Pads , Helmets, Hands, hips and Feet.

 Trips and falls are common for lake ice skaters and walkers without foot traction.   Even with foot traction,  on loose snow  traction spikes may be too short to work.  Trips often result from catching a skate in a crack or a snow patch that is a bit more like styrofoam than you anticipated.  You get added energy in the fall from your forward speed.  It is easy to wack your elbow ,  knee or even your head in the process.   Knee pads have the added benefit of being comfortable when you want to get off your skates.   Broken wrists are reasonably common in ice falls.  Some wild ice skaters wear wrist guards. 

When skating at even moderate speed, falling through is often more violent than most people expect. Just putting a foot through results in a hard fall as you pivot around your caught foot. Some of us have started wearing chin guards on our helmets or face protection. The injury rate for all skaters in Sweden is about one in 200  ice outings. For the more skilled (faster) groups the rate is more like one in 70.

One of our local skaters fractured his hip in a low speed, sideways fall in 2012.  After this, several other people said they had had hard falls onto their hip or tail bone (coccyx).  Some of them had started wearing hockey pants or something similar.  A cheap and effective answer is football hip/tailbone pads.  Hockey pants are pretty good but they appear to be designed for fending off pucks more than minimizing loading on hip bones in an impact on the ice.  Xsports-protective has a enough padded gear to make you feel like the Michlein Man.    I bought their 'Vigilante' padded pants and I like them.  I wear them outside the dry suit and they stay up reasonably well.

  Many falls are from getting too far back and having your feet go out from under you.  You often land on your back and your head whips back and hits the ice.  Most of the local skaters have done this more than once.  Occasionally someone dies from the impact.   A helmet significantly reduces the risk or severity of a concussion. A local skater had this type of fall in 2012 that resulted in a concussion and he had a helmet on.  We speculate it could have been fatal without one.

Ski helmets are probably the best choice and they are reasonably well designed for the kinds of impacts that are common on ice.  They also are light, designed to fit over winter clothing and they provide good protection from cold weather.  Bike helmets are not good as ski helmets but they are still pretty good in a crash.

 Helmets have other advantages. Non-ventilated helmets are warmer than most hats and they are an excellent wind stop.  In wind chills in the -20˚ range we usually have a balaclava, neoprene face mask and goggles in addition to the helmet.   In warm conditions an un-ventilated helmet can be a bit on the sweaty side if you are working hard.  Adjusting your body layering is usually sufficient to manage this.    A ventilated helmet  might be a good choice for spring conditions, especially if the wind is light.  

 Goggles may be less cool looking than sunglasses but they work much better in cold or windy conditions.  They also provide a some face protection in a fall.

  Everyone has their own ideas about what works best for keeping your hands warm.  Thin gloves are generally worthless for anything but a liner for something else.  Many people have found thicker gloves that they are happy with.  Leather chopper mittens go on and off fast when you need to do something that requires bare fingers.   In temperatures below 20 degrees fleece mittens work well  as liners.   Hand and foot warmers can be a wonderful thing on cold days.

If you are going to be sticking your hands in the water, neoprene gloves are a good investment.  Kmart sells inexpensive fishing versions.  They are not tight fitting but they work OK.  I have 2 mm gloves that fit tightly so they get less water sloshing around on the inside.  They are  better than the loose gloves but not as good as my 5 mm diving gloves.  Even those are not that warm if it is cold or if you are not working hard enough to drive plenty of blood flow to your fingers.  Most of the time I wear mittens and switch to neoprene when I am going to get my hands wet for more than a quick dip when bare handed is OK.

 Feet: Neoprene  and Gore-Tex socks are popular.  Used properly they both keep your feet warm in cold or wet conditions.   If you  get a dry suit, get one with Goretex feet.  Latex feet or ankle seals are fragile and cold.

In Sweden, a standard item for your pack is a piece of closed cell foam to sit on for lunch or for standing on while you change your clothes after falling in. 

We sometimes skate in temperatures down to about 0 deg F if the wind is  light.  The cut off for sailing is around 10 degrees.  In either of these conditions you need to be very well dressed and prepared to get someplace warm promptly if the cold starts getting the better of you. 

 Bob

Updated 2/24/14