Cold – the Shivering Menace!

At the one end of the marching season is the heat – we all know that and its effects.  At the other end is the cold – temperature, wind chill, body doesn’t work well, equipment freezes up, all the fun stuff.  But we have to deal with it.

The Body

The most difficult part of being cold is that your body starts to quit working well. The truly difficult part of the season is that end-of-football halftime show when you have to sit in the bleachers, likely on metal seats, for around an hour, with not much activity except playing of the fight song once in a while.

All that time, your body temperature is dropping slowly but steadily. The wind, the below-freezing numbers, the cold seating, the lack of activity, the thin uniform (sometimes almost  no uniform, in the case of the dance team), and the lack of any heat sources or sunlight, all contribute to making you miserable.

Hypothermia can result. Here’s what that might look like, courtesy of WebMD:

1. Call 911 if you suspect hypothermia

Symptoms of hypothermia in adults and children include:

  • Confusion, memory loss, or slurred speech
  • Drop in body temperature below 95 Farenheit
  • Exhaustion or drowsiness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Numb hands or feet
  • Shallow breathing
  • Shivering

2. Restore Warmth Slowly

  • Get the person indoors.
  • Remove wet clothing and dry the person off, if needed.
  • Warm the person’s trunk first, not hands and feet. Warming extremities first can cause shock.
  • Warm the person by wrapping him or her in blankets or putting dry clothing on the person.
  • Do not immerse the person in warm water. Rapid warming can cause heart arrhythmia.
  • If using hot water bottles or chemical hot packs, wrap them in cloth; don’t apply them directly to the skin.

3. Begin CPR, if Necessary, While Warming Person


So, the short lesson here is, do not trifle with hypothermia!

Let’s see what can be done to avoid all that, given the circumstances.

If you can’t get out of the wind, and in that situation you likely will not be able to, the next best thing is to reduce its effects.

Here again, preparation will eliminate most of these issues.

First of all, add some layers of clothing, preferably some great insulators so that body heat can be preserved.  Silk glove liners make an excellent first step in keeping your hands warm. Silk is thin, a natural fiber,  and is capable of keeping a great deal of warmth in your gloves.

Silk sock liners, for the same reasons.


When you wear these things, make sure that they do not distract from the uniform, that is, be sure they are covered by the original part of the uniform; all you’re doing is adding a layer underneath, not changing the color of the uniform as it’s seen by the public. The socks and glove liners come in several colors and sizes, be sure to play around in the area of the links provided to get what you need.

Thermal underwear is great preparation for those long periods of inactivity. Modern marching band uniforms are sometimes made of very thin material, so the waffly-style thermals may not be appropriate for you, especially if the uniform is white.

So far, we’ve covered ( and insulated!) hands, feet, and trunk, now we move on to the face.

Your face, being attached to your head, can be made warmer by insulating your head – that’s right, just about the same philosophy we used for the heat can be applied to the cold, which is that preparation is the key to success!

The skin on your head is very thin, and a lot of body heat can be lost quickly if your head is not covered. Wearing at least some kind of hat will keep you lots warmer than no hat at all. In the extreme weather we sometimes have to deal with, something like a balaclava might be very useful – it covers head, neck, ears, while still leaving access to eyes and mouth, particularly useful for wind players. And they come in colors, so again you could coordinate sections, or maybe the whole band.

It’s something you’d have to take off before the halftime performance, but you’d at least get a good start, what with your face being not frozen and all.

Your lips would be the last remaining part to help protect, and very important for the wind players.  Here’s a link to the review for the best lip protection. Unlike lip balm for summer, the winter varieties do not need SPF, but they do need simple, non-allergenic, natural ingredients without any of the pain-killers that can reduce the lip sensitivity required for good playing. It’s also helpful when they can stand up to wind and cold. The clear winner here is – Badger
Classic Lip Balm – unscented.

For reed players, your beloved cane reed is likely not the best choice for subfreezing temperatures. Many of the newer synthetic reeds will work very well in cold temperatures. Some, like Forestone, contain over 50% bamboo, so they look and sound like cane, but the reliability and consistency is much better than natural cane, AND they won’t freeze up.

Brass players, we have not forgotten you! There’s hardly any worse feeling than when you’re on the field in a snowstorm, just played your very best lick, your horn comes down, and the top layer of your lip skin is ripped off because it was frozen to the mouthpiece – ow.

Some of that can be helped by using a lip balm, as above, but the long-term answer to that problem is a plastic mouthpiece, or at least a plastic rim on the one you have.

Bach, Marcienkiewicz, Giardinelli, and several others offer screw-rim mouthpieces which have a Delrin (industrial plastic) rim; Kelly, Mutec and others make all-plastic mouthpieces, none of which will ever freeze on your lips. Sure, it’s not your very own rim profile, but this particular half-time is not your best competition show, either.  That one is likely going to be indoors, in a domed stadium, without much in the way of weather conditions to deal with.

In the meantime, its best not to injure yourself by using a metal rim during subfreezing temperatures. Here’s some ideas:

So, keep warm, keep protected, and march on!








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4 Replies to “Cold – the Shivering Menace!”

  1. Wow great information. You seem to have covered all the bases here. I grew up in an area where the temperatures could dip as far low as -50C and spent a great deal of time working and playing outdoors. The products you have shown on the page, aside from the instrument products which I have no clue about, are great products and I have used a couple of them while I was living in that cold climate. You mention instrument freeze-ups while playing. I am interested in how you deal with that while performing?

    1. Hi, Lance, and thanks for stopping by! As for dealing with the ‘frozen instrument’ issue while performing, it really only works to prepare for it in advance, since the para-military nature of marching bands and the ‘military bearing’ it requires leaves no room for the random motion necessary to fix anything during a performance. What we would normally do is beforehand, mix up a batch of valve oil (slide oil for the trombones), about half alcohol and half oil, that would keep everything moving, at least long enough to get through the performance. Thanks for the kind words, and best wishes for your success!

  2. Hi Barry!

    The marching band experience is awesome!

    It’s very important to keep you warm and dry all the time, since that cold can be very dangerous.

    Thanks a lot for the thorough advice and the tips to handle it the best way. Some interesting products there that I’m going to absolutely check out.


    1. Hi, Israel, and thanks for stopping by! New marching band members and their parents will want to know these things, and I appreciate that you took the time to check them out.

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