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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: What are the best ways to stay warm playing banjo outdoors in the cold

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Cryo - Posted - 12/18/2017:  23:56:25


It was really pretty cold (around 34 degrees F) when we played for the National Christmas Tree lighting this year. My fingers were getting numb. I kept trying to keep my fingers in my pockets whenever I could. The rest of the string band were also cold. Thank goodness that we were only up there for an hour and had a warming tent nearby.

Does anyone else have experience playing in the cold? I had a pair of fingerless gloves, but did not use - they were kind of slippery on the neck side and clumsy on the picking side.

Edited by - Cryo on 12/18/2017 23:59:57

Alec Cramsie - Posted - 12/19/2017:  04:57:13

Up in Canada we liberally apply rum??
It doesn’t make you any warmer, but you feel better about the whole thing.

Bob Smakula - Posted - 12/19/2017:  05:02:31

I always use fingerless gloves in a cold performance environment. Not the best thing for the music, but it really helps. I've used them with banjo and fiddle.

maxmax - Posted - 12/19/2017:  06:48:14

This is probably obvious advice, but I'll go ahead and post it just in case. I'm not used to playing music in the cold, but I am very used to working outside in the cold for long hours.

If you don't feel comfortable wearing fingerless gloves, make sure to overcompensate everywhere else. Start from the ground up and make sure you have very warm socks and shoes so your feet never get cold and make sure your legs never get cold either, if they do you are out of luck. Then keep your upper body and head warm too of course. If the rest of your body is very warm, your hands will be able to deal with the cold a lot better.

Modern outdoor clothing is pretty great and not very bulky if you dress in tight fitting layers with good quality materials. You can even have a nicer looking jacket and pants as the outer layer so it doesn't look like you are going out mountaineering, if you want. That's what I do in all but the most extreme conditions.


stanleytone - Posted - 12/19/2017:  07:33:54

have a small propane bottle torch handy .cut it on and warm your fingers when needed. just don't get it to close to your fingers........or the banjo head!..........wait a minute. you're from Sweden and youre asking US about tips to keep warm????

Edited by - stanleytone on 12/19/2017 07:35:16

maxmax - Posted - 12/19/2017:  07:43:18


Originally posted by stanleytone

wait a minute. you're from Sweden and youre asking US about tips to keep warm????

No, I'm the one from Sweden and am giving advice. I'm an expert on cold! wink

banjoracle - Posted - 12/19/2017:  07:57:03

Although I have never used them you can buy chemical activated or butane burning hand warmers you can keep in your pocket to warm your hands between songs.


Foote - Posted - 12/19/2017:  07:57:55

My band once played a night time hay ride for the local Mormon church. I battled the cold by bringing a thermos of hot coffee with some whiskey in it. I was warm, the Mormons were HOT! I wasn't sure if it was the coffee or the whiskey which upset them the most. Generally, however, my advice about playing really cold gigs is don't.

stanleytone - Posted - 12/19/2017:  07:59:00

Duh! Im  clueless!!!


Originally posted by maxmax


Originally posted by stanleytone

wait a minute. you're from Sweden and youre asking US about tips to keep warm????

No, I'm the one from Sweden and am giving advice. I'm an expert on cold! wink


Tractor1 - Posted - 12/19/2017:  08:39:56

you can get a brown jersey glove and cut off the fingers and thumb only as needed

beegee - Posted - 12/19/2017:  08:56:35

We use those hot hands packets and a propane heater.

wendyji - Posted - 12/19/2017:  18:08:47

My hands are always cold. I got some fingerless gloves from The style I got is fitted and not too thick - they are called "Performance Wristies" and are designed for musicians. They don't get in the way of playing at all.

Fathand - Posted - 12/19/2017:  19:03:17

Bonfire, Patio Heater or go inside.

Marc Nerenberg - Posted - 12/19/2017:  19:16:25


Originally posted by Fathand


... go inside.



Why, that's the very advice I was going to give!

Edited by - Marc Nerenberg on 12/19/2017 19:17:54

mbuk06 - Posted - 12/20/2017:  05:27:39

We play outdoors at a farmer's market year-round and it gets mighty chilly December though February, but not 34F chilly (more like 42-44F). However we do play for three hours at a stretch so we have to combat slow-onset hypothermia while maintaining a tune. Our trick is hot drinks (you can wrap your hands round them between tunes), warm headgear, many thin layers and (ahemmm...) thermal underwear. The biggest tip though is to site yourself out of any wind. It's the cold, icy wind that really numbs fingers. Last weekend our usual sheltered position was actually in low sunlight that gave enough warmth that the band were gradually peeling layers off.

Edited by - mbuk06 on 12/20/2017 05:33:39

FlyinEagle - Posted - 12/20/2017:  06:06:07

I am a backpacker and I hike all winter long (well, that’s the idea, but having a 1 year old is gumming up my recreational activities).

As Max mentions above, modern cold weather gear is not your grandpappy’s long underwear.

Materials are high-tech, non-bulky, and extremely warm if you have a system and use it correctly. Keeping your core warm is critical to keeping your whole body warm, and that is what Max is talking about. Proper layering is key.

Cotton should be avoided, because if it becomes wet from sweat or a slip into a creek, it will make you colder by conducting warmth away you your body.

Synthetic materials or merlino wool, which both wick moisture away from your body, are recommend materials for a base layer (bottoms and top). Merlino wool hiking socks should keep your feet in good shape. Really any thick hiking sock for warm weather will work, as long as it is not cotton.

I usually wear a fleece top midlayer, 100 weight is usually sufficient. Depending on the temp, I’ll do a down jacket layer, or down vest layer (keeping that core warm). And over the down jacket/vest I would wear my outer soft shell or hard shell (jacket layer), which is wind/moisture resistant.

I would wear some kind of synthetic wind/moisture resistant hiking pants if I was in the woods, but as long as your base layer bottom is warm enough (the warmest ones are fleece lined), jeans would be fine for stage. I wouldn’t hike in jeans because they are cotton.

A good scully that completely covers your ears is clutch.

There are different weight materials available for all of these layers, so there are endless combinations you can make depending on the conditions you will face. One very important factor to keep in mind is that if you are sweating , you are overdressed for the current condition. Sweating will make you cold (and could actually be life threatening in a survival situation). So you have to regulate your temperature by taking your hat off, or unzipping your jacket layer, maybe even your down and fleece layer too. Sweating is bad.

If properly layered, your hands being bare will not bother you very much.

Edited by - FlyinEagle on 12/20/2017 06:08:50

banjoak - Posted - 12/20/2017:  13:45:37

Cryo - Interesting this conversation; as it means "cold".

Here's my experience from the north, played outside at some of these community type events. (as well as many outdoor work/activities). Even early/late summer festivals can get in the 30's at night.

1. Radiant heaters, work really well, usually high BTU portable propane type like found for construction work sites; similar effect to playing in sunshine, or in front of a big campfire. Usually the event or festival has those set up for stage performers or speakers. Some holiday events the ambient air is vey cold, but radiant heat works fine. - (note, for festival picking, alternative for campfire, propane fire pits work great).

2. As others mentioned... keep your feet and core warm... goes a long way. To add though, good blood pumping circulation helps with fingers and toes; active movement, both before and during. Standing or sitting still, will make you colder. If active, blood pumping thru fingers... gloves are less needed. So, get the blood pumping good before you go on, keep in movement, even just walking around. Food can affect circulation as well, the digestion process/time, carbs/sugars vs protein/fats (as opposed to just hot/cold food). Energy bars perhaps.

3. There is another aspect involving acclimating to the environment; mentally and physically. Going from warmer to colder, you will feel colder. Not sure how much is about mental expectation/perception and how much is physical. (I wonder about hand warmers, going back and forth between warm/cold is not worse?)   Again, it might be better to be active, walking around outside in crowd the environment, acclimate to it, than sitting around in a much warmer tent.

hweinberg - Posted - 12/20/2017:  15:44:12

I second the chemically activated packets -- good for skiing, too -- and judicious use of what Riley Baugus refers to as "liquid folk product". I also reduce the complexity of my playing if I have to do it in a cold outdoor venue -- fewer mistakes.

Cryo - Posted - 12/21/2017:  00:12:16

Some more photos from our gig.  Thanks for the advice.  We may be doing this again next year.

Edited by - Cryo on 12/21/2017 00:14:26

rabbitrun - Posted - 12/21/2017:  09:48:10

Beyond fingerless gloves there are 'hand warmers' and 'arm warmers' similarly knitted with a small hole for the thumb and a larger hole for all the fingers to not be covered versus the individual finger holes on fingerless gloves. I like these better because the knitted part isn't covering the edge of my hand at the base of my fingers. Arm warmers are longer and cover part of the arm. The covering on the fingers that fingerless gloves have get in my way even if I can't feel my fingers.

I'll join the chorus of hot hand packets and as other suggested dressing warmly. I'll add that clothing designed for hunting and other winter sporting is often warm and toasty.

monstertone - Posted - 12/21/2017:  12:21:42

Go to a mountain climbing/hiking store like R.E.I. to learn about & purchase cold weather/layering clothing. You won't find it at Wally World & limited selection of serious stuff at Sportsman's Warehouse. Liner socks & gloves are very lightweight synthetic & go a long way towards wicking moisture away from the skin. You may even be able to put your picks on over liner gloves. Worth a try before you cut the finger tips off.

Pay particular attention to what the mountain climbers &  cold weather hikers are telling you. Especially the part about staying active, which you are not, and the type of food you consume before hand. Of course, nothing beats those big heaters like the construction crews use. And while a properly filled thermos will not keep your body temperature up, it goes a long way towards keeping the spirit up. smiley 

Edited by - monstertone on 12/21/2017 12:23:03

bnlholic - Posted - 04/08/2018:  12:32:01

Several months after having my banjo neck refinished I was part of a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Niantic CT in the 1990s. It was cold...upper 20s. My guitar playing friend and I left our instruments in the cold for an hour or two to acclimate them to the cold in hopes they would stay in tune when we played them. I dressed warmly and wore gloves with fingers cut off. We survived the evening okay. The next time I took my banjo out I noticed the binding was parted on either side of where my hand was when I held my banjo by the neck with one hand. My hand was warm. The neck was very cold. The next time I opened the case several pieces of binding had broke off. That really hurt. When I took my banjo out more pieces broke off. For years I avoided taking my banjo out of the case. I thought I was making the problem worse and I didn't like to look at the damage. I had it repaired a couple of years ago by a reliable luthier. Someone who used to build furniture told me some glues can't survive freezing. I will never gig in the cold again.

DC5 - Posted - 04/08/2018:  14:57:33

I'm surprised no one mentioned the obvious. Set the banjo on fire. My friends make that suggestion even in the summer time.

AndrewD - Posted - 04/08/2018:  16:38:39

My avatar photo is me playing outside in the winter. We were hired to entertain people restoring a historic graveyard . Except when the photographer came round I was wearing fingerless gloves. That and regular hot drinks to hold got us through.

Rawhide Creek - Posted - 04/08/2018:  18:48:17


Originally posted by Foote

My band once played a night time hay ride for the local Mormon church. I battled the cold by bringing a thermos of hot coffee with some whiskey in it. I was warm, the Mormons were HOT! I wasn't sure if it was the coffee or the whiskey which upset them the most. Generally, however, my advice about playing really cold gigs is don't.

You should have had a cigar while you were at it . . .


mike gregory - Posted - 04/08/2018:  19:12:28

When doing the outdoor gig at the Christmas Tree farm, I wore several thin layers of clothing, as mentioned above.

And hunter's mittens, which are gloves without fingertips, BUT with a sort of mitten thing that can be put OVER all the fingers, between songs.

i did have to trim off the right thumb tip, although, admittedly, I could have just cobbled up some sort of extar-large thumb pick to go right OVER the cloth of the thumb.

Edited by - mike gregory on 04/08/2018 19:15:44

link-o-sausages - Posted - 04/19/2018:  15:01:50

Silk gloves with the picking finger tips cut out. The gloves are thin enough that your fretting won’t be impaired with a little practice and they are decent up to about 25 degrees

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