Whether you’re embarking on a backcountry ski trip, a short run, or your morning commute, there’s always gear designed to help make your trip comfortable. The right gear can make even the coldest trips more enjoyable, even those that begin on a packed platform in 20-degree weather. We’re not talking about obvious equipment such as skis or snowboards, but rather, the stuff that makes using either one as comfortable as sitting in your living room.
The first thing anyone planning to be out in the cold for a while should consider is hand warmers. The most common ones are air activated, meaning they heat up via an exothermal reaction. The disposable type is easy enough to come by, but it’s still worth it to check out HotSnapZ, considering they’re reusable. They start as a gel, but you can initiate a sodium acetate salt reaction with just a little pressure. When they cool off, you simply place them in boiling water for 5 to 10 minutes to reactivate them. They also come in a variety of shapes and size — including those made to fit your body — but the 4-inch hand warmers are likely the best for most people given their size. They hit about 130 degrees once activated, too, but only retain heat for about an hour. However, the fact that they’re reusable and affordable earns them a spot on this list.
EnergyFlux has a line of hand warmers, and this is one of their larger capacity models. It’s nice when you can get a gadget that does double duty, and most of the Enduro warmers also function as power banks in addition to hand warmers. The EnergyFlux Enduro is a 7,800mAh power bank with 500 cycles and an LED flashlight. It also charges via USB, and features a double-sided heating that lasts up to seven hours on high. The heat will drain from the aluminum casing when exposed to the cold, though, so you have to hold it for a moment or keep it away from the cold to really feel the burn.
This model is a catalytic, meaning it needs to be started with fire. Zippo’s catalytic hand warmer runs on lighter fluid, but once you start it up, it will hold a steady temperature for up to 12 hours. The original had a rounded bottom, but the new one features a flat design that’s in line with the company’s lighters. This makes it easier to fill, which can be an annoying process given you have to slowly pour fluid into the reservoir in order to avoid spillage. It also requires air to function, so the reservoir isn’t completely sealed. Because of this, some users have complained about a lighter fluid smell. Evaporation can also lower the warming period depending on the time between filling and use, and once it’s started, it can’t be turned off. As previously mentioned, refilling it can be tricky and it doesn’t charge other gadgets, so it’s not really the best option for a simple commute work.
If you’ve searched for a thermos that keeps things piping hot for a full shift, look no further than the Stainless Steel King series. Thermos claims that the lauded Stainless Steel Kings will keep your beverage hot for 24 hours. As an owner of a 68-ounce stainless king, this writer can personally verify it keeps tea hot all day, overnight, and into the next morning. The vacuum-insulated double walls mean the exterior doesn’t sweat and stays cool to the touch. The interior is also made of stainless steel for easy cleaning, and the stopper features a dual-sided pour spout. The top doesn’t have a handle, though, and the handle on the thermos itself is big and clunky. However, these are small downsides, considering the Stainless King does what a thermos is supposed to do – keep things hot (or cold). It’s currently available in either a 16, 40, or 68-ounce model, or as a 16 or 24-ounce food jar designed to keep food hot for up to 9 hours.
Ember Smart Travel Mug ($130)
A good travel mug is handy for winter commutes, whether going from work or into the backcountry. The Ember smart mug — set for release in April — will hold a set temperature for two hours, and features a charging coaster that allows the mug to keep its contents at a given temp indefinitely. We all expect insulated travel mugs to keep things hot, but how about cold? The Ember Smart Mug also comes outfitted with a cooling system that can bring your drink down from scalding temperatures to something more manageable. And it’s all controlled via a simple app for Android and iOS devices.
Mammut Pro Protection 35 ($840)
There have been few avalanche airbag saves caught on video, and they serve as anecdotal evidence supporting the use of avalanche airbags in the backcountry. Mammut’s Protection Airbag System (PAS) is built directly into the shoulder straps as well as the pack because, as ODB once said, you best protect ya neck. The airbag uses compressed air canisters when it comes time to deploy, which are relatively easy to swap and refill when need be. The pack itself offers 35 liters of storage space, too, and it features both snowboard and diagonal ski straps on the external pocket. A built-in goggle pouch, helmet carrier, hydration sleeve, and an assortment of interior compartments also means there’s a place for anything and everything.
ABS’ dual airbag system provides double the security in case of punctures and inflation failures, while ensuring full peripheral vision. The trigger is movable, so anyone can switch its location to either side of the bag, rendering it ideal for both left and right-handed people. The ABS system runs on compressed nitrogen, and is therefore able to operate at lower temps than compressed air. Most airlines don’t allow nitrogen canisters on board, however, so you’ll likely have to ship canisters to your destination for a small fee. The ABS Powder series currently offers three zip-on packs — including 8, 15, and 26-liter options — but also boasts compatibility with some Arvo and Atomic packs. The base unit pack comes with straps for both a snowboard and pair of skis, but, to be clear, a full backpack needs the ABS base unit, the cartridge, and the preferred zip-on carry compartment.
A multitool is always a good bet, whether you’re on the mountain or at your desk. That said, Leatherman specifically designed the Hail with snowboarders and skiers in mind. The tool features a scraper for ridding skis and snowboards of snow and ice buildup, along with a 10-millimeter wrench and a lace assist tool for tightening laces when you don’t want to take off your gloves. The tool also includes an angled flathead and Phillips screwdriver made of 420HC stainless steel. There’s even a built-in earbud holder and, of course, a bottle opener. All these tools line the carabiner’s sleek body, which is also TSA compliant.
This has to be the coolest credit card holder concept ever. Initially funded on Kickstarter, the Jackfish survival kit packs 11 tools for surviving the everyday and extreme situations, with additional room for up to 14 credit cards. Tools include a compass and firesteel, along with a heavy-duty match, a telescopic pen, a Spyderco Bug Knife, a micro SD card slot, a 120-decibel signal whistle, a small glass vial for iodine, and a Philips screwdriver (among others). Thankfully, they all fit into the slim, titanium case.