Winter activations - tips & tricks


I was wondering if some of you have some good tips & tricks for winter activations, esp. when it comes to:

  • protecting your hands from cold (cw sending below 0C, windy, chilling, etc)
  • protecting your batteries
  • protecting your rig/logbook/etc from snow/rain, etc
  • other tips/tricks?

I am going for my first winter activation, the elevation will be ~3000m a.s.l. I am planning to get my MTR5b on top, with a portable stick antenna

I am not sure if it will survive windy conditions there, but hopefully it will.

My main concern is cold and fingers when sending CW. I am a toddler op, so I make mistakes, but yesterday when I was in a bit adverse but not so hars conditions (15C, windy though) my fingers were really cold (I had no gloves with me this time) and sending was really a chalenge. I thought I might make a kind of cocoon cloth to put my both hands in and smuggle the key inside it. Has anyone tried it or similar solution?

Also I was wondering on batteries - how do they survive in cold? (I use LiPo)
I bet keeping them in a warm place would not harm them. I assume the rig will be fine from cold, but protection of it against any rain/snow - would be nice too.

So, I am open to any suggestions as around next weekend I may be on the spot… :slight_smile:
I was digging the forum, but there are a few topics - none seems to be collecting good practices for winter activations, so I hope this one could serve as such one.

From the Sota Gear page of my blog.
I use Sherpa Polypro iGlove
A stretch fit glove. Light weight and breathable. Sensors fitted to the thumb & fore finger for use on phones and tablets. Light enough for cw use. Only to be used as CW gloves. Not tough enough to use with walking poles.
FYI about using a phone when cold (spotting purposes) my phone has a clear protective cover on the screen. Condensation can build up beneath the cover when cold making its use quite difficult, with or without gloves.
Transport the battery in your pocket.
Use a bothy bag for really crap wx, umbrellas are not flash in the wind.
Use what ever protection is available.
I keep the cover on the KX3 whilst operating in adverse wx. All reports are by ear anyway.
Use the most efficient antenna that you have that is also band agile. Can mean making the required contacts to qualify quicker.
Layer up on clothing whilst activating & have something to eat.
Have fun in the cold, winter is coming in VK
Tony Vk3CAT

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I’ve gradually got to the point where I can activate in the winter here down to about -15C and stay on the air at that temperature for an hour or so. One suggestion I would have is improve your kit and techniques as you go along so that you can extend your operating into longer times and lower temperatures.

Layers, layers, layers. On the hike you want to regulate your temperature so that you don’t overheat. If you sweat too much on the ascent and then sit at the summit, you will get cold very quickly. So have layers that you can take off as you heat up on the climb. Usually when I get to the summit I will pull on a sweater that I have taken off during the climb, add a down jacket from my pack and pull my shell over top. Depending on temperature I carry three hats, a light one for hiking, a heavy one that is actually too warm for hiking, and one in between:

Hiking hat Medium hat Sheepskin hat

All three photos are from the same activation this March and you can also see the heavy layers in the last photo and the light layers in the first photo.

Figure out what your limitation are and try to address them to make yourself more comfortable. My hands and feet get cold first and I can get quite chilled. So I am experimenting with “Hot Mocs” to help keep my feet warm on the summit and layering for my hands: polyester gloves and fingerless wool over gloves with a hot pad in between.

Hot Mocs Gloves Gloves

In spite of being fussy, the glove layering will probably stick, the Hot Mocs will likely not. The point is to push your limitations gradually and find what works for you.

As far as equipment, I use a LiFePO4 battery and never had any problems with it in the cold, down to -15C at least, same with most of my other equipment. The KX3 has some issues with the rotary encoders in the cold, but it is not major and goes away as the radio heats up. My audio recorder gave some problems until I swapped the alkaline AAAs for Lithium for the winter, but it’s an extra anyway.

Cell phones can be a real problem if you want to use them in the cold - this from others’ reports and from personal experience. I went so far as to do some research onto published cold weather performance of phones. What information is out there shows that phones can vary widely in cold weather performance. Even more, most manufacturers don’t publish cold temperature specs for their phones. I eventually ended up getting a “rugged phone” that the published spec says works down to -20C. You may not want to go that route. You can keep your phone warm next to your body and only pull it out to check or post spots etc. Certainly you want gloves that work with a touch screen so you aren’t chilling your hands every time you use your phone. (I’m going to check out Tony’s suggestion for next winter :-)). Also keep them dry. I was wearing my polyester gloves while setting up, they got wet with the snow and my hands chilled more quickly. Now I don’t switch to those gloves until I am totally ready to operate.

I use a waterproof log book and a pen that will write in the wet and cold, so I don’t worry about that at all. I use a laptop tent to keep the snow off my rig and other sensitive electronics.

Hope there’s something here that helps. 73,
Malcolm VE2DDZ


Winter of 15’/16’ I did a lot of Winter activations when it was really cold here in PA… which means -10C to maybe -17C.
I carried a Tarp 7’ x 5’ or 10’ x 10’ and Thermos of coffee. I dressed in layers and often would replace my base-layer top when I got to my operating position… once the tarp and antenna was up… With a dry baselayer, fleece plus Duvet Jacket, Waterproof over-trousers and a dry hat I was nice and warm for the activation.
Extra Hats and Extra gloves are worth their weight…

I still use 'write in the rain" notebooks and a pencil… as they always work no-matter the weather.

I use an old piece of Karrimat to sit on (recovered from the Cwm Idwell area back in the 90’s)

Additionally, if it’s around meal-time, I sometimes take my stove etc. and have a meal… a decent hot meal can really warm you up!

Not to be forgotten is Water… it’s very easy to get dehydrated during winter… water management at very cold temperatures is a pain in the whats-it. Starting with warmer water and insulating it is good… once or twice I’ve melted snow to make my coffee on a summit… more for fun than necessity though…

For 2016/17 winter I purchased snow-shoes and Micro-spikes… I haven’t even taken the tags off them yet… last winter was not that hard here in PA.

Richard // N2GBR

face-mask OR makes them… good to have
a Wool Buff is multi-functional to



my one cent addition here is simple: handwarmers,

See more at this thread:

Useful, small and provide a good relief after you set up your cold aerial gear on field and remove your gloves when doing so…
Keep it in your pocket or put it inside your gloves.

73 de Ignacio

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Thank you all. Good stuff!
I was also considering to use a survival shelter or a small tent - I saw Steve WG0AT uses it. Maybe this is a solution?
Highlinder Survival Shelter 2-3 pers.

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@SQ6GIT … I wouldn’t use one of those where I live… the bear will think it’s a Burrito… Ha HA…



I do not know what you’re up to, but if the weight allows, a small tent has proven itself. Even a small beach tent is at wind really top, when the sun still seems to be behind it felt 20 degrees warmer!

Hir in good weather, light wind around -2 degrees. Behind the beach tent long HAM operator possible. Without a tent there is no long CW possible.

In very hard conditions, here mean winds even over 50 km / h and -6 degrees only with tent possible!

vy 73 de Matt HB9FVF


Thanks, Matt

This looks good, I was thinking of something lighter and more primitive, as 300g bothy survival tent.

I know the high mountains where you look at every gram. The beach tent has a little more than 700g but starting from about 20km/h wind is not possible to put up…

vy 73 de Matthias

I done multiple summits in the -5F/-20C range. I have a commercial “cocoon cloth” - google “hunter’s muff” and you’ll see something like this: It’s a little bulky, but works well. I haven’t tried a key inside, but I think it would work.

I also love my “polar buff” - which is basically a tube of fabric, fleece on bottom to go around your neck and windproof on the top to stretch over your head like a hood. I then wear a hat over it. And my favorite is a long down skirt - designed to wear over your clothes - like a jacket for your legs. It’s great to have in my pack and put on after I stopped hiking. Though my husband says I look like a homeless women once I’m layered up.

I do see a temperature impact on my LiFePO battery. To combat this I use a water bottle insulator (from my backpacking gear)- my battery fits in perfectly. If I need a little more warmth, I throw in a small hand warmer (being careful not to get it too warm). Which reminds me - if it’s really cold you should always carry your water bottle upside down, the higher side freezes 1st. So, if your water starts to freeze, it doesn’t seal off the top and you can still drink it.

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Many thanks and much appreciated reading your experience shared. I will keep my batteries within internal pockets (all in all I carry now a small LiPo, size of matches maybe a bit bigger).

BTW - I think the homeless are experts in survival without fancy equipment, so I think layers and practicable over fashionable works… :slight_smile:

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@N3ICE …Jill, a little Trivia… I first read about the half length sleeping bags in stories of the early Alpine ascents… they were referred to a “pied d’elephant” and you would use it in combination with your Duvet Jacket.

Richard // N2GBR

@N2GBR Interesting - I guess they do look like an elephant’s foot when they’re wrapped around you. I was originally looking for a 1/2 sleeping bag to use with a down jacket for backpacking when I found this skirt. It’s made by a small company in Alaska and has really nice functionality built in - they were definitely hikers. Of course, it doesn’t keep your feet warm, but it’s great as a second layer, so you can keep mobile and set up camp, but need more warmth than hiking. Men wear skirts too :grin: I’ve seen several over the years with skirts on out in the back country hiking.

There’s a bunch of European companies still making them if you Google “pied d’elephant”