How to stay warm in winter tips
When out winter walking, climbing or mountaineering, it is hard to find a balance between keeping warm and not sweating. Or being too cold, because you decided that the extra layer was too much weight to take out. This is something that can be very easily managed, if you are prepared. As long as we are dry and warm, winter walking, climbing and mountaineering, can be type 1 fun. Here are my top tips on how to stay warm in winter when out in the hills/mountains.
Good winter boots
A good set of winter boots can really make a difference. You are looking for a boot with thermal properties, so as to keep the heat in to keep your feet warm. There is nothing worse than cold toes, especially if you suffer from Raynaud’s. A Gore-Tex inner boot, allows moisture to be expelled more efficiently, and prevents from sweat to be collected inside. All adding to a more comfortable day out. A lightweight boot means walking long distances is a little easier. And a stiff sole allows security on steep terrain. Just make sure the boot has a little extra room so you can wear a thick pair of socks, or some inner liners.
Make sure you have enough layers with you. It may be worth carrying an extra base layer, and an extra pair of socks. And it is definitely worth having a good insulating layer for when you are stationary, like when on a belay, or stopping for lunch. Depending on your body, and its performance, it may be worth carrying an extra middle layer.
Food for energy
Winter walking, climbing and mountaineering are very taxing on the body. These take a lot of energy. The long walk-ins, the carrying of all of the kit, wading through knee deep snow, and the energy the body needs to stay warm. It is very important that you stock up on enough energy the days leading up to a day out in winter. Your body will need the calories.
When out in the hills, stopping for a relaxing 1-hour lunch may not always be on the cards. Not when battling short daylight hours, heavy snow fall, blustery winds. On a nice sunny day, when you are ahead of time, this is an option. But, generally in Scotland this is not always the case. So, keep on top of your energy levels, eat little and often. Work out what snacks work for you. Have some stowed away in a jacket pocket, for easy access, for whilst you are climbing.
Spare base layer
A spare base layer is always handy. Especially when going winter climbing/mountaineering. This means on the walk in you can have a good old sweat on. Then when getting kitted up for your intended climb, you can change into a dry base layer. You will be glad you did. It is like nestling into a comfy warm blanket, when the winter gods are trying to make you suffer.
Like having a spare base layer, having a spare pair of socks can also make the world of difference. The walk-in can make you create a lot of heat inside your boots, and yes we do sweat through our feet. So when you go from a long walk-in to hanging still on a belay, your feet will get very cold. So a change of socks as you are getting kitted up for your intended climb, can bring an extra little bit of comfort. Another system I was suggested by a colleague was using VBL socks (Vapour Barrier Liners). Wearing a thinner pair of socks inside the VBL socks will keep the moisture contained, and keep your boots dry. Then before you climb your route, change the thinner pair of socks, and off you go in comfort.
When setting out from the car/van, try and start cold, you will soon warm up with the walk-in. The trick is to wear the right amount of layers, without getting too hot.
When you sweat, and it evaporates, it removes heat from the skin. Or when the skin is wet, and you stop creating heat (through movement), the moisture cools very quickly, then the skin, so the body then cools quickly. A day out in the hill when even slightly damp, can feel very miserable. Feeling more like a survival challenge than an enjoyable day out.
So if you need to lose a layer, because you can feel your body temperature is rising to the point where you may sweat, please do so. I start cold/cool, and very quickly my body heats up. In the right conditions, I have been known to walk in a thermal T-shirt in -20ºC temperatures.
Hand and foot warmers (as emergency)
For those that suffer from Raynaud’s syndrome, the knowledge of having some hand and foot warmers can be comforting. Just be mindful, that this creates a waste product that sometimes cannot be recycled. There are handwarmers on the market which are 100% recyclable. So be mindful of the environment when choosing a handwarmer. Some people add these to their gloves or boots, and provide heat for a specific length of time. This makes your winter adventure type 1 fun.
Lots of gloves
Well, in winter you can never have enough gloves. I could write pages and pages on just gloves, but will try and keep it short. Carry lots of pairs of gloves (I carry 3-4 pairs for walking, don’t always use them all, but rather have warm hands, than having to suffer). I may even carry a 5th pair when I go winter climbing. I wear a thin pair of gloves on the walk in, or approach. Then put a thicker pair on, when using my ice axe(s), so as the cold of the metal does not cool my hands. I have a spare pair of thick gloves in case the others get saturated with sweat, or get wet. Depending on the intended climb, I may carry 1-2 thin gloves to climb with, so as to keep my dexterity. I then have another thin pair of gloves for the walk out. As the first pair I wore, are probably damp/wet from the morning. Again, this is only a suggestion, and it is a case of trial and error to see what system works for you.
Good gloves are waterproof up to a point, but have one great big hole in them.
This is a nice way to keep morale high. A drink I personally really like is warm RIBENA WITH FRESH GINGER. For me tea and coffee do not work. These are a diuretic, and the last thing you need is a “snowed up crack”.
Lots of the above suggestions are very obvious. But it is mainly trial and error. Go out and practice, and finetune your own systems, and you will find what works for you. Stay warm in winter.