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Our Readers Write

Beating the Fog of Winter By Tamia Nelson

A Note to our Readers

We're giving Ed and Brenna a short break over the holidays. "Trip of a Lifetime" will return on January 9, 2001.

It's been three months since the debut of "Our Readers Write." You keep writing. We keep reading. Every week brings something new and interesting. Sometimes we hear from folks who've never written before. Sometimes we hear from old friends. Ric is one of our old friends, and, in the aftermath of the latest Atlantic coastal storm, a couple of his recent letters are particularly timely. So here they are, along with my replies. (I've edited everything for clarity and brevity.)

The Fog of Winter—And What About Snowshoes?

Dear Tamia,

A question about using my binoculars. It was about 10 degrees Fahrenheit today. I took Bobbi (my chocolate Lab) for a walk. As I always do, I took my binoculars. When I raised them to my eyes to glass some trees, the lenses fogged over in a very short time. I am sure it was the contrast between the cold glass of the lenses and the warmth of my eyes that caused the fogging. Is there any way to prevent this from happening? Would nitrogen-filled glasses help?

Also, is it possible to snowshoe in powder snow? Snowshoeing is something I have always wanted to try.



I've never had this problem with my binoculars, Ric, but I have had similar trouble with the viewfinder of my camera from time to time. Just to be sure I understand what happened, though, I've got a couple of questions:

  1. Was the fogging only on the outside of the eyepiece? Did it go away after you took the glasses down from your eyes? Was there any evidence of fogging inside the binoculars? How about on the outer surface of the objective (front) lens?

  2. Were you wearing eyeglasses at the time?
Once I know the answers to these questions, I can make a better guess about the cause of your fogging problem. If, as sounds likely from your description, the culprit is condensation on the outer surfaces of the eyepieces alone, I doubt that nitrogen-filled binoculars would help. While "nitrogen-purging" minimizes internal condensation, it's a short-term remedy at best. No pair of binoculars—not even "waterproof" binoculars—is so well sealed as to retain the nitrogen filling indefinitely. The best tool for dealing with internal condensation is a Zip-Lock bag (see below).

Now, what can you do about external fogging? In my experience, not much—though you might find it helpful to hold your breath while using your binoculars. (Easier said than done, I know!) Sometimes a muffler or scarf over your nose and mouth helps. Occasionally, it's enough just to zip your parka up tight. (Warm, moist air can escape through an open collar and fog your eyepieces.)

To avoid compounding the problem with internal condensation, take a Zip-Lock bag with you on your walks. Before going back inside, pop your binoculars into the bag and zip it up tight. Then leave them sealed up until all the condensation on the outer surface of the bag has evaporated. This will minimize the amount of fogging on the inner surfaces of the lenses.

Now, about snowshoes…. Snowshoes are wonderful! They make winter bearable. The best I've found for deep powder snow—indeed my favorite for every purpose except mountaineering—are 10 x 56 Ojibwa-pattern 'shoes. They're longer than the oval bearpaws currently in fashion, but they're great on trails. You can move along through unbroken snow almost as fast as a skier. And, while it takes a little practice to handle them in brush, it can be done. Expect to fall down a few times while you're learning, however. A sturdy ski-pole makes it a lot easier to get up, by the way, and the pole is useful for other things as well: turning in tight places, testing ice, measuring tracks, etc..

There's just one problem with Ojibwa shoes: they're very hard to find. Iverson used to make them, and they may still do so. (Both Farwell and I have Iverson 'shoes. They're over ten years old and they're still going strong.) If you're interested and if you can't locate a pair for sale, however, you'll find instructions for making your own in The Snowshoe Book by William Osgood and Leslie Hurley (2d edition, revised. Stephen Green Press, 1975). Someone who makes his own paddles should find it a snap.

All the best from both of us.


More About Fog, and More About Snowshoes

Dear Tamia,

The fogging was only on the outside of the eyepieces. There was none on the inside of the binoculars or on the large objective lens. I read in a photography book about wrapping one's camera in a towel or coat to prevent internal condensation, so I put my binoculars in their soft case when I'm out and about in cold weather.

I wear a balaclava. If I do not pull it down off my nose before putting the binoculars to my eyes, the binoculars fog up almost immediately. But if I pull it down and breath slowly or take shallow breaths it increases the time I have to glass something. In either case, the fogging dissipates within a few minutes.

I was having trouble seeing clearly the other day. After returning home, I discovered that the lenses of the eyepieces were dirty. They were covered with white spots. So I carefully cleaned the lenses with lens-cleaning solution and a cotton Q-Tip. I also refrain from keeping my binoculars in my jacket to prevent internal condensation from forming.

Changing the subject a bit…. I just bought a pair of pac boots from Schnee's Boot & Shoes in Montana. Can I snowshoe in pacs or does it require special footwear?

Thanks so much for all of your time. You guys must have a super library at your cabin.

Paddling Along,


Hi, Ric! Good to hear from you. Let's take things one at a time, shall we?


Sounds like you've already found your problem—external condensation. There's not much you can do that you're not already doing, I'm afraid, though you might try turning down the rubber eyecups on your binoculars and wearing untinted or lightly tinted eyeglasses when you're out in the cold. Farwell wears eyeglasses all the time, and, while I don't envy him his bad eyesight, he's never troubled with eyepiece fogging.

Wearing eyeglasses also cuts down on the number of times you have to clean your lenses. (The "white spots" you noticed on your eyepieces may have been oil from your eyelashes.) Of course it helps to cover the eyepieces when you're not using your binoculars. I "wear" mine on a neckstrap and tuck them under my shell parka on cold days. This keeps snow* from collecting on the eyepieces, but the binoculars don't get too warm, either. I almost never use the case, though if I'm going to work up a good sweat, I sometimes slide an upside-down plastic bag over the binoculars (I make two small slits for the neck-strap) and then carry them outside my parka. It works pretty well. The binoculars don't get as steamy as they might if I carried them "inside," and it only takes me a second or two to slide the bag off and bring them up to my eyes.

Oh, yes—if you're going to depend on a neckstrap, check it often and replace it if it becomes frayed or starts to crack. Look at the buckles, snaps and other fittings, too. Sometimes they let go without warning!


Can you wear pacs while snowshoeing? You sure can! I do. I switch over from uninsulated rubber wellies to felt-insulated L.L. Bean pacs at temperatures around zero Fahrenheit—or even a little higher, if I expect I'll be standing around a lot. It's important to choose the right binding, though. The old-style "H" binding (an open toe-piece, with instep and heel straps) is perhaps the most versatile, though it requires careful adjustment and feels floppy until you get used to it. Newer "mountaineering-style" bindings with rigid frames or plates give better control, but they don't work as well with soft boots like pacs. (They're designed for rigid climbing or hiking boots.) You'll find a good discussion of bindings—including "recipes" for a couple of home-made versions, in Osgood and Hurley's Snowshoe Book).


Yep. We've got a pretty good library. It's not very big—1,500 volumes maybe—but it reflects our interests. That's the important thing. It helps us get through the long nights and semi-isolation of winter, too. (Farwell's reading War and Peace now. That ought to keep him occupied till spring.)

Take care!


* This is another possibility where your "white spots" are concerned. Each snowflake has a tiny condensation nucleus (usually a microscopic crystal of mineral salt) at its center. When the snowflake evaporates, it leaves the mineral behind.

Problems Solved!

Dear Tamia,

I went out on a walk with Bobbi this afternoon and tried keeping my sunglasses on while I looked through my binoculars. They didn't fog up. The sight picture is different because of the distance from the lens but it's nothing I can't get use to. Thanks so much for the suggestion.

I enjoyed your Christmas greeting last week. We were out on a walk the other night. The air was clear, crisp and still. The clouds were whippy and appeared like gossamer. Everything was wanting you to stop and spend time just listening to the quiet. The kind of night to take a long time for a short stroll. Those are the type of nights I love to just be out.

Thanks again for the advice.


You're welcome Ric! I'm glad to hear that you've beaten the fog of winter. (Don't forget to turn down the rubber eyecups on your binoculars when you're wearing eyeglasses. You'll get back most of the field of view that you'd otherwise lose.)

And thank you for your delightful portrait of a winter's night. "Listening to the quiet." That's exactly on the mark. It's good to be reminded now and again that there's beauty in every season. All we have to do is take time to look around us. In fact, I'm going to show your letter to Farwell right now. That ought to be enough to tear him away from War and Peace!

Best wishes,


That's it. Next week, we'll be rejoining Ed and Brenna as they get ready for their "Trip of a Lifetime." And keep writing. Tell us what you're thinking. It's a reader's right!

Copyright 2001 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.

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