"Trekking Afoot: Stroll, Ski, Scramble, Snowshoe" Archives

Dec 09 2014

Manzella Silkweight Windstopper Gloves: My First Line of Defense Against Cold Hands

I like to keep active through the winter. If I didn’t, I’d emerge in the spring ready for the beach—and I’d be the beach ball. So I motivate myself to get out even in rotten weather by making every trip a photo safari, whether I go forth on two wheels or on two feet. But baby, it’s cold out there! So I keep the cold at arm’s length by bundling up in layers of wool and synthetic (not cotton). My hands are a trouble spot. They get cold. Very cold. So to keep my hands warm on winter photo safari, I follow the same principle as when outfitting my body. I layer. And my first line of defense are Manzella Silkweight Windstopper gloves:

Keeping Cold At Bay

They have textured palms and fingers, a soft fleecy interior, reflective accents, and they fit my hands perfectly. Unlike thick gloves or mittens, Windstoppers allow me to work the camera controls without impediment (they’re not so bad for changing a flat tire, either). I also appreciate the D-ring and snap-link that join the gloves together for times when I stow them inside my pack. Another feature I like are webbing loops sewn into the cuffs. A long lanyard connecting the two gloves and threaded through the sleeves of my jacket insures that I won’t drop one along the trail.

Of course, the Windstoppers alone aren’t enough in really cold temperatures. When the mercury drops below 45 degrees or so, I pull a pair of thick fleece gloves right over them. Then, when I need to free my fingers for fiddly work—using a camera, say, or scrolling through the menus on my GPS—the heavy fleece gloves come off again. But the Windstoppers stay put. And they live up to their name. Provided I do what needs to be done quickly, my fingers remain comfortably warm.

So far, so good. But one of the unhappy consequences of accelerated product development cycles—not to mention manufacturers’ growing tendency to confuse fashion with function—is the short shelf-life of many products. By the time I’ve bought something and used it long enough to form an opinion about it, it disappears from the stores. Imagine my delight, then, when I discovered that Windstoppers are still available from some sources even though I got my pair six years ago. Now that‘s something to celebrate.

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Feb 04 2014

Streetwalker’s Journal: If Two Heads Are Better Than One, Why Not Two Hats?

Layering is a commonplace among folks who live in cold countries and whose occupations require that they spend some part of every day out of doors. It enables us to fine-tune our clothes to the demands of the moment. When we have to stand still for any length of time, we add layers. When we’re working hard, we shed them. This happy habit of layering is even extended to our feet and hands. Overboots and overmitts are nothing new. But there’s one extremity that seldom benefits from multiple layers: the head.

I can’t see why. While I prefer to get about on two wheels, from time to time I find myself riding shanks’ pony around a small college town, and like so many American towns, this one has turned its back on pedestrians. Sidewalks — crazy, canted affairs at best — are now left uncleared, lights force you to wait for many minutes in freezing temperatures before begrudging you a few seconds to cross in front of impatient motorists, and most drivers treat speed limits and stop signs as mere advisories. (The village police respond to this situation by “educating” any walker or cyclist misguided enough to demand a share of the road. Their educational message? Know your place and mind your manners. Streets are for cars.)

But some of us prove curiously refractory to all attempts at instruction, and I must number myself among this corporal’s guard of incorrigibles. In any case, in the hope that my broken body will be noticed by passersby after I’m run down by a speeding motorist, I always wear brightly colored clothing whenever I’m foolish enough to walk the mean streets of Mayberry.

But there’s a snag. All my wool hats but one are drab and dark. (The sole exception is irreplaceable. I don’t wear it in town.) So while my torso is draped in what one writer ingeniously christened “Please Don’t Kill Me” hi-viz green, my head fades into the slushy background. Not wanting my wardrobe to lack proper eye-catching accessories, I began scouting local stores, and I eventually found what I was looking for in a close-out bin: a pair of brightly colored acrylic stocking caps. One was red; the other, hunter orange. And at a buck each, the price was right.

The upshot? Even my highest reaches are now visible to any driver who bothers to look up from her cell phone. And there’s a bonus, too. My new hats are super stretchy, so I can at long last bring layering to all my extremities. On merely chilly days I go about in just one of my new acquisitions, but when the thermometer plunges into what the business press likes to call “negative territory,” I layer thusly:

Two is Better Than One

It’s not much of a fashion statement, I know, but the resulting headpiece is as warm as it is bright. And the two caps roll up small enough to stuff into a single coat pocket. What streetwalker could ask for more? OK. Safer streets and sidewalks for walkers (and cyclists) would be nice, but this is the United States of Happy Motoring, where money talks and nobody walks. Those of us who refuse “reeducation” do so at our own risk.


After publishing this article, I received a tip from Barney Ward of Old Fat Man Adventures which is worth passing on:

I think you are on the right track about double headwear. There is one important change to make when you come out of the trees and into the wind. The top layer needs to be windproof and can be the third layer in really cold weather. It really helped during my tour of the Washington state desert. A simple rain hood will do the job. Those two knit hats will not do the job out west where the wind is an ice knife. When I am in north Alabama in the pine trees I have never needed the wind breaker head gear, but the minute I step off the plane or out of the Truck back westerly it is an absolute must for comfort.

Barney’s right. I neglected to mention that in the brutal icy cold wind I wear a windshell over my coat and pull the hood over the nested hats. That works a charm.


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Dec 28 2013

Getting a Grip on Cross-Country Poles: They’re Not Just for Skiing

If two legs are good, think what you can do with four.

I use a walking stick when hiking, a sturdy oak “cow cane” of the sort used to shepherd surly bulls through auction barns. When there’s ice and snow on the ground, though, my cow cane isn’t much help. (I’ve sheathed the working end in a crutch tip to keep it from wearing down.) In fact, it’s often a liability. So I swap it out for a pair of cross-country ski poles. These work equally well for snowshoeing or hiking with Yaktrax strapped to my boots. If I know the going will be easy, I’ll sometimes use a single pole. If I expect I’ll be traversing slippery slopes or climbing and descending hills, however, I bring both. Since I like to follow my nose in the backcountry, I usually do just that.

Aren’t ski poles meant for skiers? Sure they are! But there’s no law that says other winter wanderers can’t use them, too. Why be a timid biped when you can be a confident quadruped—or at least a poised triped. Consider ski poles’ many benefits:

  • They improve balance on slippery surfaces and unconsolidated snow.
  • They aid climbing.
  • They help you get up when you take a tumble in deep powder.
  • You can use them to test the integrity of the ice when crossing frozen streams or ponds.
  • You can use them to probe for hollows under the snow.
  • They make great monopods (or bipods) when shooting photos.
  • They can help keep aggressive dogs at bay.

Cross-country ski poles intended for use on groomed trails often have tiny “butterfly” baskets, but those designed for backcountry use are more generously proportioned. If you plan to venture off the beaten track, get the backcountry poles. And while length isn’t as critical as it for skiers, it’s best to get poles that rise about shoulder high. Plant the poles some 18 inches ahead of your feet. Is the handgrip about level with your shoulder? You’re good to go.

Now it’s time to get a grip:

Get a Grip

Note the half-twist in the strap. (I’m holding the sides of the strap apart for clarity’s sake.) This allows the strap to wrap comfortably around your hand and wrist. Here’s the drill:

Get a Grip

Bring your hand UP through the loop, as shown in the first photo above. Now open your hand wide (second photo) and grasp the pole, clamping the strap between your palm and the grip (final photo). The result? Your hand is securely cradled by the strap.

Walking with poles takes some practice, though cross-country skiers will find it easy at the outset. Swing your poles as you’d swing your arms—I’m assuming you’re using two poles here—planting the tip of the lead pole ahead of you and pushing off as you stride past it, while bringing the second pole forward at the same time. Repeat. You’ll pick up the rhythm in no time.

Get a Grip

The wrist strap cradles you hand and eliminates the need to hold the pole in a death grip. You’ll appreciate this when the temperature drops and blood flow to your fingers assumes critical importance.

So much for the basic stride. On steep terrain, or when trekking through brush, you may want to be able to free your hand more easily (and quickly) than the “cradle wrap” allows. At such times, I use this grip, instead:

Get a Grip

By leaving my thumb outside the strap, as shown in the first photo, I can easily ditch the pole if necessary, while still maintaining a secure “controlling” grip (see the second photo, though my hand would normally be higher; I’ve exaggerated the position for clarity).

Get a Grip

The bottom line? Cross-country ski poles are far too useful to be left to skiers. Winter hikers and snowshoers will also find them invaluable. So give them a try the next time you take a walk on the wild side.


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Nov 30 2013

The Real Bottom Line: Keeping Your Feet Warm on Winter Trails

I like to spend time in the winter woods. The snow records every footfall made by every creature, and I treasure this glimpse into the unseen world of wild places. But nothing comes easily in winter. Even a short walk off the beaten track entails careful preparation, with especial attention to clothing. Feet are a particular problem. When temperatures plummet well below freezing, keeping your pedal extremities warm is an exercise in ingenuity.

The answer? Layering. Yet though it’s long been an article of faith among cross-country skiers and other winter sports enthusiasts, most emphasis gets placed on the body core, from nape of neck to groin. Hands and feet get short shrift. But layering makes sense everywhere. Aboriginal peoples understood this very well. The mainstay of their winter footwear, and their lower extremities’ outermost line of defense against frigid temperatures, was the mukluk. It’s mine, too. That said, any defense against the cold is necessarily a defense in depth, and my innermost defensive line is a warm pair of generic merino wool socks. They’re nothing special, and they don’t sport a heavily advertised brand name. As a consequence, they cost very little—around USD5 per pair. Yet they tick all the right boxes. They’re soft to the touch, they’re comfortably loose, and they boast a thick, cushioned sole. This loose-but-not-sloppy fit is essential. Warm feet require lots of fresh, warm blood, but our feet are located at the end of the circulatory pipeline, so to speak. The upshot? Anything that restricts circulation—tight shoes, tight socks, even tight laces—is doubleplus ungood. If you can’t wiggle your toes freely and easily, you soon won’t be able to feel them.

But good socks are only part of the story. What I wear over them depends on how cold it is. When the temperature falls in the wet-cold range (from above freezing to around 14 degrees Fahrenheit, say) , I wear a pair of shoes designed for trail running. And over them? Modern-day mukluks: NEOS Trekker overboots. That’s them in the photo at the top of the article. Now here’s a closer view:

NEOS Trekkers on the Trail

Trekkers are waterproof, but not insulated. They’re high, so they protect the lower leg as well as the foot. Of course, waterproof means that sweat has nowhere to go, so my feet get wet as I trudge along. But it’s a warm wet. I also carry one or more changes of socks on longer treks, and I’ve found that I can vent some of the steamy foot-fug to the outside by the simple expedient of loosening my Trekkers at the knee. These measures insure that wet and warm never becomes wet and cold. The fact that I wear polyester fleece pants adds to my comfort, too. And once back at base, my Trekkers dry out quickly—provided that I remember to open them up and leave them in a warm room, that is.

Colder temperatures—the so-called dry-cold zone below 14 degrees Fahrenheit—pose greater challenges. Wool socks remain my final line of defense, but now I wear Servus polyester/acrylic liners over them, rather than running shoes. I also exchange the Trekkers for insulated NEOS Explorer overboots with 10 mm EVA foam insoles. Here’s what the Explorers look like:

NEOS Explorers on the Trail

Note that I’m wearing wool pants in the photos, rather than fleece. The combination of wool socks, pile liners, and overboots has kept me warm down to -25 degrees Fahrenheit, even when I’ve had to stand motionless in deep snow for long stretches. The colder it gets, though, the more care I take not to compromise the flow of blood to my feet. The instep strap on NEOS boots, while invaluable in preventing slop, is all too easy to overtighten. Luckily, it’s a mistake you’ll only make once.


OK. What’s the bottom line on toasty feet? Easy. The best defense is defense in depth, and a layered approach works well in temperatures ranging from the merely chilly to the downright arctic. That’s good enough for me. And my feet seem happy with it, too. Now that really is the bottom line, isn’t it?

This article was originally published on January 18, 2011.

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