Sunday, November 04, 2012

Cold Weather Work

  This post grew out of a conversation between Wick and Sanjay about an upcoming job Sanjay has in Poland and Germany. As I know very little about extremely  cold working conditions (anything under 15 degrees F or so, it's fortunate that Wick does. We have a few other readers and contributers who are used to this kind of cold. Please send in any suggestions or posts you have on the subject. Thanks, D.

I got to talking with Sanjay Sami today about working in the cold. He’s going to be on the German-Poland border in January and February, and is looking for tips on how to stay warm in that kind of winter climate. There are two things that really affect us on set in the winter. One is staying flexible enough under those layers of clothing to keep moving and doing the work that we do without sweating so much that when we do come to a standstill, we’re freezing in our own sweat. The other is of course staying warm while we’re just standing around waiting for anything to happen.

The main thing is to dress in layers, and adjust your coverage according to how hard you’re working. This can’t be stressed enough, and I think most of us understand it in the abstract.  This should extend to wearing double or even triple layers of socks, with the ones nearest your feet being thin and chosen for their ability to wick sweat and condensation away from your skin and into the next layers. Same thing for underwear, both tops and bottoms. I’m a fan of silk for those first layers. It seems to adjust best to the body temperature and exterior temperature changes, removes moisture quickly and dries quickly too. After that, I prefer wool over cotton for the next layer, and finally a wind-blocking outer shell, something like a Carhardt coverall or two-piece Thinsulate snow pants and jacket. Also always keep your head warm and your ears covered - wear a hat or a balaclava. I picked up an arctic expedition hood with a zippered face cover several years and that’s been my salvation several times.  It’s made with Thinsulate and so is an excellent wind block, and lets me adjust the amount of coverage I want or need pretty much as I please. It also doesn’t interfere with radios, and I can keep my nose covered without fogging my glasses.

Footwear is a tough one, especially for dolly work. Again, you have the “standing around vs moving around and controlling a dolly at the same time” problem.  I’ve settled on some regular insulated boots (Thinsulate again) that are big enough to accommodate the extra layers of socks, and for extreme weather, I got some LaCrosse “Frankenstein” boots that are supposedly guaranteed to –70 Celsius. I have never really been happy with any solution for footwear, and get chilly feet no matter what I do. Fortunately, once I  got the LaCrosse boots, they seemed to have the same effect as carrying an umbrella – once I had them with me, I didn’t worked outdoors in heavy snow or extreme temperatures again. Or at least for a few years, then the magic wore off in Poland.

Gloves are of course another weak spot.  I generally prefer some wool rock climbing gloves, with all five fingers open, and another glove or better yet, a mitten, over that.

Another thing is to be aware of the warning signs of hypothermia, frostbite and dehydration. Read up on them in any first aid manual, if you’re not sure what warning signs to look for in yourself and in others.

I never really had any experience with pocket warmers, or electric socks, or any other fancy gadgets, and am curious if anybody has recommendations or advice with that sort of stuff. The one thing I will say is that cold will suck the life out of batteries, like the one in your phone. Carry it on you, in an inside pocket, so it doesn’t freeze and dump all it’s data while sitting in your car or backpack in the truck. 

Sanjay’s looking for some serious input and advice. He’ll be in the middle of nowhere, and it can get nasty there (0° Celsius is the average high for January / February, and it can get much colder (-20° c. is not uncommon). Add in wind and snow, with the snow having started in December or late November, and as you can see, it’s not a fun place to be outdoors all day.  What do our brothers and sisters recommend, aside from calling in sick?


etc said...

Have you experimented with the Under Armor cold weather gear? I can attest to their Hot Weather gear working like a charm in Miami's humidity and heat. Perhaps a small flask as well?

The Grip Works said...

Wick those are great suggestions. Not looking forward to the night work.
I have worked in pretty cold places before (Berlin in the winter and the Himalayas) but I have always been cold and uncomfortable. Part of it is being born in (and living in) a tropical, coastal city. The instinct for what to do in the extreme cold is not there.
Looking forward to some more input.
Thanks guys,

Unknown said...

I prefer underclothing made of marino wool and a layer of wind stopper long legs made for jogging on top of them. On the outside I keep my regular work pants which are waterproof anyways. If it gets really cold I switch my work pants with skipants. Shoes are a hard one. I have good experience with wool inlays and sole warmers and electric sole warmers seem to get the job done you just have to be sure to keep the batteries on the inside of your pants so they don't die as fast. The shoes are regular workbooks reimpreganted so the moist stays out. For upper body I use also various layers of marinowool and wind and water proof jacket. My had is covered with Marino and my face with thinsulate if needed. I usually just take of clothes from my upper body when working and back on when standing around. What also helps is keeping a little piece of styrofoam to stand on so the cold from the ground doesn't sneak up on you as fast. The most important to keep warm are of course always your feet. When they get cold everything else goes with it. For gloves I use thinsulate lite gloves and a pair of fingerless hunting gloves on top which I can close over the fingers when not working.

TtownTom said...

I'm a DP from Norway and dealing with cold temperatures is sort of what we do over here ;)
What I tend to do is, when we're crossing the -15c line, to go with two sets of thermals and two sets of socks - all wool! Make sure you get your cold weather clothing in the country where you're planning on using them. I've lived in Australia for a few years, and looking at the "cold weather/winter clothing" they sell over there.. it's just a joke, really. Make sure you buy it in a country where people are dealing with the cold on a regular basis. There you'll find the really high quality stuff that will make sure to keep you warm, while still being thin, comfy and cool looking :D
On top of the two sets of thermals I'll just wear my regular work pants, which are not wind- or waterproof, unless it's very windy, then I'll use a pair of windproof pants. For my torso I'll, again, use a double set of thermals, wool, both long sleeves and I'll make sure one of them has a turtleneck, so that I can pull it way up if I need to. On top of that I'll wear my cotton hoodie, topped off by my windproof jacket. The idea here is that my jacket and hoodie are easy to take off for say transport to and from set, in the dining tent or when doing heavy lifting, and it's just as easy to put back on when it get's colder.
For my head I'll use a wool hat, and if need be I'll also put my hood from the cotton hoodie over that.
For protecting my hands I'll simply just use really thin wool five finger gloves which I use inside my regular IronClad work gloves.
For shoes I wear Nike Mandara which I find to be the perfect combination of weather protection, comfort and grip on the snow and ice.

On long outside shoots in the wintertime you will probably get cold at some point of the day, but it'll come and go, depending on your level of activity. If anything, the cold seems to be a motivator to get shit done faster than normally, cause whoever you are, standing around in the freezing cold, no matter the amount of layers you wear, isn't much fun. As so everyones just seems to be working their asses off just to keep warm! ;)

I don't really have any experience with pocket warmers as unit only just seems to hand them off to the cast :P

This shot is from February when we worked 10 hour days outside, day and night shoots, for about two weeks. Temperatures would differ from -14c to -20c:

The Grip Works said...

Markus and Ttown Tom - great suggestions. Markus, maybe you can point me to the right store when I see you in Berlin ?

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Sure Sanjay! If you want you can check out one of the bigger stores here in Berlin online. I know it's in german but maybe you'll find something. Here's the link:

See you soon!

Wick said...

Guys, all great stuff. Ttown's point on buying local is very good, and Markus' recommendation of globetrotter is also good. The styrofoam is a good tip too - I forgot about that one. Any other tips for keeping the feet warm?

Once we get the wardrobe stuff solved, there's plenty to consider about what to look out for with equipment in the cold.


Onno said...

I am late on this so most on clothing is being said already. Except namedropping for thermunderwear: I use Odlo, specilised fabric for iceskaters, keeps your skin dry.

I am a great fan of handwarmers: I just put one down on my spine, just above my @ss, it will keep my whole body hot during the whole day. I am using Rubytec, low tech usability.

I am always sure to be able to pull off some layers prior to get to hot while working: sweat will increase the humidity inside the layers and will lower your body-temperature very fast. Stay Dry.

Pee before getting dressed for work:-0 Not only it takes a lot of time to peel down your clothing, holding up also consumes a lot of energy.

You might want to use vaseline on your face and unprotected skin. Especially in chilling windy conditions. I am usining it on my wintersailing trips and it defenitly saves a lot

Please keep me posted on your wereabouts in Germany/Poland. I might take the risk to drop on by :-)

Stay well and warm,


The Grip Works said...

Onno, I am going to be in Berlin for a week and then in Görlitz for 9 - 10 weeks.
Onno, we need to talk - I might need you to build something for me. It is too complicated to make it in India and ship.

Anonymous said...

I live and work in a cold winter area, and am terribly cold-blooded. The Under Armour cold weather gear keeps me from chucking my career and moving to an island in the south pacific.

I also highly recommend pocket warmers and toe or foot warmers. Not only are they good for warming your hands, but if you put them at the nape of your neck or the small of your back (with top-stick) they'll warm you and also help keep you from tensing up from the cold. You can also buy body warmers which are about 6" square and often are self-adhesive.

Pocket warmers and body warmers will last 10-12 hours. Toe warmers only last about six hours, but can make a world of difference when it's too cold even for multiple layers of wool socks. Just be sure to remove them or change them out when they cool down, because they become stiff and can make your feet hurt.

Anonymous said...

I live and work in western Canada. During the winter here it is not uncommon to have temperature drop down to -30 C, with wind on to of that, and we end up trying to get the day (or night) done. We wear alot of goose down clothing in those conditions.

One hint that may be of use.... We are able to purchase magnetic AC powered block heaters, sold to snap onto the oil pan of a vehicle. A couple of these attached to the dolly go a long way in keeping the hydraulics and chain drives working. They only draw a couple of amps so we can run up four on one household circuit. ( I use them as well on the hydraulic reservoirs on my truck tailgates)

D said...

Great tips. Next I think we should get into maintaining equipment in ultra cold conditions.

Wick said...

D, great minds think alike :)

GHB said...

two quick additions. Craftsman makes a work vest that is really great and has a built-in heating mechanism like a heating blanket. I have one and it's amazing. Almost works too good. A little rechargeable battery pack sits in a pocket and it lasts all day no problem. It's also not a bad looking vest. It's like the Carhartt style. Another great product are these Ironclad gloves that I've only been able to find on Amazon. They are the same thickness as regular work gloves, but they have a fleece lining which makes them extra warm and the best part of it is they are WATERPROOF!!! Gore-Tex lining! Amazing product and they're only $30!! Check them out, I have a pair and they're amazing for moderately cold weather work. Especially rain.

Good luck on that show. Sounds Cold!!!

Anonymous said...

For the Extreme Cold Weather Gear.

Onno said...

one setup for cold-conditions-gear:

A) keep the gear hot or cold, moisture on cold gear going into warm area's will damage your gear or at least take your direct attention.

B) get the proper oils or lubrification for the temperature range you're working in.

C)extreme colds: Alumium and Stainless have a different expension co-efficient. This might result in lose screws or fittings when they are fixed in high themperatures and used in cold temperatures and the other way around. So check each bolt in constructions not only if they are lose but as well wether they are overtightend.

D) some metals tend to break easily in cold wether, especial molded alumium.

to anyone; please refrase above for a jetlaged and language warped/ twisted Onno from currenly Japan :-) and I will delete this comment

Anonymous said...

Worked in Alaska last year and the Canada Goose Parka (Alaskan outfitters makes a copy of it too) and the military cold weather boots they call the Mickey Mouse boots (the white ones) saved me. Couldn't ever figure out a good glove solution, the handheld camera and dolly would just suck the heat out.

Anonymous said...

The Grip Works said...

Wow ! Great tips ! Thanks to all ! GHB - the heatedvest sounds awesome.

Nathan said...

I did a winter movie in Northern Minnesota a bit over 20 years ago. Most of the crew ordered some sort of moonboots from an outdoor outfitter in California. A local took me to Steger Mukluks in Ely, MN.

The rest of the crew had cold feet and had trouble walking around because the soles of their boots were like having blocks of 2" x 4" strapped to their feet. My feet were warm and it felt like I was walking around in bedroom slippers.

They were still warm after I went knee-deep through the ice on the edge of a lake and soaked them through.

I still have them and wear them when we get a decent snowstorm here.

Erik said...

Hi There!

When being in Germany, you should check out these products (can also probably be found at "globetrotter" which markus suggested):

concerning a scarf(-like thing):

concerning non-electrical body-warmers (especially for your feet):

Azurgrip said...

I've come to love other fabrics as well.

As much as I like my fleece jackets, I love my fleece long underwear.

Flannel lining to jeans is amazing too with the added bonus of a jean windbreak and durable to work in.

I'm still debating about buying the Milwaukee M12 Cordless Heated Jacket (the new ones will charge your cell phone too). Home Depot carries them.

I've also found a strategically taped hand warmer at the base of your neck will help fend off chills and upper body muscle tensions. I've got one muscle in my right shoulder that can tell the temperature, as it seizes when I get to a certain temp.

One thing about the hand warmers - think about where you place them. I know I put the toe warmers in my boots, I'm better off placing them above my toes rather that below due to moisture (sweat) and that leads to even colder feet.

I'm still looking for waterproof gloves.

Unknown said...

I work in western Canada,Often in winter.Here is my 2 cents: Feet, smart wool socks($20 a pair) absolutly the best,I'm often in -17 C with only smartwools and my blunstones on my feet.Make sure you mink oil/waterproof your Blundies. The great canadian grey wool sock is also on the list warm and cheap. Sorells are the boot of choice when it's really cold or you end up on a shoot in Churchill(where the polar bears feed) Manitoba.They are heavy but have a good grip and you can do running dolly shots in them .Make sure you pull the liners out at night and stand them upsidedown over the heating vent in your hotel room so they dry out.Legs- Not a fan of the woolen long johns and the expensive hi-tech stuff.I use cotton long johns from Zellers (cheap).Flannel jeans are durable and warm(army-navy).3 schools of thought on the outer layer.Your rain pants work well over flannel jeans to add a needed layer. As well I have a pair of ski/snowboard pants.The wide bottoms make them easy to slip on and off without taking off your boots.You can pick them up cheap at a ski swap.I also carry a pair of work king winter overalls that I got at a wardrobe sale, super warm but rather heavy(Perfect if your in a condor).Torso-Lots of layers. A long john top,sweater,fleece zip up and a flannel vest will just about cover it.Parkas-The Canadian snow goose is the best but it is very heavy and constricting for our kind of work,leave it for the producers or the pretty dept.North Face makes a good one,$300 from Mountain Equiptment Co-op.Make sure your parka is 3/4 length not waist length.What I usually wear is a heally hanson sno-jacket with an inner liner and hand covers.I got it cheap from an outlet store and is definatly my fav. Head- Wear something around your neck,scarfs tend to be too awkward,Corona beer was giving away free neck warmers last year that work well.My fav is an old kaffi/quaffi?,arab black and white scarf, it has the bonus that you can cover your mouth,at -30C it hurts to breath with out one.The Andies type wool toques are quite popular.I have so many toques given to me by companies I just use those. Don't forget ski goggles for your face,if your working high in the mountains get the tinted ones.As well remember your sun screen the sun reflecting of the snow will give you a burn in no time.Gloves- that's a tough one I use thinsilate as a first layer then hunter gloves with the fold over fingers.I also carry lined workgloves for the heavy work. Hammiker Shlemmiker carries a water proof glove but i have not tried it. Lastly get your self a hockey bag to fit all of your cold weather gear in to, anything smaller won't cut it.Keep your water bottle in an inside pocket,so it won't freeze.Cold plays hell with batteries so keep your phone in an inside pocket as well.Tell the best boy that the dewalt batts need to come back to the hotel at night.Make sure to bring a thermo-mug for your drinks. Coffee in a styro cup will go cold in about 10 seconds.Get one that you can put a carabeener on so you can clip it to your belt/set bag. hope this helps Tony-Bear