Posted by: kimmeroo | December 20, 2012

Surviving (and Enjoying!) Winter with Raynaud’s Disease

I love winter. Love love love it. I love cross country skiing, backcountry skiing, winter camping… all of it. However, the one thing I DON’T love, is how absolutely useless my hands gets in cold weather. See, I have to deal with this frustrating syndrome called Raynaud’s Disease. Wikipedia describes it as follows:

Raynaud’s phenomenon (play /reɪˈnoʊz/) is a vasospastic disorder causing discoloration of the fingers, toes, and occasionally other areas.

Wikipedia also provides the following lovely photographs:


Attactive, yes? I don’t usually turn quite as purple as the bottom two pictures, but the top two are remarkably accurate. As far as I know I have the ‘disease,’ which sounds serious but is not – it just means that it’s not associated with any other illness or issues. Raynaud’s ‘syndrome,’ on the other (frozen) hand, is associated with a number of other disorders.

Medical details aside, the gist of it is that my fingers freeze really, really easily. It could be +10C, but if we’re paddling and there’s a cool breeze, my fingers will go completely white. A bit of an issue when much of what I like to do takes place outside. Anyhow, I saw a comment on Facebook the other day from someone who doesn’t enjoy being outside in winter because of Raynaud’s, so I thought I’d share some of the tricks I have figured out that make my hands much happier in winter. Here goes.

1. Mitts, not gloves. Unless it is very warm out, and I will be working very hard and then coming directly inside, I’m wearing mitts, not gloves. I’m willing to lose the dexterity of gloves for the warmth of mitts. Besides, I don’t have any dexterity when there’s no blood in my fingers anyways!

2. Multiple pairs of mitts. Not only do I wear mitts, but I bring multiple pairs if I’ll be out for any length of time. For example, on a backcountry ski day I’ll start off wearing one pair. When we stop for lunch, I immediately remove that pair (which is probably slightly damp and sweaty by that point), and put on a big, thick pair. When lunch is over, I’ll take out another, lighter pair to put on, so I don’t have to wear the damp ones again.

3. Hot paws! Yes, those disposable hand warmers. I resisted them for a long time. Not only do they seem wasteful, but everyone always says that cold hands are a symptom of a bigger problem (dropping core temp, etc) so you should be dealing with the real issue. Eventually I concluded that this is not the case for me. My hands just get very cold, very easily, and then it is very hard to warm them up. I don’t use these all the time, but on a cold day I usually stick them in my mitts at lunch, and then ski with them for awhile after lunch too. And on occasion they have been a nice surprise for others when their hands get cold, and I can whip out these warm little nuggets for them to use.

Well, those are my three main tips. Hopefully they help at least one person get out and enjoy the winter, and I would love to hear your ideas as well!



  1. Help! I am 31 and moved to SC in the spring. I started river guiding on the rivers in the area. Problem is, I have raynauds and u know the drill. Any ideas on good paddling equipment I can get to help me withstand the norm for cold water? Just took a swift water rescue course and had to opt out the last day for risk of turning blue. (My case is baaad). I also have problems with my skin getting more water logged than I used to deal w. Please help! I need to keep up w the guys!!

    • I hear ya! I use these Level 6 neoprene mitts:

      I find that neoprene gloves are pretty useless and leave my hands totally numb. Mitts are key for me. Those mitts are not nearly as stiff as most others that I’ve seen, so I find I have a bit more dexterity with them. They’re not super durable – the seams are blowing out on mine – but they’re hanging in there, and even considering that they’re still my preferred mitt. Other than that I’d suggest having another pair of mitts or gloves to wear on shore when you stop for lunch, etc. I find that because my hands are damp from paddling, as soon as we stop and I take off the neoprene mitts the slightest breeze will freeze my fingers if I don’t have other mitts/gloves to wear.

      Hope that helps! Have fun on the river!

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