10 Tips to Stay Warm in Winter
Long understood by polar travelers and native people from the far north, sweat is the biggest killer, as once you stop, saturated layers will chill you off. Not sweating is easy, just have a system that allows you to stay just warm enough for whatever you’re doing. This tends to work as an ‘action’ suit (shell, base layer, light mid layer) for walking and climbing, a ‘static’ layer (belay jacket) when you’re not moving.
Adjusting all these layers, along with opening and closing zippers, taking hats and gloves on and off, will help you keep the sweat at bay. If you know you’re going to really work hard then take a second base layer top and switch tops. The alternative option is the one layer system (as used by the Inuit), where you’re able to dump all the heat, then zip it up when you’re static.
2. You will sweat!
You’re like a cheese, you will sweat, and so make sure your base layer is able to deal with this, along with all your layers! Membrane soft shells are nice and smart but for tough conditions I’d always go for more porous layers (Polartec grid fleece) as these will stay warmer when wet, dry faster, and allow moisture out fast (non-windproof layers can be cooled off fast by the wind, which may sound like a bad idea, but by adjusting your shell you’ll gain more over all control.
3. Ultimate Comfort base
There are tons of great base layers on the market, from synthetic to wool, but by far the best for what you’ll be doing – i.e. stop and go (as proved by countless tests around the world) is mesh Brynge underwear. This super unsexy underwear is made from polyurethane and cannot absorb water, but due to it being spun into an open mesh you are effectively creating just a layer of air (think of the mesh as simply the scaffolding for that air). This stuff has been used on some of the hardest most extreme adventures of the last 100 years, and simply works better than anything else (and also looks worse than anything else). A top (long or short sleeved) is a great investment, and works well worn under a merino wool top (the wool helps suck up the sweat, and the mesh keeps it off your skin). Buy some and I guarantee you’ll be warmer, drier and happier.
4. You’re not a turtle – stay out of your shell
No matter how good your Gore or Polartec shell is it will not breathe as well as not having a shell on, and so try and have a layer that will do the same job for the times it’s not raining. Take a look at mountain runners, they tend to do all they can to avoid putting on shells, as they understand heat/sweat output better than most.
Instead they go for very light windproof layers when they can, or nothing when they’re working hard (again the wind is cooling you down). Softshell trousers (non membraned) work well for legs (you can climb everything in these most of the time), and a windproof top (pertex, microfibre etc) can go over the top of your base and mid layers. Having a non-shell system will both keep you dryer plus allow you to feel your environment more – vital when it comes to climbing. One great piece of kit that weighs nothing is a windproof gilet, as this can really keep your core warm while allowing your arms to cool.
5. Keep your feet warm
Most parts of your body can be warmed up with a bit of work, but not your feet. If you have cold feet, or worse still you can’t feel your feet, then you’ll be worried and tense. To have a boots for any climbing are required. Boots that can guarantee safety are not cheap, but having a pair, you know will be warm, solid and easy to look after over a long climb, or long trip, makes them better then cheaper, lighter or more sensitive boots (having warm feet is the best way to climb well).
6. How to Choose Socks for Hiking
Much like your footwear, the socks you wear on the hiking trail can also have a significant effect on your comfort. The best socks for you depend on the kinds of trips you have planned and the weather conditions you expect. There are socks for lightweight hiking, the best for warm conditions and easy trails. These stress moisture wicking and comfort over warmth. They are relatively thin, yet are warmer; mid-weight socks provide cushioning and insulation in moderate to cold conditions. Many models have extra padding built into high-impact areas like the heel and the ball of the foot. Mountaineering socks are the thickest, warmest and most cushioned socks available. They are designed for long trips, tough terrain and cold temperatures.
What material to choose?
Wool is the most popular natural sock material. It is warm, cushioning and retains warmth when wet. Most wool socks use blends of wool and synthetic materials for better durability and faster drying.
Synthetic insulating materials: Some man-made materials are designed to insulate like wool and wick moisture. These materials (Hollofil®, Thermax®, Thermastat®) trap warmth like wool, but dry more quickly and are more abrasion resistant.
Synthetic wicking materials (like polypropylene and CoolMax®) used in wicking sock liners are often woven into thicker backpacking socks as well, to enhance moisture-wicking performance.
100% cotton is not recommended as a sock material for hiking. Cotton absorbs sweat, dries slowly, provides no insulation when wet and it can lead to blisters out on the trail. However, cotton is quite comfortable and, when combined with wool or other wicking and insulating fibers, can be a good choice for light hiking in summer.
In a real storm your face can get really battered, and when navigating or trying to climb just hiding in your hood is not an option. Your face needs to be protected by a combination of a good pair of googles and some kind of facemask. The most common way to protect your face is the universally adopted Buff, and sometimes it’s good to carry two, as one can make a good neck seal, while the other can be pulled up over your face. For more extreme conditions the Cold Avenger face mask works really well, as it fully protects the face without stopping you from being able to breathe as well as forming a good seal around your nose and googles (this stops moisture getting into your goggles). At the moment my favourite face mask is the GURU Face Mask form IceTrek in Australia. This is a simplified version of the old neoprene face-mask, which covers and protects your face, ears and neck.
8. Mobile Heat
There is one little gadget that actually works pretty well in providing you heat. It’s the mini charcoal burner beloved by fishermen and painters everywhere. If you’ve never seen one, it’s a small felt-covered tin into which you place a burning charcoal stick, and it gives out about six hours of good heat. These are cheap and easy to pick up, and simply having one in a pocket at a long belay can really help (there’s also a small hand-warmer that uses lighter fluid).
9. Hot Hands
One thing that all climbers are obsessed, by when dealing with the cold, is how to keep their hands warm. The real problem is how you keep your hands warm. Well the bluntest answer is that there is no easy answer, and that there is always going to be some pain, but the more you climb the better you are able to handle it. If you’re forced to wear thin gloves then have several pairs of thin gloves, and rotate them around your clothes to keep them warm. One of the favorite tough skinny climbing gloves are the Petzl Cordex Plus. Always have a warm back-up in the form or some warm mitts to stick on as soon as you stop, or if the pain gets too much. It is assumed that you get used to most gloves as long as they have the right finger length.
10. Use Your Head
Lastly fancy gear will not help you stay warm unless you understand how best to employ it, and this comes through both experience and fundamentally understanding. Very often climbers just can’t get it right in the mountains to monitor themselves, they take off clothes too late when they’ve already saturated their base layers, or put on more layers after they’re already shivering, and basically don’t support their body. In the past climbers really needed to understand these things in order to stay comfortable, and fundamentally things have not changed.