Staying Warm On Winter Adventures

staying-warm-on-winter-adventures

Our Staying Warm On Winter Adventures advice shares some tips for winter campaigns.  It is definitely not exhaustive, but hopefully will provide some useful ideas. 

Introduction

Winter is hard on warm blooded humans.  Cold temps and challenging weather will always conspire to challenge our comfort.  Add to that the stop start nature of winter adventures and we are asking a lot of both our bodies and our clothing and equipment.  

But, just as it is easy to be inefficient, a few simple steps can definitely help you stay more comfortable.  Over many winter seasons we have learnt some strategies that may not be obvious to anyone newer to the winter mountains.  

We talk to clients about this on our courses, but thought sharing a few ideas on the Peak Mountaineering blog may also be useful.  Just to also note that, although it is focussed on winter mountaineering, the ideas would be applicable to many other sports. Please do have a read of our Staying Warm On Winter Adventures advice. We really hope you find it useful.

goggles-for-mountaineering
Choose The Correct Eye Protection

Before Departure

The 5P’s (Planning & Preparation Prevents Poor Performance) adage holds true for any winter adventure. The better prepared you are, the better you will thrive.

Clothing & Equipment Choices  

Having the right equipment and clothing for the conditions is a key step to staying warm on winter adventures. This holds true for everything you use, but day to day decisions will also come from careful consideration of the weather forecast.  For example, on a day that is forecast to be dry we might wear soft shell pants (and carry hard shell pants in our pack). Conversely, with a much wetter forecast we will wear hard shells straight from the door.  The forecast also helps guide our choices about gloves, layers, goggles and just every other item of both clothing and equipment.

Equipment design details also make such an important.  For example, in our article about Keeping Your Hands Warm (available here) we discussed the importance of keeping the wrists warm.  Many mid-layer tops (like our favourite Patagonia R1-Hoody) have wrist loops. Other ideas for preventing heat loss include high necked clothing, a neck gaiter, Buff or well fitting hoods.  A waist drawcord might stop the wind whistling up your jacket.  Salopettes or a long top (another shout for the R1 which sits very low) will protect the midriff and gaiters will prevent snow from entering boots and offer an additional layer of insulating fabric.  Having a hat or hood that can be worn under a helmet.   This list isn’t exhaustive, but we are trying to show that considering every detail will all incrementally add up to a more comfortable day out.

kuhl-engineered-hoody-review
Wrist Loops Protect The Blood Vessels In The Wrist

Gloves

Gloves are one item of clothing worth a special mention.  We’ve probably used over a hundred different models over the decades. The simple reality is that the perfect pair for every situation means having a selection available.  It isn’t always about price either.  We’ve had £15 work gloves that have worked as well as ones costing £150. Finding what works for you is key.  

On any winter day we carry a selection to cover all eventualities.  We also always have a pair of warm mittens that can be pulled on for a stance rewarm. They don’t offer great dexterity, but are great in some situations.  We also carry plenty of spares and have different types for different parts of the day.  It pays to do your research and to practice doing essential tasks in gloves. 

drying-gloves
A Very Effective Improvised Glove Dryer

Don’t Forget Legs

Just as you need to think about your upper body, you need to consider legs too.  The legs have a big blood supply and so keeping them warm makes a big difference to overall warmth. How you do that depends on the conditions, but for us it usually involves combining an insulating base layer with either a hard or soft shell layer (dependant on conditions).  If we are wearing softshells we will always also carry a hard shell layer in our pack.  In some extremely cold situations we also take a pair of puffy pants (pants with a synthetic insulation layer). 

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Move Efficiently

Start Dry

You’ll be warmer and more comfortable if you start with dry clothing and boots.  This can be tricky if you’re on a multi-day trip and your wet clothing from the previous day hasn’t dried thoroughly overnight.  

It is worth doing everything you can to avoid this problem.  When you book accommodation check about drying facilities. Choose clothing that is relatively quick drying.  Maybe use a boot dryer for boots and gloves as these can be tricky to completely dry inside even when in a warm place. 

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Treat Your Skin To Some Love

Start Warm

As well as starting dry, it also pays to start with warm clothes and boots. This is key to staying warm on winter adventures. If you start warm your body doesn’t have to work as hard to warm them up.   If you’ve just taken your boot dryers out of your boots, it is worth putting them on before leaving the house.  

When driving to the parking, putting your boots in the car footwell and cranking up the car heating works well.  If we do need to put them on at the trailhead we do that in the warmth of the vehicle rather than getting chilled outside. Similarly, we keep our first gloves inside our inner layers so that body heat will keep them warm. Then, while wearing those we have the second set tucked into our mid layers to be ready to wear. 

Cairngorm Snow White Project
Protection From The Weather

Get Slick

Efficiency makes a big difference.  This could be getting slick at putting your crampons on just as it can be shaving a few seconds off each time you tie a clove hitch while wearing your winter gloves. Seek every way you can minimise faff and maximise time saving. The good news is that you can also improve some of this in comfort. It is easy to practice tying knots in your gloves while watching a Netflix series at home just as you can rattle off a dozen crampon fittings while listening to a podcast.  Practice, fine tuning and repetition is key.

Along the same lines,  efficiency with your equipment pays dividends. Maybe you can avoid having to empty your pack to find that crucial item at the bottom by packing more efficiently. Perhaps you can find that jacket quicker by packing it in an easy to spot colour coded dry bag.  Your pack design will also help. Fiddling with tiny buckles in gloves is never easy, so perhaps the design isn’t great for winter or you can adapt it.

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Get Slick

Look After Your Skin

Winter is tough on skin, but you can help keep it in tip top condition. Protecting exposed skin on the face with a good quality face cream will help.  Some of these also combine sunscreen (which is something we use on every mountain day).  We also diligently look after our hands and feet.  Good quality cream can really help prevent cracked and damaged skin. 

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HydroFlask Hydration

Hydration

Alongside that, looking after your hydration and food intake will help you perform during a mountain day and recover afterwards. It can also be very tricky in winter.  It is important to stay hydrated, but drinking cold liquids never feels inviting in freezing conditions.  We can’t say we have found the perfect answer to this, but have found taking a three pronged approach works well.  

Firstly, we try and pre-hydrate before we leave for the day.  we have plenty of drink with breakfast and take a hot drink to sip enroute to the trailhead. Then, we take a hot drink in a HydroFlask for during the day.  Hot drinks aren’t really going to help raise body temperature significantly, but are certainly more palatable than a cold drink on a chilly day.  We take high energy drinks like hot chocolate or juice. Finally, we have plenty more liquid as soon as we are back at base. If it’s a long journey home we keep a flask in the vehicle.  This combination seems to avoid dehydration.

emergency-food
Energy Rich Food….And Plenty Of It!

Nutrition

You will use a lot of energy during an active winter day.  Getting enough food on board is vital for both performance and to stay warm.  It is also easy to underestimate how much you will need. We always take what we expect to eat and about half as much again.

However, even if you have enough food with you, it can still be difficult to get enough on board in challenging conditions or when pushed for time.  It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss what type of food you carry, but our article on mountain food here and emergency food here share some ideas. 

Whatever you take, make sure it is both available and easy to eat.  Some foods become like concrete and are very difficult to eat in cold weather. Finding ways for it to be easily available is key.  For example, having a few energy bars in your jacket pocket will allow you to eat at a belay stance.  We usually keep them in the pockets of our mid layer insulation.  This helps prevent them becoming rock hard tooth crackers.  

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Don’t Over Grip Poles Or Ice Axes

Eye Protection

Having the right tools to keep your eyes protected is really important. Sometimes this may be sunglasses or sometimes some type of goggles.  Often, we have both bases ticked.  We wrote a useful advice article on goggles here.  Protecting your eyes is also especially important if you are a contact lenses wearer.  They can freeze in very cold conditions – especially when the wind chill effect is high.

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Be Ready

We ensure we are as ready to go as possible straight from the vehicle.  If you can hop out, grab your pack and be moving straight away you will minimise temperature loss.  The more time you spend faffing in the cold, the more heat will be lost.  

Inevitably there will be a bit of static time before setting off.  For this we have a car puffy jacket.  This is kept on until the last minute and then thrown in the vehicle before leaving.  This is in addition to the spare clothes we will take for the day.

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Be Ready To Head Out Straight From The Car

Be Bold – Start Cold

Managing your temperature is a challenge, but mastering this will make a massive difference to your comfort.  Once you start moving you will generate heat and so the adage ‘be bold – start cold’ is a good one to live by. 

It is also important to ‘be bothered’. If you are getting too hot, for example, be bothered to stop and remove a layer. If you get hot you will start sweating and your clothing will get damp.  When you stop that moisture will cool you down.  The drier you can stay the better.  You might also be able to control heat build up by moderating the approach pace. Similarly, be bothered to deal with cold fingers or to pop on a hat. Be bothered applies to everything.

When you do stop, layer up.  If you have stayed warm on the walk in then you now want to keep that warmth.  Plus, climbing is a very stop start activity and so being ready to adapt your clothing is crucial.  How you do that will depend on the prevailing conditions.  

For example, in cold but drier conditions it can work really well to have a well insulated belay jacket to pull on at stances.  Conversely, on a damp Scottish winter day you may prefer to keep your insulating layers under your hard shell to prevent them becoming saturated.  It all depends.

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Be Bold – Start Cold

Use Terrain

In challenging weather you can sometimes use the terrain to help prevent heat loss.  For example, taking a break on the lee side of a ridge or sheltering behind a boulder.  On a climb, maybe you can choose a stance tucked out of the wind.  Sometimes it may be worth stopping sooner or running the pitch a bit longer to find a sheltered spot.  This isn’t always possible, but always worth striving for.  Who knows, you might even occasionally find that sunny spot to warm you!

2 day Winter Skills
Keep Moving Whenever You Can

Other Ideas

A few other Staying Warm On Winter Adventures may be worth considering. Single use chemical hand or foot warmers create a lot of waste material, but having a few available may make a big difference in some situations. Alternatively, battery charged ones are an option you may want to consider.  

You can also get battery powered socks and gloves (and there are even some heated clothing garments now).  These come at a high cost, but may be of interest if you have conditions such as Raynaud’s or other circulatory problems.  

The human body is very good at adapting.  Just as we can, to some extent at least, acclimatise to hot conditions, we can also adapt to cold.  There are limitations to this, but it does happen over time.  So, if there are any ways you can find to prep your body this may benefit you.  Similarly, if you are heading into challenging temps on consecutive days you may find that you suffer slightly less over time.  

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Embrace The Weather

Summary

We hope this Staying Warm On Winter Adventures advice is useful.  There may be some new ideas if you are heading to cold conditions for the first time, but we hope there may also be something of interest even for the seasoned campaigner.  

Please do also read the other articles we have linked to at various stages of this piece.  They are all written based on lots of personal experience and trial and error. We also have a general article on winter equipment that may be of interest here.  We’ve usually learnt the hard way!

We hope you found this Staying Warm On Winter adventures useful. If you want to learn more about winter, the best way is always to learn the key skills from a professional.  Our range of winter adventures or some private guiding will get you off to the perfect start.  Please do also have a browse of our award winning blog.  It is packed with reviews and advice articles on a wide range of topics. You can access it all here.  See you in the mountains.