With near-record cold frosting windows across North America, I decided to look into a few of the techniques we always hear about for keeping our fingers warm, and find out if they are methods that really work or if they are just urban myths.
1. Mittens are warmer than gloves.
Method. Keeping your fingers together rather than isolated makes a big difference. With today’s technologies, gloves work in surprisingly frigid conditions, but if you have a problem with circulation or get cold more easily than most, mittens are your best chance of staying warm – provided you don’t need the dexterity. Many experienced heliskiing guests use mittens because it doesn't take a lot of finger coordination to hang onto a ski pole and giggle.
2. Blowing on your fingers will warm them up.
Myth. While the warm, moist air from your breath will initially feel warm, the damp skin will quickly cool again and the moisture from your breath will make your fingers and gloves colder in the long run. A better method commonly used by mountaineers is to put your gloves somewhere warm, like inside your jacket, (it doesn’t help if your gloves are lying on the ground, filling with snow while you’re warming your hands) and put your hands against the warm, dry skin of your neck. Even better, be really, really nice to your adventure partner so they’ll let you put your hands up their shirt.
3. Put cayenne pepper inside your gloves.
Mythical method. This does stimulate circulation, but the trade off when you rub your eyes later in the day is hardly worth the slight increase in circulation. Putting chemical heat packs in your gloves works much better and doesn’t require first aid eye irrigation if you get your finger near your eye while adjusting your goggles.
4. Train your hands to stay warm.
Method. Drive to work without wearing gloves, throw a snowball or two with bare hands, and generally push your own comfort zone with the cold at times when you will easily be able to warm up again. Getting your hands used to the cold at home will make the cold in the mountains less shocking and more manageable.
5. Drink some schnapps.
Myth. While a sip of alcohol gives the sensation of warmth, in reality it cools your body overall because alcohol causes your blood vessels expand, bringing more blood to the surface where it cools before returning to your core. The dehydrating effects of alcohol compound the problem and the loss in coordination will be hardly worth the brief sensation of warmth.
Riding a ski lift can be a brutally cold experience. Put on your hood, stash your ski poles under a leg so you don’t have to hold them and pull your fingers into a fist before your hands get cold. Of course, if you’re heli-skiing with CMH, the ski lift has a heater with twin jet engines and you get to warm up between every run.