Graphic by Rachel Yoon / North by Northwestern

In January of my first year at Northwestern, I took a selfie walking down Sheridan with tiny icicles hanging from my eyebrows and eyelashes. Since that blizzardy year, I haven’t encountered the infamous Chicago Winter…that is, until this quarter.

This quarter, the first weeks of class had temperatures routinely reaching into the negatives. With ruthless windchill and few hours of daylight, checking the weather app every morning became a dreaded task. On Jan. 15th, students were further dismayed to receive a Northwestern email warning about the possibility of frostbite on exposed skin within 10-15 minutes. Complaints became a frequent reprise. “If we can get frostbite in ten minutes, why aren’t classes canceled?” Late or absent Frostbite Shuttles only compounded our collective ire.

Whether students boycotted classes or braved the cold, everyone had to go outside eventually—for a Target run, an exam or a much-needed opportunity to socialize. The single-digit temperatures and biting winds remained as shocking as ever, but many students, including me, learned to adapt.

I’ve compiled a list of my seven secret weapons for surviving Northwestern’s Winter Quarter. Even though we’re already past the worst of the cold this year, remember these tips for the rest of your Chicago winters!

Tip #1: Double-layer your pants

My most important tried-and-true cold weather hack: I never go outside without tights or leggings underneath my pants. I even break out the fleece-lined tights for the most brutal days. If you’re looking for specific recommendations, try Berkshire fleece-lined tights from Amazon and anything Heattech from Uniqlo. Don’t spend more than a few bucks at Amazon or Target for regular tights since they only survive a few wears anyway. I thought this was common sense, until I caught a friend wearing ripped jeans with nothing but goosebumps underneath. I was baffled.

If you’re looking for non-tights/legging alternatives, compression pants or slim-fit joggers underneath cargoes, sweats or jeans work just as well. Trust me—no one will notice that your butt looks a tiny bit puffier than usual. But your body will notice if below-zero air starts freezing up your muscles halfway through your walk to class.

Tip #2: No ankle socks, ever!

This was another glaring mistake I keep noticing on commutes across campus: ankles. So many naked ankles everywhere. Do people not know that socks come in taller versions? How do you expect to survive negative five degrees with your entire ankle exposed to the elements? Quarter and crew-height socks are a must; wool ski socks are even better. Try Smartwool for the biggest selection and Duckworth for the coziest sock experience.

If you’re an overachiever like me, try this: Pull your socks over your bottom pant layer (tights/leggings) and pull your top pant layer over your socks. It’s like an airlock made of fabric—perfect for Northwestern’s most brutal quarter.

Tip #3: Boots, boots, boots

This is one point I’ve only recently, and begrudgingly, come to appreciate the importance of. I’m usually a sneakers girl all day, every day, but every rule has exceptions. There is almost no pair of sneakers in the world that won’t leave your socks soaked after walking around in snow or puddles. Even recently, when the snow and cold haven’t been as bad, several swimming-pool sized puddles mark my walk to class each morning. So, basically the entire month of January has been strictly boots-only.

My favorite boots are Doc Martens and Blundstones — both pairs have lasted me forever, stay in great shape and keep the slush on the outside of my shoe where it belongs. In my experience, I’ve never needed taller boots than the standard styles for both brands, since sidewalks are (usually) shoveled when it’s snowy. But if you like trekking your own path through the lawn or jumping in puddles, tall Wellies are a great option too.

Beyond comfort and dry socks, boots are important for a big safety reason: ice. You need shoes with rubber bottoms if you’re going to have any chance of walking down ice-coated sidewalks without ending up on your ass — somehow in front of two columns of traffic, twelve people you know and that one professor who doesn’t like you. There have been actual cases of students getting injured from falling on ice since school started back up. Don’t be that person — it’s almost as embarrassing as it is painful.

Tip #4: Take care of your sensitive spots

Relax, I’m not about to lecture you about jockstrap itch. Your fingers, nose, and ears are all protruding from your body and are therefore extra sensitive and vulnerable to the cold. Toting around a hat, scarf, and gloves is absolutely worth it to protect these places. You’d be surprised how much warmer it feels with a scarf covering up your nose. Plus, less wind-induced snot dripping.

Also, not to sound too much like that infuriating email blast, but your extremities are exactly the places you’re most likely to get frostbite. Please don’t give the school the satisfaction of being able to say, “We told you so.” Cover your sensitive spots!

Tip #5: You don’t have to be a skincare guru to moisturize

Even if you are among the blessed few who have flawless skin, negative temperatures are going to throw that out the window. Air this cold will dry out your skin, especially on your face and hands. Bloody, cracked knuckles are a common sight in the cold season — almost as common as bloody, chapped lips. Save the lightweight moisturizer for the spring and go straight for the Eucerin and Vaseline. It might feel slimy at first, but your skin will thank you.

Tip #6: Strip once you’re inside

When the winter weather is truly freezing, your body temperature will stay low even after you’ve been inside a heated building for a few minutes. It might be tempting to keep on your hat and parka for the first 20 minutes of class or when you first get back home, but do your best to take them off right away instead.

Think about it like this: when you go from the warm indoors to the cold outdoors, you have a bunch of layers and accessories to keep you warm. But if your body gets used to what it feels like inside with all of those extra layers still on, there will be nothing you can do when you go back outside and feel twice as cold as before. Plus, after a few minutes inside with all those layers on, you’ll start to sweat, which will make the outside even colder.

Tip #7: Give yourself some grace

At the risk of sounding preachy or cheesy, I don’t think we remind ourselves enough that winter is hard for everyone. Whether you’re from Calabasas or Concord, no amount of prior experience with the cold can fully save you from its less-visible effects. There is no one capable of continuing at the same level of functionality and mood when the sun goes down at 4pm. In addition to checking for cracked skin, frostbitten fingers, and eyelash icicles, check in with yourself mentally — because any Northwestern student can tell you that seasonal depression is a very real thing.

I want to leave you with these reminders: Yes, other people are feeling lazy and unmotivated. Yes, other people have depression that skyrockets in the winter. Yes, it’s normal to have a lower social battery when the windchill kicks into high gear. For these 10 freezing weeks of accelerated curricula, backhanded emails and sidewalk skating rinks, you are allowed to prioritize your health, wellness and safety.

And don’t forget: the season of Dillo Day, lakeside hammocking and naturally-occuring Vitamin D is closer than you think!