Perhaps it’s because I’m a reasonably warm-blooded creature myself, but I’m convinced that Sydney-siders are a bunch of cold-weather whingers. As soon as the temperature drops below 18°C, it’s inevitable that I’ll be hearing groans from others about how freezing it is outside as people walk exactly fifty metres between their air conditioned car and their air conditioned building in a warm jacket and scarf.
If they have done any rogaining event (or overnight hike or early morning bike ride!) in winter, most rogainers will have a different perspective on what real cold is. I will never forget last year’s Navshield, which was -5°C and it snowed, and vividly recall walking past odd-looking puddles on the track, realising that they were frozen. Also, deep-seated in my memory is a night rogaine in the hills south of Canberra where, although it was probably a few degrees above zero, the howling wind made it one of the coldest events I’ve ever done.
As we continue our series on rogaining gear, I again recruit mixed veteran guns Antoniya Bachvarova and Andrew Smith, who completed six 24-hour rogaines last year, about what they wear and their experience dealing with the cold weather that many of these events have inevitably been in.
Tristan White: Give us a rundown of what you would wear in a rogaine where very cold weather is forecast.
Toni Bachvarova: For cold weather I’ve worn any combination of the following:
- Head: Bandana, merino or polypro beanie or fleece hood
- Top: 100% Merino top (mine are Kathmandu), thinner fleece (Kathmandu) or thicker fleece (again Kathmandu but they don’t sell it anymore), Kathmandu XT Exmoor jacket (a synthetic down-replacement insulation), lightweight rain jacket (Arcteryx Beta, Patagonia Torrentshell)
- Legs: Polypro leggings – cut to just below the knees, orienteering pants, knee-length rain pants – custom design – easy to put on without taking your shoes off and protect upper legs while allowing freedom of movement.
- Lower legs, feet: Shin gaiters – Moxie gear, ankle gaiters – Rab scree gaiter (very tough and durable), midweight merino socks (see last month’s “Rogaining Fashion Parade” article for more detail)
TW: Tell us about some of the coldest rogaines you’ve done, and how you managed (or didn’t manage) to get through.
TB: Navshield last year was the lowest temperature I’ve experienced in a rogaine. The temperature never got above 5°C on Saturday, then dropped to -4°C overnight, until it started snowing in the early morning on Sunday when it warmed up to around -2°C. Basically, after the sun set on Saturday I wore all clothes I had with me, four layers on top and three on the bottom. The best piece of equipment for this event were the cut-off rain pants. We came up with them after the NZ Rogaining Championships in Dunedin the year before.
The event in Dunedin was the coldest rogaine I’ve done! Even if the temperatures didn’t get below 4°C, the persistent rain throughout meant that we were wet from the very beginning and never managed to warm up. On top of that, the ground was super slippery which made faster movement impossible. The fact that some of the controls were located in the middle of freezing knee-deep marshes didn’t help either. That was an event where we couldn’t afford stopping. Any accident out on the course could have been life threatening since there was no way to keep warm. It was also the only event I was happy to finish with an hour to spare despite losing the category victory because of that.
Another year in Navshield the temperature dropped to -7°C overnight. After a couple of creek crossings in the middle of the night, my feet went numb and we had to stop and change into dry socks and warm them up before we could continue.
Andrew Smith: The coldest for me was the NZ Champs in 2018 near Dunedin. The weather in the hills was bitterly cold, windy and wet. We were wading thigh deep through freshwater marshes searching for controls. It’s the first time I’ve been really worried about hypothermia. We had everything on but couldn’t get warm. All we could do was keep moving. We improved our cold weather rogaining kit after that experience.
TW: What issues have you had or seen from rogainers who have suffered because they are too cold?
TB: I get cold quite easily and that’s why I am usually conscious of managing the risk of hypothermia. First signs of hypothermia are shivering, my extremities get numb beyond pain, I can get clumsy, can’t think as fast as usual.
The risks with hypothermia are with the inability to think clearly and make decisions, also you lose focus and are more prone to tripping or falling over.
AS: I haven’t experienced or seen any particularly serious incidents from the cold. The worst is finishing early because the cold has knocked all motivation out of you (which is pretty serious for your average hard core rogainer).
TW: Can you give me a run-down of what warm gear that you carry with you in a typical rogaine dipping to the low single digits. What else will get added the temperature dips even lower?
TB: In dry weather with temperatures in the lower single digits and not much wind, an extra merino top or a fleece is usually enough. If the wind picks up, a rain jacket or other wind shell can help.
AS: I take an extra polypro top, polypro gloves (the best thing that we’ve added to our cold weather kit after Dunedin) and a pair of cut off nylon over pants. Cutting them off below the knee means they’re lighter and you can pull them on and off without taking your shoes off. I find them an excellent complement to your rain shell for reducing heat loss in cold windy and/or wet conditions. On the move, it’s usually wind and/or rain cooling me down so it’s usually the shell that goes on first. If that’s not enough then it’s the polypro base layer next which means stripping off but it needs to be done.
TW: Do you generally carry more warm gear than you actually expect to use?
TB: Usually I’d like to know I’ve got an extra layer in case it gets colder than expected. In reality in the coldest or wettest events I’d end up wearing all clothes I carry.
AS: Usually I carry one more layer (like a polypro top) than is needed. However there’s been a few where everything has been on and it’s still uncontrollable shaking after a water stop.
TW: Aside from putting on warm clothing, can you suggest any other ways to regulate your body temperature in cold conditions?
TB: Changing into dry clothes helps warm up a lot, if you can afford it. Moving faster helps too 🙂
AS: Keep moving. When we’re falling asleep on our feet we sometimes stop for a short nap somewhere sheltered knowing that 20 minutes later we’ll be too cold and have to get moving again. It’s an excellent alarm clock.
TW: Most people tend to be okay with the cold, provided that they can keep moving and stay dry. However, there is an inherent risk to rogaining that an incident will occur that prevents you from moving. What should one carry to be prepared for such an event, and how do they use it?
TB: Emergency blanket is an essential piece of equipment that can help keeping warm if you can’t move. In coldest conditions I have managed to squeeze an hour of sleep in an emergency blanket.
If the conditions are extreme, be wise to use the biggest advantages of Rogaining – the fact that you are part of a team. Other body’s warmth can make a huge difference in freezing conditions.
AS: A good space blanket. It makes a huge difference to your heat loss. We take an emergency bivvy bag that is basically a space blanket sewn into a bag for 2. The bag combined with my partner’s warmth, while still being uncomfortable, will get us through the night. We used it for the first time in last year’s NavShield (one of the coldest but they’re all the coldest really) and we were able to sleep for 1.5 hours surprisingly comfortably with only occasional shivering.
TW: An issue with a lot of warm clothing is it is very bulky and hard to fit in a pack. What are items that are small and light, but have a big impact on warming someone up?
TB: Pair of dry socks (providing they can stay dry). If it’s dry and cold wind shell – they can be pretty light, bandana for the head. Second layer of lightweight top instead of a heavier fleece too.
AS: Polypro! It’s a wonder material!
TW: I have found that often my body temperature fluctuates at night when I’m going up and down steep hills, meaning that I’ll take a jacket (or something else) off, and when I put it back on again it’s sweaty. Do you have any suggestions for preventing having to put back on a damp, sweaty jacket?
TB: I get quite annoyed having to put layers on and take them off many times, too! I generally find my XT Surna fleece perfect for chilly conditions. Even when it gets sweaty it keeps me warm, so I don’t have to take it off. I don’t tend to sweat too much when it’s cold though…
AS: I just get used to being wet. Wicking materials like polypro make it more comfortable. But I just end up being more wet at the top of the hill and a little less wet at the bottom of the next. On colder rogaines I quite often end up leaving my shell on and just opening and closing the zips as the temperature changes.
TW: As discussed in the heat article, your partner may not be as adaptive to the cold as you. What are the warning signs that your teammate is struggling and what should you do if they get chilled?
TB: They start slowing down even if it’s cold. Shivering and slurred speech are signs too. Check if they have enough warm clothes and offer some of your gear if they need it. Don’t hesitate to stop and seek a sheltered place where they can warm up – avoiding hypothermia early can save trouble later.
AS: I know from first aid courses to look out for stumbling, jumbled speech, etc. but I’ve never witnessed or experienced it. If it did happen it would be a judgement call between keeping warm by keeping moving or to stop and put every scrap of clothing on, get in the bivvy bag and use my body heat to try and keep my partner warm. It’s serious stuff and we have cut it a bit fine on some occasions.
Thank you, once again, Toni & Smiffy for sharing your experiences.
And I’d greatly appreciate comments from our readership about their choice of clothing, both good and bad experiences.