Winter Clothing for the Northern Wilderness part 2

Winter Clothing for the Northern Wilderness part 2

Footwear, Handwear and Headwear

Hestra Falt Guide leather finger glove

Clothing for winter in the northern wilderness must cope with a wide range of temperatures, from around freezing to -50oC (-58oF) or lower. While your body core must be kept warm to prevent hypothermia, your extremities are more likely to suffer cold injuries and your feet, hands and head need special consideration.

This is the second of two articles on clothing for the northern wilderness. The first covers thermal layers and shell clothing. This article covers footwear, handwear and headwear.

You’ll get the most out of this article if you also read my articles on cold injuries and how to dress for cold weather. Don’t worry, though, the current article makes perfect sense without them and you can read them later. I write my articles in a ‘modular’ way that dovetail and support each other but can be read as stand-alone pieces. I’ll remind you about the other articles at the end…

At times, both in the northern forest and on the northern fells, you will be working hard and generating a lot of heat. At other times, you will be stationary and need a lot of protection from the winter environment.

Your clothing system therefore needs to be flexible and this extends to what you wear on head, your hands and your feet.

Your clothes must be able to minimise heat loss but they must also cope well with perspiration.

Outdoor life in winter is tough and your clothes need to be well-made and durable. Another feature of life in the north is fire and hot stoves and this must be taken into account, particularly when choosing handwear.

The Importance Of Protecting Your Head, Hands And Feet In Cold Environments

Your extremities need special care and attention in cold environments. Your hands and feet are particularly affected by vasoconstriction. This reduction of blood flow to the hands and feet can have serious consequences.

Lack of blood flow to your hands will stop them working properly, leading to a loss of manual dexterity. Think about some of the bushcraft or survival skills you might employ – using a fire-flash, preparing tinder or carving feather-sticks. How easy would they be if you could hardly move or feel your fingers?

Consider basic tasks such as opening a rucksac or zipping up a jacket? Even putting on gloves can become very difficult. In losing the use of your hands, you lose the ability to help yourself. In a wilderness setting, a loss of manual dexterity is potentially fatal.

In cold environments you must remain vigilant against frostbite. Frostbite is basically frozen flesh. Frostbite occurs most commonly in exposed skin, particularly superficial frostbite in the nose, cheeks and ears. Due to vasoconstriction lowering the temperature of the hands and feet, these extremities are also prone to frostbite.

The likelihood of frostbite isn’t just a function of the ambient temperature and duration of exposure to cold. It also depends on factors such as wind chill, air humidity and whether or not the skin is wet. The probability of sustaining frostbite is therefore more a function of the overall heat loss experienced by the exposed skin.

Also if you touch cold materials there can be very rapid heat loss through conduction. Skin coming into contact with cold metal can freeze on contact. Therefore you should never touch cold metal but always wear gloves to protect your hands.

By inhibiting free circulation of the blood, restrictive clothing could also increase your risk of frostbite. Your gloves should not be tight or fastened tightly, your boots should not be laced too tightly. Even the straps of a heavy back-pack could reduce blood flow to your arms.

Protection For Your Hands: Gloves and Mittens.

Protection of your hands is vital. You simply cannot allow them to get too cold. At the same time, we also need to be able to work with a degree of dexterity and sensitivity. So we need a range of handwear to suit all circumstances.

A pair of mittens is essential. They should be highly insulative. Keeping your fingers nestled together within a mitten is the warmest way of housing them. Your mittens should not be tight around the hand or fingers.

Inner Mittens: There are various material options but wool remains a firm favourite for the northern wilderness. Wool becomes warmer when slightly damp from perspiration and releases moisture (and heat) slowly. Dachsteins are good but hand-knitted Scandinavian Lovikka are the best.

Swedish Lovikka Mittens made of Lovikka wool and with decorated cuffs.
The authors' Swedish Lovikka woollen mittens. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Outer Mittens: There are several reasons why you should have a protective outer mitten. Like the rest of our clothing system, as well as an insulating layer to trap air, your handwear needs a windproof outer layer to stop warm air being displaced from within by wind or body movement, causing convective heat loss. Snow sticks to wool easily so it is best to protect your inner handwear with some form of outer. Moreover, woollen inners are easily damaged by snags and other wear and tear, so need a protective outer layer for this reason too. There are three options: cotton/Ventile, synthetic or leather.

Synthetic materials for your outer mitts is not a good choice for the northern forest. Staying warm in winter normally involves the use of fire – either naked flame or a stove. Either way it is likely that at some stage you will have to handle hot or potentially hot objects. Synthetic materials melt too easily.

Melted outer material of a synthetic duvet jacket.
This synthetic duvet jacket was momentarily brushed against a hot stove inside a tent. The resulting damage is clear. Your outer mittens shouldn't be made of something which is damaged this easily. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Ventile is good and windproof and much more heat-resistant than synthetic materials. Leather is windproof, extremely heat-resistant and very tough. Thus, leather is our first choice for an outer mitten for the northern forest.

Swedish Army Leather Mittens
Surplus Swedish army leather mittens are a very good pairing with Lovikka. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Mittens are not appropriate all of the time. Sometimes we need more sensitivity or to use our fingers. Even when we don’t need to work with our fingers, mittens may be inappropriate. Some days it is not so cold and even on very cold days, when we work hard, we can generate a lot of heat. At these times, mittens can simply be too warm. And if we do overheat, we sweat excessively and this will make our clothing damp, contributing to us getting cold later on.

Finger gloves: Having some finger gloves with us allows us to have dexterity when we need it as well as a less thermal set of hand-wear than mittens. Again, leather is an excellent choice of outer material for all the reasons discussed above for mittens. Finger gloves are working gloves and will have to endure a lot of wear and tear. Just as with a general purpose work-glove, a good quality leather glove will last a long time. The Hestra Falt Guide glove is a long-standing favourite of many of us who like to head north in the winter.

Old well-worn Hestra Falt leather gloves versus new Hestra Falt leather finger gloves.
These Hestra gloves are made of high-quality leather with tough goatskin palms. The author's pair on the right have seen much hard use as can be seen in comparison to a friend's brand-new set on the left. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Avoid finger gloves which are too close-fitting. While you want to be able to work in your finger-gloves – and you certainly don’t want them to be sloppy on your hands when using an axe, for example – they should not be tight. You do not want to restrict circulation. This is very important.

Of vital importance is being able to dry your gloves and mittens quickly. In a freeze-dried environment, this is more important than your gloves being waterproof. Perspiration builds up inside your handwear. Waterproof breathable membranes don’t work well, if at all, below -18oC (0oF). Finger gloves with integral insulation and waterproof membranes dry very slowly and for this reason are to be avoided for use in the northern wilderness. Even if you have access to a warm environment such as a heated tent or cabin, you could struggle to dry integrated gloves for when you next need them. Your handwear will dry much more quickly if you can separate the inners from the outers.

Hestra Falt Guide gloves hanging with inners and outers separated.
The author's finger gloves with inners and outers separated and hanging up to expedite drying. Photo: Paul Kirtley

In using gloves with separate inners and outers, you can easily carry spare inners and change them half way through the day if necessary.

To avoid frostbite from touching cold objects you should always work with at least thin gloves when handling metal and other highly conductive materials in sub-zero (Celsius) temperatures. You can carry a separate set of thin working gloves or you can choose gloves with a removable inner and then use just the outer if you don’t need both.

Due to the importance of protecting your hands in a winter environment, it is always wise to carry spare handwear. When travelling in frozen lands, I always carry a back-up set of mittens and I recommend you do too – your life could depend on it.

Protection for Your Feet: Boots, Liners, Gaiters and Socks

In selecting your footwear you must bear in mind two important principles:

  • Footwear must allow space for insulation (and air to be trapped);
  • Footwear must not be tight or restrict circulation;

Further consideration must be given to whether your footwear is required to integrate with ski-bindings or snowshoes or both.

You should also think about how much protection your feet need from environmental moisture/water.

Socks and Liners: As with handwear, wool is the first choice for keeping your feet warm: A couple of pairs of good wool socks and or a combination of socks and felt boot liners.

Good winter boots will come with felt liners and insoles and have the room to accommodate them. If you are adding extra-insulation to boots, however, either by way of multiple pairs of socks or felt boot liners, you will likely need the boots to be several sizes bigger than your usual size. Remember, your boots must not be tight. Even when trying footwear with felt liners included, make sure there is plenty of room in the boots. You should feel no pressure on your toes at all.

An extra note about liners – some supposed winter boots come with liners that are abysmal. They are cheap facsimiles of what good boots contain. They have little or no insulation and often are made of synthetic materials that trap moisture and make your feet cold. Good quality wool felt liners and insoles are what you should seek out.

The liners and insoles of your boots should be removable. Like your handwear, you should be able to change liners if damp and being able to separate the outer from the inner allows much faster drying. Carry spare liners and insoles.

What about breathable membranes? As with gloves, breathable membranes are a waste of time in footwear for the northern wilderness. In fact they are a liability. Such membranes do not function at low temperatures and the membrane, in combination with other lining materials, traps and holds moisture within the footwear. In the worst cases I’ve seen, this means the footwear becomes dangerously cold and very difficult to dry. Boots that – even in a warm cabin – take at least 24hours to dry out are, frankly, totally useless. Avoid breathable membranes.

What about protection from water? If you want to protect from environmental moisture and water, then a good quality leather boot will do the job. At times, crossing frozen water courses and lakes, or when ice fishing, your footwear may come into contact with surface water. A means gaining some additional protection against this is using a boot that has the foot section of the upper made from rubber with leather from the ankle upwards. Both Lundhags and Sorel make boots like this.

A boot by Lundhags and a boot by Sorel, both with rubber lower-boot, leather upper and felt liner
On the left a boot by Lundhags. On the right a boot by Sorel. Both have a rubber lower boot, leather upper and removable felt liners. Note also the Lundhag boot has a squared toe for use with Nordic skis. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

If your lower legs become immersed in water, with water entering your boot and wetting your socks and insulating liners, you have a couple of options. As long as your feet remain warm, it does not matter so much if they are wet. In this scenario, people have used plastic bags over their feet to create a vapour barrier and avoid frostbite. An example of a possible layering would be foot/spare dry sock/plastic bag/wet liner/wet boot. Another would be foot/spare dry sock/plastic bag/spare dry liner/plastic bag/wet boot. An alternative to plastic bags is to carry very large (i.e. not tight) breathable, waterproof socks that will fit over a pair of dry wool socks. These can be worn inside wet boots until you can get everything dry.

A pair of gaiters.
A pair of gaiters being used by the author while ski-touring in Norway.

Finally, some means of sealing your boots at the top to prevent snow getting into them is important. Velcro fastenings at the bottom of trousers is not sufficient. These can come undone. Putting your foot down into deep snow, then lifting it up and filling the top of your boot with snow is not a nice feeling. In the warmth of your boot, this snow quickly melts and introduces water into your footwear. This must be avoided. There are some traditional methods using a similar method to the puttee that are very effective but these are hard to obtain. An easily obtained and flexible method is to use a set of modern gaiters. When selecting your gaiters, make sure they fit over your (large) winter boots without too much difficulty. They should be easy to put on and take off your finger gloves on. If they are fiddly even with bare hands, they are not suitable for a cold environment.

Protection for Your Head: Hats, Balaclavas, Scarves/Head-overs and Eye-Protection

Unlike the hands and feet which are subject to the effects of vasoconstriction, blood vessels serving the head remain open. Our brains need a constant supply of oxygen and energy. This has a couple of important consequences:

  • For a given ambient temperature, we are less likely to suffer a cold injury on our head than we are on our hands or feet;
  • We can be losing a large amount of heat from our heads even when our body cannot afford to loose it;
  • The converse of the last point – when we need to lose heat quickly our headwear has a disproportionate effect on our temperature regulation.

Light Hat: A light hat or ‘beanie’ is always a good item to have in your jacket whatever time of year it is. In winter a light woolen hat is great for when you are working hard – too hard for anything heavier on your head. You may feel like working with nothing on your head but be warned: In low temperatures, the cooling effect on your head (and brain) can make you feel a little out of it, to the extent it can impair your judgement. Better to wear a thin hat and adjust clothing elsewhere if you are still too warm.

Paul Kirtley about to embark on a Nordic ski tour.
The author about to embark on a Nordic ski tour, Norway 2007. Sub-zero temperatures yet lightweight woollen hat. Note also sunglasses despite the seemingly gloomy conditions.

Sunglasses: In the northern forest, snow-blindness is not a concern; there is not much light in mid-winter and later in the winter there is still plenty of shade in the forest. It is when you go above the treeline, in altitude or latitude that sunglasses become necessary.

Medium-weight Hat: Sometimes when you are working but it is very cold, you need something more protective than a light wool hat. Particularly if there is some wind-chill, you may need some protection for your ears. A fleece-lined windproof hat with ear protection is very good for this situation. If the hat has a smooth outer that easily sheds snow, it will also provide good protection when digging out snow shelters.

Paul Kirtley wearing windproof, fleece-lined winter cap.
The author wearing a fleece-lined winter cap in northern Sweden, 2011. A cold headwind while travelling up-river on snow shoes necessitated a warm hat with ear-protection.

Someone wearing a very warm hat as well as a head-over
A good example of a very warm hat, combined with the use of a head-over. Northern Sweden, 2011. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Warm Hat: A larger, very warm hat should be carried for times when you are not active, it is very cold or you are travelling by snow-machine. Heat loss from the head can form a large percentage of total heat loss and your heaviest hat should be both insulating and windproof. A hat that has flaps that can fasten under the chin, over the ears or above the ears is the most flexible design.

Head-over: A knitted wool head-over is a great item of clothing. Designed to go over the head and around the neck, it provides good insulation of the neck (where blood vessels run close to the surface) and personally I find the effect of wearing one similar to adding an extra layer of clothing to my upper body. A head-over can also be made into a hat as well as arranged into an ear-protector/semi-balaclava type of arrangement. Alternatively, some people prefer to carry a traditional scarf.

Hood: Don’t forget about your hood! The hood of your windproof outer layer forms an added level of protection and flexibility to your headwear. Pulling up a good, deep hood is like encapsulating yourself into your own personal micro-climate. A good hood keeps warm air trapped around your head and near to your face, reducing convective heat loss significantly. A deep hood will also protect your face from the uncomfortable and potentially detrimental effects of wind-chill. You can pop up a hood much more quickly than changing hats. A hood shouldn’t be forgotten for the speed and flexibility it provides in adjusting your temperature and comfort.

Paul Kirtley wearing warmest hat and jacket hood at thirty below in northern Sweden.
The author cosy and comfortable within his hood at thirty below. Northern Sweden, 2011.
Balaclava with snow and ice
A balaclava provides great protection.

Balaclava: The comfort and protection provided by a balaclava make it an essential piece of clothing for cold environments. For seriously cold or unpleasant conditions a balaclava is extremely welcome yet it weighs virtually nothing. They are also very useful for keeping your head and face warm when bivvying in cold conditions or riding on snow-machines. Is use the 200g/sqm Ulfrotte balaclava. Containing merino wool, it is both warm and comfortable.

Goggles: Full ski-goggles are useful (particularly in combination with a balaclava) in blizzards, particularly above the treeline. When driving snow-machines they provide great wind-protection for a good portion of your face as well as protecting your eyes from branches while driving in the forest.

Bringing It All Together

While this article (and part 1) will help you in selecting winter clothing for the north, articles can only go so far in explaining the nuances of how this equipment should be best used. We are all different and conditions vary from time to time and place to place. Much of the performance of your clothing comes from you managing and adjusting it correctly. You must adjust your clothing to suit your temperature, your work rate and the weather conditions. This is very important yet only comes with experience.

In his book Alone, Richard E. Byrd sums up this notion nicely: “Cold was nothing new to me; and experience had taught me that the secret of protection is not so much the quantity or weight of the clothes as it is the size and quality and, above all, the way they are worn and cared for.”

Experience is something that comes with time but I hope this article will help you in avoiding some of the pitfalls along the way to putting together a flexible and well thought-out clothing outfit.


Picture credits – the author owns the copyright for all images in this article.

This article is the second of two. The first, Winter Clothing for the Northern Wilderness part 1, covers clothing for your trunk and legs, how to layer this clothing and how to manage it properly.

To get the most out of these two articles, you should also read:

The Four Horsemen of Heat Loss

How to Dress for the Cold: COLD or COLDER…

Related Articles On Paul Kirtley’s Blog:

Take Care When you Enter the Blue Zone

A Winter Camping Trip in the Northern Forest

46 thoughts on “Winter Clothing for the Northern Wilderness part 2

  1. Fantastic article to end the year, thanks Paul.

  2. First off, happy new year!!
    More great stuff Paul, and as a proffesional you have put together a fantastic kit base.
    Price however, is a huge factor in any trip to the Boreal forests, both the price of getting there and the Kit.
    As a new year challenge, is there any chance of a ‘Bushcraft on a budget’ feature? I , and I am sure Many of us would love to hear you comments on what can be picked out there without breaking the Bank.
    You mention good leather boots ( oversized x2 ) and indeed your Lundhags look great ( are they Huskys? ) but I think they are about £250 with Hestra Guide gloves comming in at about £90.
    This in NO WAY is a dig at those with expensive gear ( I have plenty of that myself! ) just a genuine Request to hear from someone with your experience.
    Thanks Paul, and keep up the great work!
    My best.

    1. The budget thing is a clear issue for most of us (I must start bying lottery tickets, preferably the winning kind).

      Chris, the Hestra gloves are superb, but around here (Jamtland, Sweden) every petrol station sells insulated work gloves. Not as fancy, not as nice, no removable liners, but 1/10 the price.

      Boot is an issue, but one can get away cheaper than Lundhags or Sorrel. I use either Nokians insulated wellies (about SEK 1400) or Luddan felt boots (about the same). The Nokians have removable felt liners are are quiye nice in wet snow conditions, slushy overflow, etc, but do collect damp (which the Lundhags/Sorrels do as well). The Luddans is pure wool felt with a rubber sole and some leather reinforcements. Being wool they will not collect water coming from the inside, but if it comes from the outside… Of course the home made mukluk style moccasins are even warmer and cheaper, but don’t work in a ski binding (the Luddans work only in a few ski bindings). With snowshoes the latter is the only footwear I would bríng for true cold.

      Handknitted lovikkas cost SEK 300-400, but last a long time; I alternte between the army surplus mittens and home made suede ones outside mine. A pair of thinner knitted mittens gets used as liners if it gets warmer.

      I have made an idiot string from braided wool yarn, since I dislike the straps-around-the-wrist style the Swedish army appers to like (with an idiot string one can also get the mittens out of the way easier when starting a fire or answering a pressing call of nature). The best idiot strings are A-shaped, that is they go around behind the neck and have a cross string about 30 cm long about nipple height.

      One can also layer cheap cardigans and wool sweaters from the thrift shop.

      1. Hi Par

        Thanks for your extensive reply to Chris’ comments. It’s all very good information.

        Just to re-iterate what you say

        – yes the Nokians are very good too. I agree Lundhags do have a high price-tag. Sorels, however, are definitely a lot less expensive. A pair of Caribou boots is around £140, which is a similar price to the Nokians and about £100 less than the Lundhag ‘Husky’ boot.

        – For gloves, in the UK you can get reasonably good quality leather work gloves and gardening gloves from DIY stores, builders merchants or garden centres. If you buy them large, you can then put a wool inner finger glove inside and create a glove like the Hestra Guide Glove, for about a quarter of the cost. You can upgrade this idea by using the actual Hestra wool terry liners that come with the Guide Glove. These liners can be bought separately. I’d always recommend carrying a spare set of wool liners anyway.

        I sometimes use idiot strings too – I have some made of a webbing tape material that is similar to the old antarctic explorer style. I like them for mittens. Your comment about answering the call of nature made me smile – it’s not great to get water in your mittens 🙂

        All the best,


    2. Hi Chris

      Happy New Year to you too!

      Thanks for your comments about the price of equipment. I think it is a very good one. Scandinavian equipment (Lundhags, Hestra) has become more expensive in the UK in recent years. Also, much of it is quite specialist and not always suited to use in our mild, moist conditions here in the UK. I’ve used the Hestra Guide Glove for winter mountaineering in Glencoe and frankly it was a disappointment – it gets wet too easily. In the dry cold it’s a great glove. When you have your hands in wet snow, and are back at base in the evenings, you need a different design. So I’d only buy the Hestra Guide Glove for cold dry condtions, and if you are on a tight budget, then only if you are going to get a lot of use out of them.

      I’ve had a lot of use out of mine. I’ve worn out two sets of inners and the outers are still going strong. So for me, from a cost per week or a cost per day point of view, I think they are good value.

      I’ve mentioned this elsewhere in this comment thread but there is a cheaper option to create a similar glove. Look for good quality leather work gloves or gardening gloves in DIY stores, builders merchants or garden centres. If you buy them large (one or two sizes too big), you can then put a wool inner finger glove inside and create a glove like the Hestra Guide Glove, for about a quarter of the cost. You can upgrade this idea by using the actual Hestra wool terry liners that come with the Guide Glove. These liners can be bought separately. I’d recommend getting the liners first and taking them to the store with you to try with the leather glove. Make sure they are not tight.

      I used a similar principle to create a lightweight yet very warm, windproof glove for hillwalking in the UK – using Extremities ‘Windy’ gloves that are one size too big and wearing them over Icebreaker merino finger gloves.

      I think your suggestion of a separate article on budget gear is worthwhile. But in the meantime I would say that if you are going to spend any money on any kit for the boreal forest, spend it on your hands and your feet.

      Other clothing can be bought cheaply – rather than buying the expensive Gore-Tex jacket or arctic smock, buy a surplus cotton smock. Smiliar with trousers (I have some surplus wool trousers that cost £12). Old wool cardigans at the back of the wardrobe or from a charity/thrift store will work fine if they are big enough.

      Surplus leather mitts are less than £20 and Lovikka or Dachsteins are £40 or less. Your hands are worth at least £60. It’s not worth scrimping and risking frostbite.

      I’ll start working on the budget article… 😉

      All the best,


      1. In Germany Aldi sells every year white full goat leather working gloves in spring, which can be very protectiv if people start to work with a saw, and if you take them larger and use woolen liners they could be a nice option. (10 or 12 €) . Black leather gloves with cotton lining from miltec which are produced after the Bundeswher pattern I use as working and cooking gloves and in conditions around 0*C for everything, 20 € . For whet conditions around 0*C till negativ 10*C I use from our building side DIY shop Bauhaus blue gloves with synthethic outer shell and thinsulate filling for 10€.
        Thats only added for people, who will not go directly to lappland, an want to camp a bit in conditions till negativ 10*C.

  3. Happy New Year Paul!
    As always a joy to read.Clear,concise words with good photo’s!
    Best wishes and keep up the good work

    1. Happy New Year Dean!

      Thanks for your comment and I’m glad to hear you enjoyed the article 🙂

      All the best,


  4. Excellent companion article and very relevant for me at the moment as you know.

    Always good to see some thought put into how gear works when conditions are not ideal, such as when footwear gets wet etc.

    Happy New Year Paul.

    1. Hi Gary

      Happy New Year to you too!

      Good to hear from you. I hope your final preparations are going well?

      All the best,


  5. Thanks for the tips Par ! Kind of you to reply.
    Getting Luddans or Luvikka over here is pretty much impossible I am affraid, ( I have searched for those mittens for some years now! )
    Happy new year to you!
    My best.

    1. Noy sure about the lovikka mittens, but I would think that the manufacturer of the Luddan boots would ship internationally. The company is called Skråmträskskon, a googling should find them.

  6. Great artical Paul.

    All these are concerns of mine in winter.
    My bad spots are; Hands & Feet so i always have those covered in winter.
    And i now always wear a Toque, its amazing how much warmer you are with wearing one of these.
    A baseball cap is useless cause i doesn’t cover your ears or lower neck like a toque can.

    Footwear for me in winter also important.
    One thing i learned is not to tighten your boots, you can cut off the blood flow, which makes your feet colder. I have a premium pair of hiking boots & it took me a bit to get the lacing just right.


    1. Hi Dave

      Thanks for your tips. Toque isn’t a term that many over in the UK would be familiar with but, particularly in this context, I like the linkage back to the old coureurs de bois 🙂

      With respect to lace tightening, I’ll just back up what you say: Even with good boots that fit well, over-tightening the laces can make your feet cold. Over-tightening in this context does not have to be very tight at all – just enough to restrict the blood flow slightly. Dave’s absolutely right – if your feet are well-insulated yet your feet are getting cold, try loosening the laces a bit…

      All the best,


      1. I will remember that in future Paul ” de bois ” 🙂 Cheers

        1. Exactement, mes amis! Je peu, sans doubt, comprendre “de boi”, mais quest que c’est votre toque?????

    2. A baseball cap or the winter cap with teddy ear flaps from the german military is very nice if you are using lenses. It protects the glasses from rain and snow!

    1. Hi Par

      This is a very good point. With time, and a little skill, you can make much of the clothing you need. Or you can engage the services of someone who is more skilled in sewing or knitting. A friend of mine bought a roll of Ventile and had some cotton smocks made up to a pattern by a local seamstress. Much, much less expensive (and more appropriate attire) than much of the branded products available…

      All the best,


  7. Thanks Paul,

    Excellent article. Happy New Year.

    All the best kit costs but it also tends to last aswell – I can’t rate my various Seal Skinz socks highly enough……

  8. Hi Paul and a happy new year, another good article . I carry a pair of Buffalo mitts whilst they are not the brawest fitting things they live in the bottom of my rucsack and have saved my bacon a few times. As a member of my local mountain rescue team and had various soakings en route to casualties got even colder and wetter working on them so my buffalo mitts are put on last thing for the carry or walk out, (we issue a pair to every member) I have rather large hands and find it a complete fiddle to get my wet hands into my gloves so the mittens work well wet or dry . As you have said and well worth a mention heat/flame with synthetic material is very dangerous . All the best .

  9. All great advice, thanks Paul, thanks Par !
    My best.

  10. This is a resource i have come back to on numerous occasions, thanks for taking the time to publish it.

    Did you use the Lundhags for ski touring? If so, which bindings and skis did you use?



    1. Hi Bob,

      Thanks for your compliment. I’m glad you have found this article such a useful resource.

      I use Lundhags for skiing – and snowshoeing – in the northern forests. The ski set-up is with an old-fashioned NN-75 sized cable binding (but with no pins) and wooden skis with no metal edges. This is a great set up for the soft powdery (and often deep) snow of the forest.

      For mountain trips – such as crossing the Hardanger Vidda – I use Garmont ‘Finse‘ leather boots with NNN bindings on Madshus ‘Glittertind’ skis.

      While I like the convenience of the quick release of the NNN bindings, if you break one they are hard/impossible to fix. This is fine for skiing near to home or on your local ski track but for more remote trips I feel a little exposed. I’m considering reverting to more traditional NN-75 bindings and a traditional Telemark boot. The binding is generally more ‘fixable’ and it’s easy to carry spare cables for the binding.

      Hope this helps.



  11. Hi Paul , i wonder if there are good cheap substitutes for gaiters ?

    Ps I am from the equatorial country and will be going to Finland at end February


    Regards , Janice

    1. Hi Janice,

      Thanks for your question. First I should point out that gaiters are available in quite a wide range of prices.

      But if you are finding reasonably-priced models hard to find then another alternative is using trousers that have some sort of built-in gaiter or snow valance at the bottom. Others simply have an elasticated bottom. This latter feature, combined with boots that are high enough, can be sufficient to exclude snow.

      It’s also worth considering how well the top of your snow boots exclude snow. Some pack-boots have pretty effective draw-closures at the top of them. So it might be that the combination of clothing and boots you are using don’t really necessitate the use of gaiters.

      You could also consider some traditional Sami vuodagga.

      Hope this helps and have a great trip! 🙂

      All the best,


      1. Hi Paul , thanks for tip, I just came back from my aurora hunt

        1. And the locals told me gaiters are not easily available as we should be wearing ski pants and waterproof boots . I remained dry as I was wearing that

  12. Paul,
    Another great article. I’m really enjoying reading the different points from those who write in as well. Here, in the Arrowhead Region, or Northern Minnesota, our temperatures can, and often do, drop to -40C, or well beyond, so it is a very dry cool, and dry snow. On my feet I wear Steger mukluks, the sort with canvas tops, sold out of Ely, Minnesota. I have had very good luck with them. Our Springs and Falls can be very damp though, with the temperatures hovering near 0 degrees Celsius. And too, on the lakes, the overflow can create situations wherein mukluks can quickly become wet even in very cold weather. I don’t think I would want mukluks in a warmer climate, be here, where -18C is common from late November to early March, they are very good indeed.

    I’ve worn the same sort of mukluks, and the same mitten system (oversized lined leather gauntlets with an additional woolen mitten as a liner) for many years. These have worked for me, here, in this place.

    I’ve never stopped fiddling with my headgear, or the layering system on my legs and torso, and even if I am pleased with what I’m wearing on a given day, I must constantly be adjusting to let heat out, or keep it in. Being afield in the cold is wonderful exercise in monitoring the condition of one’s person, and correcting by degrees to keep one’s person warm, but not too warm, or cool, but not too cool.

    Again, I am really enjoying your writing, insight, and links to cold weather gear.

    Take care out there,

    1. Hi Mark,

      I’m catching up with comments on my blog and see you have commented on a few areas – thank you for taking the time to read my various articles and leave thoughtful, considered comments on each.

      I’m glad you are enjoying my articles and the comment threads that others have left. I like the Steger Mukluks but we’ve had issues with them around overflow – which there is always a lot of in northern Sweden where we often go for our winter camping trips. As you say they are great in the dry powder snow though.

      It seems we have similar mitten systems and again, I’d agree with the experience with layering systems. Whenever you think you’ve got it right, you learn something new or something changes. A constant work in motion!

      I agree though that being out in winter is an exceptional experience and I like the way you phrase it as a “wonderful exercise in monitoring the condition of one’s person”. I think this discipline carries over to other times of the year when good thermal regulation is not so immediately critical but ultimately still very beneficial to be on top of.

      Take care and warm regards,


      1. In Germany our largest outdoor shop called Globetrotter in Hamburg and several other cities was bought by the firm that owns Frilufts, Hanwag and Fjell räven, so you can’t enter this shops without watching their whole programm.
        I have seen, that one model of the Fjell Räven trousers has long zippers along the outer sides of the legs, there, where army trousers have the side pockets.
        Did anybody of you tried this model, or from an other manufacturer trousers with long zipps?
        I do not mean zipp of trousers, no they have long vertical zipps, in the long trousers but not like some raintrousers, 100% to enter, no only perhaps 60% in the middl, with a function like the zips under the arms in goretex parkas or in the german military smog for ventilation.
        Is that good or a stupid idea in trousers???

  13. Wow there is a lot of information to take in here. Its certainly good to get other people’s point of View.
    One of my favourite pieces of winter clothing is by West Winds . Its the ventile arctic smock, its so versatile. In winter it’s wind proof and after a three hour walk at -15 Deg C I was covered in a thin layer of ice powder witch I could simply brush off at the end. The only modification I made to it was to put some Velcro strip around the hood to allow the addition of a Norrona fur baffle. In the forest in autumn I use it over the top of a woollen jumper to protect it and as a light shower layer.
    I also have found that ex military gaiters are good and reliable bits of gear.

  14. I’ll second a Ventile shell too – they’re wonderful in snow, though can become more like wearing a suit of armour in heavy rain – the West Winds is/was a cracker. Mine is falling to bits but is still functional, and also works well in spring and summer as a just-in-case layer with a technical tee-shirt.
    Seeing as West Winds seem to have got taken over by Snugpak and the old windshirt is no longer available . . in its place I can recommend the Hilltrek Braemar windshirt – they can make it bespoke too – superb quality and made by humans here in Scotland.

    Oh and I don’t see wrist gaiters mentioned . . . I suffer from Raynauds and these things are finger-savers. You can get cheapish Polartec ones from Extremities, Marmot and Lowe and also more expensive and durable wool ones by Woolpower and Aclima. I started wearing them on reading some ice-climbers blog, and thought they were just the thing – so far, this year, white finger only once! Sheer relief.

    Socks? Layers – the likes of a Thorlo liner and a Merino/Silk mix outer – I’ve found this to be a better combo than just plain Merino; there’s Merino and Merino – some of it is just plain, moisture-holding, poor these days – if you can spend more on Merino from good manufacturers like Woolpower then all well and good, but a medium price Merino/Silk blend does a just as good, if not better, job – well it does for my feet.

    And finally frostbite – again with Raynauds I actually got a touch on one of my big toes standing at a bus stop in the Winter of 2010 – extremely uncomfortable! Nowadays I don’t take any chances at all.

    1. Thanks for your comments Phil. Glad to see you’re also a fan of Ventile.

      I’ve recentlt taken delivery of a new custom made double layer Ventile smock for winter trips. It’s fantastic.

      Warm regards,


  15. I’ve actually got three Ventile jackets – the West Winds, the Hilltrek and a really early (when Ray Mears was endorsing them) Snowsled. The West Winds is my favourite, but as I say, now falling apart.
    My only caveat with Ventile is the suit of armour effect – it can be something hilarious actually – you can look truly ridiculous especially amidst the svelt Goretex brigade.
    But Ventile works, sometimes too well – I was once decending Ben Chonzie in some really filthy weather and had forgotten to completely zip up the tunnel pocket on the West Winds . . got back to the car and I had this sloshing pouch on the front of my jacket – it doesn’t half get some looks when you are stripped to the waist in a car park emptying out your jacket . . .

    1. 🙂 I’ve had similar experiences with the suit of armour effect with my old Snowsled Classoc smock in the Cairngorms. I literallu stood the smock up in the vestibule of my tent overnight…

  16. Well done article, Paul.

    Any ideas for keeping glasses from fogging up in winter? I love wearing a balaclava or wrapping a scarf around my face in cold weather but invariably that means my exhausted breath will be forced up at my glasses when I exhale, especially when standing still. In warmer winter temps it’s a minor annoyance but when it gets cold enough that the condensation freezes on my glasses and won’t thaw it’s very aggravating.

    As for hand wear I prefer my outer shell to be mittens with a gloved liner if I expect to need some dexterity for short periods of time while doing light work. This lets me pop off the bulky outer layer and leaves my hands protected by the inner glove to work for a few minutes before putting the heavy mitten back on. This seems to work well to around -15f (-25c).

  17. Thanks for your article.

    My Sorels needed replacement.
    I was never really satisfied with them and since nowadays they too are made in PRC 🙁 I chose for NEOS (New England Over Shoes).

    Read lots of positives ’bout them on wintertrekking.com so I ordered a pair.


    grtz – john

    1. Hi John,

      Yes, I found Sorels often too soft in the rubber on the foot for snowshoe bindings (traditional or modern), as well as very bulky to fit into some traditional Scandinavian ski bindings.

      I am now very firmly using Jornkangan handmade boots from Sweden.

      Let me know how you find the NEOS in use…

      Warm regards,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.