Laura Sampson lives about 40 miles north of Anchorage, Alaska, in a town called Palmer, where "it's been snowing since about mid-October." Palmer is the founder of the blog Little House Big Alaska.
Still, she recently had a small family get-together for her son's 17th birthday, all outside. "We basically did a 'bring your own dinner' party," she says. "Everyone brings their own food and we put a grill across the whole top of the fire pit and grill it all separately."
After living in Alaska for 50 years, Sampson is accustomed to socializing outside when the weather isn't all that agreeable, something Americans across the country will have to learn as Covid-19 cases spike. Already, state and local officials are taking steps to limit indoor dining and curtail gatherings at private homes.
If you're getting anxious about how to meet up with friends this winter because congregating in bars or apartments won't be an option, you should probably stock up on some items that will make socializing outside more comfortable even when temperatures drop.
Don't forget that public health officials have said even small, private social gatherings are fueling the spread of coronavirus, so make sure to follow local regulations on attendance limits and take precautions such as wearing masks and maintaining social distance.
Having a good winter coat will always help brave lower temperatures in comfort. But if you're having guests over, try providing old sleeping bags, Sampson says.
"We have old sleeping bags we keep on hand, so people can bundle up in one of those," Sampson says. While nicer or newer sleeping bags can be pricey, old ones or inexpensive ones are great to line chairs and create some insulation.
At Walmart, you can get an Ozark Trail adult sleeping bag for $15.94, and on Amazon a lightweight sleeping bag retails for $17.99. And look through your own closets to see if you already have some old ones stuffed in a storage bin somewhere.
Hand warmer packs are inexpensive and easy to find right now, so stocking up on them could be a good idea. "Crunch them up and they are really warm," Sampson says. "Stick them in your pockets."
Amazon has a "semi-steady stream" of deals on hand warmers, Conway says. Right now on Amazon you can find a pack of 40 hand warmers for $20. "We've seen this deal occur regularly," she says.
If your go-to summer activity was meeting friends in the park and laying a blanket down, you can still do that with slight tweaks, says MaryLynn Pulscher, the environmental education manager at the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board.
"I sit in a camp chair in the winter on the south side of the building," she says. "Get out of the wind and be outside."
The best time to buy is usually the end of summer clearance cycle, says Regina Conway, consumer expert at Slickdeals. However, she adds, "there are camping chairs listed in Black Friday ads." For example, Bass Pro has an outdoor lounge chair for $39.97, 50% off its original price.
If you want to host a small gathering, like Sampson did for her son's birthday, it's important that you have multiple tables that guests can place their food on, and that are easy to move and space six feet apart. A plastic folding table from Walmart is $40 and easy to carry in and out of the house, but you can also use any makeshift platform. Sampson has a big wooden spool she uses as a table in her backyard.
"You could totally use any sort of work table you don't mind getting wet," Sampson says, just in case it snows or rains.
"One thing we've done is put out our single-serve coffee maker," Sampson says. "People bring their own cup and insert the pod, and press 'go,' then wipe it off when they're done."
There are lots of deals on single-serve coffee makers, says Conway. "We are seeing some deals throughout this Black Friday month and tabletop appliances are often at deep discounts during this time," she says.
If you have a space that allows it, a fire pit is a great addition to an outdoor gathering during the winter. "Typically we don't see widespread discounts on these in the wintertime since they generally are less top-of-mind when it's cold out, but because of high demand this past summer, if you're still looking to get one, now can be a good time to buy," Conway says.
At Home Depot, for example, a 40-inch fire pit table is retailing for $270, down from $630.
When shopping, just make sure you're spending money on items that will actually encourage you to get outside when the weather is less than forgiving. "Get out every day," Sampson suggests. "That fresh air, it does so much for you. It's a change of scenery. It's kind of exhilarating."
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