Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Gloves: What to wear at -30

Apparently I'm to blame for some recent frostbite. Here's the story, as relayed by a friend, about another friend who is a guide. The guide and client are climbing a popular route in K-Country, near Canmore. The guide hits the belay and brings the client up; client arrives at the belay wearing very thin fleece gloves. The temperature is -30.

Client: My hands are frozen!
Guide: Why are you wearing fleece gloves at -30?
Client: Because I ready Will Gadd's book, and he said that's what to wear.
Guide is speechless.

At -30 fleece gloves probably aren't going to be enough. In fact, both client and guide got various degrees of frozen fingers that day. The picture above isn't from the day of climbing, I just stole it off the net.

Moral of the story: Don't go ice climbing at -30? If you do wear something thicker than a pair of fleece gloves? Don't believe everything you read?

Twenty years ago used to climb in full mittens at -30; it was almost impossible to generate enough body heat to stay warm, at least dressed in standard climbing clothes of the day. Now we have better clothes and can stay warmer at lower temperatures (Happy Pants!), but it's hard to do technical stuff like climb at -30. I can ski OK (as long as the bindings don't break), ride a snow machine (did that at -40 in the arctic), but climbing is harder. Doable, but harder, especially if you don't spend a lot of time outside in the cold to get used to it. It's amazing how warm even -10 feels after the winter we've had; I can feel my body relaxing outdoors now that the temps are well above zero C, love it! I worked in a T-Shirt most of today, so nice. Anyhow, fleece gloves are likely not the preferred glove system at -30.

I sincerely hope the client's hands heal up quick, and I will add a "Below minus 20" section to my book for the next version in three or four years when I get around to updating it.

I'm just happy the ice on my driveway melted enough to chip it all out today, warmth!

Happy Spring to all.


PS--and here's the link to the Japanese Red Cross.


Joonas said...

I often get cold hands, and as we've had some cold days this winter in Finland I've climbed in mittens sometimes. I find that a pair of well-fitting mittens that are not too thick are a lot warmer and also much more dexterous than a thick pair of gloves.

Runar said...

Interesting read, cause I'm currently halfway through your book.
Do you still prefer horizontal front points for multi-pitch WI's?
Have any tips for keeping the pump and the barfies (screaming ones) at bay?

Anonymous said...

Is this -30 Fahrenheit or Celsius?

Will Gadd said...


Runar--In general I stil prefer horizontal frontpoints, and would buy a set of those if I could only have one pair of crampons. But some of the newer double verticals are getting pretty good, and I have some proto monos that I actually like now too, so things are opening up a bit there.

Anon 11:22-Doesn't much matter, you're gonna need more than light fleece gloves either way most likely.

Anonymous said...

-30?? Yeah, wear mittens, and be prepared to suffer. Brick-hard ice, cold at the belays, all actions rather clumsy and slower than in milder conditions. After reading your book, and talking with a bud up in Alaska, I switched to lighter gloves for climbing, and found that I could get away with using them down to 0 - 10F. The key at those temps is to switch from climbing gloves to mittens for the belays. Dry the gloves out in my clothes, put them back on for the next stint with the tools. I climb faster and have better control with my hands for driving screws, clipping, putting together belays, etc.

Question: can you recommend a source for the simple shell gloves you recommend, with several pairs of fleece liners, for climbing? So far the only pair I have are ones I made from a pair of BD Mutants, after a BD rep showed me how. Not the lightest or fastest-drying, but they work OK. Where do you get yours?