Archive for the ‘Mountaineering’ Category

Cold Weather Sock Systems and Foot Care by John Huston, Polar Explorer

Wednesday, June 10th, 2020

This is the first article in a series written by accomplished arctic explorer John Huston and presented by Point6, out favorite sock maker.
H1: Cold Weather Sock Systems and Foot Care
H2: Expeditionary Foot Know How for the Long Haul
H3: Feet are the Expedition
It might seem odd to post an article on cold weather socks in June, but now is the time for units to place orders for equipment needed this winter.

John Huston off the coast of Ellesmere Island in high Arctic Canada, May 2013. © John Huston

In this post we’ll get into how I manage my feet in the cold. We’ll take a look at sock systems, moisture control via vapor barrier liner socks, and discuss foot care in the cold.

Twelve years ago I was having a beer with a Norwegian polar explorer colleague of mine, who came out of Norway’s Marinejegerkommandoen (MJK). We were discussing my upcoming unsupported expedition to the North Pole. “You know,” he said, “when it gets down to it: Preparation is the expedition.”

This kernel of advice quickly became one of my operational pillars. It goes deep into my expeditionary philosophy that reaches back to the golden age of polar exploration at the turn of the 20th century…and it opens up an endless well of related topics that we can dig into down the line.

Some of those historic polar explorers are heroes of mine. Explorers from that era, like Roald Amundsen and Ernest Shackleton, were the astronauts of their time. They filled in the blank spaces on the globe and pushed technology and knowledge forward. And sometimes they really suffered. And sometimes they put on frozen boots in the morning. And sometimes they marched on bloody feet or lost toes to frostbite.

John Huston skijoring through Auyuittuq National Park, Baffin Island, Canada, April 2019. © Michael Martin

Early in my cold weather career, about 20 years ago, foot systems and foot care became an obsession. Happy feet = improved performance. Unhappy feet can land a person somewhere on the spectrum of reduced capacity from: effective but hating it to casualty.

So, ‘preparation is the expedition’ is prime and all encompassing, but ‘feet are the expedition’ isn’t far behind.  

For me, in the cold, feet need to be warm, comfortable, and healthy. When these three factors are in order a person doesn’t tend to think about their feet too much. When one of these factors is out of line the opposite is true.

The main ingredients to solving this equation are high quality merino wool socks, moisture management, and foot care routines.  

Merino wool socks provide all day comfort and excellent moisture management properties, and have the ability to perform for many days in a row. I’ve worn a lot of different socks for weeks at a time. Merino wool handles grime build up very well compared to synthetics which become odor bombs. My skin is happier in merino wool. When merino wool is wet, it maintains a good deal of it’s insulation value.

Fit and comfort are a big deal to me. The sock needs to feel good when I put it on and it needs to feel good after 12 hours of exertion and it needs be able to repeat that over and over. I love over the calf socks because they rarely slide down or bunch up. I almost frostbit my fingers trying to fix a bunched up sock in –40° and windy.

In most cases, depending on the temperature, duration of the activity, and humidity my foot layering system consists of the following from the inside out.


-Ultralight over the calf (OTC) merino wool sock. This is sometimes called a liner sock. Example: Point6 37.5 Ultra Light OTC.

-Vapor liner sock (VBL). This is a thin waterproof sock that keeps all foot perspiration on the innermost layer, which prevents the insulating socks and boot liners from getting wet. I’ve used everything from plastic bags to neoprene to silicon coated nylon taped-seam socks. Point6 is currently prototyping a new vapor liner sock. Plastic bags can work, but lack durability and comfort. Some people like neoprene, but my feet feel like they want to blister when I wear neoprene socks.

-Medium or thick merino wool sock (OTC, mid-calf, or 3/4 calf). The thickness of this sock depends on temperatures and how the sock system fits with my boots. Examples: Point6 37.5 Tactical Operator Heavy Mid-Calf

-Winter expedition nordic ski boot. This is another topic, but I’m a big fan of nordic ski boots with removable liners and extra space to allow for sock layering options and flexibility which promotes circulation.

Moisture management has a lot to do with warmth, comfort, and foot health. Feet sweat more than any other part of the body. A pair of feet contain approximately 250,000 sweat glands which can generate 8 oz of sweat per day. That number seems extreme and likely varies person according to person, but it’s pretty easy to see why people can end up with frozen boots in the morning. Most of that sweat has ended up in the fabric and insulation of their boots. In freezing temperatures, especially below zero, the moisture doesn’t get fully pushed (or breathed) into the air because it is too cold – the freezing can be in the boots themselves. This concept applies to clothing and sleeping bags as well.

This is where the vapor liner sock comes in – moisture control. During the day vaper liner socks add warmth because your insulation layers (outer merino wool sock and boot liners/boots) stay dry. Without a VBL those insulation layers will collect perspiration. Insulation works because it traps tiny pockets of air that retain heat. Insulation that contains water or ice is much less efficient and effective. For example, it is possible to warm up cold fingers in damp gloves, but it takes a lot more energy and a lot more work than in dry gloves. Same for feet. VBLs are often worth it to me just for the added warmth, not to mention the reduction in nightly drying chores.

On overnight trips (or even back when staying indoors) a sock system with vapor liner socks is much easier to dry than a ystem without the VBLs. Simply dry the liner socks and the inside of the VBL and you are good to go for the next day. Without the VBL it can take hours to dry outer wool socks, boot liners, and boots.

When I’m guiding I require that my clients wear VBL socks. That way I know their foot insulation layers are going to be dry during the day. And I know that they’ll easily be able to manage drying their socks during the evening. This is no small thing after a long ski day when people want to get into their warm sleeping bags as soon as they can.

Foot care routines are essential to maintaining happy feet. We dry our socks and feet every single night. I designate a thick pair of merino wool socks as sleeping socks that I only wear when I’m sedentary in camp. Every night I’ll put high quality natural hand cream on my feet. I like Burt’s Bees Almond Milk Handcream or Nourish Organic Argan Butter and avoid cream with petroleum products. Every third day we wash our feet with soap and warm water, using an extra mug and a small scrap of a camp towel. With these routines, a high quality sock system, and the right boots – all tested thoroughly prior to a major trip of course – my feet have been a non-issue for several thousand miles of Arctic and Antarctic ski expeditions. Part way through 60-day expeditions I’ve had teammates state that their feet have never felt more healthy, not even at home.

There is also a lot to be said for a good solid specific motion training regime that lets your feet and body know what is coming and allows time for it to adapt. We can discuss training in another post.

Sock systems and foot care routines are very personal. So make it a priority and take the time to experiment and get it right. You’ll enjoy happier days no matter what your endeavor.

Take care of your dogs and they will take care of you.

by John Huston, Polar Explorer

Brought to you by Point6, Merino Mastered

ActSafe TCXII Powered Rope Ascenders

Tuesday, June 9th, 2020

Skylotec acquired ActSafe in January 2020 and one of their most popular products is the TCXII Powered Rope Ascender.

They feature a variable rope grab system suitable for ropes of diameters from 6mm – 11mm. Ascent speeds vary from 0-60m per minute and working load limits from 150-250kg, depending on the model.

Actsafe Ascenders are built in Sweden.

US Army Issues Leader’s Book for Mountain Warfare And Cold Weather Operations

Monday, April 27th, 2020

The newly issued “Mountain Warfare and Cold Weather Operations Leader’s Book” was developed in conjunction with the Asymmetric Warfare Group.

Mountain operations present leaders and units with unique challenges that compound existing difficult combat realities. This handbook addresses the principal gap of informing leaders and staff of the considerations necessary to plan, operate, fight, and win in mountainous terrain at the company level and above. Leaders will find this handbook valuable in prioritizing tasks for training and pre-deployment planning for any military operations in the mountains. No previous mountain training or expertise is required to understand and practice most tactics, techniques, and procedures contained in this publication. Users who have experience operating in a mountainous environment can use this handbook to assist them in learning what veterans of mountain operations already know: vertical environments are among the most challenging in which to conduct and sustain combat operations.

Helix Operations – Arizona Vortex Tripod in Black

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2020

The Rock Exotica Arizona Vortex is an artificial high directional system and anchor point. It offers unlimited versatility and configuration options for rescues, lowers and hauling of equipment across all types of terrain, buildings and structures.

The Vortex can be rigged as a tripod, bi-pod and gin pole. This is possible because the Vortex’s two-piece head set allows for it to be rigged as a standard tripod or in advanced applications as an easel A-frame, A-frame, sideways A-frame and also as a gin pole.

It has fully adjustable, telescoping legs that allow it to be rigged in the most challenging mountain or urban terrain.

Importantly for equipment designed to be used in remote locations in poor conditions, it is intuitive and fast to set up. Transport options are maximised by the Vortex system breaking down into 4 separate bags.

Winches are easy to attach if they are needed to ease and expedite raises and lowers.

The Arizona Vortex with other Rock Exotica products such as the Omni Block pulleys, Aztek hauling system and Kootenay tyrolean pulley, meet virtually any requirement for a portable AHD system. All of these are available in subdued colours.

Helix Operations in conjunction with R3 SAR Gear (UK Rock Exotica Distributor) have specially requested a production run in black, making it better suited to tactical climbing and rescue operations.

Email: [email protected]

Black Diamond Equipment – Crack Gloves

Tuesday, April 14th, 2020

Black Diamond Equipment’s Crack Gloves were designed with 3D patterning. They are made from .6mm synthetic suede which balances breathability, protection, dexterity, and grip. Additionally, they incorporate an adhesive film.

If you’re wondering about the White color, BD says it reduces heat uptake during mega pitches in the desert sun, while also mimicking the classic tape glove construction for superior fit.

Available in sizes XS-XL.

Black Diamond Equipment – Camalot Z4

Thursday, April 9th, 2020
The new Camalot Z4 is a single-stem cam featuring Black Diamond’s RigidFlex stem design, which as the name implies, stays rigid while placing them, yet flexes when you climb past, ensuring easy handling and less walking.

Offered in sizes 0, .1, .2, .3, .4, .5, and .75.

Also available in offset models.

7th SFG(A) Conducts High Angle Rescue Training

Wednesday, April 8th, 2020

Members of 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) conduct high angle rescue training on February 27, 2020, in Panama. The Soldiers were practicing how to tie knots and lift a litter up a cliff.

US Army photos by SGT Sean Hall and SPC Aaron Schaeper

Rock Exotica Aztek Full Block System

Monday, March 23rd, 2020

The Rock Exotica Aztek Full Block system is an invaluable, multi-purpose tool for rescue and technical rope practitioners

It is a personal mechanical advantage kit which can be configured as a 5:1, or 4:1 with a re-direct by just rotating the system. The pulleys are machined from solid aluminum, feature swivel connection points, and utilize high efficiency bearings.

The system can be used as a pick off, adjustable directional, high directional guyline, high angle attendant tether, high angle litter scoop, load release hitch and much more.

The compact design makes it suitable for applications with headroom, such as Urban Search and Rescue (USAR), silo/manhole rescue, and use with tripods.

The Aztek is available in black for military and tactical operations.

For further information, please contact [email protected]