Offgrid Gear Cold Weather Survival – Part 3: Winter Gear Reviews
I attended a Greenside Training class to learn about desert...
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April is finally here, although freezing and sub-freezing temperatures persist in many states. This means that as much as we’d like to rock our Sky’s Out Thighs Out t-shirt we’re just not there. Not yet. We still need to consider helpful cold weather products and how to use them. And even if the weather has started to warm up where you live, it's important to consider these items for the coming fall and winter months — preparation is predictive, not reactive.
As discussed in Part 2 of our Cold Weather Survival series, the U.S. Army cannot officially endorse any aftermarket products. However, through a combination of in-person interviews, reviews of feedback from Army testing, and studying its Mountain Warfare and Cold Weather Operations manual, we found some winter gear worth examining. In this article, we take a closer look at these items.
Gear from Black Diamond Equipment might not be standard issue for the average trooper, but it consistently appears in loadouts of Special Forces and Special Operations members. For example, Black Diamond Equipment’s Enforcer Gloves feature a waterproof shell and 170g PrimaLoft insulation. The gauntlet-style cuffs are long, cinching down past your wrist to maintain a consistent protected layer as they overlap your sleeves. Anyone who’s had a handful of snow shoved down their collar by an older sibling can attest to the benefit of keeping the frozen stuff outside your base layer.
Upon closer inspection, we found that the seam finishing and stitching on these gloves wasn’t perfect. A loose thread was noticeable here and there, even before testing took place. Admittedly, we’re spoiled. We often have the opportunity to look at high-end gear sewn by expert tailors, and sometimes we get used to setting that bar pretty high. In this case, it’s possible that combining the glove’s premium materials with a flawless stitching program would have pushed its price point through the roof. At any rate, the stitching flaws did not appear to affect performance, and did not separate further during testing.
Although thick to keep your hands warm, the gloves are pre-curved to accommodate holding a firearm or other tools. This reduced our hand fatigue for better long-term comfort. Gripping a steering wheel was also not a problem—a plus for when it takes half an hour for your diesel engine to warm up, and by that time you’re already at work. We loved the well-thought-out protective padding on the tops of the knuckles and fingers, including coverage for the delicate bones inside the hand.
Overall, the fit and feel of these gloves is among the best we’ve seen. We could tell that this is a product which has gone through more than one iteration, with obvious improvements made after years of customer feedback.
Some of our firefighter friends turn up their noses at 5.11 Tactical products, calling it “cop gear” due to its longstanding association with law enforcement. We’re going to chalk that up more to inter-service rivalry than actual hands-on experience, since some of our 5.11 EDC bags have been
used abused every single day for three years and counting without a hiccup. If you let your preconceived notions steer you away from a brand, you may be missing out on some excellent gear.
5.11 Tactical’s 3-in-1 Parka was designed as a patrol jacket, made for someone who has to work or stand outside in all conditions, no matter how cold or miserable the weather gets. It gets its name from the way it’s constructed, consisting of a thick fleece liner stuffed inside of a heavy-duty water-resistant shell. You can detach the fleece to wear on its own, or just use the shell if it’s raining but not cold. Otherwise, both jackets combine to make one substantial weather shield.
The complete system is noticeably heavy — a size large is just under 5 pounds (4 lbs. 13 oz. to be exact). We understand that extreme warmth, weather protection and durability can’t (reasonably) be attained using featherweight materials. But you definitely feel the difference when you’re putting this thing on. It feels sort of like a Snuggie combined with Level IIA body armor — in a good way.
Don’t expect high mobility while wearing this parka. In addition to being heavy it’s also bulky. This is fine as long as you’re mostly just walking or standing. But if you’re planning on extreme cold weather CrossFit or Antarctic 3-gun matches, you should probably re-evaluate your wardrobe.
We liked the dual concealed-carry pockets up front. They were large enough to accommodate a full-size 1911 pistol, and opened fully to let us reach it even with gloved hands. The hook-and-loop closures on these pockets made for fast access—just grab both sides and rip it open. Similar closures on the sleeves were also well received. This allowed us to cinch the sleeves down on our wrists, forming a weather-tight seal that retained our body heat while deflecting wind and light rain.
Extended zipper pulls on the front pockets make them easy to open and stash compact items. The only thing we didn’t like was that we had nowhere to put our hands. We found ourselves wishing for some generously over-sized hand-warmer pockets, like those found on Patagonia's version of the 3-in-1 parka.
Overall? When we really don’t want to go outside but don’t have a choice in the matter, 5.11 Tactical's parka is the jacket we’ll reach for.
For anyone traveling long distances overland during extreme cold weather, melting snow becomes the primary means of obtaining drinking water. Boiling water to make meals out of dehydrated food is also common.
The XGK-EX stove from MSR (Mountain Safety Research) is a snow melting, water boiling juggernaut. It uses a 35-year-old classic design and is one of the only commercially-available aftermarket products mentioned by name in the Army manual. The stove has made its name by working through the worst possible conditions whether its cold, dirty, or dusty. It’s not finicky and is very dependable, even if you choose to abuse it by not cleaning it or by feeding it low-grade fuels. As just one example of its toughness, back in 2014 on an expedition to the North Pole, professional explorer Eric Larsen used an MSR XGK-EX for multiple hours every day for 53 days straight. If it can handle that scenario, it should be able to handle your backcountry excursions without breaking a sweat.
Using white gas for fuel will keep the stove running at its cleanest and into the lowest sub-freezing temperatures (down to about -50° F) . However, the stove will also happily digest kerosene, unleaded auto fuel, aviation gas, and even diesel. This feature has obvious benefits for use in survival situations, since the XGK-EX will happily consume just about any type of fuel you’re able to scrounge up.
As with most other products which earn the label bulletproof, this stove is neither light nor overly compact compared to similar models. But it’s not made to be light or compact. It’s made to melt snow and boil water day-in and day-out with unquestionable reliability. As emergency room nurses are fond of saying: it’s there to save your ass, not kiss it!
Although winter is beginning to wind down, we hope you’re lucky enough to procure some great winter gear for your load-outs. This concludes Part 3 of our Cold Weather Survival series, but for more cold weather survival tips and gear check out Part 1 of the series, or past articles on winter sleeping bags or breathable winter insulation.
Andrew Schrader is a licensed professional engineer and is certified by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as an Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Structures Specialist. His company, Recon Response Engineering LLC, advises state and federal government organizations on the subject of urban search and rescue and building collapse. He recently assisted the U.S. Department of State’s Italian Consulate in the development of their post-earthquake response and rescue protocol. You can follow him on Instagram at @reconresponse.