Cold fingers and toes? Keep your core warm

11:33 a.m. on January 22, 2020 (EST)
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Unfortunately, the most accurate indicators that I'm not adequately insulated on a cold weather hike are my fingers and toes. Anyone who has experienced this knows what i'm talking about: first the tingling feeling, then increasing discomfort, and if you're really cold, you stop being able to feel your fingertips or toes at all - totally numb.  Trying to power through that is a recipe for frostbite. and if you think it's uncomfortable getting cold feet or toes, try warming them after they have been frostbitten. It's agonizingly painful (assuming you can re-start circulation - fortunately, I have not suffered frostbite so severe that I couldn't re-warm...and still have all my fingers and toes).  

The best and warmest gloves, mittens, socks and boots often won't make much of a dent in this process if you aren't wearing enough (or the right kind of) layers around your core. On the other hand, gloves that one might claim are terribly inadequate can very easily be excellent for the conditions if you're otherwise appropriately dressed.

Basic advice? be smart about bringing extra layers on a hike. A simple pair of wind shell pants or jacket can help a lot; so, too, can an additional mid-layer added on to what you're wearing. Bring a thicker, warmer hat, and use it if conditions demand. crumple a puffy jacket into your pack and put it on during stops of any meaningful period of time.  

1:46 p.m. on January 22, 2020 (EST)
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Good post Andrew.

Also; Stay hydrated and fed. Limit alcohol and caffeine. Two thinner pair of socks are warmer than one thick pair plus they prevent blisters. If you are sweaty wet, then  change your under layers except in the most extreme conditions where having damp skin exposed to the elements would be dangerous. Simple bread bags slid over damp feet can warm those toes up. Ventilate [don't get damp], open vents, collars and zippers when possible. Hike cool, not hot or cold.

2:07 p.m. on January 22, 2020 (EST)
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Old Guide said:

Good post Andrew.

Also; Stay hydrated and fed. Limit alcohol and caffeine. Two thinner pair of socks are warmer than one thick pair plus they prevent blisters. If you are sweaty wet, then  change your under layers except in the most extreme conditions where having damp skin exposed to the elements would be dangerous. Simple bread bags slid over damp feet can warm those toes up. Ventilate [don't get damp], open vents, collars and zippers when possible. Hike cool, not hot or cold.

 using bread bags over your damp socks, effectively establishing a vapor barrier, can help keep your feet warm in cold weather.  the barrier prevents moisture from your feet from wetting and compromising the insulating value of your socks. (putting on the bread bags or vapor barrier socks after your socks are wet limits their effectiveness, though it eventually works OK. Best to use this from the start and keep your thick, insulating sock dry).  

I have used vapor barriers occasionally over the years, only in the most frigid weather conditions. When I use them, I wear a very thin wool blend liner sock, layer the vapor barrier liner over that, and then wear a thicker sock over the vapor barrier.

Sizing is important. A too-large bag or barrier can both cause blisters occupies space in your boots. If wearing a thin sock/barrier/thick sock in your boots makes the boots very tight, hence increasing the risk of inhibiting blood circulation, adding a vapor barrier can be very counterproductive.  

I advise anyone thinking about using a vbl sock to test the system in advance - put on the thin/sock/barrier/thick sock inside your winter boots, tie or buckle them down, and walk around, make sure everything fits and feels OK....before you're out in sub zero weather.  

12:34 p.m. on January 23, 2020 (EST)
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Fill your belly after you hike for the rest your getting at night

2:37 a.m. on January 24, 2020 (EST)
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Avoid efforts that result in heavy sweat.  Slow down and shed layers, if necessary.  Better to be a little on the chilly side while chugging along, than hot and saturating you layers with moisture, which later will cause you chills when at rest.

Ed

7:46 a.m. on January 24, 2020 (EST)
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Every time I see this topic in the forum I'm reminded of one of those things they used to say...If your toes are cold put a hat on. One of those things that sounds silly until you realize its true. As Andrew rightly notes, the toes are a good indicator of when your temp is dropping and keeping the head warm is one of the best ways to bring it back up.

When I'm out on a winter trip I have a selection of different weight hats in reach as I'm going down the trail. That lets me swap to something lighter if I'm warm or heavier if conditions are stealing my heat. Changing other layers is laborious, especially if I'm hooked up to the sled. Changing hats or putting gloves on/off is a quick way to control the heat without stopping.

4:46 p.m. on January 24, 2020 (EST)
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whomeworry said:

Avoid efforts that result in heavy sweat.  Slow down and shed layers, if necessary.  Better to be a little on the chilly side while chugging along, than hot and saturating you layers with moisture, which later will cause you chills when at rest.

Ed

 sometimes, that's very difficult to do.  Hauling a large, loaded backpack uphill in the winter is going to make most people sweat - some of them quite a lot. As you note, shedding layers is the way to go. I'm often down to the last base layer with a full pack going uphill - even in frigid weather - and specifically carry a light wind shirt, even in the dead of winter, to wear over the base layer for those high-output uphill climbs.  

9:51 p.m. on January 24, 2020 (EST)
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LoneStranger said:

"..When I'm out on a winter trip I have a selection of different weight hats in reach as I'm going down the trail. That lets me swap to something lighter if I'm warm or heavier if conditions are stealing my heat..."

Good technique.  I have this alpaca scarf I use with my head wear options.  It's very soft, warm.  I also apply the same approach to my gloves and mitts.

Ed

8:31 p.m. on January 25, 2020 (EST)
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Agreement.  Put on a hat.  Add some layers.  Regulate your heat.  Don't sweat.  It takes some effort to stay warm and dry both. 

Once temps get cold, say 20 and below, I really like a fur lined bomber hat for sleeping, or really cold conditions like sleet and wind. 

8:00 a.m. on January 27, 2020 (EST)
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I carry a runners cap, wool beanie, down beanie, balaclava, and a buff on my winter trips. Balaclava and down beanie stay in the pack for "evening wear" unless I'm in a blizzard, and the others stay handy and get rotated depending on weather at the moment and my work rate. 

9:01 p.m. on January 27, 2020 (EST)
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Sometimes I have to work on equipment outside barehanded in subzero temps, and keeping my core warm does keep my fingers warmer. Warm boots, longjohns under my regular work clothes, insulated bib overalls over a midweight Carhartt hooded jacket, a heavy Carhartt over that, and insulated coveralls over everything gave me about 20 minutes at -20F or so. In practice I get more time because every chance I get I pull my hands inside my sleeves. Last Monday I had to change a starter on one of our trucks at the driver’s house, temps got into the low single digits by noon (I started around 830am), I didn‘t have the insulated coveralls that day though. I was comfortable, though a few times I had to take the heavy Carhartt off in order to fit my hand into narrow areas. No frostbite LOL

2:36 a.m. on January 28, 2020 (EST)
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Phil, I assume you described your work clothes, what would you take camping with you? 

11:20 a.m. on January 28, 2020 (EST)
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If I dressed like Phil , I would not be able to move.  The standard winter clothes in Wyoming are insulated Carhartt overalls and some pack boots with liners. 

There are all kinds of gloves for dexterity.  I used wade streams in the snow and used shoulder length trappers gloves. 

10:52 p.m. on January 28, 2020 (EST)
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whomeworry said:

Phil, I assume you described your work clothes, what would you take camping with you? 

 

Down to maybe 0-10F, synthetic & merino base & mid layers, 200wt fleece jacket, uninsulated snow pants, lightweight down jacket (Marmot Odin or EMS Feather Pack) for stops & inside the tent, lightweight hardshell for wind & heavier snowfall. Plus fleece hat, balaclava, fleece gloves, warm insulated gloves/mittens, and suitable footwear. Right now my only boots that I KNOW are warm in those temps are my Sorel Conquests, I haven‘t worn my Vasque Coldsparks enough yet. 

The work clothes list was just to show that the concept definitely works even when handling cold-soaked metal for extended periods of time. 

3:55 a.m. on January 29, 2020 (EST)
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Phil,

I appreciate you sharing your cold experience.  One can see the consideration you give  in these choices. 

Ed

10:13 a.m. on January 29, 2020 (EST)
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Interesting what Phil wears as it is much different than what I wear in same temps.

Boots-insulated with two pair of light or medium weight wool/wool blend. Long Hiking-probably leather boot. Standing around/short  hikes/work/leather or my Kamik Nation Pros which are light, warm, dry and inexpensive. If snowshoeing it maybe my Kamiks or a pair of Russian made felt lined leather boots but also have worn my 16" LL Bean uninsulated  boots with two pair of wool socks to about +10f many times. I wear those LL B's all yr depending on what I'm doing and where I'm doing it.

Hats, always at least one home knitted wool and either another of same or a bought hat kind of like Elmer Fudds with ear flaps.

Pants-wool, most likely E. German military, and probably without long johns...but if so polypro. I may or maynot tuck my pants in, often  not even on snowshoes.

Tops-poly pro or similar underlayer with a change on a hike. Wool shirt or sweater, windproof jacket with a back up down or synthetic puffer jacket for when I stop.

Gloves, assorted but, when hiking, main one is often uninsulated leather or double mittens with wool liner.

Since I wear glasses I may carry a nose guard or face mask but likely never wear them because of fogging.

I always carry, and often wear a fleece headband around my neck, 'cause I don't like wind going down it.

I think that covers it.

When hiking vents and zippers are open.

I wear a bandana on one wrist to wipe my face with and a compass on the other wrist. Also have another bandana in my rear pocket.

I also always carry a piece or roll of ensolite on hikes to sit on or wrap up in an emergency.

6:39 p.m. on February 2, 2020 (EST)
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Old Guide said:

Interesting what Phil wears as it is much different than what I wear in same temps.

 

I‘m known for being very warm-blooded in the hiking groups I’m a member of LOL. One hike started out at about 7F and within 5 minutes I’d taken off my fleece and was hiking in an extremely thin Stoic synthetic shirt due to the pace being set. I can’t even think about putting a hat on my head until around 0F or lower, otherwise my glasses will be fogged within minutes. Sometimes I just have to take them off. 

Since moving up here I had to rethink my clothing, it’s colder and the wind is usually blowing hard enough to make a difference so I wear the fleece more often. It breathes well enough that I stay pretty comfortable and usually finish my hike with frozen sweat on the outside while feeling pretty dry on the inside.

My TNF fleece gloves keep my hands warm down to around 5F as long as my pole straps aren’t too tight and I don’t start gripping the poles. I always have a pair of EMS insulated gloves in my pack or inside jacket pockets, too.

And lately I’ve been wearing my Lowa Camino GTX boots snowshoeing in temps from the mid-teens up. I just have to make sure they’re not tied too tightly across the toes and that my snowshoe bindings aren’t too tight. They’re more sturdy than my Keen Koven Polar or Vasque ColdSpark and give better support. A couple good, thick coats of beeswax keeps the leather from wetting out, I’ll put them in the oven as low as it’ll go (170F) for 15 minutes or so, rub the wax in until no more will absorb, then put them back in the oven for 5 minutes or so. They seem to be warmer when the leather doesn’t get wet, but my feet don’t seem to get very damp with sweat either. 

1:38 a.m. on February 3, 2020 (EST)
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I also heat my leather outer boots, prior to applying WP treatments.  It seems to make all of them penetrate better.  If my boots are shod with vegetable tanned leather, I like to use a synthetic, silicone, WP treatment.  If the leather is oil tanned I'll go with a natural wax or grease, like bees wax or mink oil. 

Ed

11:31 a.m. on February 5, 2020 (EST)
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whomeworry said:

I also heat my leather outer boots, prior to applying WP treatments.  It seems to make all of them penetrate better.  If my boots are shod with vegetable tanned leather, I like to use a synthetic, silicone, WP treatment.  If the leather is oil tanned I'll go with a natural wax or grease, like bees wax or mink oil. 

Ed

 for what it's worth regarding application of boot grease. i heat waxed cotton to apply a new coat of waterproofing, but not leather.

https://www.limmerbootgrease.com/information/using-limmer-boot-grease/ 

8:15 a.m. on February 9, 2020 (EST)
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I'm cold-blooded by nature. And so I always have a pair of dry wool socks to sleep in. In a pinch, I will wear them over my gloves when hiking. Looks stupid, and keeps my hands warm. 

8:36 a.m. on February 9, 2020 (EST)
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g00se said:

I'm cold-blooded by nature. And so I always have a pair of dry wool socks to sleep in. In a pinch, I will wear them over my gloves when hiking. Looks stupid, and keeps my hands warm. 

 It might look stupid but if it works you are smart to do it. But why not just add mittens to your pack and save the socks for when you need them?

10:09 a.m. on February 9, 2020 (EST)
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Old Guide said:

g00se said:

I'm cold-blooded by nature. And so I always have a pair of dry wool socks to sleep in. In a pinch, I will wear them over my gloves when hiking. Looks stupid, and keeps my hands warm. 

 It might look stupid but if it works you are smart to do it. But why not just add mittens to your pack and save the socks for when you need them?

 I carry/wear gloves, and if it's super cold, I'll go with mitts. In borderline weather (cold mornings that will be warming up), using the socks as the occasional backup pulls double-duty on their weight and pack room. 

10:50 a.m. on February 9, 2020 (EST)
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g00se said:

Old Guide said:

g00se said:

I'm cold-blooded by nature. And so I always have a pair of dry wool socks to sleep in. In a pinch, I will wear them over my gloves when hiking. Looks stupid, and keeps my hands warm. 

 It might look stupid but if it works you are smart to do it. But why not just add mittens to your pack and save the socks for when you need them?

 I carry/wear gloves, and if it's super cold, I'll go with mitts. In borderline weather (cold mornings that will be warming up), using the socks as the occasional backup pulls double-duty on their weight and pack room. 

 If you wear them as mittens what do you do for dry sleep socks?

10:54 a.m. on February 9, 2020 (EST)
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"Looks stupid" are words almost never uttered by people in the backcountry. 

11:05 a.m. on February 9, 2020 (EST)
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ppine said:

"Looks stupid" are words almost never uttered by people in the backcountry. 

 If you go far enough the only one there to call you stupid is yourself. Not saying that is my prime motivator on trail, but... :)

5:54 p.m. on February 9, 2020 (EST)
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ppine said:

"Looks stupid" are words almost never uttered by people in the backcountry. 

I am pretty sure the laughs I got from some of my home made solutions equated to the same opinion.
-------------------------------

Cold layering is a system.  In real cold, those extra heavy socks normally used around camp are good insurance when you have trouble keeping your hands warm.  I found rubber dish washing gloves make an excellent vapor barrier, and insulates from the cold.  The close fit leaves you fingers the most nimble of any glove/mitt options (chem and battery power excluded). 

As for the sleep socks I have a pair dedicated exclusively for that purpose. 

Ed

7:46 a.m. on February 12, 2020 (EST)
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LoneStranger said:

 If you wear them as mittens what do you do for dry sleep socks?

 Keep them dry! :D

March 31, 2020
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