Cold Weather Amateur Radio

Here in Northern Wisconsin we love our cold weather activities. And what goes along with that is providing radio communications for winter time events. Hams in our area have been active in parades, nordic ski events, and dog sled races. With snow on the ground several months out of the year, why shut down activity for so many months out of the year just because of a little cold weather.

Watch the video here:

So today I’m going to talk about a few of the things I’ll carry when doing an event like the upcoming cross country ski race. At this event I’ll be at a checkpoint somewhere out in the woods. Races go on all day, so I’ll need to be prepared to be at that spot for several hours. That means proper clothing for the conditions, and the appropriate complement of equipment. I won’t know if my spot will be close enough to walk out to, or if I’ll need to take a snowmobile; so everything will need to fit into a backpack. For that, I’m selecting my trusty REI day pack.

In these situations, any pack that is comfortable for you will work. My pack holds about 2000 cubic inches, has one large center compartment and a small outside pocket, along with mesh pockets for water bottles. Hiking out in the snow, you want a pack sits close to your body, and doesn’t adversely change your center of gravity.

So inside the pack, my first items are the radios. I usually carry two, along with spare batteries. Battery life is a big concern in cold weather, so I’ll typically keep my spare batteries in an inner coat pocket to keep them warm. For this event I’ve selected my Yaesu VX-8R along with the speaker mic and ear piece. The radio is rugged and it will beacon my location on the APRS network. My backup radio is the Baofeng UV-5X3. I’m testing this radio for an upcoming review, so it will get a little field time this weekend. Backup radio will be in the pack and the primary radio will be in the front pocket of my jacket.

On the comfort standpoint, I carry both hand warmers and toe warmers. The warmers keep my extremities warm, and when you aren’t moving around, those are the first things that get cold. I’ve also found that once fingers and toes get cold, it takes quite a bit of physical activity to get the blood circulating enough to warm them up. I’m also testing one of these Zippo hand warmers. The chemical hand warmers promise 6-8 hours of heat and the Zippo boasts of up to 12, so it will be interesting to see how it work. I’m also carrying a fire starter kit- if the checkpoint I’m at has an established fire ring, I may start a small campfire. I’m also bringing a compact chair and blanket. Extra comfort items include sunglasses and a spare stocking cap and an extra set of gloves. If either cap or gloves get wet, I will have a dry pair to change into.

Also dress in layers and dress for the conditions. I’ve done these events in a wide variety of conditions, from sub zero temperatures to the low thirties. Selecting clothes that allow warmth and venting are important, and I’ve got a video and blog post that addresses that issue.

Finally, lets talk food. I could be out there all day. Once you trudge out to a location, you may not be picked up until after the event. So bring along food and water. A thermos of coffee along with a couple bottles of water are necessary. You need to stay hydrated, even in cold weather. Bring along snacks and a light lunch. I like lots of little things that I can munch on all day to keep my energy level up. Select food items that won’t freeze or get hard in the cold. Otherwise keep a couple of energy bars in your inner coat pocket so they stay warm and supple. My go-to energy lunch is the good ole peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

As for a couple of tips in using your radio in the cold, I like to throw a hand warmer into my radio pocket. While I keep my spare battery inside my coat to keep it warm, the radio in my outer pocket still can get quite cold, which can limit its battery life. So the hand warmer next to the battery keeps the battery warm and prolongs its energy output on a super chilly day.

Another cold weather tip is to carry a pencil and  rubber band a few index cards onto your coat sleeve. Pens will freeze up in cold weather, but pencils will keep on writing. Keeping a small notepad or a few index cards on your sleeve makes it super easy to take notes while traffic is coming over the radio. With this method you can even take notes without having to take your gloves off .

Do you have any cold weather amateur radio tips? I’d love to hear them; please feel free to leave your tips and questions in the comments below.