How to keep the hands warm in winter-climbing

Image:Gloves for winter activity
Various gloves for winter activity

"Fuuuck!"

How many times have you heard your mate or yourself screaming during winter-climbing, either out of frustration with numb fingers, which don't do the job, or due to sudden onset of hot aches? Many times, I bet.

People, be it a laymen or sun-loving rock climber, tend to think winter-climbing is cold. Well, not really, or not always at least. Every one knows the temperature is lower in winter than in summer. Then you can be well prepared before leaving your home to a winter crag, simply putting on more clothes, then you won't be so cold! It is not a rocket science.

Ironically, a long belay duty in summer in a multi-pitch route in T-shirt can well be colder, if the weather turns against you. I am sure pretty much all the experienced rock climbers based in the UK have had such an experience, perhaps many times.

Mon, 2013-12-30 13:32 - Snow plastered CharleneSnow plastered Charlene

There's no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.
— Alfred Wainwright
Snow-plastered yet happy Charlene Hurd in Cairngorms, Highland.

Having said that, extremities or fingers sometimes do get cold during winter climbing, far more often than rock-climbing (unless you are a gritstone fanatic). For winter hill-walking, fingers are no different from other body parts, because you can just put on big mittens and your hands will be toasted. However, the inevitable requirement in winter-climbing of dexterity with hands does not go well with your wish to keep them warm. They are contradictory demands, unfortunately. Winter climbers somehow must find a solution, which works for you, keeping a good balance in between.

I have cold extremities. Very. My mother called me reptile, because my hands are so cold during winter. I am not very keen to shake hands during winter with other people, because it is frequently the case it strikes them when I shook hands as my hands are so unpleasantly cold. Only the person in the world I know that has colder hands than I is my father.

Most likely for that reason, despite my tally of winter climbing/mountaineering over a decade, I have never experienced hot aches in my hands. Hot aches happen when a gush of blood streams to cold extremities (hands). My circulation is so bad I never have such a gush of blood.

Basically my hands stay cold all day. After a day of winter climbing, even a hot shower does not do a good job to revive them, or it would take tens of minutes — hot bath is the only way for me, or to wait for a couple of hours in a warm house. Nevertheless I usually manage in winter climbing to keep my hands functional to climb at a moderately decent level. In that sense I know and have learnt a thing or two about how to keep the hands warm enough to be functional in winter climbing.

This article consists of two parts:

  1. Part 1: Principle and theory behind keeping the hands warm
  2. Part 2: Practical tips

Part 1 is the general theory, and Part 2 is the practical tips I have found over the years, which have been either deduced from or backed up with the theory described in Part 1.

Part 1: Principle

A couple of fields of subject are related in keeping your hands warm: physics, physiology, and psychology. I am discussing each of these in this order.

Physics

Thermal conduction and insulation

In winter the ambient temperature is colder than the ideal temperature of the hands. Then, a heat exchange happens between the ambient air and your hands. From a point of view of your hands, it is a heat loss, and your hands cools down to below their ideal temperature (or heat gain from the ambient air's point of view). Therefore you feel your hands to be cold. That is physics, or in layman's term, commonsense.

Unfortunately it is rare during winter climbing you can change the ambient temperature, as you are exposed to the elements. However, you can and must somehow reduce the degree of heat loss from your hands as much as possible, if you want to keep them warm. How? That is another physics.

Image: Three forms of thermal energy transfer explained.

Three forms of heat transfer explained.
©SCHOOLWORKHELPER

Heat loss (or strictly speaking, heat transfer) occurs in three forms: (thermal) conduction, convection, and radiation. As far as the hands are concerned, the latter two are usually negligible, and so we here consider only the conduction. Conduction is basically the transfer of heat from higher to lower-temperature sides. In physics, it is called the second law of thermodynamics, or is described as the entropy always increases, if you like a posh word rather than saying a commonsense.

The degree of thermal conduction greatly varies from material to material. A layer of material that has a lower degree of conduction is called insulation. The degree of insulation (inverse of that of conduction) is usually determined with the two factors: density and electric conductivity.

Metal has a high electric conductivity, and hence offers almost no insulation. If you hold a head of a metal iceaxe in winter, which you do and usually must during walking, your hand gets cold. I am sure you know it from both your experience and even instinct.

Most materials other than metal have very low electric conductivity, and so what matters is the density, namely, weight per unit volume. What is the material with the lowest density? Vacuum (aka no material). That is why vacuum flasks provide unbeatable insulation.

The second best, a long way better than the third, is air. Indeed, most of insulation layers humans use, be it clothes or for building, are essentially relying on air in principle (except for vacuum flasks). But air itself moves around freely and doesn't stay in one place long; therefore you need a container to keep air in a closed space.

Down does the best job for it, as it inflates naturally to keep the maximum amount of air per weight (while keeping the effect of convection minimum, to be precise). However, when it gets wet, its micro-fibres stick to one another, and the down quickly loses the loft, hence holds greatly less air per weight. That is why down provides very little insulation when wet. In winter, your gloves will get damp or wet eventually. For that reason, use of gloves of down is often a poor choice, unless the temperature is very low (which is unusual in Scotland).

So, it is no rocket-science you wrap your hands with a layer(s) of insulation, aka gloves, in winter or any cold environment, to keep the hands warm. In climbing, while you want a warm pair of gloves, you also desperately want a dexterity, as well as a gripping strength. Air, which offers the best insulation, has the least rigidness, and so inflated air-filled gloves don't perform well in climbing. You need to make an inevitable compromise somewhere in between.

Three additional factors to consider in the real world with conduction

Thu, 2016-01-21 09:34 - This is a colour photo!Steve coming up in relentless spindrift to the starting point of Point Five Gully

When the nature turns against you, you would regret any slack in your protection system.
Steve Towne approaching to the foot of Point Five Gully, Ben Nevis, Highland.

Suppose you put on an insulation (gloves) around your hands, as you would. Now, apart from the materials of insulation, there are three important factors to consider for the application of conduction in the real world.

The first is potential gaps. Your glove may be thick in general, however, as far as I know, all the climbing gloves have a huge hole, that is, at a wrist part. You may sometimes see a part of a bare wrist end up being exposed, that is, there is no insulation at that part, from where the heat loss happens quite effectively. Even if a wrist is covered, some amount of the cold ambient air will come in, rob a heat off your hand and go out. To reduce the degree of heat loss and to maximise the amount of insulation around your wrist is one of the important points to keep your hands warm. I explain some practical measures later in this article.

The second is water or moisture. It is evil. Your wool gloves can be warm when dry, because it holds a decent amount of air between fibres (remember air is the best insulator on the earth). However, when it is wet, the air is replaced with liquid water, which is much heavier than air and so is much inferior insulator. Then, you will struggle to keep your hands warm.

More importantly, a part of liquid water evaporates, the process of which is accelerated due to your body heat and/or wind. When water evaporates, it takes off some heat, because the gas state (vapour) needs a higher energy than the liquid state.

For those reasons, it is vitally important to keep your insulation (gloves) as dry as possible to keep your hands warm. Again, the difficulties in winter climbing are,

  1. your gloves and/or sleeves of your clothes inevitably touch, or even grip firmly, snow and ice, or even something wet but not frozen,
  2. it may snow, or even rain particularly in Scotland, which will eventually find a way to sneak in your gloves,
  3. your hands may sweat, making your gloves damp from inside.

The third is wind. It is a killer. Wind takes off heat in three forms.

Fri, 2015-02-06 10:30 - Parties of climbers are on Central, The Runnel and Fingers Ridge.Blue sky above the snowy Flute Butteress

Wind is a killer in winter mountains. Coire an t-Sneachda, Cairngorms, Highland.

  1. An insulator is an insulator only when the temperature of the insulator is different (higher in the case of winter) from the ambient temperature. Gloves are warm because they hold air as an insulator with the temperature higher than the ambient temperature. However, unless the glove is windproof, air in (the fibres of) gloves is effectively and constantly replaced with air at the ambient temperature in windy conditions. Thus, strong wind makes non-windproof garments almost useless as an insulator.
  2. Wind is a very effective accelerator to vapourise liquid water. Any garment, let alone bare skin, hold some moisture at best, or they may even be wet, during winter climbing. Strong wind would mercilessly rob heat off you via vapourisation of those water.
  3. Even in the ideal conditions of wind-proof and dry garment, wind does take a heat off you. In general heat loss via conduction occurs more effectively when the temperature gradient (or difference between two materials) is larger. Wind accelerates the conditions. To visualise it, let's consider a lump of ambient air at -10 degC, sitting perfectly still next to your glove at +2 degC on the surface. The lump of air gains the temperature, say, by 9 degC to -1 degC after a certain amount of time via conduction, while your glove loses the temperature by 0.1 degC to +1.9 degC. By that time, the difference in the temperatures between the ambient and the surface of your gloves is marginal, and so the further heat-loss process is slowing down considerably. On the other hand, in windy conditions, the lump of ambient air at -10 degC is replaced continuously with another lump at -10 degC, and thus keeps the heat-loss process fresh.

Wind-resistant, or better wind-proof, materials mitigate the point 1, and point 2 to some extent, and so are highly recommended in windy conditions. Even so, the point 3 alone is effective. For that reason, many forecasts include the statement of feels-like temperature, which drops as the wind forecast increases.

Physiology

How come our hands are kept warm at the temperature of 30 degC ish even in an environment with a much lower ambient temperature with no glove? There is only one reason; our blood continuously delivers heat to the ever-cooling hands. Therefore, with no blood circulation, which happens when either a man or part of man's body organ is dead (a typical case for the latter is in a severe frost-byte), the temperature of hands will eventually drop to the level of the ambient temperature.

The temperature regulation of our hands (or any body part) is a competing process between heat-loss due to the lower ambient temperature and heat-gain due to blood circulation. Hence, you need to reduce the former effect, while enhancing the latter, to keep your hands warm in an cold environment. Physics determines the former, as explained. Physiology determines the latter.

The amount of blood a hand receives is a function of the heart rate and the size of blood vessels in the arm and hand. Higher the heart rate is, and larger the size of blood vessels is, warmer your hand will be.

Heart rate

Thu, 2009-02-05 12:37 - Laurence in Arrochar Alps.  We two carried a huge amount of load, for our stay of three nights wildcamping, including three ice axes for each, a pair of trekking poles for each, a snow shovel, a snow stake, all the winter climbing gear, a good deal of dinner, two sets of stoves etc.Hard way of walking uphill

As long as you work hard, your can easily keep your hands warm even in winter! Laurence Davis on Arrochar Alps, Scotland.

To increase the heart rate is simple. Exercise. Hard. When you exercise hard, each working muscle craves for oxygen, which is delivered only by blood. Consequently the heart rate goes up promptly, which then makes your hands warmer.

When you feel cold, your body starts to shiver, maybe uncontrollably in some cases. That is human body's natural reaction against cold; by shivering muscles each muscle works and hence signals for more oxygen and so the blood flow will be enhanced, which works to resume the higher body temperature.

Raised heart rate is often the case during walk-in/out in winter climbing, as you work hard. In high altitude, this tactic does not work so well, because the amount of work you can make is limited in the low-oxygen environment. Also, it doesn't work well during climbing, particularly while you are on a belay duty, as the freedom of your move is extremely limited. Still, little moves are better than no move, be it just rocking from side to side, stretching and bending a back, or stepping on the spot, all called Belaying dance. You may develop your own belaying dance routine?

Blood vessels

This is probably a more neglected aspect than the heart rate, nevertheless is equally important. When a body of a human is in a poor state, the natural survival instinct kicks in. In the cold environment that takes a form of sacrificing the extremities.

When a core temperature of a human body drops beyond the threshold (hypothermia) and if it is untreated, s/he will die eventually. To prevent it or to delay, when it happens, the human body reacts by narrowing the blood vessels to the extremities, because more blood is sent to the extremities, more cold blood the core receives via vein from those extremities in return, and more the core temperature drops. You can not control your body's natural reaction; if your body feels cold, you have practically no chance to have warm hands. As they say, if you want warm hands, put on a warm hat first!

From a point of view of hands, it is a vicious circle, particularly during climbing. After the blood vessels have shrunk, hands get cold and become less dextrous, then (upward) progress becomes slower, and then the body gets colder and hands get even colder. For this reason, once a hand has got cold, it can stay cold all day. It is better to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Wed, 2010-02-10 11:11 - At P2 of Sombre Heros, WI II 5, Ceillac, France.  This pitch was lead by Masa (belaying).Would not succumb, the easy ground is just within reach!

A typical situation of over-gripping (though you may not have much choice in this case…). Graeme Baxter on Sombre Heros, Ceillac, France.

Here is a list of a few measures to keep the blood flowing better to extremities. More details are explained in Part 2.

  1. Don't grip too hard. If you grip too hard, your hand becomes white as you see, which means the blood flow is restricted. I understand overgripping is common for beginners of winter-climbing or any one at a sharp end. A cold hand is an unwanted price, in addition to its other drawbacks.
  2. Keep your arms low. The RICE is a well-known protocol in first-aid to restrict the blood flow. You don't want that! Unfortunately, climbing, particularly at a steep ground, demands you to keep your arms high. So, it is a contradictory demand for climbers. However, you can usually find a way in between hard sections, or can shake arms alternatively.
  3. Shake out your arms often, just as rock climbers do, making sure your arm is dangling with a straight-ish elbow, while shaking. It is all about blood-flow enhancement.
  4. Arm-windmill move is also helpful for the same reason, and is a climbers' favourite belaying-dance routine to keep one's hands warm.

Among all the digits, the thumbs have the broadest blood vessels, and hence are least likely to suffer from cold. However, if they get cold, they are the slowest to recover for the same reason. And the situation, where a thumb gets cold, usually means the insulation around the lower part of your hand/palm is inadequate and the blood vessels at the part have probably shrunk, and therefore your fingers will get cold soon, if not yet. In that sense, you had better take care of your thumbs well, and if your thumb gets cold, take it as the signal of getting a cold hand.

Put a good insulation at the thumb or lower part of your hand, such as, with a thumb-loop. Some practical measures for it are explained in the following section.

Metabolism

In the similar context, metabolism is important to keep warm hands. If you are dead tired, you are far more likely to have cold hands, because your body is failing to keep up the metabolism.

Make sure to feed and hydrate yourself well. 100g of sugar is, when fully digested, equivalent to 400kcal, or equivalent to boiling 4 litres of ice-cold water. It is a decent heat source, and unlike a camping stove, it is an internal and superbly efficient combustion. That is why in very weight-conscious cutting-edge alpine climbing, climbers opt to take more foods than more fuel to keep themselves warm.

Sweat control

One of the vital, yet annoying, things the human body does is to sweat to cool down the over-heated body. It is the same for hands, too. They sweat. Once the hands have sweated, the gloves become damp, and then they may stay cold for the rest of the day.

I describe some practical measures to tackle the problem in the later section. For now, be aware of the risk of sweating.

Psychology

Climbing is all in your head

said a friend of mine.

I think it is common people are surprised to find how much they could do when they thought they couldn't but anyway pressed on and tried hard. Such a moment is a beauty of life, be it in climbing or whatever.

However, when your hands have become numb and don't do the job which they are expected to do, I don't think a macho attitude of bite a bullet and just get on with it works well, because your hands are already out of your control.

My suggestion is, experiment, learn, and know yourself (your hands) and your limit, act intelligently, be attentive to your hands and look after them really well without negligence or being lazy, and keep a fine balance between reckless and conservative.

Part 2: Practical measures

Considering all those principles, here is a list of tips to keep warm hands.

Keep the core warm

  1. When you feel cold with your whole body, you have no chance to have warm hands, as mentioned. So, first and foremost, keep your core warm! In terms of the priority, cover up well and protect head, neck, armpits, upper chest, and groin. As they say, put on a warm hat first!
  2. Protect your wrists particularly well. The artery runs close to the surface of the skin at wrists (that is why wrist-cut is a common method to commit suicide), and therefore the wrists are susceptible to the ambient temperature. And of course, the artery is what pumps up the heat to your hands.
  3. Keep your body as dry as possible, both from outside like snow/rain and inside (sweat). It is easy to say, hard to achieve, for climbing is a stop-and-go activity. Experiment various ways, and find the ones which suit you.
  4. Feed and hydrate yourself well.
  5. Get fit!

Get the right equipment and spares

Sun, 2015-02-15 10:59 - Martin coping with it by bridging, while leading the infamous Chimney pitch.  Belayed by Masa.Assaulted by spindrift at the crux, Hadrian's Wall Direct

You may be assaulted with spin-drift or any elements, which can find a way to slip inside your garments. Better be prepared well and protect your vital extremities.
Martin McKenna on Hadrian's Wall Direct, Ben Nevis, Highland.

Image:Wrist gaiter

Wrist gaiter by Marmot

  1. Don't be stingy with gloves and related equipment. Invest for them. Be open-minded and try many different models for not only climbing but also other fields like biking, skiing, and even industry, and find the models that work for you. Note that for gloves, what you pay is not always what you get. If a pair does not fit you, it is useless, for example.
  2. Gloves do get wet, no matter how careful you are. Take spares.
  3. Take a few pairs, depending on your use. I usually take 5-6 pairs for day's climbing. For Scottish climbing, the following is my standard (though it varies, depending on the route, conditions etc):
    • ultra-thin waterproof (walk-in/out, gear-up)
    • dextrous pair × 2-3 (for crux pitches)
    • waterproof warmer full-finger (for less technical ground when cold)
    • mitten (for cold belay)
    • waterproof over-mitten (which can be worn over any of the above)
  4. Take a pair of mittens. They are far warmer than gloves with full-finger.
  5. Non-windproof gloves would be useless in windy conditions as an outer layer.
  6. In Scotland, waterproofness is desirable, though not essential for technical climbing pitches.
  7. Make sure your wrists are fully covered by clothes and/or gloves and no part is exposed. If it does, give up having a warm hand.
  8. Thumb-loops in your base-layer (or middle layer) are very useful. Alternatively wrist-bands/gaiters (like one from Marmot) do a (maybe even better) job, though a little bulkier.
  9. Consider the alternative sleeve layering system, that is, each layer of glove and clothes covers the wrist part alternatively. For example, the crux of a thumb is covered with a thumb-loop of your base-layer, an inner glove is worn over it, the wrist-hem of the inner-glove is covered with a mid-layer clothes, and its wrist part is covered with an over-glove, which is covered with a shell-jacket. It is awkward to arrange, but once you have done, you will appreciate its warmth and protection.
  10. Make sure the hem of each glove is tightened well (but not to the extent to restrict the blood flow). That would keep the wind and snow out. Some mittens are equipped with an extra-long sleeves (like one in the figure in the beginning of this article) and they are helpful in that respect.
  11. Which of jacket and outer glove should come at the top? When you expect your hands to keep pointing mostly downwards, such as walk-in, the jacket should come at the top. When you expect your hands to keep pointing mostly upwards, such as steep climbing, it should be the opposite. In short, the set-up should block snow or rain at the outermost layer.

In approach and walking

  1. Your hands sweat and so your gloves become damp. Don't use your pair of gloves for crux pitches in approach, and save it.
  2. Windproofness (or waterproofness in Scotland) is handy, or essential if windy. Without that, especially in gusty conditions, your hands would become too hot (and sweat) when still, and too cold when a gust blows.
  3. Don't let your hands become too cold. Take care of them well. Otherwise, you will have a trouble in gearing up, and your hands may stay cold all day.
  4. Be ready to adjust the glove system during your approach. In Scotland, the gloves you need when you set off the sea-level may well be different from what you want near the end of the approach high up, cold and windy.
  5. You don't have to expose always your hand(s) (in gloves) to winds. You can tuck it away under your sleeve, providing your gloves are not bulky. Or, you can place it in the lee side of your body, or between your back and rucksack etc. Every little helps.
  6. Keep your sack light if possible. Change the position of shoulder straps at times, as they restrict the blood flows to your arms and hence can make hands cold.
  7. If you use a walking pole(s), expect your hands will become colder than otherwise, and so dress appropriately. It is because your hands are kept higher than dangling along the sides of your body, which hinders a smooth blood flow to your hands. Also, the hands are kept exposed to the wind.
  8. In windy conditions, consider taking one walking-pole only as opposed to a pair. If you take a single pole only, you can keep the free hand warmer and can alternate the hands to keep both hands reasonably warm.

In gearing up

  1. Make yourself warm, putting on a warm jacket etc. That will keep your hands warm(er) and dextrous for the jobs you need.
  2. Dextrous windproof gloves are the most handy.
  3. I have once witnessed a friend of mine gear up from harness to crampons with mittens on — it seemed a very handy skill to have on a windy day!

Climbing

  1. Use a thin pair of gloves while actually climbing. Full stop.
    1. Thick gloves make you tired a lot faster particularly on steep grounds, because you need a lot more strength to keep hold on axes, and therefore they make climbing harder, and accordingly result in more chance of a fall or failure.
    2. Thick gloves are cumbersome, and so you tend to overgrip. Then, paradoxically, they often make your hands colder than thin gloves.
    3. Everything takes time with thick and cumbersome gloves, which makes you slower, more tired, colder, more frustrated, and consequently climbing becomes more risky and less fun than otherwise.
  2. You deal with snow, ice, and maybe wet rock/turf etc. No matter how waterproof the gloves are, they become wet after pitches of climbing. Take spares. Thin gloves don't weigh much, and can be stowed away even in the pockets of your jacket.
  3. For general-use gloves, you would want a tiny bit of space at the tip of each finger to keep the hand warmer. For climbing, no space is far better, as any extra slack in gloves catches gear etc all over.
  4. Go leashless (with leashless tools, and perhaps use security-lanyard instead). Leashes restrict blood flow at the wrists, force you to keep the hands high all the time, make the gear handling awkward — thus, everything is the recipe to make your hands cold!
  5. Shake or even windmill your arms occasionally, when you can, to help enhance the blood flow.
  6. Try to avoid overgripping and stay relaxed.
  7. Modern technical axes are a great help to keep the hands warm, because
    1. your hands usually stay clear of ice, snow, or rock,
    2. the angle to hold the axe is physiologically far more natural than classical axes, and so it helps keep a better blood flow,
    3. climbing would feel easier (on steep terrains), and so you progress faster and more relaxed, which keeps you and your hands warm,
    4. in steep terrains, hanging elbow-hook rest is a useful skill to learn.

Belaying

Fri, 2013-11-22 13:37 - I/II, supposedly.  However this section contains hard moves up to tech 4, perhaps because we stick strictly to the crest line.  We moved tothether apart from this short section.  Chris belaying.Kyle at the crux pitch of Fiacaill Ridge

Climbers on wind-blowing and heavily rimed-up Fiacaill Ridge, Cairngorms, Highland. To keep your hands warm is an art climbers should, and surely do want to, learn.

Sat, 2013-12-07 09:25 - There was a cue, despite we left the carpark pretty early at 6:15am.Kyle waiting at the foot of Savage Slit

Kyle Wood in Cairngorms, Highland. You will be happy even in a cold environment as long as you are well prepared for it.

  1. Once you (have lead a route and) have reached a belay, and are ready to belay your partner(s), don't expect you can keep using your climbing gloves in belaying duty (though obviously you can if you feel warm enough; mind you, to handle snow-covered ropes for the entire length would make your gloves wetter). Put on warmer gloves, maybe mittens.
  2. A possible way is to put on over-gloves (mittens) over the climbing gloves you have just used, which would save a time to change gloves, though it may not be warm enough. Of course, the over-gloves must be waterproof inside for that purpose.
  3. If you change your climbing gloves and intend to keep using your climbing gloves for the next and/or later pitch(es), it is recommended to keep them inside a pocket of your jacket to keep them bearably warm. For that purpose, the pocket of your jacket must be waterproof inside.

General

  1. It is recommended to put a security bungee cord in each glove, which is fixed to your arm, so that you would not lose the glove. The length of the bungee cord must be carefully adjusted so it would not interfere with climbing or gear. Downside of this method is when a glove dangles off your arm, it does so up-side down and may (or will) collect snow etc inside the glove. Some gloves are equipped with a tiny draw cord on a ring finger so you can hang the glove in the better orientation.
  2. Keep your next pair (the pair you plan to use next) warm, perhaps keeping them in a pocket. If you keep a right-hand and left-hand gloves in a right and left pockets, respectively, it will save you from a potential faff to work out which glove is for the right (or left) hand.
  3. Once your hand has become too cold, the quickest way (on a hill) to warm up is shove it in your either groin or armpit, preferably directly on the skin, and apply a warm pressure on it. I am not sure if your climbing partner wants to shake hands with you after that, but no worries, by the time the team has completed the route, your mate has likely forgotten it!
  4. Another handy way to warm up a hand is to fist your hand inside your glove (aka, do Doraemon, as Japanese calls), maybe wrapping your thumb with the other 4 fingers. Make sure the hand is bare, namely, it should be fisted inside the innermost glove, or otherwise it is far less effective, however thin the innermost glove is.
  5. Meshed liner-gloves (like the ones sold by the Japanese manufacturer Finetrack) are useful to deal with sweaty hands. However, you would struggle to fist your hand inside the liner glove, and so that method to warm up a hand is not effective with them.
  6. Don't warm up your hand with your breath (unless your glove is already wet). It may work for a second, but then the added moisture will make it even colder soon.
  7. Portable heat packets may help. However, for the purpose of reviving the warmth of your hand, they give little help — the two ways explained above are far more effective and immediate treatments. I guess if you keep a packet inside your glove, that will be a significant help in keeping your hand warm.
  8. Battery-powered mittens are commercially available. They must be a bliss in cold belays.
  9. Keep your hands protected from wind all the time, if practical, such as, keeping it in the lee side of your body or behind a rock. The best way is to unfold a group shelter and get in. You will be amazed how warm it is. Having naturally cold hands, I sometimes gear up inside a group shelter on windy days.
  10. If you feel your hands to be cold, or preferably before that moment, do something about it by all means! It is surprising to see many people do nothing while complaining how cold their hands are. Some example measures are described above in this subsection. Every little helps, seriously.
  11. [Added on 2016-04-06] Here are some suggestions for how to store your next spare gloves:
    1. In a (preferably waterproof-lining) pocket(s) of your jacket or trousers
    2. Next to your warm water bottle (providing there is absolutely no leak)
    3. With an activated heatpack in it
    4. Next to your back in the rucksack, providing you carry the sack on your back all the time.
    Note shell-gloves like over-mittens do not have to be stored in warm places, or actually they had better not be in a cold environment, where the surface temperature of inner gloves is below freezing, because a shell at above-freezing temperature put over an inner glove will melt the snow on the inner glove, and will make it damp.
  12. [Added on 2016-04-06] Eliminate the necessity of bare hands on the hill. Such as, complicated packaging for your lunch/food is undesirable. If a fastener of clothes or bag is too fiddly in its original design, put a little draw-cord or tab on it (make sure it would not be caught while climbing). Take a stylus pen for your smartphone. Choose and take more glove-friendly gear — is your camera easy to operate with gloves on, for example?
  13. [Added on 2016-04-06] Be fussy about snow on your gloves and jacket. As long as snow stays as snow, it does not do much harm. However as soon as it melts, it does. Dust away frequently snowdust on your gloves and on sleeves of your jacket.

Final words

Given how cold my hands are, it is arguably surprising how hard I can climb and cope with the cold environment. In a way I might be a living proof that poor circulation is not an excuse of poor performance in winter climbing. I do work hard, biting a bullet at times and suffering. Nevertheless it wouldn't happen without carefully calculated approaches, especially for dealing with cold hands.

Let me repeat:
Experiment, learn, and know yourself (your hands) and your limit, act intelligently, be attentive to your hands and look after them really well without negligence or being lazy, and keep a fine balance between reckless and conservative. And you will have plenty of fun (if type-2 like?!) of winter-climbing!

I too am still learning all the time — I think dealing with cold hands is a life-time learning, just like any other aspects in climbing. Your comment and feedback will be much appreciated!


Masa Sakano
(2016-04-03)

Note: All the photos are taken by the author, with the license of Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike, unless otherwise noted.

Tags: 

Add new comment