More than fashion: A hat can be your friend in cold weather

There are a variety of hats to choose from, but make sure -- and this is important – it goes over your ears

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Yes, it’s true. Wearing a hat on chilly days will help you stay warm.

Wouldn’t it be nice if outdoor temperatures hovered year-round at 80.6 degrees? 

"That’s when the naked, resting human body is what we call thermoneutral," said Dr. Rachel L. Hailey with HCA Midwest Health headquartered in Overland Park, Kansas. "In other words, the heat your body generates perfectly matches the heat lost to the air around it."

But we know that’s not possible for many unless you live close to the equator.


The amount of heat you can lose through your head depends on several factors, Hailey said, like how thick your hair is, what activity you’re doing in the cold, or how windy it is. 

Wearing a hat in winter is important

Parents need to know that kids lose proportionally more heat through their heads than adults.

"We control our body temperature by balancing heat production from cell function and heat loss to the environment," Hailey said.

And the body can lose heat in many ways. 

If you come in direct contact with a cold object, you lose heat. If you encounter cold air, you lose heat through the cold air moving across your skin. 

"There’s even something called the ‘chimney effect’ when dense, cold air -- or the wind -- works its way into your pants and sleeves and pushes warm, light air out through other openings," Hailey said.

What types work best?

There are a variety of hats to choose from, but make sure -- and this is important – it goes over your ears.

"If you hate hats, wear earmuffs," Hailey recommends. "Look for hats made of materials that wick away sweat to keep your head and ears warm, like merino wool, fleece and polyester." 

Also, a good fleece lining for insulation doesn’t hurt. 

You also want to make sure your hat has a snug fit that it’s not too loose or too tight. 

Can you get sick?

Doctors will tell you that it’s an old wives’ tale that you’ll catch a cold or get sick if you don’t wear a hat.


"While it’s a good idea to wear a hat to stay warm and help prevent frostbite and frostnip to your ears in extreme cold, remember that other parts of your body must also be covered to keep you from getting cold," Hailey said.

Your body heat escapes through any part of your body that’s exposed to the elements – not just your head.

Don’t leave home without … 

Don’t forget your mittens — which are preferred over gloves.

Hailey said a windproof jack is also helpful if it’s windy. The blustery wind is the worst for robbing your body of its heat.

Button your collar -- or better yet, wear a scarf.

Consider tucking your pants into your socks to prevent the chimney effect.

"Remember, respiratory viruses like flu and cold tend to spread much faster during the winter, and a lot of that is not because of the temperature and how you dress, but with people being indoors and in situations more conducive to spreading illness," Hailey said.

Bottom line: it’s a great idea to wear a hat in the winter for many reasons; if you don’t have one handy, a scarf wrapped around your head or even a headband that goes over your ears will work.

Just make sure whatever you put on your head will wick the sweat.