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Keeping Warm -- Winter Gear Test Results

Bill Malchisky  December 7 2015
In January 2014, I wrote about "Winter Warming Tips" and provided several ideas on clothing concepts to keep warm during the unexpectedly cold climate much of North America experienced. That post included a Where to Buy section. My thought process for this sequel post is to share some knowledge and help one avoid dropping a mortgage payment to find what can work or a cold learning process in the pursuit of enjoying (or coping with) the cold outdoors.  


Testing Insight

As new products emerged from some of the previously cited vendors, I decided to purchase a combination of offered items to learn how well they performed. As a scientist, the results were fascinating to me. Throughout the past two winter seasons in tough weather conditions, I ventured outside, with different combinations of clothing and backup items in my backpack (for safety). Some items failed to provide adequate warmth, others exceeded expectations. I tested gear while visiting three places: 1. Utah's Wasatch Mountains, specifically Little Cottonwood Canyon -- rated one of the snowiest places on earth averaging 500" of snow per annum; 2. Sunday River in  the foothills of Maine's Longfellow Mountains; and 3. East central Massachusetts in the heart of their record breaking snowfall winter for 2014-2015. I encountered cold weather, high winds, and lots of wind driven snow.  Overall, I enjoyed the experience immensely (as I love winter).

Image:Keeping Warm -- Winter Gear Test Results

Functional Feet

In three main sub-sections:
1. Boots
.
A. Gaiters, If you are going to be out in deep snow, a pair of gaiters is critical to keeping snow out of your boots -- a fast track to cold wet feet. Gaiters strap around the bottom of your boot and wrap around your foot, ankle, and shin. Thereby closing the pathway for snow to your boot's opening. There are many styles - low-end, to higher-end, with and without GORE-TEX®. I tried the Outdoor Research® Crocodile Gaiters with GORE-TEX. Simply incredible quality. Snowshoed in knee-deep to waist-deep powder for three miles in high winds and cold temperatures. Zero snow in my boots with snow free pants. That's a quality gaiter.

B. I talk to my friends about SOREL® boots a lot during winter topic conversations (included in my 2014 post too). Purchased my first pair of SOREL boots in c.1986 (a 1964 Pac Boot) and still use them today for snowshoeing. For around town and impromptu trips, I wanted a pair that I could use with dress pants, or just going to the store. I selected lower height model. Went to an outdoor NFL® game, keeping my feet on the concrete in 20F temps. My feet remained warm until the final :20 of the game (actual clock, not the game clock). Very impressive as concrete is an incredible heat sink. SOREL delivers.

C. Now, once you wear a pair of boots, it is always a good idea to keep your boots (and other footwear) dry after physical activity or getting soaked in the rain. Most modern running shoes allow for airflow to dry the sneaker quickly. Shoes and boots do not. For my ski boots, SORELs, and other outdoor footwear, my Original PEET® boot dryer is invaluable.

Tip

For traveling, try the Go! PEET travel boot dryer. I dry my ski or snowshoe boots in the hotel each night and en route to the airport after the last use; thus my boots avoid fungus growth and odoriferous emanations. PEET  also offers a 220V charger, so you can take the Go! PEET abroad, and dry your boots there--which I do each March. It's an excellent product.
Note: They now offer a lighter, smaller, thinner Power Cell PEET dryer and their very portable Ultra Dryer & Deodorizer PEET.

2. Socks. Previously, I tried several types of wool or wool and silk ski socks--sometimes with a polypropylene undersock. This worked great for most skiing until I tried skiing in Minnesota, then Utah. Single digit temperatures and ski boots tend to mix poorly and thus, I got cold toes within a couple of hours. I then tried the WSI® Sports WikMax® HEATR® ski sock. It allowed me to ski noticeably longer before getting cold toes in similar conditions. Where I could only ski two hours before, I could ski four hours now--which brought me right up to lunch. Huge improvement. I highly recommend their ski sock. For snowshoeing I had terrific success with both the WIGWAM® El Pine heavy ragg wool socks and the L.L. Bean® Boot Socks which are both very warm. Note in these tests I donned a polypropylene undersock, then a WSI HEATR undersock for contrast. The several other unsuccessful sock permutations are omitted.  

Tip

Want warm feet all ski day? Keep a second pair of ski socks in your parka and change them at lunch. Now you will start the second part of your ski day with dry warm feet and can ski right to last chair.

3. Traction
. Tested the STABILicers® Lite (made for L.L. Bean®), which appears to be placed between the STABIL® Hike and Walk models. What I like about STABIL's products is that they are built in Biddeford, Maine. All American Made. I ran them through the paces up the side of Sunday River's ski trails, then across their snowmobile runs in 11F temps. They impressed me. Excellent traction on the hard pack and groomed ski trails, whether using a long stride, short stride, quick pace, deliberate push-off, or easing into the stride: they always held firm uphill or downhill. Highly recommended.


Hand Refrain

This area gets interesting, as the mitten shell product I tested, loved, and recommended to friends the past two years, became discontinued this season. I called L.L. Bean to double check my URLs and they gave me the unfortunate news. Rather than cite a non-existent product, I would say that next season they will offer a replacement product. So, I will wait to see what they and other companies offer.

Tip

If you really dislike mittens and want dexterity, I tested successfully in 7F to 14F on windy days with two pairs of WSI HEATR glove liners (windstop base, then standard) and a pair of fleece gloves. Two layers proved insufficient for me, whereas three kept my hands warm almost all of the time.


Filling Your Heart with Warmth (Torso)

Years ago, I skied with four or five layers. On more challenging terrain, I learned the lack of appendage mobility caused issues when on the steeps, increasing fatigue. Thus to simplify, I purchased a WSI Sports HEATR Hooded Shirt  and put that under my insulated ski parka. I was quite nervous at first, as this attire deviated significantly from my norm. One day I got caught inside a storm cloud. The summit temperature dropped from upper 30'sF to 18F in less than one hour with 40-60MPH sustained winds (see photo above). I skied throughout the storm's duration and was quite impressed with how warm the WSI Sports product kept me. I absolutely would recommend their long sleeve hooded shirt to anyone who enjoys outdoor winter sports.

Note:
I still wear at least five layers when snowshoeing -- different use case completely: no warming huts, longer exposure duration, more perspiration, and usually much colder temperatures. Now, my base layer of choice is WSI Sports HEATR: shirt, pants, socks, and glove liner.

A quick news story on WSI - "Eagan-Based Co. Makes Cold-Resistant Clothing For Seahawks" [for NYC's outdoor Super Bowl]


Any questions, please let me know. Enjoy your winter. Stay warm and active.


Trademarks

WSI, Wikmax, HEATR are trademarked by WSI Manufacturing Co., Inc.
L.L.Bean is a registered trademark of L.L.Bean Inc.
GORE-TEX is a trademark of W. L. Gore & Associates
Stabilicers and STABIL are trademarked by 32 North Corporation in Biddeford, ME
Outdoor Research is a registered trademark of Outdoor Research, LLC
Go PEET! and PEET, by Peet Shoe Dryer, Inc.
NFL is trademarked by NFL Properties LLC
SOREL is trademarked by Sorel Corporation
WIGWAM trademark by Wigwam Mills, Inc.

Comments

1Adam Brown  12/7/15 10:44:29 PM  Keeping Warm -- Winter Gear Test Results

some great advice Bill.

BillMal your New York Pal is trademarked by Bill Malchisky

2Bill Malchisky  12/8/15 2:06:36 AM  Keeping Warm -- Winter Gear Test Results

Glad you approve, Adam. On both counts. :)

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