Avoiding Cold Hands

 Ben Silvestre enjoying the hot aches on The God Delusion (IX,9), Bheinn Bhan.

Ben Silvestre enjoying the hot aches on The God Delusion (IX,9), Bheinn Bhan.

I seem to get very cold hands - very quickly. I guess my circulation is pretty poor, and even when I go for a run on a cool, windy day and forget my gloves, I can feel them starting to go numb. I get hot aches on almost every pitch when Scottish winter climbing (seconding or leading), which is inconvenient.

Recently, two separate people have asked how I try keep my hands warm. Since prevention is better than cure, here are some tips…

First of all: there’s a few things you can do to minimise your hands getting cold, but the short answer is you just have to deal with it; there’s no perfect solution. It’s all about trying to keep them warm - and if they get cold, stopping them from getting worse, and warming again as quickly as possible.

Gloves

Buy several pairs of good gloves, suitable for the expected conditions. When they get damp (and they will - no glove is waterproof forever), change them for a dry pair. If it’s in Scotland, chuck them in your bag. Pre-warm the new pair by keeping them down your jacket.

If it’s a multi-day alpine route, I’ll carry two or three pairs of gloves. I rotate them, with one pair being pre-warmed or dried down my top. Replace and recycle.

Ideally, the perfect glove is thin enough to be dexterous, but thick enough to be warm. More dexterous fingers means you lead faster. Something like the Mountain Equipment Randonee Gauntlet, the Couloir or Supercouloir work for me - although only once they’ve bagged in. Gauntlets are a million times warmer (and better) than regular gloves, as they keep the wrists warm too.

On belays I wear a big pair of lightweight Primaloft mitts (ME Citadel, without the inners). They either go straight over my climbing gloves to help dry them out, or over bare hands or feet on bivies for maximum warmth. In Scotland they’re vital, I think. I clip them to the back of my harness.

This sounds obvious, but try not to let your hands get cold in the first place. Wear gloves even when gearing up. Anticipate when you have to climb a long section of easy snow, and put your big mitts on. Keep swinging your arms on belays, and alternately holding your arms down by side whilst seconding etc.

Finally, heated gloves are apparently amazing for Scottish winter climbing. I haven’t tried them (yet), but I’ve heard they’re ace.

Mid-Layer

Buy a mid layer with long sleeves and thumb loops, to keep your wrists warm (thus keeping your hands warmer).

Bivies

Get hand warmer sachets e.g. Hot Hands. In the words of Big Tim, “put them down your pants on bivies, and you’ll have an amazingly warm ‘pissed yourself’ feeling all night!” You can put them down your socks for hot feet, too! If it’s non-technical climbing, I’ve even put them in my palms of my gloves whilst wearing them.

Supplements

I’ve tried taking vitamin B12 daily for a month, but that didn’t noticeably work. I also took aspirin daily for three weeks, with the same result. You could also take Nifedipine - I haven’t tried it though. Traditional warming herbs such as cayenne, ginger and garlic don’t work.

 My cold hands on the beach (after warming them up a bit!)

My cold hands on the beach (after warming them up a bit!)