Cold weather gear

My cold-weather jacket

My cold-weather jacket

With no significant reprieve from these frigid temperatures in the near future, it would be enlightening to hear from everyone with their cold-weather solutions. I’ve already performed a blanket comparison and need more information. What do you do/wear/take to prepare for skiing in these chilly temperatures?

I have a warmer jacket with a lining that I use. It’s the “Calgary Ski Club” jacket which you’ve recently seen photos of.  It still breathes and I can stay warm enough in -20 by wearing a vest along with the usual thin undershirt.

I wear two layers on my lower body, and use toe-warmers. Over-booties don’t work well for me because my feet are too big and the extra width will grab the side of the ski tracks.

I seldom use them, but I make sure to have a warm pair of mitts in my pack and an extra toque(it’s very difficult trying to take photos with mitts on!). I always have a down-filled jacket in my pack for emergencies but I sometimes use it to get started or to end the day if I’m on a sustained downhill run.

A buff is also a necessity. It can be used as an “under-toque” and still cover your face, or as I usually do, just wear it around my neck.

If you have to dress in warmer clothes to get started, do so, but shed some layers as you get warmed up. When I get too hot I find it oppressive and uncomfortable, and it’s best to remove your warm clothes before they get wet.

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  1. Other ideas and things that have worked very well for me for xc skiing and more so my winter bike commutes (yes I am one those nutters):
    – knee high compression socks, preferably wool blend. Sigvaris makes brilliant ones I order from Shoppers but it helps having benefits that pay for these.
    – 2 pairs socks, one thick one thin. One of these may be the above socks.
    – arm warmers (look them up). I swear by these. They keep warm core-blood circulating down to the fingers so hands stay warmer. Plus it’s one less layer on my core were I tend to overheat.
    – knee or leg warmers. Same reason as above but works for feet. Sometimes this instead of another full layer.
    – full length bib tights worn under Craft or Solomon ski pants. No chamois of course. No need for heavy dh-style ski pants.
    – lightweight over mitts that are easily removed and stuffed away
    – lightweight vest that is easily removed.
    – ultralight jacket that compresses to size of rolled socks. Enough to create another insulating air layer and keep wind off. Instantly gives me 5-10 degrees of warmth from ambient.
    – cycling jersey with rear pockets worn under jacket. Amazing how much u can keep warm or stored in these pockets such as wax, food, gels, key fobs, and spare clothing like the above list!
    – ultralight balaclava under ski buff and light toque. Very effective in days like today when my starting temp at WBC was -25’ish.
    – I don’t have any merino wool stuff yet but hope To start collecting. Either that or retire earlier cos it’s so dang expensive!!

    You’ll notice much of these can be layered or are interchangeable. Also so much of this gear is multi sport year round.

    Good luck and stay warm!

  2. Seeing the comments about cold feet and toe warmers surprised me. I have trouble keeping feet and hands warm as I have Raynaud syndrome, yet I have never had a problem with my feet. As long as they are warm when I start I am ok. I wear wool socks inside my boots and even if they start to get chilly when we stop for lunch they will,warm up again once I am skiing. For my hands the only thongg I have found that works are leather mittens with wool liners. I sometimes carry a second pair of liners in case they get wet. My family know we are working hard if my hands actually get hot.

    It is amazing how different we all are.

  3. I do not ski when it gets cold, but here’s a thought for those who do. My fingers get cold on -10 days so i’ve taken to carrying a pair of thin insulated mitts that i picked up at atmosphere. the mitts roll up into a pocket on the cuffs – thin and light but some still some insulation. i don’t carry a backpack, just a waist hydration pack, which is filled with wax, combo scraper cork i picked up in YOW, emergency reflective blanket, energy bar and gel pack and car keys. no room in pack for anything else, so i put the mitts down the front of my sweater. the waist pack belt keeps them from falling out and they stay warm next to my body. i always wear glove liners so if my hands get cold i swap the gloves for the mitts until my hands warm up. if it’s really bad i put the mitts on over the gloves (i got the mitts a size larger just for that purpose). find that if i wear the mitts my hands eventually over heat.

    but, i’m really curious about a solution for toe warmers slipping around. i haven’t used toe warmers – yet. i did find foot warmers, which are like an insole replacement. seems slippage would be less of a problem, anyone try those?

  4. Water for cold weather. I always overpack as well. Usually this includes a light down vest or jacket for when I stop. When it is inside my pack, I use it to insulate my 1.5 litre Nalgene water bottle from freezing. At these temperatures, I usually fill the water bottle with boiling water, plus a spot of juice and some salt (or electrolyte), right before it goes into the pack. It will stay at a pleasant temperature for 4-5 hours, plus when I do stop, the inside of my vest is nice and toasty instead of -20C. One caution, those chocolatey energy bars I use to snack my way around the trails, are subject to melting next to the water bottle!

  5. Toes are my problem. XC especially. When biking or alpine skiing I find that the toe warmer packs mostly stay in place. But when hiking or xc skiing they tend to shift out of place. I bought a pair of Salomon over boots but they are very thin and pretty tight. I think they’re designed for the really slender race boots so they don’t seem to fit well on my non-race Salomon boots and don’t seem very warm anyways.

  6. Merino wool, layers of it. Merino.blend liner socks with a thicker merino sock over them, merino wool base layer with a merino wool mid layer and a jacket that breaks the wind but breathes, merino toque. I like a neck gaiter (Buff?) on really cold days but find it causes my glasses to fog up sometimes. I like to see where I am goung. Any hints on how to keep glasses from fogging/frosting up? I have tried Catcrap and it partially works but not in all conditions.

    • Gail – Fogging glasses used to be my nemesis. Had some very frustrating times too.
      I am a year-round bike commuter (yes, including last week and this week) and ski a good 25-30x per season. Just about every balaclava I’ve tried, especially those with any nose covering, will fog my glasses. Using a quality stretchy buff has taken care of most fog issues. The solution is 3-fold : 1) ensure your face covering tucks UNDER your nose; 2) if the fabric is too thick, folded over, not perforated, or frozen over then your mouth breath has only 1 way to escape and that is straight up; and 3) if the buff/gaiter is loose against your cheeks then again the hot moist air goes up. Most buffs you can pull high over your cheek-bones and then down under your nose. Other contributing factors may include when you are really breathing super hard, or the wind direction doesn’t whisk away your breath, if you stop for some time, if the top/sides of your glasses don’t allow enough air movement, and even some styles of glasses (and coatings) are more susceptible to fogging. Hope this helps with some ideas.
      Good luck!

  7. If I’m skiing alone where there’s no cell coverage I’ll carry my PBL (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergency_position-indicating_radiobeacon_station ), never had to use it so far…

  8. Several different prs of hand coverings of different warmth are always in my pack… my regular Au Clair ski gloves, heavy-duty, down-filled leather gloves, and 2 pr of down-filled mitts….1 pr. for me and the second for whoever needs them.

  9. Like most here it seems, I always ski with a pack of some sort containing at least the essentials- food, drink, warm extra clothing, all of which depends on the weather and remoteness of the trip. I see a lot of people heading out with nothing or next to it- fine for fast skiing in good weather if nothing goes wrong, and sometimes I do wonder about all the extra stuff I carry that usually stays put in the pack. Even in moderate temps though- many might be surprised at how quickly cold can set in once stopped, whether for equipment issues, fatigue or injury (to yourself or maybe others). Self sufficiency is key.
    One tip for those who tend to sweat a fair bit like I do-
    for longer tours in colder weather with considerable sustained ascent (think Skogan or Fire Lookout), I like to pack an extra shirt, and at the top exchange it with the usually damp one that I am wearing. Feels great right away and is way warmer for those screaming descents!

    The extra shirt idea is a good one. Just make sure you do it right away, while you’re still warm from climbing. Nobody has mentioned it, and it wouldn’t work for most women, but men can grow facial hair. Even a short growth works wonders. -Bob

    • I had some facial hair last week, but it would stick through the buff then majorly ice over into something akin to superglue. It really hurt when I pulled my buff off because I didn’t realize I was attached. Put that down as another ski-hazard.

      I think what Steve was saying above is that heat control is a tough balance. If you have too much clothing on, or working too hard, then its easy to get too sweaty which can cause its’ own issues. Having a few thin layers, and ability to regulate heat through zips, flaps, and the head makes a huge difference.

    • Steve, I hear ya’ man. In the old days I would put a cotton t-shirt over the polypro. The t-shirt had to get replaced pronto at the top.
      I sympathize with the glasses wearer. I used to get away without putting them on. This won’t work for everyone.

  10. Wow what a bunch of great responses to my questions. Seems everyone here appreciates skiing “in the buff!!” Ha ha. Couldn’t resist.

    I find most of my outings are more high intensity shorter duration so that brings a different aspect to the outings. Typically when solo or w fast friends will aim for about 2-2.5 hrs and 30km. The smaller pack comes out then as does a cycling jersey with the pockets to hold vitals but really I am running a pretty lean kit. When at CNC I may do a few loops near the lodge so as to refresh or change clothing or change from/to classic/skate.

    When with the family and much slower paced a 15-29luter backpack comes out for essentials and backup gear waxes etc.

  11. I agree with many others here that a ‘buff’ is a vital piece of cold weather clothing. It works as a neck warmer, face shield, powder mask, sweat band and toque. A really useful buff is the one produced by the Greater Bragg Creek Trails Association. It has the complete West Bragg Creek trail map printed on it…so you can even use it for navigation and trip planning!

  12. Just to add a few thoughts to the great advice already provided….

    I almost always overpack. I need a change of hat and gloves as well as emergency mitts. A down jacket is a “must”. These things I consider as part of my emergency kit (which includes a Swiss army knife, compass and headlamp). All can be fit in a summit pack, along with food and a small thermos and I hardly notice it when I’m skiing. Something like a “buff”, which I’ve had for about 20 yrs, also comes in handy.

    If it’s really cold and I anticipate some extended downhill runs (like Blueberry Hill today), I take downhill goggles. I find that seeing is rather critical at times and my sunglasses fog up.

    Now, I have to give a promo for Craft ski pants, the ones with the double fabric in front to stop the wind. I wore them without a base layer on Friday in -20 and I was just fine. Today, with long johns underneath, I was too warm and we started at -17 at Elk Pass. They cost more than other brands, but I think they are worth it.

    Usually, a good pair of XC gloves (Au Clair) are enough for me but I can put a hand warm in them with no real difficulty. I can also put a light pair off wind-stopper mitts over the gloves and still use the wrist straps on my poles.

  13. I also come at it from a backcountry/mountaineering background, so tend to be over prepared in order to be self sufficient and as such never have a small pack. I also like to be comfortable on my days out and take time to enjoy the surroundings, which also affects my pack contents, vs going for speed and distance. As such I can offer the following in addition to other comments: 1) My day pack is an osprey with the mesh back that has a significant gap between it and the pack. This helps me stay dry when xc and the best way to go if you prefer a larger pack than just a fanny. It often gets snow jammed in there on deep powder backcountry days or major wipeouts, which needs clearing out before melting, but not a bad price to pay for powder.
    2) Hats: Same as others, plus a thin balaclava, which layers well on the cold days under the toque and neck buff and stays over the chin better than a buff. The balaclava and neoprene face mask stay in my pack all winter and rarely get used. 3) small foam seat. A must have for me on xc days. Perfect for those cold aluminum k country tables, and a must for the snow couch. When lounging on the couch, foam under butt and pack as a backrest, so nothing touches the snow. 4) 90% of the time I’ve got a thermos of hot tea with me. My old 1L thermos Was great and could be augmented by a small water bottle (drink it first) or a 1L widemouth Nalgene with insulated zippered cover. Filling it with warm water usually enough to keep it from freezing on colder days. Replaced the old thermos recently but couldn’t find a 1L version. Seems they are all smaller now, but don’t stay hot as long nor provide enough liquid by itself on those shorter days. The new one is a beast at 1.6L but it’s bomb proof and often all I need for liquid. 5) I always carry a hooded insulated jacket, big down parka version on the colder days, regular synthetic jacket rest of winter, and put it in as soon as I stop, but I generally stop longer than most, increasing the Bob sighting probabilities.

    I don’t know if you remember, but the first time we met was at the Elk Pass/Blueberry Hill junction, maybe 3-4 years ago? You were sitting at the picnic table alone with your thoughts, admiring the lovely view. I’ve slowed down a lot since then. -Bob

  14. Here are a few cold weather solutions of mine while skiing, which I draw from the last 27 years since I moved to Calgary from Quebec. I am happy to share tricks, which I first gained when I took my Level 1 Avalanche Awareness course taught to me by Alf back in 1990, and several multiweeks ski expeditions on Baffin Island, climbs of Mt Fairweather and Mount Logan. I consider temperatures above -20 C with no winds as balmy. So anything below that with winds is serious stuff, especially when doing solo trips which I often do. Two set of advices: one for x-c trackset skiing with narrow blades and one for backcountry ski touring with 205 cm metal edge skis 63 cm wide (no glacier travel). I cross-country ski with a fanny pack and ski tour with a 25 liters backpack. Assuming outings of at least 4-5 hours, not so much to cover more ground, but because we move slower in Canuck-style frigid winter.

    X-C trackset skiing:
    Although more comfortable to ski with gloves, forget it when you start. Fingers need to share their mutual body heat. Start with insulated gloves and change to gloves later in the day. For high wind chill factor and coming down fast (e.g. Skogan Pass, Lookout, Red Earth Creek), some sort of face mask modified so your nose and mouth don’t get clogged with ice jam. Also carry some pre-cut Dr Scholl’s pad to stick on the nose and cheeks: don’t cut on the trail at -30 C. Pants: I find that thick mountaineering pants work great, even in winds without using another layer underneath as long as you don’t take a 2-hour long leisure lunch. We move much faster in x-c than ski touring. I carry toe and hand warmers, but don’t bank on them to keep me warm (only for emergency overnight). A compact sleeping bag with an emergency tarp doesn’t take much room in a fanny pack. I keep day wax and some food in an inside jacket pocket, close to my upper body. As well, a Swiss army knife with duct tape, a lighter/matches, some “Band-Aids”, for cuts/repair easily accessible when cold. Spare rubber pad for ski binding (Salomon type). Water: a one-liter minimum lid type bottle, as it can freeze even when in a foam cover. I don’t like carrying a thermos, as you rely on the heat the fluids give you and it is extra weight; but it is a personal choice. Booty cover: I wear them if below -30 C. When driving to the trail head for a long time (from Calgary), avoid getting too much heat on your feet in the car, without getting rid of the moisture; otherwise you will start with damp feet and it can take at least an hour to get warm while moving. If fingers and especially toes are getting very cold, better stop moving and warm them up by any means you have. I carry a sandwich bag full of dryer lint: you can light it easily on the trail and warm up your fingers. Upper body: clothing that eliminates moisture easily, but also carries one extra layer and a spare pair of socks. Whatever you have to do to stay warm while moving in those frigid conditions, it must be efficient and quick. I will sometimes carry a primaloft insulated jacket, which folds into its small pocket: compact and light to fit in my fanny pack. I would use it only if injured or having to spend the night out (never happened). Putting a jacket on for a snack: not for me, as you freeze when you get back on the trail. Avoid stopping more than 3-4 minutes, to preserve the heat generated by your body as being on the move. Rule of thumb: if planning more than 4 hours of skiing in such cold setting, I carry at least 1.5 liter of water. Yes, drinking it is important when cold. Beer is kept when back at the pub.

    Ski touring:
    With a daypack, you can afford to carry more stuff. A shovel, mini skins, gaiters and any outfit to spend the night if you have to. I use mini skins only when going uphill and having to break trail for a long distance. A good grip wax allows you to cover lots of ground. Lighters when cold don’t work as easily as matches with a long lasting flame, to start a fire. A larger insulated jacket with insulated pants is a must, only if having to stop for a long time. It is more difficult to plan for the return time to the car, when not having a knife-edge trackset trail or doing a loop, as opposed to doing a return trip. So, time is the best friend in cold weather, especially in shorter daylight hours we have now. Repair kit is essential: will not keep you warm by itself, but could prevent you from spending a night out.

    Hope this helps like the useful suggestions I read from other postings.

  15. A shout out to the selection of Buff’s at Kananaskis Outfitters, bought a few there. Great concept,

  16. For longer ski outings what does everyone do for fluids? I don’t like wearing a backpack. Mostly I use a thermal insulated water bottle in a waist pack but in this cold or on longer outings it still either freezes or is not enough volume. I’ve seen some hydration waist pouches and have my eye on a Rossignol one (Dear Santa…). Everyone’s thoughts?

    Also how do you keep the toe warmer in place? Don’t you find it either moves around or doesn’t leave enough space for your toes and socks?

    Another shout out for the Buffs. I think I have 4 now. Also use them for year round bike commuting plus many other pieces of clothing that cross over nicely to xc skiing.

    • Toe warmers can be a real inconvenience, I agree, but I wouldn’t last long on a real cold day without them. I will actually wear a lighter sock in order to make room for them. The rest of my foot doesn’t get cold. The grains in the pouch tend to bunch up, too, and can create some discomfort. Not sure what the answer is.

  17. Next time you should try eating oranges before going skiing. Apparently oranges improve the blood flow to your fingers. It’s complicated science explained in this short video.
    http://nutritionfacts.org/video/keeping-your-hands-warm-with-citrus/

    • That brings up another point to consider in cold weather. Don’t stop and eat a big lunch, for a couple reasons. Blood flow which should be going to your fingers and toes and nose is diverted to digesting food. You’ll also get cold by standing around. Eat small, quick snacks, and make sure you continue to drink.

  18. Hmm all sounds familiar, except I have to wear mitts and a Buff. The double one with fleece bottom and pull the top over my head. Wilson’s has a good selection!
    And I use Vaseline over my face and nose. I find that helps a lot.

    I was updating my post with the buff as you were writing this! A total necessity as it can be used in so many ways. -Bob

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