... would you?
It's a question that I asked myself as I was preparing to return to Aconcagua this past season. I started considering heated socks at the eleventh hour - after coming to terms with the idea that the 3lbs high altitude boots in my gear chest were much too heavy for my speed ascent intentions.
A google search quickly led me to zero in on Lenz, a premier provider of heat wear based in Austria. Their heat socks and gloves sounded great but... would the technology deliver on its promise? And what if not - would I be setting myself up for failure and frostbite, given upper mountain temperatures as low as -40*F?
I wasn't fully convinced but decided that it was an option worth exploring: I had climbed Aconcagua once before, with "old school" heavy-duty high altitude gloves, and came back from the summit with numb fingertips that remained tingly for the next six weeks. I wanted this time on the mountain to be different, so I took the plunge.
Armed with the Lenz Heat Sock 5.0 Toecap and the Women's Heat Glove 3.0, I spent a few days in Canada's British Columbia putting the gear to the test in a somewhat less consequential environment than Aconcagua with its 22,838ft summit would be. I slept, hiked and ice climbed with the Lenz socks and gloves in -20*F temperatures and was delighted to see the gear deliver just as promised - with three different power settings and rechargeable batteries that last for up to 14 hours, my winter interlude in ice-cold Canada felt more like a cozy walk in the park than the typical frigid sufferfest. I was particularly pleased to discover that the gloves were both dexterous and grippy enough to be suitable for ice climbing, making screaming barfies a thing of the past.
After a week in Canada, on Christmas Eve, I boarded a redeye flight down to Argentina. Next stop: Aconcagua. Here, the heat sock enabled me to trade my heavy mountaineering boots for an ultralight three-season alpine shoe. To be extra conservative I chose to include Grabber Warmer hand and foot warmers in my kit but the heat socks and gloves worked so well that I never felt like I needed backup. Given the duration of the expedition - six weeks on the mountain! - I carried a Goal Zero solar setup to recharge batteries on the go, and I also brought replacement batteries. I'm glad I did, because on more than one occasion I opened my pack to discover that the sock batteries (which in their current edition don't have a lock mode, my one point of criticism for the setup) had switched themselves on and were draining power. Though after a while I learned to carry spare battery packs in a hard sunglass case or other container, and subsequently avoided those inadvertent power-on issues.
All in all, I had a hugely positive experience with both the heat socks and the heat gloves; thanks to Lenz' excellent gear I could reduce the weight of my footwear by more than 50%, and brought back a new women's speed record on the mountain.
So, my verdict on bionic mountaineering gear? HELL YES. Lenz heat gear works better than I'd ever have expected, and even though these socks and gloves may be pricey they're an oh-so worthwhile investment for extreme environments - because how much are you willing to pay for your fingers and toes?
Interested? Also check out my short write-up on the Lenz homepage
(though I'm not sure I agree with the classification of 'Extreme Sportswoman' - ha!!)