Rob's Blog Archive

July 19, 2011

Response to Wiggy's Letter










My first paid publication as a musher was in Mushing Magazine, “The Physics and Physiology of Staying Warm.” Jerry Wigutow wrote a pretty nasty and error laden letter to the editor regarding that article.  While Greg never published it in Mushing, Wiggy did publish it on his website.  My response to Wiggy’s note is below.  Wiggy’s note is in Italics.  My verbiage is in bold plain text.

To all this, I’d add that while I did have a bit of fun responding to Mr. Wigutow’s absurdity, I do find the nastiness of his note somewhat disturbing. To the extent I have responded in kind, albeit trying to throw a bit of humor in, I apologize.  It was just too irresistible.  Anyway, as a martial artist, I take an oath wherein I promise “to build a more peaceful world.”  Mr. Wigutow’s note certainly strikes me as doing just the opposite.  As a scientist, I certainly saw plenty of disagreement.  I always enjoyed the process of figuring out what was right and what wasn’t.  As heated as arguments could get, we generally refrained from simple name-calling the way Wiggy did in his note.  At the end of the note, Wigutow signs off, “respectfully.”  Evidently, this is another concept with which he has no familiarity.



The article you have published “The Physics and Physiology of Staying Warm” by Rob Loveman is at best erroneous for the most part and can be down right dangerous to anyone who actually believes what he stays about fabrics, insulation, etc. since he has basically no knowledge in this area and his discussion of physiology leaves quite a bit to be desired as well.

Mr. Loveman is a nuclear physicist (his bio says experimental physicist since earning his PH.D. in 1984) by trade and an outdoorsman to include dog mushing. He did attempt to race the Iditarod in 2009 but did not finish. I do not know the circumstances as to why he scratched but it could have been the clothing he was wearing.

A quick check of the Iditarod website would have revealed that I was withdrawn for not being competitive.  At that time, I had already been dealing with nights at -35F and had no problems with my clothing. 

Along with difficulty with logic, Mr. Wigutow demonstrates a lack of thoroughness throughout his note.

     What I find appalling is the fact that Mushing Magazine accepted and printed this article assuming it was accurate. Well it isn’t and that fact that it was printed does not surprise me. Over the years I have seen many erroneous articles on the same subject appear in Backpacker, Outside and other outdoor related magazines, so why should Mushing Magazine not do the same; i.e. publish an article without  doing any questioning of its validity. The answer I was given when I asked the question is that the writer; Rob Loveman stated to the editor he was a scientist! Therefore, that gives Rob Loveman a license to write extensively and the article is quite long about a subject he basically has no knowledge of. Actually the knowledge he has would not fill a gnat’s rectum.

I’m assuming that this is based, at least in part, on Mr. Wigutow’s intimate knowledge of gnat’s recta.  This is an area with which I have no familiarity and consequently cannot comment.

     He mentions “breathable waterproof fabrics”.  Being a physicist he should know that a fabric; an inanimate object can not have both of these characteristic; i.e. be waterproof and have vapor permeable (breathable) capabilities.

This depends on the definition used for waterproof and breathable.  The key to a “waterproof breathable” fabric is that liquid water does not pass through it without a pressure differential but that water vapor can.  If the pores are small enough and the fabric is hydrophobic, then surface tension keeps liquid water from passing through.  The physics is just like floating a needle on a water surface.  The surface tension keeps the needle afloat.  If a large enough pressure differential is applied, liquid water will pass through the fabric.  It’s analogous to pushing on the needle and it sinking. 

I remember during the early days of Gore-Tex, another physicist/climber telling me he had seen a great demonstration.  A beaker was sealed off with a Gore-Tex like barrier and turned on its side so the water in it came about half way up the barrier.  It was then held over a Bunsen burner and allowed to boil.  It didn’t explode as vapor could leave and the water didn’t drip out either. 

The most famous of all materials available that is sold as waterproof and breathable is Gore-Tex. It does not work, never has and never will but some how Rob Loveman believes a fabric of this nature exists.

From a practical perspective, I have happily used Gore-Tex or its equivalent for almost thirty years.   The amount of breathability has always been the issue for me as well as others, not the water repellency aspect.  Given the popularity of waterproof breathable fabrics, it is reasonable to conclude that they work adequately.  That would be an experimental result.  One interesting note here, my article bemoaned the dearth of garments without Gore-Tex like barriers. My experience is the barriers have a place, but that it is far from universal.

In addition he mentions two forms of insulation that no longer exist; Polarguard and Quallofill.

Ah  Mr. Wigutow, look on the internet and I think you’ll find that they do exist.  It seems that it is you who doesn’t check things. 

He further mentions polyurethane foam as insulation. He states and I quote; “Polyurethane foam handles moisture better than any other available insulation.” He obviously has no knowledge of the men who have run the Yukon Quest as well as Iditarod sled dog races wearing form filled clothing made by Northern Outfitters who found out the foam absorbed the moisture from their body and then froze effectively building an ice box around them.

Yes, well, there are hundreds if not thousands who have used Northern Outfitters (NO) clothing and are very happy with it.  This includes me.  I bought it based on a number of recommendations from folks who had run the Iditarod.  Personally, I have used it in temperatures down to -55 F and not had any problems. 

The only person I’ve heard the freezing to death story from is Wigutow. 

Regarding moisture transport, I can take my thickest NO jacket, the -60 version, hold it to my mouth and comfortably breathe through it.  This is something I can’t do with any of my other gear.  Moreover, polyurethane is certainly as hydrophobic as any other synthetic.  It may well be the easiest of the synthetic materials to wring out and then wear dry.  One of the old time proponents of the foam used to love to do a demonstration of immersing himself in a pond, wringing out the polyurethane foam, then wearing it dry even though it was a winter night in Utah’s mountains.   The notion that polyurethane handles liquid water poorly or does not transport vapor is simply incorrect. It does both of these quite well.

Several years ago two of these racers had an article written about their experience of almost freezing to death with this clothing on that appeared in the Anchorage Daily News. He further states and I quote; “One critical note on polyurethane, in order to get the most benefit from a piece of foam clothing, it should not be layered with anything other than another piece of foam clothing. The reasons for this are likely related to complicated dynamic processes involving moisture transport, but knowing why really isn’t critical.” Complicated dynamic process, the man is a physicist he should be able to figure it out, except he can’t because there is no complicated  dynamic process going on, just the foam absorbing the moisture and when the first layer is saturated the next layer will get saturated.

Actually, there is still significant benefit from the foam clothing even if it is combined with other types of insulation.  It’s just to get the maximum benefit, one has to use it as prescribed.  And if Mr. Wigutow is to be believed, foam would never work. 

Given Mr. Wigutow’s inability to understand some of the effects of surface tension and even percentages (see below), understanding multiple phase transitions and multi-path moisture transport could be problematic. 

And of course he states and I quote; “Goose down remains the standard for light weight insulation.” He does acknowledge that down does have a draw back as it is worthless once wet.

     On the subject of design he states and I quote; “Nothing pisses me off more than a failure of equipment in the field. Winter out door clothing is equipment.” This man claims spending about 40 years as an “outdoorsman”. With that much background why hasn’t he tried his hand at making outdoor clothing or what ever, perfecting it and then offering it to other people?

And the point of this question would be???? 

One other note, it seems to me that somebody who manufactures gear might be a little biased and consequently not be the best choice to author a review article.

      He also has his thoughts about heat loss through the scalp. In all the years I have been involved with insulations etc. I have heard that heat loss through the head is this or that percentage but now I am finding out that it is up to 50% of a person’s heat loss. NON-SENCE! I was lost on a hunting trip above Gunnison, Colorado in the month of November 1995. I was in a blizzard where the temperature was -20 F and wind chill of probably -40F and I had lost my parka hood. My hair froze, but I was not cold. The reason I was not cold was simple; I had adequate insulated clothing covering the rest of my body. If 50% of my body heat were lost through my head I would have died. I haven’t checked into it but I believe it is not possible for 50% of the blood being pumped out of the heart goes to the head. There aren’t enough blood vessels to accommodate that much blood flow. I am only guessing now that at best 10% of the blood leaving the heart goes to the head.

I looked for a quick number and couldn’t find the head as a total.  However for healthy people, about 15% of their blood goes to their brain alone.  In all fairness, I guess I wouldn’t be surprised if it was less than 10% for Mr. Wigutow’s brain, as he asserts. 

 As for heat loss, Wiggy should check out what the word “percentage” means.  If in his example he had effectively stopped all the heat flow from his body except from his head, something he implies, that would mean 100% of the heat loss was from his head.  That’s a bit more than 50%. 

I guess the difference between an absolute and a percentage is a little “over Wiggy’s head.”

For the record, I wrote that the standard number was up to 50%.  I didn’t say it was accurate, just standard.  While there were at least three of four sources I found with this number, I also am skeptical that the percentage is that high under any normal circumstance.  Ironically, the case Mr. Wigutow chose was the obvious exception.

One other note, hunting is usually quite active.  That Mr. Wigutow could remain warm while hunting without a hat, even in a blizzard and -40 windchill is not unreasonable.  A good head of hair, something that is twenty years behind me, also clearly helps. 

I’m guessing that Mr. Wigutow has never done a four hour stint standing relatively motionless on a dogsled while it moves at 10 mph and in -20 F temperatures, something I have done.  The difference in activity level has a huge effect.

The idea of wearing a hat will mean that the blood flow from the head to the feet or hands will be warmer than if you didn’t wear a hat.

My kingdom for a verb and an object.  I’m assuming that the phrase, “is absolutely correct” is what’s missing. Unfortunately, though, the ‘quote’ isn’t correct.  What I said was there’d be more blood flow, not that it would be warmer.

The reality is if you do not have adequate footwear and handwear in a cold environment your hands and feet will get cold even if you were wearing the warmest hat ever made.

Amazing as it may seem, that is in the article. 

     He obviously has no knowledge of Wiggy’s Inc. and our Lamilite insulation. He should go to my web site and start reading all of my newsletter articles from inception so he can educate himself.

Once again, this is incorrect.  I even own a pair of Wiggy’s mittens.  I just haven’t drunk the Kool-Aid from a self proclaimed expert who clearly doesn’t do his homework. 

When I was looking at sleeping bags, on line reviews never distinguished Wiggy’s from any other high end synthetic bags.  Some folks really liked them.  Others didn’t.  Overall, they came out in line with other brands.  Folks other than Wiggy say Lame-Lite is a good high end synthetic which takes advantage of coatings to help with moisture transport.  It is that, but nothing more, and other high end synthetics look to be quite comparable.

An irony of all this is if Mr. Wigutow had carefully read my article, his system would be in pretty good agreement with some of my favorites.  In temperatures below 20 F or dry conditions in general, I certainly prefer fabrics with simple DWR coatings for my outer layer.  Additionally, I have for years preferred synthetic over down for my clothing as clothing will get wet and synthetics, including polyurethane, handle this much better than down.  The article does reflect these preferences.

      If you are interested in putting your life in danger while north of Jacksonville, Florida during the winter months you can take this man’s advice.

      Since this article has appeared in Mushing Magazine maybe you the management of Mushing should ask the many Iditarod entrants and hunters in Alaska what they use for their clothing and sleeping bags. Then ask the police departments all over the state staring in Barrow whose parkas they wear.

My observation from the trail and talking to people is the two most common systems for clothing on Iditarod are the Cabela’s and the Northern Outfitters.  The NO gear Wigutow so gleefully disparages may be the most popular.  While Wiggy’s sleeping bags are popular on the trail, as I understand it in part because he generally gives a discount to Iditarod mushers, his jackets and parkas are pretty far down the list in popularity.  And my article was on clothing.



Jerry Wigutow

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