When Gear Institute Staff surveyed a random sampling of potential winter recreationists, those 3-season adventurers cited the fear of getting too cold as the number one reason they avoid snow sports.
Dedicated skiers, riders, snowshoers, and winter runners know how to dress and prepare for the cold conditions. Novices might lack that skill. And even with proper apparel and preparation, the most experienced cold-weather explorers sometime suffer the cold, especially in their extremities.
Fortunately for them, new innovates in portable heat can help keep digits warm and toasty while playing in winter’s wonderland.
When I conduct snowshoeing destination presentations and how-to clinics, the biggest complaint I hear from both rookies and experienced snowshoers focuses on frigid feet. Trudging through snow all day can easily lead to cold toes. For this, nothing beats ThermaCell Heated Insoles. The rechargeable electric insole can be trimmed for a precision fit in any boot, and it proved to be a comfortable foot bed. The electric heaters are rechargeable and can be controlled via a small remote control so even if sealed in a snug-fitting ski boots, the temperature of the insole can be adjusted as needed during the day. The heat output ranges from 100ºF to 111ºF. Extensive field testing proved these work even in sub-zero temperatures for up to 5 hours. $130.
Keeping your core warm often proves one of the best way to keep hands and feet warm, and Brunton’s HeatSync Vital puts heat right into your core. The slim vest easily adjusts to fit nearly anyone—after I wore it for a day on my barrel-chested 6’2” frame, I was able to snug it up for a comfortable fit on my gear-testing spouse (she is slim 5’ 4”). Using one of Brunton’s portable power packs—I opted for the compact waterproof Revolt 4000—the Vital effectively heated my chest and back inside my waders while I stood deep in the icy waters of the Klickitat River in pursuit of winter steelhead. The result was a steady supply of warm blood flowing to my river-soaked hands, keeping them warm and nimble enough to cast my fly despite the chilly conditions. $75 ($50 for Revolt powerpack)
Zippo offers a less technical heating a solution for portable heat. Looking a bit like an oversized Zippo Lighter, the Zippo Hand Warmer uses regular lighter fluid, but doesn’t use a flame. Instead, the Hand Warmer, once ignited, uses a small catalytic heater (a flameless chemical reaction inside the unit) to provide intense warmth for up to 10 hours. I found I could tuck it into an interior pocket to warm my core, or—my preference—I’d leave it in a jacket pocket so I could can heat my hands throughout the day whenever necessary. $20
Grabber’s chemical heat packs provide a great source of heat for the occasional excursion into the snow. Once opened and exposed to air, Grabber’s Hand Warmers generate up to 156ºF of heat—averaging 135ºF—for up to 10 hours! The slim packs can be slipped into the backs of gloves, held in pockets or tucked inside jackets. The Toe Warmers, meanwhile, generate slightly less heat —an average of about 100ºF—but they work in the low-oxygen environment inside shoes and boots. The toe warmers also feature an adhesive patch so the chemical packs will stay in place by stick to your sock. These warmers work for a solid 4 or 5 hours in most situations. $7 per 10 pair.