South Platte Section — Regulating Temperature

Posted by Demetri Coupounas on

The forecast said 40 degrees Fahrenheit, but the trailhead was 10!  Nothing wrong with the forecast but Saturday morning January 5thwhere the Colorado Trail crosses the South Platte River, there was a dramatic catabatic air zone.  A still night created a river of cold air, which is denser than warm air, flowing slowly down the valley.  I had extra layers in my car but I left them off because I knew that a short hike out of the valley would take me clear of the catabatic zone and the few minutes of climbing would generate internal heat.

The crisp start got me geared up to write about thermoregulation.  Regulating your body temperature continuously is one of the core skills that must be learned to survive, and mastered to thrive, outdoors.  On the southern 10 miles of CT segment 1 last weekend, I got it just right.  Over more than 8 hours, 20 miles, 9000 feet of elevation change, in and out of snow and ice, in sun, shade and well after dark, 4 food/water breaks, and from 10 degrees to 50 degrees and back down to 35, I never overheated or chilled off.

Each day outside I decide what to wear on my lower body first.  Choose the right types and amount of underwear, shorts, and/or pants and you can often go the whole day in varied conditions without any adjusting below your waist.  Last weekend I wore Stride compression shorts I designed for my 1stcompany, GoLite.  Over that, Hike pants.  That pair handled everything from sun to wind to sliding down a short section of ice flawlessly.

It’s harder to get through a full day without adjusting shirts or jackets but last weekend I did.  It was never quite too cold, or too hot, for the combination of short-sleeve and long-sleeve My Trail ultralight shirts I wore from the start.

I didadjust my clothing dozens of times though, but only my gloves and my balaclava. Bare hands release lots of heat on a cold day and slipping on even light gloves makes a huge difference.  Taking them off at the right time is just as important.  A glove change can be managed in moments without taking a pack off – just slip them into or out of a hip belt, pant, short, shirt or jacket pocket – usually you don’t even have to break stride.

An advanced balaclava like the Black Strap version we carry has more numerous and subtle adjustments.  Have a look at the pictures attached and you can see the 7 different thermoregulation levels I derive from my balaclava – (1) full coverage exposing only your eyes; (2) exposing your nose and upper cheeks too; (3) exposing you mouth and lower cheeks too; (4) exposing your chin and jaw line too; (5) exposing your neck too; (6) exposing your ears too; (7) taking it off entirely. (You can also turn it into a neck gaiter but I don’t happen to do that.)  The moment I perceive I may be approachingthe most minute degree of overheating or cooling off I make a micro adjustment to my headwear.  It can be as subtle as exposing my nose, or covering my ears, but by taking the right, small actions continuously, you can stay in the perfect thermal comfort zone.

Optimum thermoregulation makes everything else easier. You can carry less water and extra clothing if you avoid the vicious cycle of over-heating followed by chilling off from the sweat you produced.  Your body performs efficiently and that includes your brain.  You are safer, happier, and you have more fun!

Demetri Coupounas


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