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 How do you dress properly for dog sledding?

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Cliff Maxfield Posted - 12/08/2007 : 09:06:59 AM
I hope this title is more appropriate than the last one.
I realize for everyday and type of mushing there are variations. I'm looking for surefire layering suggestions, ideas, things that work for you. I will be giving a presentation on "Dressing for winter" soon and I'm looking for things I may have overlooked.
Here are some of the things I do but please feel free to add.
This time of year I dress very methodically. I use a guide I found in a X-country ski book but find I need a little more layering than the typical skier for distance runs. I start with cotton but then overlayer with polyproplylene. I wear bluejeans in the house and if I'm doing chores it's Carharts. If I take the dogs out its Nylon. I have a selection of hats, boots and, mittens and gloves for even the shortest run. I never seem to avoid getting hot and sweaty but I've never got hypothermic either.
We have so many people that come here to mush and mostly they underdress and a few that overdress. Chronic problems are lousy boots mittens and hats. Coats are to bulky or little more than windbreakers. I realize folks aren't going to run out and buy expensive clothing for a once in a life time event. What can they use effectively that hey already have or without going broke.
15   L A T E S T    R E P L I E S    (Newest First)
Rogue Posted - 12/20/2007 : 8:26:26 PM
Handle bar toasties go over your sled handbow...they velcro over it. Then, you can just slide your hands up inside them to hold onto the handlebar and they act as a pair of mittens, without the hassle of taking mitts off and on. When you need to get off the sled, you let go of the handlebow and slide your hands out. Very convenient and they've been GREAT for my cold hands! Here's the link to them: so you can see what they look like. Scroll down towards the bottom of the page.
vmassey Posted - 12/20/2007 : 10:12:24 AM
What are handle bar toasties? They sound like what I need. I have been wondering about some of the snowboarding parkas that have built-in wrist gaiters, apparently some serious snowboarders refuse to buy jackets without them. Has anyone had any experience with these? The best gloves I have found for dog chores are fleece, they last a very long time and keep my fingers warm even after they get wet.
musherdeb1 Posted - 12/19/2007 : 7:22:00 PM
hey rogue,
yeah i have tried that too. the problem is the finger tips. all of them were frostbit. so. i am more than stumped at this point. it is -40 outside my door right now and i would have to really hurry to work iwth the dogs right now.
thanks for a good handler.
anyway. i would still like to see your wristies though. i will email you.
Rogue Posted - 12/18/2007 : 10:34:42 PM
Deb, have you worn a pair of wristies with your gloves? I always have problems with my hands too..but since I started wearing wristies, it's not so bad. I can go out right now with a pair of wristies, poly liners, wool gloves and be fine. Or, when it gets colder, I slide a handwarmer on the back of my hand, between the poly liner and the wool glove. On my sled, I have the handlebar toasties...don't know what I ever did without them! They are awesome. I've found this to work well. Email me if you don't have wristies.
musherdeb1 Posted - 12/18/2007 : 6:09:21 PM
my biggest difficulty this year will be my hands. last year i frostbit all the fingers in a race. So far this year i am struggling to keep my fingers warm. I was in the dogyard this am. it is -30 out there right now. all i did was feed the dogs. i had on two pairs of gloves, a liner pair and a work pair and heat packs. my blasted fingers hurt so bad i was in the house as fast as i could after feeding the dogs. it is severe pain when you frostbite and now i am worried about the fingers for this year of racing.
has anyone ever used the battery gloves? i was considering this. last year all of the hand warmers i had did not work. i had them tucked in my coat all over the place and still they did nto work. this contributed to my hands being frostbit in -40 temps.
i did however find a great combination for my body. I totally love the Northern Outfitters Vaetrex system. it is awesome. I did not even wear a top coat with the -30 system. it was so nice.
I did have problems with my Lobans and Neos on that race as well. THe Lobans froze to my feet cause i did nto wear the right kind of socks. so this year i will wear my Cabellas boots and Bama socks and i will be much warmer. they work great out there in the temps we have right now.
I am more worried about my hands at this point.
SharkyX Posted - 12/17/2007 : 1:47:10 PM

Cotton looses heat when wet. Wool socks are much more surefire.
You want to find materials that will retain heat even when wet.

Lots of synthetics will and of course wool.. which can be itchy but I'd rather be itchy for an hour then frostbitten which lasts ALOT longer and isn't something you can change out of.

Generally.. layering an average persons socks isn't going to work... on average everybody buys sockst about the same size, so the sock on the outside is streched covering the first or second pair and you now have to shove this into your winter boot, which I'm guessing an average person bought for typical use, not for wearing with 3 pair of socks which will add almost a size to the width or your boot. Your cutting cirulation thus even with what seems like a fool proof idea... your feet will be cold.
One pair of well fitted socks from REI or MEC if you live in Canada or a variety of places (my parents got me 3 pairs of -30 socks from the dollar store I can walk out onto the snow in and not have cold feet) cold weather socks will work MUCH better then trying to layer many pair of normal use socks.
Partner this with a well made boot and you'll have warm feet all day long.

For the people that come, recomend ONE pair of wool socks.

Pants... well many people have some poly or fleece pajama pants...
I like to wear a fleece pant underneath a windbreaking layer. I did this in -20C weather this weekend... standing around for about 2 hours and my legs never got cold.
If I was going to be active then I have a pair of moisture wicking long jons I like to wear underneath that.

Just 2-3 lighter layers.

Same thing with the upper body... 2-3 lighter layers. Layer as I'm sure we all know either from first hand experience or from reading about it, is more effective then one large bulky layer.

If the people you have coming don't have things that are moisture wicking they can make due.
T-shirt followed by long sleeved shirt (same fabric as T-shirt) fleece top, hoody or otherwise and then a wind breaking layer... coat of some sort.

The real trick is to make sure nothing is to tight... if the people coming to see you are layering but the layers are tight one over the other with no "breathing room" between them... they aren't accomplishing much.

If people have to wear there fleece pajama's instead of a cotton something they may feel silly but will be much further ahead when it comes to staying warm....

I think that's all my disjointed rambling for the moment.

CrazyDaisy Posted - 12/14/2007 : 10:21:11 AM
I love to do sled dog activities but am hypothermia waiting to happen.

In a crowd I'm always the coldest person, and for me the only way to stay warm is to MOVE!!! I just cannot stand around (or sit on a sled) for even an hour no matter what I wear (including my $450 down jacket, 2 pairs of snow pants etc.) And that is at +20 F (I cannot even imagine 40 below).

If you don't have to move while mushing you have too many dogs, lol!

This is what I wear for low activity (applies when sitting in a sled or mushing without pedalling much).

head: balaclava/facemask (wool or fleece scarf around neck and mouth may do), hat with ear flaps (fur or bomber or knit wool) + hood from jacket, goggles when it is snowing.

top: T-shirt (not cotton), turtleneck, fleece sweater, down vest, down coat.

bottom: short underwear, longjohns, fleece pants, snow pants.

hands: fleece gloves for doing lines, harnessing dogs, etc., I replace those with fleece mitts and gore tex overmitts when I stop doing things and start sledding and stuff the gloves in the car or a pocket.

feet: one pair of wool socks + felt pac snow boots. I need to take the liner out an dry it every couple of days even if I don't excercise hard.

When active I tend to sweat really quickly and profusely. Then I skip the down overcoat and maybe vest and replace with gore tex (or similar) shell, and instead of fleece pants and snowpants I wear rainpants (I'm too cheap to buy gore tex, because pants get trashed so easily from kneeling). I might also put the overmitts over the fleece gloves without fleece mitts. For me stretchy or cotton gloves are only good for above freezing.

If I were on a sled for more than an hour without pedalling or running (not gonna happen anytime soon with only 3 sled dogs), I would need hand and foot warmers, even if I don't wear 3 pairs of socks cutting off my circulation.

The cold makes the circulation shut off anyway, which is an exaggeration of a normal response. It has a name "Raynaud's Syndrome" and a lot of women have this, and some men too. This is not being sissy, but creates a real danger of frostbite. Often my hands turn stiff, white and numb, but they are not yet frostbitten. My brother can feel his toes only half of the time in the winter.

Excercising hard, then standing around is the worst for me, there is just no way to stop getting cold when sweaty!! I still have to try winter camping after hard exercise to see if I can even do it. As much as possible I try to go slow enough to avoid sweating. Even my gore tex clothes never breathe enough to get rid of all the sweat. If I have any expectation of being stationary after exercise I take lots of warmer clothes with me in a knapsack.

You could ask people to bring a knapsack, and dress in layers, no windbreakers, no coats so thick they wouldn't want to run (not walk) around the outside of their house at least 5 times in, boots need to be insulated, and not have heels, they need 2 pairs of gloves/mitts with the outside one snow-shedding and big enoug that they can wear the other pair inside.

If overdressed it is always easier to take layers off and stuff them in the knapsack, than put on layers they didn't bring! Be patient with people if they have to stop repeatedly to put on/take off clothing. This may be a real necessity for some to avoid hypothermia.

Teenagers are the worst though, they are so fashion conscious, and don't often spend enough time outside to know how to dress for cold. I guess that also goes for a lot of women (and some men too I suppose). It would sound preposterous to them to suggest they to go to a thrift shop and pick up some $5.00 snowpants....
onehappyautumn Posted - 12/13/2007 : 9:04:04 PM
If I don't wear a matching scarff, glove and touque set then my dogs simply won't run. They sit right down.
Watcher Posted - 12/11/2007 : 11:29:11 AM
Hi Cliff,
You sure have a way with words.
Here is my theory....Wick, insulate & block.
1) Always wear wicking material next to the skin (including feet)
2) Always wear an outside layer that blocks the wind.
3) Adjust the middle layer(s) to be appropriate for the temp.

So....A good layer of polypro next to the skin with a good pair of windpants and a tightly woven Anarak to ward off the wind on the outside with a variad combination of middle layers to adjust to the current conditions. I like to have as many layers as possible include neck coverage and don't forget a cap that has multiple options for coverage. If your hat is too warm your whole body sweats and if it is too cool you will be miserable. IMO, your head is your radiator, great way to vent excssive heat at hookup but you had better be able to block the wind from your noggin and keep it warm once on the trail.
Those of you who get cold fingers and toes might want to consider chemical hand (toe) warmers. I have a pair of mits with a small pocket sewn in over the backs of my fingertips in the liners. Have had a single chemical hand warmer keep my fingers toasty up to 15 hours when tucked into the pocket. I like pac boots or Steigers (a muckluk with a pac boot liner) so it is quite easy to slip one of the warmers into the felts over the tips of my toes when conditions warrent.
Fingers suffer when working on feet in fridgid temps? Try a pair of polypro glove liners under latex exam gloves. Darn near like having bare hands for usefulness but a whole lot warmer. Also, a small cooler with algyval and foot ointment in it is handy. Just dump some hot water from your cooker in the cooler and the ointments will be easier to work into the dog's feet when rebooting.
On the trail, have your foot ointment in one of those camper toothpast tubes and keep it next to your skin. Always warm when needed.
Just a few ideas for dealing with cold while driving dogs.
Oh, and here is another....I find that if I wear a face mask, my eyelashes get all frosted up making it very difficult to get good lubrication and warming on my eyes. If I use some of the old style moustache deicer on my eyelashes the ice on my lashes will wipe right of with the back of a mit. The stuff resembles a type of wax that you can apply to your lashes.
dog musher Posted - 12/09/2007 : 10:14:55 PM
Yes. Ditch the coton. It can hold like 10 times its own weight in water (or is it 100???). Now if only I would follow my own advice... If you want to know what I wear; Blue Jeans and a Tee Shirt (I have yet to find a comfortable base layer shirt for mushing). Some times I will ditch the blue jeans and wear a pair of Adia thermal type pants (97% Poliester, 3% Spandex). They are pretty warm.
I then wear a pair of insulated snow pants, and I put on a sweatshirt (Actually, that may be cotton too....) And then over the sweatshirt I put on a Carhart type jacket, Wool bomber style hat (you know the type... the wool is spun to make it look like fur... I'm too cheap to buy fur, and it is one of my warmest hats, so if it ain't broke don't fix it) And then for foot wear, I wear a pair of wool socks, Lobens, and then most of the time I put a pair of Neos on over thoes. Well, at least I got the foot wear right. My feet freeze! But I love wool. It holds warmth nicely and it repels water.
Oh, and then for gloves I have a pair of gloves I bought from cabelas. I wear the liners when I am hooking up, and then once we have taken off and are a mile or so up the trail I put on the shells to the gloves.

I love the "One leg at a time" comment, btw.
cricket Posted - 12/09/2007 : 8:26:29 PM
i have found that a good pair of sweet pants followed up with a good pair of wool cover all's and a pair of carhart artic pants are all i have ever needed followed up with a good hoodie and a canadian goose jacket keeps me plety warm
lisark_aussies Posted - 12/09/2007 : 4:25:47 PM
Regarding underwear...most people don't know this, but Wal-Mart sells polypropelyne (sp, sorry) underwear very cheaply. They have it in both the women's and men's departments. In the women's department I think it's the Hanes brand, and they are quite a nice product. They come in a 6 pack for about 12 bucks Canadian.

Just letting you know, you don't have to order the fancy schmancy stuff from MEC or REI to get good gear.

kenhaggett Posted - 12/09/2007 : 4:25:33 PM
Poly and fleece for me. I sweat a lot when I'm moving the dogs around or running up hills behind the sled. With good breathable layers I can dry out even after a good sweat. I wear typically wear snow board type pants that have ventilation flaps so I can open those up to let out heat when I am working hard. I'll wear a windproof top layer over it all if it is really cold out. It amazes me how many hot/cold cycles I can go through with this sort of layering and still be comfortable all day long. Nothing worse than being outside in the cold with a soggy cotton tee shirt next to your skin!
bento Posted - 12/08/2007 : 8:24:46 PM
wool, wool, wool, wool, wool
1-2-3 layers depending on the temperature. Cotton/polyester or down to protect from the weather.
Karal Posted - 12/08/2007 : 4:21:23 PM
Originally posted by Joshua A Kooiman

one leg at a time

dang you beat me to it. I read the title and that is the fist thing that came to my mind.

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