Monday, March 7, 2011

Keeping extremities warm in cold weather

Just cleaned out my car today, and found an old pair of mittens left over from my Antarctic trips. (don't ask what they were there for, maybe skiing last winter?). But it got me thinking about my two favorite pieces of gear, My mittens and my boots.
Crappy boots and gloves gave us no end of problems in Antarctica
When we took Snow Petrel down to Commonwealth Bay we had the good fortune to have lots of advice and help from Don and Margie McIntyre, an two amazing people who have spent more time at Commonwealth Bay than anyone else alive. They lent us a iridium phone, some survival suits, and lots of other very useful bits and pieces, but unfortunately we had no good wet weather boots or gloves.

We tried heavy duty washing up gloves over woolen thermals, and took lots of socks and put foam liners in our sea boots. Neither worked particularly well. The insulated rubber gloves were initially great but got very smelly and were hard to dry inside. We ended up using hot water bottles and hand warmers alot, getting them set up before any big job like dealing with shorelines. Even so our hands and feet were often cold, and by the time we got back to Tassie we had numb feet for a few months due to a kind of trench foot? (any thoughts on the medical diagnosis would be interesting...)

On the trip on Blizzard across to South America I thought I had learnt more - the boots would be OK, not as cold, but I was worried about my hands, Steering for 5 weeks from an exposed aft cockpit (no dodger to hide behind). So I wasted lots of money on the best gloves and mittens.... They proved next to useless (never buy skiing stuff for the ocean), and my fingertips suffered the same numbness that took weeks to go away.
Expensive but... SO toastie and warm...

When I got to the Falklands on good advice I bought some very expensive bright orange Dunlop Thermo+ boots. These boots a bulky but surprisingly comfortable, amazingly warm, and easy to keep clean and dry inside. They are lighter than they look and quickly became my standard outside wear, even on long walks ashore in Patagonia. They totally solve the cold feet problem. No wonder all the Antarctic charter yacht crew swear by them. How I wish I had had them on Snow petrel...
Sexy boots hey... Me and Karen two hours walk up a ridge in the Beagle Channel. No blisters yet...

So just the hands to sort out... Well Spirit of Sydney had a decent dodger, so my hands survived better, and the peninsular is much warmer than the Antarctic Mainland. But even then my fingers still got very cold handling shore lines and such.

The final solution to the hands problem came from Siggy (Sigurður Jónsson) from Borea adventures in Iceland who was my excellent first mate (and a superb cook) on Spirit of Sydney. He kindly gave me his Icelandic fisherman's Mitts when he went back to Iceland. Apparently the are cheap and common over there (good luck trying to find any in Australia..).
The ultimate mitts (so far..), reversible liners for drying and washing, and totally waterproof

These have sorted out the hands.. Mittens are alot warmer than gloves and they are quick to remove for fiddly tasks, easy to dry by pulling out the liner, And totally waterproof. Spirit of Sydney had a tell tale of water from the main engine syphon break that filled a little bucket near the helm. These mitts were often dipped in the warm water to take the chill off. Thank you Siggy..

Winter grip gloves are very comfortable, quick and easy to get on and off and although not waterproof they are great for any fiddly jobs. They are still quite warm even when wet, and dry quickly. they are much more comfortable to wear than neoprene.  Neoprene gloves are good for those really wet jobs like running shorelines, but are rather unpleasant to wear for any length of time, and not really all that warm for general use. 

The problems with alot of the other boots and gloves is that they get progressively damper inside from sweat even if they keep the water out ok, so they are warm for 3 days then get colder and colder..(and smellier and smellier..) You need to be able to wash and dry the insides easily.

I have seen some neoprene boots and they look pretty good (any feedback appreciated), but I like the way the Thermo+ stays open and loose, pumping air around the boot with each step, expelling any damp manky air.. My socks seem to stay dry right though a cold watch.

I just need to find a great solution for my head (the Antarctic division DORK hat worked ok but looks abit stupid...) and I am interested if any of you have any thoughts on good cold weather gear for hands and feet at sea, after all Australia is pretty warm so my testing opportunity's are limited.



PS   I have just found AAC has two great article's with lots of good comments on keeping hands and feet warm. Well worth a look... I am constantly impressed by the quantity and quality of articles and comments at AAC, many thanks to Phyllis, John, Colin, and all contributers.


  1. just fixed the link to the dunlop boots. see

    Even though they have the steel toecaps they are still very light and comfortable, and you just got to love the color...

  2. I now have some cheap Neoprene sea boots.. Very nice and warm, and lighter that the thermo+ boots.

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  4. The Icelandic gloves sound interesting. Any thoughts on where one might find them?

    1. Iceland? Not to sure where else they might be. I was given them by the Icelandic crew, Siggy (short for Sigadur?)I had on one trip on SOS to Antarctica.

      Siggy is a part owner of Borea Adventures,

      He is a great seaman and an excellent cook, and one day I hope to travel up his way and see him again. When I do I will be sure to stock up with a mountain of these mittens!

      Untill then they will be carefully looked after, and only bought out in the worst of weather.

      All the best locating some, and let me know if you source any. Sorry I can't be any more help. Prehaps if you get in touch with Siggy he can tell you where to buy them.