

Photo of socks laid out on the floor.
Photo: Monica Eng/Axios


I've tried Bengay, pantyhose, wool socks, regular socks and plastic bags and concluded that the combination of a wool sock + plastic bag + wool sock + warm boot keeps my toes the toastiest.

  • Make sure your boots are big enough to fit the extra sockage.
Photo of winter gloves
Photo: Monica Eng/Axios


Wearing nitrile gloves under a down or ragg wool mittens allows my fingers to share warmth but still protects them when I have to poke at my phone for a moment.

Note: The plastic bag and nitrile glove methods can make your feet and hands sweat, which makes them unsuitable for brisk activity followed by long periods of stillness in the cold.

Photo of a woman bundled up outside
Photo: Monica Eng/Axios


A balaclava with a good nose hole prevents my glasses from fogging and lets me breathe without creating so much condensation that the face protector gets wet and freezes.

  • But all bets are off when I start talking.
  • If I must expose my face on a long cold walk, I'll smear it with Vaseline on the wise advice of a longtime postal carrier and my son who used it when he had to play football in freezing temps.
Photo of a bottle of water and a potato
Electric hand warmers, bottles filled with warm water, and baked potatoes can help warm the body. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios


Hand warmer packets have never really worked for me, but I've had great success filling my inside coat pocket with a hot baked potato in a plastic bag, a plastic bottle filled with very warm water, or one of those new electric hand warmers that also serves as a battery charger.

Photo of a bathtub with a computer
Monica's bathtub work space. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios


On subzero days when my home office feels like a walk-in cooler, I head to the toasty bathroom and line the tub with towels, a cushion and desk tray from which I am writing this very story.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Chicago.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Chicago stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Chicago.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more