December 2019, by Markus Nyman
Safe and enjoyable
One of the biggest and most common problems we face when out in the mountains is either over heating or being too cold. How can we effectively manage our temperature so that we can have a much more enjoyable experience? On top of it all, losing too much heat can be really dangerous and something to be very careful of in certain conditions.
When active in the mountains, most people tend to sweat. Some a little while others some more. In winter times or when it gets chilly the moisture is very efficient at carrying your loved body heat away from you. Much more so than if you were dry. Ever been in a cold house, taken a shower and freezing much more when you get out of the shower? That’s what we are looking at. Add some wind to this and you will get really cold really fast. So why does this matter? These are two key factors to look at when managing your temperature.
Let’s break it down a little.
We can divide the temperature management into 3 categories plus a bonus one. The categories are pace, clothing & equipment and terrain. The bonus you will find at the bottom.
Pace affects the heat
Yeah, obviously if you run you will make more heat. While on tour we can increase or decrease the pace in order to adjust the heat. If we are really cold and about to stop for lunch in a moment, we can easily raise the pace the last 10 minutes to build up some warmth before that lunch break. It works the other way as well, imagine that you are really sweaty and you are about to reach the summit. At the summit you estimate that you will have to sit and wait for better weather some 30 minutes before you can ski down. Slow down the pace when ski touring to let that excess heat go away. You will be in a much better position once you reach the summit. The wind just got a little worse? Go faster.
Clothing & Equipment
Without clothes, we would be pretty cold most of the time. Especially up north. Imagine walking around without shoes in the snow. It isn’t rocket science, true, but how we manage our clothing and what kind of equipment we use can have a big impact on our safety. When hiking or ski touring it is quite nice to have a few neck warmers, a thin hat or wrist warmers readily available in a pocket. This way you can micro adjust your clothing while on the go.
What kind of material the clothing is made of is also one of the keys to staying dry and warm. The saying cotton kills is somewhat true, just avoid it at all costs. Some type of synthetic and wool mix usually works very well. Down or synthetic puff jackets and pants are also great as they weight next to nothing and will hold a lot of air (air that stays next to your body and that your body warms up).
We always recommend bringing a good wind and waterproof jacket with a fixed hood that can fit your helmet. There are good jackets and not so good jackets. Go with one of the bigger brands and you will do alright. Speaking of shell jackets, if our membrane jackets are so good at breathing, why do they have arm pit ventilations? Simply because they do not breathe well enough. When working really hard, the shell jacket can actually work against us. If it is really cold the vapor leaving our body will freeze before leaving the shell and we will end up with more moisture. Sometimes you just have to decide if it is helping you or not.
Let’s not forget the equipment, boots should not be too tight, sleeping bags should be packed in dry bags and tents and bivy bags does help as well. Imagine fixing a blister in a blizzard with howling winds. Much better to dig a small shelter, set up the bivy bag and fix it inside instead.
"Go Cold Stay Warm"
Here is a good proverb for you to remember.
Basically, it means that it is better to be a little cold when in movement and to put on something warm when stopping for a break. You could also interpret it as going cold reduces the amount of sweat in your clothes and as such your dry clothes will be dry when you stop and need them the most.
The kind of terrain we venture into also has an impact on our temperature. If we walk mostly on the summits or traverse an exposed ridge line we are bound to be more exposed to the elements as well. The bottom of the valleys can also be chilly and the difference between eating lunch in the sun versus in the shade on a spring day can mean a lot. On our tour we can adapt the terrain, which way we go and how steep, depending on which pace we have and how much clothes we have got on. Adapting the choices of terrain is vital when planning your tour. No one wants to stay on the summit fixing the frozen ski binding. It’s better to get to the top then go back down 20 meters and find some shelter to fix it. Terrain, terrain, terrain.
Now, this weaves it all together quite nicely. With the adjustment of pace, clothing and terrain we can easily manage our temperature to have a safe and comfortable tour. One last bonus tip: Don’t forget to eat and drink throughout the day. If your body has no fuel it can not deliver any warmth which will make it hard to warm up the air closest to your body – no matter which pace, what clothes or how steep it is. When in the outdoors, we are mostly depending on the inner furnace going. With that said, don’t forget that extra snack!
Hey! I'm Markus 👋
In the last decade, I have had the chance to lead a number of trips in the Scandinavian wilderness almost every week. Now I want to take the opportunity to invite you to join.
Look at the tours & courses part of the website, and let me know if you find anything interesting.
You can reach me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Guide & Founder, Deep Wild Scandinavia