Every winter, new PPG pilots discover flying in typical UK winter temperatures and quickly begin the quest for a solution to fingers which can be so cold that the pain is unbearable. Most of this is all nicely forgotten about when the spring comes, until a reminder in the form of extreme altitude or another looming winter approaches.
During my first PPG winter I experienced fingers which I could not make function, no matter how hard I tried. And I had experience of long diving decompression stops in icy waters. This was worse, in no small part because I had to fly and land my paramotor, not just hang around watching a depth gauge and timer.
For my second winter I invested in some Gin Winter Alpine gloves. These were excellent gloves and did the trick for a while, although after 30 or 40 minutes things started getting very unpleasant again in the digit dept. I tried all the regularly suggested tricks, such as keeping your hands warm until the very last minute before launch, putting a heat pad on your wrists/in your glove somewhere. Nothing made any difference and merely added to the bulk which already accompanies cold flying days.
Then about three years ago I swapped my Polini throttle for a Cameleon throttle, which I loved. However, for me, it meant that bulky gloves didn’t work with this new way of operating a throttle (the fabric of thick gloves bunched up too much when bending the throttle finger to use it properly) so a solution was urgently sought.
Heated gloves were the obvious answer, but everything I tried was inevitably bulky to varying extents. I’ve always hated bulk in your hands when launching and flying - risers, throttle, and brake handles need some feel and control.
I figured out that some of my winter hill walking kit was pretty good and realised that there was a glove version of my windproof, thin and well-insulated Montane Prism jacket (which is awesome and I also use for flying, even over the Alps at 9000 feet AGL - when all the other pilots were in full flying suits).
The gloves certainly proved thin and low bulk enough to be nice to fly with and very warm. I also realised that a heated liner would fit in very nicely without adding much bulk.
The cheapest usable option has always been the Blazewear X1 liners. They have a couple of battery options and come in at just under £100. I bought mine three years ago and put them to the test in the Brecon Beacons on a very cold morning over Pen y Fan. And everything changed; My fingers didn’t get that distracting background pain which swiftly builds into a very distracting agony - they just stayed ... comfortable.
I had been expecting my hands to be warm and to be able to feel the heat, but generally that wasn’t the case. When it’s properly cold, you simply don’t get cold hands; they just feel normal. When it’s less cold, you can turn the heating setting down as you have three settings. This is easily adjusted with gloved hands by pressing the large button on the cuff, the light changes from green (lowest) to orange (mid-setting) to red (warmest).
7.4v, 1800mAh lithium polymer batteries (similar in size and shape to the old flat style mobile phone batteries) power the composite fibres within the glove fabric which provide good duration - I have never landed with the battery having run out. I am normally cold in other places after an hour or two, so that’s perfect.
I have noticed that sometimes the heat setting has changed during flight (indicated by the fact that my hands felt slightly cooler) which turned out to have been caused by the button having been pressed accidentally. It took me a while to figure out how that could have happened but in the end I realised that it was most likely caused by pressing or rubbing my wrists against the risers at some point (the button is on the inside wrist area) so I now periodically cast a glance at my wrists to check that the chosen heat setting light is still illuminated.
The gloves themselves are stretchy and at no point do you have any sensation of there being heating elements in them, it is very well concealed. The heating element threads run over the tops of the fingers and thumb and heat all the right places. The cuffs are nicely long and contain the battery packs and the power/settings button. The battery compartment is behind a small zip and to recharge the batteries you simply unplug them (no need to remove them from the glove) and plug in the charger connection.
The X1 liners heat to a maximum temperature of 50 degrees C. and are hand washable (although I’ve never washed mine and they feel clean and don’t smell after three winters of use!).
Obviously having the right sort of glove on top of the liners is important and essential to the success of the heated liner so, for me, the combination of the Montane Prism glove and the X1 liner is a winner. The Prism gloves are a little short in the wrist which means the X1’s heat setting switch and light are easily accessible when worn with them. They are a little 'slippery' though, although the latest version appears to have added a phone touchscreen friendly area to the finger tips.
If you're looking for a solution to the flight-shortening annual issue of blue fingers, then take a look at the Blazewear X1 liners and an appropriate glove.