1/28/14

Polar Vortex Survival...

Plenty of talk about the polar vortex this year.  Cold is no stranger to me having grown up in the Dakotas - and especially living on the border of Canada/Montana/North Dakota in Williston where we had temperatures down to -50F.  Toss in some windchill, and well...you get the picture.  We had names for them back then:  Alberta Clipper, Manitoba Mauler, Saskatchewan Screamer. 

Yet.  In spite of all this cold.  There is gear available out there to handle it.  Much comes to us thanks to higher tech materials from NASA and to the mountain climbing, and ski industry in terms of light weight and shielding for extreme cold.  Although mountain top temperatures only get down to -33 to -38F on average at Everest's summit during the coldest months, wind speeds can top 170 mph.  A lot of the technology and lighter weight gear has transformed the ski industry, snow mobile industry and those who must work outside in the extreme cold conditions.  And we can buy that gear to survive the elements.

Me?  I have a simple ski parka from Columbia Sportswear, and a matching pair of ski pants.  The coat has a nice hood to add an additional layer, but I usually leave the hood off and go with hats.  I also have top notch ski gloves and a hat from Boulder, Colorado's very own Spyder Apparel.  Throw in a pair of Gore Tex mittens, a wool base layer, and a goose down vest or other core fleece mid-layer to wear between my wicking base layer and outer layer - and I can really be comfortable in anything that has been thrown our way this year in Iowa.  I was out on the coldest day this year for about an hour working on snow, ice and clearing walkways.  I was comfortable for that hour, but was sweating so much that I started to get uncomfortable due to being so wet at about the 1:05 marker.

For me, no matter what the weather, I've got 2 labrador retrievers to walk in the morning and at night.  And I need to get around for groceries, work, shopping, etc...in spite of what winter throws at us.  Most of the gear I purchased for skiing and or bicycling in the winter, but it all works great to keep me warm when the tundra descends a little too far south of the border (Canadian or Minnesotan - take your pick.)

Base layer of wool long johns...

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Thermal wool socks for the feet (I've got plenty for skiing and cycling)...

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Base layer wool balaclava for the head/face/neck (mine is available at any sports store for less than $15, but you can get some really fancy and high tech ones for extreme cold if you are willing to part with $60.  I haven't found the need to get one of those yet as I use mine as a base layer only)...

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Over the balaclava goes a ski hat and over the base wicking layer goes my goose down vest or a fleece layer...

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Although the ski hat keeps me warm down to -20, I switch to the really cold fur lined hat that has the ear flaps that fasten under my face to go down to -50.  I don't wear this very often as I really start to sweat with it on unless it is really cold and the wind is howling.  I usually prefer the wool balaclava and wool ski hat to keep me warm and wick the moisture away.  But this fake fur lined hat really keeps one toasty with the balaclava underneath it.  Notice the missing fake fur on the forehead flap as my dogs thought it was an animal at ate part of it...

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It's important to use the velcro on the sleeves to tighten up the wrist area so no air can get up your sleeve...

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The snow pants go on (a nice high-tech snowmobile suit is the cat's meow as well)...

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The internal lining cuff of the pants keeps snow and cold air from going up the leg...

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All bundled up and sweating before getting the gloves and boots on to go outside.  As you can see, the only exposed skin to the elements is that small slot between my eyebrows and the middle of the nose.  In extreme negative temperatures, moisture on the eyelashes can freeze when you blink.  That's usually when it is -25 and below.  Many will wear goggles to prevent that and keep all air out or from contacting any skin.  I do have ski goggles, but have not used them this year in the cold weather here at home...

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On really cold days of -10 and below, I'll throw on a pair of Pearl Izumi winter cycling gloves or in this example, my super-duper Sypder ski gloves that tighten up around the coat and lock out all air from getting to my hands.  These gloves keep me warm enough skiing in temps above 0 and all the windchill one faces on the skiing mountain...

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Then, for the chilly polar vortex and cold winter winds that close down schools and businesses, I will throw the Gore Tex Mittens over the Spyder ski gloves and be good to go down to -50 without any problems.  Warning - this is a very warm combination that tends to cause a lot of hand sweating...

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If that is not warm enough, one can use hand warmers or the packets to put in the end of your mittens to keep things really toasty (my wife likes to do that).

I have hiking boots that I wear, snow boots if there is snow on the ground, or my winter Shimano cycling shoes which I use for the dog walks as I ride and they walk when it's not so cold that my rear hub freezes.  Plenty of warm footwear and everyone has their own preference, but my feet are never an issue in the extreme cold with the hiking or snow boots.  The Shimano shoes do have a limit, but my 20 minute dog walks are not long enough to even test them.  They need the footwarmers installed if going out for a 2 hour ride in cold weather, but it's rare I ride when it is below 10-20 for such a long duration.

That's it for my survival skills in the winter or currently known phenom/buzz words as polar vortex.   Some of this is normal and widely available gear for not too much investment, but to really keep the hands and head warm - you're going to have to pay to play.  A stocking cap from Wally World ain't gonna cut it.  The main thing is to use a wicking layer to wick the sweat away from your skin and to an outer layer, a mid-layer or two that also breathe, and the outer layer should inlude a shell to keep the wind out, yet let the moisture from underneath release out into the cold.  Most of the time, I find myself overdressed and too warm - even if it is -30 or so with this gear, but it depends on how fast I am walking or riding my bike - or if I am out cleaning the walks from a recent snow.  I usually dress lighter for that as I work up quite a sweat moving snow.

Get the gear and survive the cold.  There will be more extreme colds in the future and the investment in the gear will last you for years.  




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