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A few winter clothing questions

Auckland, New...
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A few winter clothing questions

I've read lots of the TQs and lurked and searched, but I still have a few questions regarding winter clothing (Fairbanks in December). I've been out trying on whatever I could find locally but it doesn't really get cold enough here for there to be any real knowledge. I keep getting conflicting information.

Boots - If I'm shopping online for used or bargain boots like Sorel's, should I buy my size or one larger to allow for thick socks ?

When you talk about polar-fleece mid-layers, do you mean a loose fitting, sweatshrt / hoody type of thing or something closer fitting, more like a heavy base-layer ? Where do wool sweaters fit into the scheme ?

Are ski mitts the same as the mitts being recommended ? I've seen comments where people have a lighter glove inside the mitt so they can take their hand out, operate the camera and then slip it back in. That didn't seem all that doable with the ski mitts I tried. Also, the flip-top mitts you have there must be much warmer than those I was able to find here.

My wife wears spectacles. The first thing we noticed with a facemask on, was that they fogged up. Is there a trick to wearing glasses ? Should she wear contact lenses or are there issues with them in the cold ?

Steve.

Healy, Alaska
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for Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska
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1. Re: A few winter clothing questions

Many people do layers starting with poly pro or silk - that is for underwear, t-necks, socks, and gloves. They are thin layers but add warmth. Some of us use fleece or wool - that can be like the 2nd/3rd layer and I tend to wear baggy type fleece, not close fitting. And for Interior temps like in Fairbanks, you need a parka.

I typically buy boots that are my size - I don't go larger and usually have room for one or two pairs of socks.

Good luck! :)

Chugiak, Alaska
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2. Re: A few winter clothing questions

Boot sizing depends on the boots. I wear Baffins and you have to go one size up on those to account for the liner that is part of the boot/fits inside the outer boot. I learned about this via reviews at Zappos.com. I suggest seeing if the boots you are looking to buy are on there or at REI.com and see if there are similar reviews that tell you if a size up is needed. If you are just wearing one pair of wool socks (all I ever wear even in -30), then you don't need a size up for that. I find more socks just make my feet sweat and then don't allow wicking. I recommend a pair or two of Smartwool sock- they have various weights- you can get a heavier weight one.

Mid-layer is between long underwear but under something like a wool sweater or sweatshirt. Personally, I wear cotton long-sleeve t-shirts as much mid-layer but some people disapprove. I think if you are wearing a synthetic base layer (tight and next to your skin) then cotton is fine over that since my synthetics wick the sweat away effectively (I like Under Armour Cold Gear for my base layer, but everyone is different).

I prefer ski mittens because they are easy to pull off and pull back on. I can even manage taking pics of the Northern Lights with mine on. It doesn't take much dexterity to push the shutter button once everything is set up. I don't wear liners with mine and don't see how people manage that either. The material in a ski mitten that is snug (and therefore warm) would pull any liners off that I have. I also haven't been able to find ski mittens with the top that comes off- only fleece and wool, neither of which were warm enough for me to mess with. Hopefully someone can help you with those questions.

I have seen the big, thick musher mittens that were easy to have liners on with, but that's all. Maybe a neoprene type liner would work.

I have glasses, too and I just go with contacts when doing anything outdoors in the Winter. When getting in and out of cars, it's a hassle and if you are going Northern Lights watching, there's a lot of in and out of warmth to the cold. I have no trouble with my contacts, but it is dry up here, so she may want to bring drops or pick some up.

Anchorage, Alaska
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3. Re: A few winter clothing questions

Base layers, mid-layers and outer layers should not be cotton. Wool and synthetics are better. Wool because if it's wet, it will still warm you. Synthetics will allow moisture to evaporate.

AKtiger mentions wearing cotton and I do too (pretty much as mentioned); but I think in extreme situations where changing clothes (or not being able to get out of the cold) is not an option, then the foregoing of cotton is a smart safety factor.

Contact lenses... I know lots of people up here who wear them year round; but I'd check with your eye doctor.

USA
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4. Re: A few winter clothing questions

I too wear sorels my size & can put 2 pairs of socks inside.

You asked: "Where do wool sweaters fit into the scheme ?"

A couple of wool sweaters that can be layered work well too over a base-type & mid layers. I have light & mid weight fleece mid layers. But then if not exerting myself, I have to wear an arctic down coat with a fur ruff hood.

I prefer down mittens with a fleece mitten inside. Sometimes I would even put a polypro liner in too. I am such a woos LOL.

One of my most valuable winter pieces is a fleece neck gaiter. They are cheap, light but are invaluable for warming the mouth & nose!

Have fun!

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
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5. Re: A few winter clothing questions

>>>Boots - If I'm shopping online for used or bargain boots like Sorel's, should I buy my size or one larger to allow for thick socks ? <<<

I had a pair of Sorels for my first winter trip to AK and they were fine with one pair of socks but a bit too tight for two. I bought a second pair one size larger on eBay and they are perfect for how I want my boots to fit & feel.

>>>Should she wear contact lenses or are there issues with them in the cold ?<<<

I am a full-time contact lens wearer and have no issues with the cold. I actually have more issues with hot/dry or dusty climates. Due to the fogging issue you mention, I actually prefer my contact lens in the winter.

Atlanta, Georgia
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6. Re: A few winter clothing questions

I personally cannot tolerate wool (too itchy), so for our trip in December 2011, I relied exclusively on synthetics. We anticipated temps from about 20F/-7C (in Anchorage and Seward) down to about -30F/-35C (in Fairbanks). Fairbanks was actually a bit colder than expected, but we felt well prepared and stayed plenty warm.

Note that I have been doing outdoorsy stuff for many years, and had a lot of this kind of clothing already. I also live about 2 miles from Atlanta's main REI store, so it is really easy for me to stop by during clearance sales, etc. I was able to take my time acquiring the clothing, which allowed me to purchase most items at a substantial discount off retail pricing. I'm not sure how easy it will be to get this kind of stuff in NZ, but at least I can give you an idea of what I used.

I actually had 4 layers of differing materials and thermal ratings. My "sub-base" layer was an UnderArmour Catalyst T-shirt and a pair of Ex Officio briefs - hand washable, quick drying, and comfortable enough to sleep in. I took three sets of those and cycled through them during the week.

For the base layer, I used some polypro thermal tops that I already had from REI (one medium-weight and one heavy-weight), plus a pair of UnderArmour Base 2.0 leggings and a sleeveless Polartec Union Suit that I bought from Cabelas. These fit nicely under regular street clothes without being uncomfortably hot (when indoors), or restrictive to movement.

My middle layer was just a "flannel-ish" long-sleeve shirt and a pair of heavy nylon hiking pants (two each of both of those, which I wore on alternate days).

The outer layer was a Northface Mountain Light Jacket (Gore-Tex) with a hooded fleece lining that zipped into the jacket. I added a 650 fill down vest whenever I expected to be outdoors for extended periods. The vest had a high collar that sealed up the neck area really well when the jacket was fully zipped. For outer pants I bought a pair of insulated Gore-Tex bibs from Cabelas. Carhartt bibs are also a popular choice for this (if a bit more utilitarian).

For headwear, I bought a Carhartt 2-in-1 fleece hat, which fully covered my head and ears, and had a pull-down face/neck gaiter (got several compliments on this hat from other folks that we met during our visit!). For outer gloves, I bought a pair of Scott Gore-Tex gloves on clearance:

gore-tex.com/product/…

I augmented these with a pair of Mountain Hardwear glove liners, for exactly the reason mentioned above (easy to doff the outer glove for operating a camera - this worked out quite well, even at -20F/-30C).

For shoes I took a pair of Salomon Deemax boots that I have - Gore-Tex outers and a Polartec lining, rated to 20F/-7C. These worked well for all but the coldest outdoor activities. For that, I bought a pair of Baffin Eigers on clearance from some on-line shoestore (not Zappo's but similar):

http://www.baffin.com/product-p/4000m001.htm

The best part was that the clothing was not bulky at all. In fact, I managed to fit all of it in my carry-on bags so I did not need to check any hold luggage. Due to the nature of the clothing (and the difficulty of finding suitable replacements if any of it was lost), this provided some great peace of mind for the flights.

Altogether I probably dropped about $500-600 on new clothing purchases for the trip (the biggest expenses were the boots and Gore-Tex bib), but I consider it money well-spent. I was very comfortable the entire week, and never had to rely on chemical hand warmers that a lot of people recommend (don't care for them myself, and prefer not to depend on them to generate warmth).

FYI, I am also a contact lens wearer (soft lenses) and had no problems with them in the extreme cold.

-JimG

Atlanta, Georgia
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7. Re: A few winter clothing questions

Forgot to mention the socks - I took three pairs of Merino wool socks, which is about the only wool clothing that I can wear (these are marketed as "Smartwool" by some manufacturers). These worked out fine with the insulated boots, and I never needed extra liners or toe warmers. One other "foot" item that we took was a pair of Stabilicers:

32north.com/play/15-stabilicers-ice-cleats-o…

We never used these in Fairbanks, but they were very nice to have for the two days we were in Seward, where the streets and sidewalks were pretty much a solid sheet of ice.

One other thing I noticed about winter in Alaska is because it is so dry you do not sweat that much, so the clothes do not need to be laundered as often as you might suspect. The only time I ever really worked up a sweat was when we were snowshoeing in Denali (in fact, I got uncomfortably HOT even though it was -10F/-25C - actually had to unzip my jacket to cool off!). I made sure to hang up my street clothes at the end of every day so they could air out a bit, and was able to make the two pairs last the whole week that way.

-JimG

Alaska
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8. Re: A few winter clothing questions

One of the tricks written up by the Fairbanks police decades ago is coating their glasses with glycerin in the winter. That way they could walk into warm and moist places, such as bars or other social situations, and lot lose precious seconds while their glasses fog or freeze. There are commercial preparations for sale these days.

For glove/mitten liners I use whatever I have and fits within thee main mitts and allows them to slip on and off easily. These vary between worker's 'monkey faced\ gloves and simple thin cotton gloves, much like we used to think of as ladie's dress gloves, and often used by cross country skiers today when we need just a thin layer over the skin while skiing.

To reduce the number of socks for the trip, consider a variety of thin, synthetic inner socks and just one or two heavy socks to wear on the outside. Then just wash the inside socks to keep your feet clean and warm. If your boot liners are removable, be sure to take them out of the boot shell every night and let them dry out to keep their insulating value. If the boot or shoe is really wet, gather a bunch of dry newspaper, crumple it up and stuff it into the boot to absorb the moisture. The dry newspaper literally suck it up. Then change the newspaper as often as needed. One pattern of timing may be 2x at 15 minutes each, 2 or 4 times at half an hour each, and longer times after that, until the newspaper comes out dry and the boot is dry as well.

You may well experience cold in Fairbanks that is not normal for the other parts of Alaska so go prepared and speak to some locals when you get there to fine tune your behavior.

Auckland, New...
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9. Re: A few winter clothing questions

Thank you all for your responses. There are some excellent bits of information in there.

Getting stuff in NZ can be a problem and we're coming out of winter now so there will only be summer stuff that we can try for fit. OTOH, NZ is the base for the Antarctic programs so we have been able to buy some used cold-wear at very good prices. We have parkas, bibs and bunny boots for standing around looking at the aurora. It's what to wear at other times that is adding up in cost real fast. The bunny boots aren't very comfortable, but at least we have something that will keep the cold out if nothing else comes up.

What sort of footwear would people recommend for day-to-day use ? Something you can drive in, etc like where JimG used Deemax's ? (Eek!! - Here, those are 13x what we paid for the bunny boots)

We have (new) light tramping boots but we bought them for NZ summer, not Alaskan winter.

Chugiak, Alaska
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10. Re: A few winter clothing questions

Ah, well, so you have the ultra cold weather boots covered. Are you talking about something to wear when just walking around in and out of shops? Because I think your tramping boots with wool socks would be fine for that.

I have boots similar to this:

keenfootwear.com/us/…20boot

that I wear for being about town or when I'm going out in the snow, but only for an hour or two or when it's in the 20s (F) out. But it seems like a fair amount to spend to get something like that. I go with hiking boots and wool until its past the 30s even when I'm out for a few hours being outside and my feet are fine. If you are going to go out to see like the ice sculptures when it's 30 below, I'd have the bunny boots on. Lots of folks around here wear those as their Winter boots.

Edited: 22 August 2013, 05:52