XC Skiing With Cold Hands Now Optional

:date: 2024-01-14 19:13 :tags:

I go rollerskiing most days. Today was an unusual day  —  there was almost nobody on the bike trail on a beautiful sunny Sunday. I went out twice. Today Minnesota's temperatures came to southern Ohio for a visit. It was 5F/-15C when I went out. With a cranking west wind weather.gov was reporting a wind chill of -13F/-25C. If you're a Nordic skier who balks at cold weather, well, it might be time to rethink your approach.

Usually when I get ready for rollerskiing I need to change into some different clothes, usually with the aim to not overheat. Not today! I wore the exact same clothes I normally wear all day sitting in front of my computer indoors. Of course I also wore a helmet with ear coverage. And I wore my normal thin wool gloves that I wear when the temperature is around 15F/-10C. It turns out that was a mistake. Because my hands overheated.

The reason for this was that I also used the pole covers that I designed and made a couple of seasons ago. These were kind of an aggressive push back on having my hands get cold. Ever. As a young guy I learned what serious wind chill was all about by riding a motorcycle through many winters. Then when I was commuting by bicycle every day in the winter I finally figured out my own handlebar cover system that works. I still have it 30 years later and it still entirely cures cold hands on a bicycle. There is no cold that can bother my hands while riding a bicycle on this planet.


I wondered if I could design something similar for skiing. I had seen it done before by an arctic explorer and because of my bike experience, it made immediate sense to me. My previous design looks like this.


As you can see, it requires a detachable pole strap system like the Solomon R60Click which is what I use and promote to everyone who needs Nordic skiing straps. They are fantastic and make this kind of cover system possible. You simply put the covers over the pole, put your hand in the cover, and clip in. Easy.

Here's me using the first such system I made two years ago.


After returning this morning with sweaty hands after about 8km of rollerskiing, I realized the conditions were perfect to test a new design which acknowledges that my very serious windproof tarp model with its fuzzy fake fur polyester liner was just too hot. I wondered if it would be possible to go with something much more minimal. The key is to block the wind and I had a fun idea how to do it.

First up is a bubble wrap shipping envelope. This thing was almost ready to go right out of the mailbox! I just spent about 5 minutes touching up the corners with a sewing machine and this is what I got.


I was quite pleased with that and realized I needed a second one if I was going to go out testing. I didn't have an identical padded envelope, but I had a Tyvek FedEx shipping envelope. So I made a second one out of that. And here's what that looked like.



I took these outside in that 5F/-15C weather and headed off directly into a ripping headwind. I was dressed in my normal sweatshirt and had nothing on my hands at all except my R60click pole straps and these shipping envelopes. I can't tell you that my hands overheated this time. This time it was like what happens when I miscalculate the temperature thinking it's 32F/0C and it's really 10F/-12C and I've chosen to wear my summer rollerskiing gloves. I've actually made this mistake quite a few times. What happens in such a case is that my thumb usually gets cold. Today it was my pinky and ring finger. But that's what happens in the first 15 minutes. I kept going for a full 30min to make sure my theory was correct. It turns out that wearing my summer gloves in 10F/-12C does make my hands uncomfortably cold. But at about 15 minutes, they warm up and by 30, they're fine. That is exactly what happened today.

When I came back after 30 minutes of wearing nothing on my hands but shipping envelopes the big problem was that the envelope now contained something very bad: water. I was sweating enough to have clammy hands especially in the padded envelope. This is fine if you manage your workout properly but care must be taken.

But the awesome thing about the Tyvek envelope is that not only did it not get so sweaty (less insulation, so that makes sense), but there is a complete cure for the problem. The correct way to use a Tyvek wind cover like this is to wear normal light gloves appropriate for when your hands are very warmed up. At about the 15 minute mark (depending on the wind, effort, etc) your hands will start to overheat. At that point take the Tyvek covers off! You can simply wad them up and stuff them in your pockets. They take up no more volume than, well, an envelope. (In theory you might be able to get away with only one of them and just switch hands as needed.) I wadded up the Tyvek pretty good and tried it again going back out to make sure it was still functional and it was fine. I also felt like the pre-crumpled Tyvek was easier to use with respect to range of wrist motion.


If you've ever been skiing and been frustrated by cold hands, well, I feel like this is pretty much the solution. It might be nice to have something fancy like a Dyneema sailcloth version with sealed seams. But really, no reason to get too carried away. This works great!