Staying Warm Overview

It is very important to keep your extremities warm. This means fingers, toes, and face. These are the first places to get cool. These are generally the first places that get frostbite. There are two main ways to keep extremities warm - insulation, and preventing sweat.

The body is constantly sweating. This is called 'insensible perspiration', and is needed to keep the skin soft and moist. If humidity gets high enough, it stops. The way to make the humidity high enough is by using a vapor barrier. There are many ways to make a vapor barrier. Latex gloves work for the hands. Plastic baggies work for the feet. They aren't too comfortable though. A better solution is Warmlite's vapor barrier gloves and socks (note Warmlite's quality control). The gloves are worn next to the skip and the socks are worn outside liner socks. They work just as well as latex gloves or plastic bags, but are far more durable and far more comfortable. They also have the nice feature of keeping layers outside of them dry. If your insulating socks are getting soaked after a day of hiking, they aren't doing much good of insulating you.

To keep your hands warm, after the vapor barrier gloves you will need some insulation. The usual options are mittens and gloves. The more insulation you have, the warmer you will be, but it is harder to use your hands. Mittens are much warmer than gloves, but you will have much less dexterity. What I really like are called something like 'trigger finger mittens'. These are made for military use, and have a thumb, trigger finger, and the other three fingers are in a mitten. They combine reasonable warmth and dexterity. Mine are cotton and leather on the outside. They are quite warm, but not very waterproof. I am waiting for some quality non military ones for cold weather use.

After severe problems with soldiers getting frostbitten feet, the U.S. military invented Bunny boots, aka U.S. Army Extreme Cold Vapor Barrier Boots (Type II). Quoting from wikipedia: "The bulbous rubber boots have no liner but retain warmth by sandwiching the up to 1 inch of wool and felt insulation between two layers of rubber. The boots' appearance is somewhat comical, but they have moved well outside the military to become a staple item of equipment among those who work in extremely cold weather." The reason they work is the rubber forms a vapor barrier before the wool and felt, which keeps it dry and insulating.

For the face, insulate it from cold air. The best way is a balaclava. This can be adjusted so just the eyes are exposed, to exposing the eyes, nose and mouth. It can be also be rolled up to cover less skin. I have a few, one from Patagonia, a generic pile one, and some military ones made of nomex and wool.

I also have a vapor barrier shirt made by Warmlite (note Warmlite's quality control). It is quite warm for the weight, and will keep any insulation outside of it dry. For colder weather, I have vapor barrier pants I made with a friend's help. They also work quite well. When I was in Fairbanks AK, I wore the vapor barrier pants and the Black Diamond Climbing Pants to keep my legs warm down to -25F.

I have some down sweaters and jackets, as well as down pants. I have not been cold enough to wear the down pants yet. I have several down jackets. They are quite warm for the weight and volume. They are also very expensive. Some of them have gore-tex dryloft on the outside nylon. This will keep rain from getting the down wet. The fancier jackets have more pockets, a better hood, and more accessories.

Avoid wearing any cotton clothing that can get wet. Wet cotton can absorb quite a bit of water, and loses most of its insulation properties when wet. There are many synthetics that work quite well instead of cotton.

Pile Underwear

I have a variety of pile underwear, which is generally made of polyester. The best stuff is made by Patagonia, and they call it Capalene. It resits piling, and is treated so it doesn't stink as bad as untreated material. I have some lightweight and expedition weight stuff. The expedition weight shirts can be worn as an outer layer if desired.

There is also polypropylene underwear, generally made by Helly Hansen. It is supposed to absorb less moisture than other synthetic fabrics, and hence keep you warmer. Mine in still working fine after 25 years.

Pile Outerwear

I have a bunch of pile sweaters and a few pile pants. For the pants, the better ones will allow you to take them off without removing your boots. This means full side zippers that detach. For the sweaters, there are a few important features. Good ones will have 'pit zips' to allow cooling. Some have an extra layer of pile in front of the chest. What I find most important is good cuffs. Good cuffs trap the warm air and don't let it out. My favorite pile sweater is made by Marmot. All of this pile gear has a secondary use. You can roll it up and make a pillow when you go to sleep.

Black Diamond Gloves

I have several pairs of black diamond gloves. They are really nice and warm. The outside shell is seam sealed. The inside insulating glove can be removed if desired. The cuff goes several inches above the wrist. The strap to hold them on can be tightened or loosened by the other hand while wearing gloves. One pair has a Kevlar palm and fingers for high wear resistance.

Marmot Down Sweater

I have a really nice marmot sweater. It looks like a down jacket, but doesn't have a hood. It has sewn through seams. It has a simple zipper. It has two exterior zippered pockets and two interior pockets. For the weight and bulk it works great to keep me warm.

Feathered Friends Volant Down Jacket

I have a pretty warm feathered friends down jacket. It has a nice down hood that detaches. There are two exterior zippered pockets, and one interior pocket. It has sewn through seams. It has a gore-tex dryloft shell. It comes with a stuff sack.

Feathered Friends Rock and Ice Parka

I have a super-warm feathered friends Rock and Ice Parka. It has baffled construction with a differential cut, and no sewn-through seams. The down hood is not removable. Dual front zippers with an external and internal zipper draft flap and down filled draft tube. Two interior water bottle pockets, two interior pockets, two large Velcro exterior cargo pockets with zippers. It has mitt clips sewn on the ends of the arms. Taslite reinforced shoulders and elbows. Elastic powder skirt to seal out wind and snow. Draw cords at waist and hem. Oversized cut to accommodate all other base, insulation and shell clothing. It has a gore-tex dryloft shell. It comes with a stuff sack.

Feathered Friends Volant Down Pants

I have pretty warm feathered friends down pants. They have sewn-through seams. Tuck Stitched Baffled Construction. Articulated Knees and Elastic Waist. Full side zips and zippered fly with draft flaps. Taslite reinforced seat and knees. It has a gore-tex dryloft shell. It comes with a stuff sack.

Feathered Friends 40 Below Down Pants

These are super-warm feathered friends down pants. They have no sewn-through seams. Tuck stitched baffled construction. Articulated knees, elastic waist and adjustable fleece high back suspenders. Full side zips and center crotch zip. It has a gore-tex dryloft shell. It comes with a stuff sack.

Marmot Shell Jacket

I have a Marmot gore-tex expedition shell jacket. It is made out of 2 and 3 layer gore-tex. It has the gore-tex extreme weather rating. The zipper can be unzipped from the top or bottom. The zipper is covered with two layers of nylon fabric that is secured with Velcro. There are 'pit-zips' for ventilation. There are 2 big chest pockets, a hidden pocket, and ??????. There is a waist drawstring. The hood has lots of Velcro for adjusting, but I find it less than idea in really heavy rain. The hood has a zipper so it can be removed. You can wear a climbing harness with the jacket

Marmot Shell Bibs

I have a Marmot gore-tex expedition shell pants. It is made out of 3 layer gore-tex. It has the gore-tex extreme weather rating. The main zipper goes all the way around to the rear belt area. The pants legs have side zippers that can be opened from the top or bottom and completely opened to put the shell on or remove it. There is a large central pocket on the bibs and ??????

Outdoor Research Brooks Range Overboots

When I want to Fairbanks, I ended up standing around a lot in my ice climbing boots. Though they have some insulation, I was getting a bit cold doing nothing at -25F. I bought the Brooks Range Overboots. They have about 1/2 inch of insulation over the whole top of the boot, and extend up almost to the knees. They have Cordura Nylon on the base, which wears ok and generally has sufficient grip when it is really cold outside.

Koflach Viva Soft Plastic Mountaineering Boots

I have a pair of Plastic Mountaineering Boots. Plastic boots have virtually taken over heavy duty mountaineering boots, as they require no maintenance, don't leak, are lighter than leather and more versatile. They have an inner boot, which is where the insulation is. You lace up the inner boot, and then lace up the outer boot. They are quite stiff compared to any other boots I have owned. The Viva Soft has some 'rocker', which means the sole isn't 100% flat. This allows you to walk in them more readily than if the sole was completely flat. They are reasonably warm, though not sufficient for Arctic use. The inner boot material ripped a bit early on, which I repaired using gaffers tape. They will likely last me forever.

Staying Cool Overview

In some ways, it is more difficult to stay cool than it is to stay warm. After all, with enough insulation, you will be warm, but if it is 110F outside, there isn't much you can do to get cool. There are a few things however.

First, get out of the sun. The best way to do this is to find a big rock and some shade next to it. Failing that, get a hat to cover your head, neck, face, and nearby areas. Next, cover the rest of your body from the sun. This means a long sleeve shirt and pants. I prefer light colors as they absorb less heat from the sun. (If you are at the beach, and there is lots of drinkable water nearby, and it isn't too hot, and you have sunscreen, feel free to wear as little clothing as you want. It won't keep you cool though.) You will want the shirt and pants to have as much ventilation as possible and to be made of a fabric that doesn't get sticky when you sweat on it. I like loose nylon pants and shirts. You can use cotton, but it won't keep you warm if it suddenly gets cold (as the desert can do after the sun goes down).

Next, drink lots of water. If you have access to enough water, feel free to put some on your head, hair, chest, etc. It will help keep you cool (unless the humidity is really high). If you have some kind of heat injury (heat-stroke, heat-exhaustion, etc.) it is very important to cool down quickly. The fastest way to do this in the outdoors is generally soaking your head. It can save your life... Do it even if the water is warm, as it is the evaporation that does most of the cooling.

Outdoor Research Palapa Platter

I bought a Palapa Platter hat about 5 years ago. It comes in a very light tan color. The head size adjuster has a small toggle that is on the outside rear of the hat. It has a 5 inch brim in the front and back. It has a 4 inch brim on the sides. The brim is made up of a thin layer of foam surrounded by nylon. It does flop around a bit. It provides excellent sun shade, and it floats. It does stain with sweat pretty easily. Highly recommended.

Columbia Fishing Shirt

It is made of 100% nylon. There is a big vent across the back. Two front pockets, which are great for a compass. Reasonably inexpensive and very durable.

Black Diamond Climbing Pants

I have about 10 pairs of Black Diamond (formerly Chounard) climbing pants. The pockets have zippers or Velcro to keep things from falling out. There is a drawstring waist, and no central zipper, but rather a center sewn seam. No quick bathroom breaks. I have at least 4 generations of the pants. The material is generally a cotton / nylon blend, although I think the early ones had some polyester. The cotton is on the inside surface, and the nylon is on the outside surface. This makes the pants very comfortable, and very abrasion resistant. The first generation pants had a #2.5 or #3 zipper for the pockets which was not robust enough; the later pants have a larger, more robust zipper. There is a small amount of sizing inconsistency. 9 of my pants are XL. One of the XL pants was tighter than the others, and I blew out the center seam in the rear. I sent them back, and the patched the entire rear end with the same type of fabric, but in black (the pants were blue or purple). I had complained that the pants were tighter than all the other XL pants. They sewed them up tighter than normal, and sent me a bill for about $10. Now if I had done something wrong, the repair job would have clearly been worth $10, but my only fault was not trying them on before buying them. So I am not blameless, but I had lotsa other pants that all were similarly sized. So I recommend trying them on before buying.

Outdoor Research Seattle Sombrero (hat)

I bought a Seattle Sombrero about 15 years ago. It still looks like new. Mine is made of gore-tex and seam sealed. You can scoop up water in it (for cooling purposes). The side flaps can be secured to the center portion of the hat via Velcro closures. I wash mine in the sink after it gets too much sweat in it. Highly recommended for shade and rain. It will even keep you a bit warm. It doesn't float, other than that it is about perfect.

Teva Brigade Moccasins

I bought a pair of Teva shoes which are very much like Moccasins. Their name is 'Brigade' for reasons I don't understand, and the model has been discontinued. They have three holes on each side of the tongue, and a shoelace to lace up the shoes. After two days of use, one of the laces wore through. I called Teva and was told they had no spare laces, as the model had been discontinued. I replaced the lace with a more robust aftermarket lace. After about a month, the other shoe's lace failed in the same fashion. I replaced that lace with the same aftermarket lace. I was unimpressed with the lace of the Teva moccasins. Teva should have used higher quality materials. I was also unimpressed with the lack of customer support. I understand they can't stock every part forever, but I had just bought the shoes days before. They are quite durable otherwise. There have been a few minor rips, but the shoes have survived everyday use for over 2 years. The soles have wore through in a few spots...

I was able to find another pair of these Tevas. The shoe is a lighter color leather and the sole is ligher in color also. I hope the sole is as durable as the older pair, which had a black sole. The shoe laces failed just like the other pair. In less than a month, I had to tie three knots to hold the laces together. Fortunately, shoe lace material is cheap...

Alps Sports Sandals

Many years ago I bought a pair of Alps Sports Sandals. The sandals were supposed to be the best sandals under wet conditions. Alps has since been acquired by Teva. I ordered the Alps with the octopus sole, which is supposed to be very grippy when wet. The top is very adjustable and doesn't feature any velcro, in order to last a long time and be very secure. Mine are still in decent condition, but the top of the sole is ripping in a few spots where the nylon straps attach.

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