Monday, December 15, 2014

Are Women's Hands Colder than Men's?

Yes, by an average of nearly three degrees Fahrenheit, according to widely cited 1998 study by Dr. Han Kim of the University of Utah School of Medicine—Cold Hands, Warm Hearts (paywall). The researchers used infrared radiation to measure the temperatures of 219 people varying in age from infants to 84 years old (78 male, 141 female).

The results showed that average hand temperature for women was 87.2 degrees F; for men, it was 90.0 degrees. Interestingly, the study also found that the women's average core temperature was actually slightly higher than men's (97.8 versus 97.4 degrees).

You can see this effect vividly illustrated in this short piece from National Geographic, which includes a neat video showing how the images were created (screenshot below).

See how thermal imaging is done in this short video from National Geographic.

While it's unclear exactly why these temperature differences occur between genders, it doesn't mean that you can't take steps to keep your digits comfortable in the winter cold.

You can learn more in my previous article, Hot Hands: Toast Your Fingers with the Right Gloves, but for starters, stay hydrated to help keep blood flowing to your extremities; make sure that you purchase gloves that fit properly (your fingers should almost, but not quite, touch the end of your gloves); consider wearing mittens instead of gloves, especially in deep cold; and keep in mind that every manufacturer uses a slightly different hand 'model' to determine their glove shape—always try on multiple brands and styles to find the one that best matches your hands.

“Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Holiday Gift List: 9 Great Outdoor Books and Maps

Here's my round-up of useful, informative, engaging, and gripping reads and resources for the outdoor adventurer on your list this season. Many represent the most influential, and well-thumbed, titles on my personal bookshelf, while others highlight new and notable offerings that have come on my radar in recent months.

Reading the Forested Landscape by Tom Wessels
This book has taught me more about the story of the New England landscape than any other resource. An invaluable, accessible, and quick read to help you identify the clues that reveal the history of the land around you. $21.95.

Secrets of Warmth: For Comfort and Survival by Hal Weiss
I would consider this slender volume to be the single-most useful resource for understanding—and preventing—heat loss in cold weather. Though some of the materials and insulation it describes are dated at this point (published 1999), the basic background information is timeless and exceptionally helpful for winter adventuring. Out of print at the moment, but still available through Amazon (from $7.95).
Scudder's White Mountain Viewing Guide by Brent E. Scudder
A collection of meticulously sketched and labeled views from atop 54 peaks throughout New Hampshire. If you have ever wondered what all those peaks were out there, this book is the answer. $18.95. (Also check out the more recent New Hampshire Roadside Viewing Guide.)

White Mountain Guide Tyvek Map Set
Waterproof and all but indestructible, these should be an essential component of any White Mountain hiker's gear list. A crucial upgrade to the much less durable paper versions that come with the White Mountain Guide. $29.95 for the set of four maps.

Mount Washington and the Heart of the Presidential Range by Bradford Washburn
The ultimate, most-detailed map of an iconic mountain by one of the world's most iconic adventurers. A work of art as well as an indispensable backcountry resource. $10.95

Long Trail Guide by the Green Mountain Club
Most of the hiking opportunities in Vermont center around the 272-mile Long Trail. If there's only one Vermont hiking book on your shelf, it should be this essential guide—now in its 27th edition. $18.95.

The Geology of New Hampshire's White Mountains by Eusden et al.
Published last year, this book offers an in-depth, yet accessible and visually compelling, exploration of the complex geology of the White Mountains. $35.00.

No Limits but the Sky: The Best Mountaineering Stories from Appalachia Journal edited by Christine Woodside
Drawing from more than a century of published adventures, this just-published anthology gathers the most gripping, compelling, and armchair-clenching accounts from around the world. Memorable tales of accidents, perseverance, and personalities. $18.95.

AMC's Best Backpacking in New England by Matt Heid
No list would be complete without a shameless plug for my own recently updated guidebook to New England's wildest backcountry adventures. In my humble opinion, it is of course the best book ever written about anything ever. ;-) $19.95.

"Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Sleep Warmer in Winter

It’s hard to sleep well when you’re cold. A few simple techniques can make all the difference.
  • You need fuel to keep your furnace burning all night. In case you wake up chilled, have a quick energy, high-calorie snack at the ready for a middle-of-the-night refuel. 
  • Use a thick, full-length sleeping pad; what works in the summer often won’t cut it in the winter. Look for a minimum R-value of 4.0 (an R-value of 5.0 or more is ideal) or consider doubling up pads for maximum warmth. 
  • Wear a liner balaclava and snug hat that won’t fall off during the night. 
  • Have a designated set of dry sleepwear, including a pair of warm socks. 
  • Avoid breathing into the hood. The moisture in your breath will compromise the insulation and reduce its warmth, especially in down bags.
This column originally appeared in the print edition of AMC Outdoors along with the column "Sleep Tight, All Winter Night."

Photograph by Shutterstock.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Choosing the Right Base Layer: Three Tips to Stay Warmer

The deep chill has arrived early this season. A good base layer (a.k.a. long underwear) helps combat it and provides the foundation for any good winter layering system. A veritable blizzard of options, styles, and materials are available, however, which can make it difficult to select one that's right for you. Focus instead on these three key aspects and you'll be happier and warmer this frosty season.

Fit snug as possible without causing constrictive.
Form fitting, yes. Cotton, no. Image: Wikimedia
A base layer serves two primary functions. First, it traps your body heat (and the warm air it generates) directly next to your skin. Second, it moves heat-sucking moisture (your sweat) away from your skin and into your outer layers.

To most effectively accomplish these, a good base layer should fit flush against your skin everywhere. The goal is to trap maximum body heat and eliminate the cooling “bellows effects,” which is caused by gaps between the fabric and your body. (If you are wearing a looser-fitting layer, these gaps will be constantly compressed and re-expanded, forcing out the warm air and drawing in cooler air to replace it.) A snug fit has the added bonus of providing direct contact for maximum moisture transfer as well. 

Your base layer should not fit so tightly, however, that it restricts motion or is uncomfortable. It should go without saying that the only way to find the base layer that best fits your body shape is to try on multiple styles and brands.

Avoid the waist gap.
One of the most common problems in a base layer system, especially for taller people, is the dreaded waist gap. You know, the crack that opens up above your lower back when you bend forward and your upper layer pulls away from the lower.

Eliminate this prime cold air opening by purchasing an upper base layer that is long enough to securely tuck in to your bottoms—and stay tucked. Taller individuals should look for brands that offer tall sizes, which provide extra length in the torso and arms. (I'm 6 feet 5 inches and 190 pounds; every base layer I own is a size large-tall.)

Polyester or wool? Yes. Cotton? Absolutely not. 
Don't wear cotton long underwear. It absorbs moisture like a sponge and, once damp, it rapidly sucks away body heat.

Polyester is the go-to fabric for many (including me). It absorbs very little water, transfers moisture effectively, and dries quickly when it does get damp.  (My favorite base layer fabric, hands down, is Polartec Power Stretch.) Merino wool garments are another good (but spendy) option, such as those offered by Smartwool.

Remember that fit almost always trumps fabric tech. An inexpensive, properly fitting base layer will usually be warmer than a poorly fitting base layer made from the fanciest, most expensive fabric you can buy.

Stay warm!

"Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Make Any Glove Touchscreen Compatible

It's no fun to expose your phone-swiping digits to the cold. Sure, you can avoid chilled fingertips by investing in a pair of touchscreen friendly gloves, which have proliferated alongside the never-ending explosion of mobile devices. But if you're like me, you probably have a collection of perfectly serviceable gloves—and no desire to add to the collection.

Photo: Gesa Henselmans/Flickr
So I'm intrigued by AnyGlove, a liquid treatment you can apply to any set of gloves to make them touchscreen friendly. Per the video instructions, you simply coat the desired fingertips (usually the index finger and thumb) and either let it air dry or accelerate the process with two to three minutes of hot air from a blow dryer.

So does it work? After a thorough perusal of online reviews and comments, including a good comment thread on Amazon, I'm going to give this a qualified yes, with at least one important caveat.

In order for the stuff to work, it almost certainly needs to completely saturate the fabric from the surface of the glove all the way through to the inside in order to create a connection between your finger and the touchscreen. Thinner, around-town gloves? No problem. But when it comes to thicker gloves that feature a layer of synthetic insulation (nylon ski gloves, for example) or gloves that feature a separate liner, AnyGlove appears to be much less reliable. (To help avoid this, one commenter suggests treating both the outside and inside of the glove.)

Other considerations include the fact that 1) this is not a permanent treatment—you'll need to reapply it from time to time depending on use, 2) it can discolor lighter colored fabrics, and 3) it's unclear what the elixir is made from; there are no details on the company web site regarding the chemicals used in the stuff.

So my takeaway? Overall, a decent option for the lightweight pairs of gloves I use in my daily winter life, but not something I'd use on my heavier winter handwear.

A bottle of AnyGlove runs $14.95 and is available in formulations for both synthetic and leather gloves. Per the product specs, each 15ml bottle can treat up to five pairs of gloves.

“Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sleep Tight, All Winter Night

If there's one item of winter gear that merits a splurge, it’s a good sleeping bag. Few things are as luxurious—or as essential for an enjoyable cold-weather camping experience—as a cozy and warm night’s sleep. A winter sleeping bag is a significant financial investment, however, making it all the more important to find the perfect bag for your needs.

This column originally appeared in the November/December print edition of AMC Outdoors. You can read the full story here

Photo by Shutterstock.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Winter Is Here: Cold, Snow, and Downhill Skiing Arrive in Northern New England

As I write this, it's 23.8 degrees atop 6,288-foot Mount Washington—a balmy morning compared to Saturday, when the summit clocked in with a high of 6 degrees and a low of minus-2. Month to date, the Mount Washington Observatory has received just over 20 inches of snowfall, with more coming down today. As of last night, six inches of snow and ice blanketed the ground.

There's no doubt that winter is here for the season, its arrival boosted by the continuing effects of last week's "Bering Sea Bomb," a super-storm that drove frigid polar into the central and eastern U.S. The chill is forecast to deepen further over the coming days, with the mercury forecast to plunge into the single digits across the higher summits of New Hampshire.

Ski on! Hitting the slopes at Bretton Woods on Monday, November 17. Photo courtesy of Bretton Woods.
Downhill Ski Areas Open
The upside of this wintry blast? Skiers in need of an early-season fix can rejoice. At least seven New England ski areas are now currently open for (limited) business. They are:
Follow the Arrival of Winter
To keep tabs on the progression of winter—and opportunities for cold-weather fun—I recommend the following resources:
  • The NERFC Snow Depth Map for New England and New York, which is updated daily by NOAA and the National Weather Service.
  • The great collection of White Mountain web cams, most of which are operated by the Mount Washington Observatory (which also recently launched a redesigned—and excellent—new web site).
  • AMC's Backcountry Weather and Trail Conditions, which provide the latest info for the areas around its lodges and backcountry huts. 
  • The daily Avalanche Advisory for Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines, which will soon be updated daily by The Mount Washington Avalanche Center. A must-read for backcountry skiers, climbers, and hikers tackling Mount Washington in winter.
Let the winter fun commence.

Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.