hiking in sub freezing temps and sweat

4:13 p.m. on March 2, 2020 (EST)
Patman
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Hi everyone,

I was just laughing at LS's Iceface post: https://www.trailspace.com/forums/stickers/topics/197946.html#197972, and I though I'd go ahead and post the topic. 

I've heard all the wisdom and advice most of my life about managing sweat when in the back-country in sub-freezing temps.

At this point, I've backpacked nearly 9,000 miles in all sorts of weather, conditions and terrain. 

And I'm a super sweaty dude.

In certain scenarios I don't think I can move so slowly as to not sweat.

A couple weeks ago, I headed up the mountain after work with the temp somewhere between 10 and 20 F. I needed to gain about 1500 feet over 3 miles to reach my first possible camp. Knowing the drill, I started out in nothing more than a base layer top and thin running pants on bottom. I walked slower than normal and took breaks. Even so, by the time I arrived at camp, I had a full-on ice helmet from my sweaty hair. (Like normal, I puttered around camp for a while, donned a wool beanie, huddled up in my big down sleeping bag, and woke up with a dry head the next morning.)

Granted, most of what I call backcountry isn't really all that remote. But even so, I've never felt like the risk was extreme. When I am truly remote, I do make more efforts at layer management of course and monitoring exertion levels.  

So to all the uber-experienced sub freezing adventurers out there; can you go so slow as to not sweat? In what situation does this become so important that you would just not hike if it meant sweating? 

4:24 p.m. on March 2, 2020 (EST)
Jake W
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I'm with ya Pat! Team Sweaty.

It's ironic sometimes that the coldest days are some of the times I dawn the least amount of insulation. I think what's important is a combination of 1)"minimizing" sweating to best you can, and 2)making sure your insulation layers remain dry. Cause there is no way in hell that I can hike uphill in the snow (usually in snowshoes or crampons) without sweating. I could be completely nude with a wind chill and I'd still sweat (sorry for that visual). If I pull into camp with wet base layers, I know that my exertion level is going to drop way down (hence less sweating), and I've got dry options to keep me warm. What becomes a problem is pulling into camp with nothing dry to put on, then you're in trouble!

5:26 p.m. on March 2, 2020 (EST)
LoneStranger
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That was a day hike Pat :)

I really try not to sweat much when I'm camping, especially if I'm out for more than a couple of nights. My winter mileage is really limited because going slow enough not to sweat is hard above 20°f. I will hike in just a summer wool shirt and hiking pants, but still have to go slow.

Wind is the big danger I find. Changes everything about staying warm, but especially the importance of not sweating. On this trip in January I did a really steep climb in single digit temps which required a really pronounced rest step.

https://lesstraveledby.net/2020/02/04/baldpate-two-nights-in-january/

With the right gear and a lot of self control, even a steam engine like me can stay dry. Just have to really watch the speed.

6:47 p.m. on March 2, 2020 (EST)
whomeworry
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As LS states, pacing and careful layer management are key.  I often hike in the cold wearing only a pair of running shorts and a synthetic Hawaiian shirt, under a soft or hard shell.  The shell gets opened up, commensurate with the amount of sweat I put out.  These items all dry pretty fast.  The objective is minimizing the number of clothing articles that need to dry out later.  When I get to camp I continue to wear these items.  They will dry quite a bit before I become too chilled, at which point I add an layer, and continue the drying out process.  It takes several hours for my sweaty layers to "dry" off.  If they are still damp the next morning, I'll let them hang from my pack to air dry while hiking the next day.  If I am where campfires are permitted, I will set up a clothes line and space blanket reflector, to concentrate heat on the damp items.

Ed

7:23 p.m. on March 2, 2020 (EST)
Old Guide
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I sweat plenty but won't slow down enough to stop sweating...probably couldn't unless I stopped and froze. I ventilate, shed inner or outer layers and will change inner top layer if necessary and likely will have to. I've never found a top inner layer that will stay dry or dry fast enough to stay safe if stopped for a length of time so even at minus10f I'll strip off the soaked top and change into a dry one.

Bottoms-I seldom wear long johns, I usually wear medium wght wool pants in the cold and keep the fly partially open for ventilation.

I sweat enough to possibly soak a hat so will bring a 2nd. If the hat is to warm I wear a bandanna.

9:18 p.m. on March 2, 2020 (EST)
Phil Smith
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If it’s sunny, down to around c0F I’ll be out hiking mountains or snowshoeing cross country in a thin base layer (usually ECWCS polypropylene pants and a short sleeve EMS TechWick shirt), with a lightweight Stoic Merino shirt and my no-frills Cabela‘s rain pants with the side zips half unzipped for ventilation. Gloves are usually light-medium weight, sometimes even uninsulated softshell. Until we got to the treeline and the blasting winds this is basically what I wore on our subzero Chocorua ascent almost 3 years ago, and I was comfortable the whole way.

If it’s cloudy or nighttime I’ll probably have a fleece on, unzipped to some degree or with sleeves pulled up to some degree. No hat because it fogs my glasses almost immediately and it’s too cold for them to clear up. In my chest zip pocket they go and I just follow the blazes without benefit of eyesight. It’s a very good system for me, I’ll finish with frozen sweat on the outside of my fleece and barely able to feel any moisture against my skin. 

4:56 p.m. on March 3, 2020 (EST)
ppine
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A good discussion. 

Since some sweat is inevitable use the best fabrics you can like poly, wool, fleece and alpaca.   Do not bring any cotton. Leave it at home. 

6:29 p.m. on March 3, 2020 (EST)
Old Guide
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And how important is ventilation/not over dressing/sweat? Real important.

Just this last week a  21yr old male, experienced, equipped and healthy died in the Adirondacks as he and a friend attempted to climb Dix Mtn.

They were snowshoeing in 3ft of snow, he got over heated, shed some clothes, got hypothermia and eventually collapsed. CPR couldn't bring him back.

Autopsy was inconclusive but said hypothermia was partial cause of his death!

9:16 p.m. on March 3, 2020 (EST)
Old Guide
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I forgot to add to above. The old general rule to winter hiking was to carry a sleeping bag...one for the group. Few do it anymore. This young man might still be alive if one had been carried by his partner or him.

And if it isn't in your group,  maybe someone else will need one. I lost one [sleeping bag] that way many years ago and don't regret it. No different than covering someone with a good blanket in a roadside accident. The blanket is replaceable.

If not a bag then carry an emergency mylar wrap and/or a full ensolite pad and when necessary use it is a wrap.

9:17 p.m. on March 3, 2020 (EST)
Phil Smith
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Yep, better to be a little chilly but dry and alive. I fell into a stream while fishing on thanksgiving day in GA. It was in the low 40s and since it’s better to be cold & dry as opposed to cold & wet, when my friends came back they found me fishing in nothing but my underwear & shoes. I didn't have the keys to the truck to warm up. 

5:55 a.m. on March 4, 2020 (EST)
LoneStranger
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Yeah OG, based on the tiny packs I see on most folks winter hiking I doubt many of them are carrying cold weather essentials. I'll leave my shelter set up in camp, but full length pad and a quilt definitely come to the summit with me. Another thing I carry year round is at least two chemical hand warmers in my FAK. Any time of year one of those in each armpit will help get internal temperature back up and in case of serious injury they can be used one at a time while waiting for rescue to stay warm under the quilt.

Like you say, I carry that stuff for the people I meet just as much as for myself. Would hate to find someone half dead and not be able to help them because I wimped out on carrying a full pack.

8:24 a.m. on March 4, 2020 (EST)
Patman
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great stuff guys, thank you

9:09 a.m. on March 4, 2020 (EST)
LoneStranger
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I should mention a warning about those iron/oxygen hand warmers; they get hot! If you are going to tuck them into more sensitive spots like an armpit its a good idea to wrap them in a sock first. You still get the heat, but don't burn the skin. For sub zero sleeping I put them in an inside pocket. Found out the hard way after sleeping with one next to the skin and waking to the smell of roasting meat :)

June 3, 2020
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