Friday, November 29, 2013

Cold Weather Gear

Happy Black Friday everyone!

Since it's shopping season and since it's 28 degrees outside and there's ice forming on the pond behind our house, I'll tell you about the cold weather gear I used for the past two years driving in and out of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Granted, being on the bridge of a submarine presents a unique set of circumstances - namely being stationary and exposed to the elements for several hours.  Someone on the bridge of some other type of surface ship would presumably be able to step inside the pilot house to get shelter from the wind, rain, and snow.  Other people who brave the cold for recreational activities like skiing tend to be physically active and generate extra body heat in the process, and they can always take a break and step inside the ski lodge for some coffee or hot cocoa.  When you sit or stand in one place on top of the submarine, you aren't doing any exertion to generate body heat, and there's no place to go for shelter.

Before going into the gear I've been using, I should offer a disclaimer on uniform regulations.  There are some differing opinions from one boat to the next, or rather from one CO and COB to the next, on what is allowed to be worn by personnel topside when getting the boat underway and returning to port.  During my JO tour on USS PROVIDENCE operating out of Groton, Connecticut, we absolutely needed good cold weather gear topside and on the bridge, and the Navy didn't sell uniform components that would adequately protect us.  The philosophy on the boat was go buy yourself some good cold weather gear (more specifically - to protect your hands and face) and as long as it's solid black or navy blue, nobody would have a problem with it not being an official part of "the uniform."  That philosophy made sense to me and has stuck with me ever since, much to the chagrin of some of my later COBs who were more insistent on not allowing guys topside to wear anything that wasn't 100% in compliance with the uniform regs.  (Sorry, COBs, no offense intended!)


Soon after I reported aboard USS PROVIDENCE, one of the other JOs told me to go to the mall and find the kiosk where they sell headsokz.  It was absolutely essential being on an SSN operating out of Groton.  We drove in and out frequently enough that I had many opportunities either as a topside supervisor or as an OOD on the bridge to put it to use.  It was money very well spent.  Even during my department head tour out of SAN DIEGO, I was very glad I had my headsok and gloves from my JO tour in my locker for port calls in Bangor and Esquimalt and an unexpected surfacing near the Aleutian Islands.  As an XO, I used it supervising linehandlers topside getting the ship underway.  As a CO, I've used it every underway and return to port in Bangor.  Even returning to port in June last year, it was 50 degrees, howling wind and hailing as we drove down the Hood Canal.


Initially I used ski goggles, but most ski goggles have some sort of shading like sunglasses to protect from the glare off the snow.  It's almost always overcast in the Pacific Northwest and there's no blanket of snow on the water to reflect the ambient light under the overcast.  I found that I needed something to shield my eyes from the wind, rain, hail, and snow, but I didn't like the light loss with the ski goggles.  I wanted clear lenses.  I tried a few models of ski goggles with clear lenses, but I just didn't like any of them.

Then it occurred to me... I said to myself, "Self, you probably need to check a store that sells motorcycle stuff."  Sure enough!  I stopped at the Harley Davidson shop on my way home one day and found exactly what I was looking for.  However, I also suspected they had a pretty high mark-up given the name brand of the store.  The goggles I wanted were $26 at the store, so I came home and searched for them on Amazon.

$6!  Cha-ching!  Cha-ching!  SCORE!  Now that I go back and look at them again, I see they raised the price, but it's still better than what they wanted at the HD store.  These goggles worked GREAT.  I wish I had thought of motorcycle riding goggles instead of ski goggles sooner so I could have used them from the outset.


There are a ton of different styles of cold weather gloves out there.  I ended up making a spreadsheet to compare the thickness of insulation, the type of insulation, the cost, etc.  In the end, I bought the Outdoor Research Remote gloves.  They were pretty expensive, but I found them to be worth the money.  (Aside - the price has come down considerably since I purchased them.)  They have the most insulation and are rated for the coldest temperatures, but they use the Primaloft insulation (more insulating for less thickness, but also more expensive).  Now, they might be too warm for doing any sort of winter sports or outdoor activities where you're moving around and generating more body heat.  However, sitting-still on top of a submarine I found my hands quickly got numb from the cold, and I needed the extra insulation. These gloves did a great job.

If you were shopping around for some good gloves, here are some other features I liked about these gloves that I would recommend looking for:

Idiot Straps.  You fasten the "idiot straps" to your wrists so when you take your gloves off your hands, you don't drop or lose the gloves.  They will dangle from these strap fastened to your wrists.

Loops.  The big nylon-strap loops at the back of the glove make it a lot easier to pull the gloves on in the cold.

Easy-to-operate cinching cords.  The Outdoor Research gloves have a pretty clever system that makes it so you can very easily cinch or uncinch the wrists of your gloves.  Pull the plastic tab on one side, and it cinches them tight.  Pull the plastic tab on the other side, and it uncinches them.

Nose-wipe.  It might sound gross, but I was VERY glad to have this.  Yes, ideally, you would pull a tissue out of your pocket and blow your nose into a tissue.  There are those times when your face is uncovered and your nose starts to run, and you don't have time to dig a tissue out of your pocket before the snot goes rolling down your lip.  This soft material on the back of the thumb is perfectly positioned to do a quick swipe under your nose.

Heat Packs

These sure made the long hours on the bridge more bearable.  There are a dozen brands and sizes to choose from if you search for them online.  The ones I've linked to below aren't particularly noteworthy as being any better than the rest, so shop around and find the best deal.  I just included the link below as an example of what I am trying to describe.

These are very handy little pocket warmers though.  I found they make some for feet that have a peel-away sticky pad to keep them stuck in one place inside your boots.  My toes tended to get really numb after hours in the cold, but I found putting some of these warmers in my boots helped tremendously.  I also put one in each palm of my hand inside my gloves, and it made the surface transit much more comfortable. 

Now if I could just find what the movers did with my cold weather gear...

1 comment:

Tabor said...

I never knew anyone who worked on a submarine for me to know this issue. You helped me realize how important it is to be wary of the cold when you have to stand still for a long time. As for the COB who wants uniform status...I guess he doesn't mind if his men/women are somewhat distracted from the cold! Thanks for you the cold!!