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Warm Hands 101

This is a post from Chuck Beauzay on how to keep your hands warm.

Hiking up Kilimanjaro can be cold. It can be windy. It can be cold and windy. You have a lot to worry about during your trek, so it’s always nice to try and eliminate as much of that worry as possible before setting out. Staying warm and dry on the mountain is a must! You will see people with the most advanced warm weather gear that exists! This is good, however, one must remember that the only way to be completely confident with your gear is to test it out yourself. Being from Minnesota, I have had the chance to test gear in some of the worst conditions possible. Through trial and error (mostly error), I have come up with a pretty good system for staying warm and dry. So, I thought I’d share some of this information with you.

It gets cold here in Minnesota! Damn cold. It gets so cold that sometimes we shouldn’t even think of going outside. However, the urge to go fishing, skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, bow hunting, play hockey, working on a Saturday to replace a frozen waterman in -15 deg. F. temperatures, etc… cannot be ignored. Thankfully, with the technological advances in cold weather gear, this has become a much warmer, if not safer, prospect. While dressing from head to toe in proper gear is important, I am going to focus specifically on the hands. You may think you need to pay $100 for a good pair of gloves or mittens to stay warm. This is not necessarily true. The system that works for me (though everyone is different) costs less than $20 and can be found at most hardware stores (at least up north) or at Menards, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Mills Fleet Farm, L&M Fleet Supply, etc…

First, start with a very thin pair of glove liners made of a synthetic material (cost about $5).

These should fit snug to your hands. This ensures the maximum skin contact which is key for wicking away moisture. Also, when rubbed together, these liners produce a lot of friction and heat. Another good thing about the snug fit is that it allows you to conduct tasks that require some dexterity, such as baiting a hook, zipping up/down various articles of clothing, opening a candy bar wrapper, etc… They are also somewhat absorbent for that constant runny nose that usually comes along with cold weather.

Second, wear mittens! Most extreme weather activities only require you to hold on to something (a trekking pole, ski pole, fishing pole, ice axe, handle bar, or beer bottle). Mittens hold in your body heat much better than gloves. You can wiggle your fingers together, thus creating friction and heat. There is better heat transfer from your palms (which are usually warm) to the finger tips, and I think you can grip tighter with mittens than with gloves. There are many styles and price ranges of mittens. The pair that I have chosen are cheap (although not waterproof – but we’ll get to that in a minute), fleece lined, deer hide mittens that cost around $12 (some even have a patch of fleece on the back of the hand for wiping your nose).

While not waterproof, the heat from your hands along with the absorbent fleece keeps things dry, and it usually isn’t going to be that wet in extreme cold. The deer hide (or other animal or artificial leather material) is tough and allows the hands to breath, so as not to collect moisture inside the mitten. (Snowboarding may require waterproof mittens due to the constant hand dragging, but then you run the risk of wetness due to sweating). Another good thing about the fleece is that it holds heat well. Therefore, you can take your mittens off for short periods of time to do whatever it is you have to do and they will still be warm when you put your hands back in. If it gets really cold, you can drop in those chemical hand warmer packets.

These things cost less than a $1 and will last for at least a few hours (even at high altitudes).

Again, it is best to test out your own gear before relying on it to stay warm, but I think this system is a great start in keeping your hands warm on the most extreme adventures. Enjoy!