Above Treeline in the Winter: Face Protection

This morning temperatures on top of Mount Washington hovered around zero degrees. A stiff 50 mph wind dropped the wind chill below minus-30. In conditions like these, you cannot be outside for any length of time with any skin exposed. This is a serious concern for any winter peak-bagging attempts, where you may be exposed to such conditions for long periods of time.

Perhaps the most challenging part of the body to fully cover is your face. To protect your face, you need two things: a face mask and goggles. You also need a wind-proof jacket with a tight-sealing hood and a zipper closure that extends far enough to cover your neck up to the chin.

In terms of the face mask, I recommend and use the Seirus Masque. It is a simple, wind-proof, fleece-lined neoprene protector for your nose, mouth, chin, and cheeks. The attachment is composed of a small Velcro tab that connects on the back of your head, which is much more secure than it might appear (I've never had one come loose). It also comes in two different sizes, so make sure you select the one that fits your head best. My only gripe: It starts to really smell bad if you wear it a lot (winter biking, for example). Even after repeated washings, I have had a hard time removing the stink of a million breaths. Fortunately, they're cheap ($15).

A variety of other face masks are available, but be wary. It must fit perfectly snug against your face and nose with no gaps whatsoever—even the smallest sliver exposed will rapidly frostbite in above-treeline winter conditions. Also be wary of face masks that are integrated into a fleecy neck gaiter or balaclava—these can make closing your jacket around your neck difficult and constricting.

In terms of goggles, my advice is to go with the biggest pair you can find. I currently use the Smith OTG (over the glasses) Monashee Goggles, which provide an excellent field of view with minimal obstruction of visibility by the frame ($50). When putting on goggles, I usually put the strap on over my hood, which is very helpful in keeping the hood in place in strong winds.

Larger goggles also tend to have better ventilation and air flow inside, which reduces the amount of fogging you get inside. Higher-end goggles feature double lenses with a small air pocket between them to minimize fogging. A variety of after-market anti-fogging products are available as well. My experience is that they all help, but none work perfectly. I mostly use the long-time stand-by: Cat Crap.

Finally, make sure you test out your goggle/face mask/hood/jacket system before you crest treeline. You will have little to no time available for fiddling with it once you enter alpine winter conditions.

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

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