Cold, windy winter weather requires appropriate gear for comfort and safety.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
The key to being comfortable and protected from the cold while pursuing any outdoor winter activity is the same an efficient wardrobe.
“The key is to keep your torso warm and that keeps everything else warm,” said Jon Little, a past Iditarod dog musher from Kasilof.
Little should know; he has endured days of minus 40 degree temperatures while dog racing.
Whether snowmachining or standing on skiis or the runners of a dog sled, the rules seem to be the same: always layer up preferably with a wicking layer, an insulating layer and protection layer, and make sure none of those layers consist of cotton.
“Cotton kills,” said Diane Penland, an employee at Wilderness Way outdoor gear retailer in Soldotna, and an avid backcountry and downhill skier.
While great for towels due to its ability to soak up and retain moisture, Penland said this is the exact reason cotton should never be worn during outdoor winter activities.
Josh Watson, right, uses an air blower to dry wet clothing at the end of a day of skiing as Dimitry Vik Gramotin adjusts his bib overall shell in a restroom at Alyeska Resort last winter. Keeping water out and warmth in is one of the biggest challenges of winter dressing.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Instead, she recommends starting out with a base or under layer the layer worn next to the skin which has the ability to wick moisture away from the skin.
“I use synthetic long underwear,” said Dusty VanMeter of Kasilof, a multiple Iron Dog snowmachine race champion and a past Iditarod dog musher, in regard to his under layer of choice.
Synthetic materials work well for this layer. This can include silk, polyester and polypropylene, and a wide variety of different trade named products, such as Capilene, Polarmax, Coolmax and Extend, just to name a few.
“Over that you want something that’s going to insulate,” Penland said, referring to the looser-fitting middle layer that traps air between fibers while also continuing to move the wicked moisture from the base layer away from the skin so it will evaporate.
This middle layer frequently includes heavier shirts, vests, sweaters or sweatshirts. These can be made of naturally produced merino wool or synthetic materials such as fleece, or the other already mentioned materials, all of which come in a variety of weights.
VanMeter said the number of layers and the weights of these materials is dictated by the temperatures expected and the exertion level of the activity.
“On a dog sled, if you’re huffing up hill, kicking or running behind the sled you’re going to want to shed layers, but if you’re going downhill or out on a river, you’ll want to bundle up,” he said.
As to the exterior layer, Penland said, “This outer layer should protect.”
Generally, a shell, jacket, pants or full suit that repels snow and sleet and blocks wind, while also letting wicked moisture out, is preferred.
“Gore-tex is what people are probably most familiar with for this layer,” Penland said.
Gore-tex is windproof and waterproof, she explained. This is because it’s made of a porous material impenetrable to liquid water, but that still allows smaller-sized water vapor to pass through.
“The newer shells even have a poly coating so wind can’t get through the zippers,” VanMeter said.
Penland said the layer system can be extended to the hands.
“It’s the same as (for) the body,” she said, and recommended for active outdoor activities a tight fleece glove for wicking and insulation and a thicker, warmer glove over it to further insulate and act as a shell.
Little said he rarely uses anything more than glove liners and “a good pair of Windstopper fleece mittens” on his hands.
VanMeter said he also prefers mittens, and prefers those made with synthetic materials, as opposed to down. For extreme cold, “I go for my beaver mittens, because you can’t beat fur for extreme cold and they don’t build up ice and snow. It just shakes right off,” he said.
For head wear, Penland recommends hats with some type of wind stopping capability. Without it, even heavy knit fleece can let wind in to the ears.
“I’m also a big proponent of the fur ruff,” Little said, and explained that a ruffed hood will keep his head and face warm no matter how cold and biting the wind is.
As for socks, Penland said wool and synthetic socks will keep feet dry and comfortable. Penland also recommended bringing more than one pair on an outdoor excursion and changing them regularly, rather than trying to wear multiple pairs, which can make feet sweat or restrict circulation, actually causing feet to get colder.
For outer footwear, while standard winter boots may be fine for those just standing around, snowmachiners and dog mushers need more.
“I’m a die-hard bunny boot guy, especially for dog mushing. I have some other boots that are rated to (well below freezing), and they’re layered and all that stuff, but if you fall through the ice or hit overflow, they freeze,” VanMeter said.
The reason he likes these military-issue boots is they are made exclusively of rubber two layers with a pocket of air between them that is warmed by the feet, he said.
Since there is no material that can freeze and the boots trap air, and water if it gets in, they are effective, he said.
“All you do is poor out the water and dry them out with newspaper at the next checkpoint,” he said.
While Little doesn’t negate that bunny boots are good, he said he prefers the Trans-Alaska III boot made by Cabela’s. These boots come up to the knee, have a removable liner and a three-inch nylon-coated foam sole to block feet from the ground.
“I’ve always found them to be warm and comfortable,” he said.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at email@example.com.
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.