The absolute worst! That painful, terrible feeling when your hands go numb. Every step is excruciating! Every time you move your fingers, they hurt as though you’re trying to break sticks of ice implanted inside your hands (cause technically, you kinda are). I personally suffer tremendously. I have Reynolds, which means that with so much as a light breeze, my fingers can go numb. It sucks, but I also love winter sports like ice climbing, cross country skiing, and just playing outside in the snow. I’ve also travelled to the far north during the winter and went walking in arctic storms (picture -50 Celsius with 77km/h winds). With all my exposure to the cold, I’ve learned a few things of keeping my hands and feet warm. Let me share with you, my fellow cold-hand-sufferers, the wisdom of my limited learnings…
First things first – go out and get yourself the biggest most lofty MITTENS you can find. Forget the gloves. Honestly, in the cold, the difference between mittens and gloves is like the difference between gloves and bare hands. With gloves, each finger needs to warm itself up, and is entirely at the mercy of the cold and wind blowing between the fingers. With mittens, you get the shelter from the cold for all your fingers, plus, they keep each other warm, like a happy family. Trust me, never rely on gloves to keep your hands warm. Mittens are 100% the way to go.
Also, this is not the place to cheap out. A killer pair of mittens will cost somewhere between $100-$150. Yes, it’s expensive, but think about how many days of cold there are every year. And think about how many years you plan on sticking around in a cold environment. I bought a pair of kickass mittens a number of years ago, and they’re still working incredibly! If I amortize the cost of the mittens, it amounts to almost $25 per year. If I then amortize that cost over the number of days I have happy fingers inside the mittens, I’m looking at something around a cost of $0.25 per use. There is literally nothing out there that will give you that much enjoyment for that little cost per use (alright… maybe there is, but it’s a pretty solid return on your investment).
There are a few things to look for when buying a pair of mittens. Ideally, opt for a removeable liner. This will allow you to more easily dry out the inside glove if your hands become sweaty, or wet for whatever reason. Your outer shell also makes a huge difference. You want something breathable. This will allow your sweat to evaporate more easily, keeping your hands dryer and warmer. Waterproof is nice, but realize that once you dip down enough below zero Celsius, there really isn’t any water around. It’s all frozen.
In my experience, the best mittens are the canvas and leather mittens traditionally worn by first nations. It has this incredible combo of breathability, durability, and often includes some fur trimming around the cuff to prevent snow from falling inside your mitten. You can find those in a number of different places, or for about $30 worth of material, and a few hours of work, you could likely make your own pair.
After that, there are a number of companies that make some really wicked high loft, waterproof, breathable gloves. If you’re looking at a glove with down as it’s insulation, make sure that it’s waterproof down, because over time, your sweat will get absorbed by the down and it won’t fluff up quite as much.
Once you have the kickass pair of mittens, you’re pretty much there. Make sure that you don’t have any liner glove inside (because again, gloves suck). If you ever need to use your fingers to do anything that requires dexterity, just take off your gloves, expose your fingers for a few seconds, do what you need to do, and then quickly put your mittens back on. I’ve tested both methods, and although the second one sucks more when I remove my mittens, the overall warmth of my hands is worlds apart.
Make sure you have eaten enough food, but that you’ve also had plenty of water. The more dehydrated we are, the thicker our blood becomes. It’s very difficult for thick blood to easily enter your tiny capillaries in your fingers. It’s amazing how many issues are solved just by drinking more water.
What do you do if you’ve done all that, and find that your fingers still getting cold? It’s simple, but looks silly, so you have to be willing to be silly to be warm. If your fingers start getting cold, start spinning your arm like a windmill as fast and as vigorously as you can. You also have to commit wholeheartedly. The harder you do this, the more centripetal force you create, which will force more warm blood into your finger tips and warm them up dramatically. The warmth from your hands will also radiate into the mitten and get trapped there, keeping your hands warm for longer.
The trick is to do the arm spinning thing as soon as your hands start to get cold. It’s easier to bring a lukewarm cup of water to 37 degrees than a cup of ice.
With those things, you should be able to keep your fingers pretty comfortable. You can also get additional aids like hand warmers, and throw them into your mittens. Hand warmers, though, eventually stop working, so I strongly recommend mastering the above techniques before relying on things like hand warmers.