I'm taking inventory on my tree farm. The temperature today is -7 °C with a light breeze. Windchill of -10 °C.

I figure that there are lots of people who have this problem. Writing a journal, describing observations, and so on.

How do people who work in the outdoors take field notes, or write things down?

Additional information.

The problem is NOT the writing implement -- at least so far.

The problem is fingers being too cold to function.

Here's what I've done so far:

Approach: Partial protection for writing hand. I've found I can wear a fleece mitt liner and still write.


  • Fingers still get cold, but I have about 15 minutes per session between times I have to thaw out fingers. This is the current solution. It's between 1/3 and 1/2 the normal speed of taking inventory, plus more frequent breaks and job shifts.

Approach: Clipboard and pencil


  • While I can wear a mitt on the clipboard hand, bare fingers quickly go numb writing.

Approach: Used my iPhone with dictation enabled.


  • Only will record 30 seconds at a time, then you have to touch the mic button again.
  • Transcription is ragged: Count becomes account, 4 becomes for 2 becomes 2. But not consistently.
  • The phone shuts down when the battery gets cold. (About 20 minutes at -7 °C)

Approach: Just make an audio recording.


  • Hard to review.
  • Phone still has cold problem.

Approach Keep moving to stay warm.


  • I do this. But it's more of changing jobs to warm up. Go mulch trees with gloves on while fingers thaw, scout for firewood, play with the dog, and go for coffee.
  • The plot is about 8 acres (3 hectares) — 400 feet (120 m) wide by 800 feet (240 m) long. I have 20,000 trees in that space more or less, ranging in size from 3 inches (8 cm) to 15 feet (5 m). Counting is a lot of 'museum pace' strolling, combined with standing. (The step counter on my phone says I do between 8,000 and 15000 steps a day. Inventory days are on the low end of this.)

Approach Write the message out in snow, then take a picture. (added in response to one answer)


  • Cold temperatures don't always occur with snow cover.

  • Snow cover is cluttered with tractor, sled, deer, and dog tracks.

  • On an overcast day, contrast between letters and snow is limited.

  • Amount of text for each block is a bit much for a medium such as snow. Go outside and write with your gloved hand:

    HGE17 AshMtnCard 216 7'-9' T15 80%

That's my abbreviation for Block Haida Gwai East, lot 17, Cardinal columnar mountain ash, count of trees present, height range of 7 to 9 feet (2 to 2.5 m), pot size of nursery trade 15 gallon (60 l), and fraction salable. The information is dense. You will note in the pix below that even a day after the snow, it's not a blank canvas.

Approach: Take a series of photographs, then work at the house with the pictures.


  • Counting is difficult.
  • Height estimate is difficult.
  • Species identification in a broad picture is difficult between some pairs. E.g. white spruce and balsam fir, high bush cranberry, and amur maple.
  • If taking multiple pictures of a row, identifying the overlap point is tricky.

This is a popular question, and there are good answers here for people with various similar problems.

Normally inventory takes about three afternoon sessions of 3-4 hours. During that time I move a few feet between blocks for a block estimate, or walk the length of a block once for each species for a mixed block, or walk a block twice stopping at each tree for a tallied block.

Here are samples of what I'm inventorying.

Block of 720 mixed spruce, pine, larch, fir, maple

I grow in mixed blocks. This decreases pest problems, and often allows pots to be spaced closer. This block is a mix of spruce, larch, birch at this point.

Amur maple, balsam fir, high bush cranberry

Further up the block, both birch and fir are still present, but the other two species are amur maple and high bush cranberry. Can you tell me the heights of each?

Northwest Poplar and either black spruce or balsam fir

Two blocks one of northwest poplar and black spruce, and one of northwest poplar and balsam fir. These trees were transplanted only weeks before so are quite uniform in size.

Spruce tree with measuring stick

For the larger trees I measure each one individually and run a tally. The stick is 8 feet (2.5 m) long. It is still tricky to estimate.

Dogwood of various sizes

This is a block of young dogwood in styroblock, next to a block in #2 pots. Each block is 15 trees. I need to count the blocks, examine trees to estimate salable, dead, and runts that may become salable later. Dead is taken off the count right away.

  • 8
    Everyone else already answered with the gear suggestion for recording, you probably want to revert your edits and ask "How to keep finger from freezing while writing" as a related question cause I don't see people adjusting their answers Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 15:54
  • 2
    If you still want to try recording, you can try putting your phone in your shirt pocket. It should still pick up useable sound (from the vibrations from your chest). Then the only problem becomes how to start and stop recording. Also, you can get yourself a power bank, which should give you more battery time, especially if it's in a warm pocket. (Good quality / new batteries don't loose as much performance from cold) Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 17:50
  • 3
    I don't have a proper answer, but I've had to do this (ski patrol). I normally wear mittens with removable finger-covers, which reveal gloves underneath, and pair that with hand-warmers. That and an oversized grease pencil (sometimes I have to write on non-paper stuff) gets me through just about everything.
    – anon
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 21:35
  • 3
    Can't you use gloves on the writing hand too? Relatively thin bicycling gloves were enough for me in temperatures cold enough to regularly freeze the biros I was using. Wasn't comfortable, but for a couple hours at a time it was possible. Turning pages became the much bigger probem. But if you are taking continuous field notes instead of what I was doing then you shouldn't need to turn pages that often.
    – Nobody
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 21:57
  • 3
    I read it, first when it was short and now when it's longer. My only objection now is that you need more pictures of the dog and less pictures of the trees.
    – pipe
    Commented Nov 9, 2018 at 10:17

22 Answers 22


Use a pencil. They do not freeze and can be easily sharpened. You might also use a grease pencil; they can write on metal, plastic, wet, oily, or waxy surfaces as well. These don't always afford the finest points, so if this is a concern, consider a fine-tipped sharpie, but, Sharpies are still susceptible to cold and wet weather.

EDIT: Now that you've edited your question, I can offer a little more advice.

  • Use a wearable video camera, like what cops use, or a mounted Go-Pro kind of thing. Then survey your inventory and review the video clip later when it is warm. This might mean twice the time, which can be expensive for you (time is money...) but you might delegate the video review to someone else. The nice thing about this is you might catch something you might not have seen IRL. Also, it can provide proof for auditing purposes, depending on the reason for the inventory review (eg, are you looking for signs of damage from weather or animals; or maybe you're looking for vandalism, disease, or theft? Are you providing proof for purposes of sale, auction, insurance, or property value?)
  • Use gloves with cut-off fingers, so only the finger tips are exposed. Wear a jacket with deep pockets, and in those pockets, keep hand warmers. You can use refillable Zippo ones that you can get from the camping section at Walmart or Target; or you can use the disposable ones you can get also from Walmart and Target, or at most chain pharmacies. With these gloves and hand warmers, you can use any writing implement - pencils, markers, sharpies, smartphones/tablets, etc.


  • You've got a lot to survey, a drone with video capability might be helpful.
  • 41
    You can get fatter pencils if you want to hold them in gloved hands, as well
    – Chris H
    Commented Nov 5, 2018 at 22:35
  • You could consider one designed like this: bol.com/nl/p/…
    – Thomas
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 9:25
  • 5
    @Nauraushaun despite the fact that the OP changed their question afterwards, this suggestion is still valid: large enough pencils, grease pencils and crayons can be held in gloves. A larger than usual paper sheet/board will be needed though.
    – IMil
    Commented Nov 8, 2018 at 5:25
  • 2
    This is a good idea. I've tried a similar approach using a still camera, but it's hard to judge size. and make counts. Commented Nov 8, 2018 at 16:18
  • 3
    Or perhaps delegate the video recording to someone else, so you never get cold fingers at all Commented Nov 8, 2018 at 21:32

I have previously used a tape recorder and nowadays, a smartphone or tiny handheld microphone. Then I simply speak my observations and findings in a way I know I will be able to easily tabulate when I am inside once again.

If it is too windy to use an outer microphone, usually putting it below clothing layers will do fine. If it's muffled, I later boost the audio in Audacity -- it doesn't need to be production-quality.

This is also useful when it is too windy to write on paper, or too snowy + windy to see what you are writing.


To address the issues you're having with audio-based solutions, keep the phone inside your clothing and use a "hands-free" headset (wired). This will stop the phone dying due to a cold battery, which incidentally I've never had trouble with on a range of Android phones. With the right software you should be able to record when the microphone button on the headset is pressed (but I don't know of anything for iPhones as I've never had one.)

If you do use the phone, I suggest you keep an audio file and pass it through dictation software later, then you can refer to the audio file if there's confusion.

However a fat pencil and the minimum gloves you can get away with are probably a more robust solution. Flip mitts over those gloves will allow you to warm back up again when you've got a longer break, but the inner gloves should be selected to be sufficient for reasonably long periods; in particular they should be windproof.

One thing that hasn't been mentioned so far is the need to have a workflow such that your writing (i) is minimised, and (ii) can be big. So tick-boxes or boxes for numbers where possible -- that should get you a long way in your inventory case. A customised notebook with laser-printed (not inkjet in case of damp) pages is helpful in many situations.

  • 12
    I think your last paragraph there is my favourite part of the answer, keep the note-taking to an absolute minimum and as simple as possible, if you already know the possible cases then write them all down and tick the one that it turns out to be. By doing this, you can minimise the time your hands are exposed and keep them fully bundled up in the gloves otherwise. Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 9:17

When I was hunting, I found that the best way to keep my fingers warm, while still allowing me to free them for delicate manipulation (loading a magazine, etc) was to wear "convertible gloves" - that is, fingerless gloves with a mitten pouch that could be slipped over your fingers when not writing. Additionally, adding a chemical hand-warmer to the mitten section makes warming your fingers back up relatively quick. You'll have to shop around for a pair that is quick to convert to finger-less and back to mitten, so you can cover up between turns.

The other option is to keep your pen and clipboard on a lanyard so you can pocket your hands with handwarmers between notes.

  • 1
    This would be my recommendation as well. Keep your skin and blood warm for as long as you can before it reaches the exposed extremities, by wearing warm gloves/mitts, with only the finger tips missing. Being able to close the tips back up (especially to mitts) will help you warm up quickly if you take a break for a few minutes. To add to that, make sure your hands are staying dry (eg goretex gloves with a sweat wicking lining), or are made of wool/fleece that stays warm when wet. The chemical hand warmers also make a difference as well.
    – RToyo
    Commented Nov 8, 2018 at 20:16
  • 1
    This is the right answer. They are also called "convertible mittens". There are plenty of styles available, mine are wool, with thinsulate lining and leather-ish surface on the grip area. They work great for writing in the cold. Commented Nov 9, 2018 at 0:01
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    I've tried these, but for extended time they don't work. Most are knit or fleece and have limited wind protection. The lanyard idea is good. Commented Nov 9, 2018 at 20:07
  • 1
    @SherwoodBotsford I have seen gloves with removable covers for individual fingertips. They were sold for fishing. They have a similar problem - maybe check offers from them. Commented Nov 10, 2018 at 19:47
  • Convertible gloves are also brilliant for playing musical instruments outside.
    – RedSonja
    Commented Nov 12, 2018 at 7:49

Prepare a form for the information you collect.

Make the blanks big. Fill in the form by grasping your "pencil" in your gloved fist. Use an over-sized writing utensil (so your fist doesn't cramp). Revert to bare fingers when necessary.

Blanks for numbers are easy. So are checkboxes. If there is text you need to write, try to create options ahead of time so you can just enter A, B, C, etc.

You might "waste"/use more paper, but that cost will be offset by the man-hours saved.

  • 3
    I do a form now. It is a big help over blank paper, but even so, I use about 30 sheets to do the inventory. Commented Nov 9, 2018 at 20:06
  • 1
    @SherwoodBotsford I'm not sure what you're saying. Are you saying that 30 sheets is too many? It doesn't sound like this is an every day task. ("about three afternoon sessions of 3-4 hours") How much faster will you be if your hands are warm? What could you be doing with that spare time? Will that produce more value than 30 sheets of paper costs? Commented Nov 13, 2018 at 15:42

When I worked at a salebarn in the winter we had this problem and the solution was multiple pens inside your shirt pocket under your coat.

Pens will work for a while then get too cold at which point you switch it out for a new warm one.

You might also look into the mittens that have gloved fingers inside, you can pull just the top off to write while most of your fingers (all except the tips) are still covered.

  • 11
    The problem isn't pens freezing. It's fingers freezing. I'm using a pencil. Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 15:39

One time, during a winter research project, it was only after after a full-day ski to the study site that we realized that none of us had a pen or pencil. So we wrote the numbers in the snow with a twig and took a picture.

I realize this doesn't directly answer your question, but it made for an entertaining story.

  • 8
    Actually, photography can be a useful technique (take spare batteries in a warm pocket). Images can be geotagged to indicate where they were taken, which can be useful (though GPS-enabled cameras seem poor at this - I use a dedicated GPS receiver and gpscorrelate), and you could use pebbles, pine cones, sticks etc. to indicate numbers. I make many photographic notes of geographical features whilst out in "weather", and successfully use them for updating OpenStreetMap. Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 10:36
  • 3
    Good comment. Change into an answer. It doesn't work in my situation, as the locations are separated by a much smaller difference than the error of the GPS. (I typically move about a meter between notes.) Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 15:43
  • 1
    I fail to see how this does not answer the question. You can write in the snow with a fully gloved and mitted hand, and you need only remove the glove long enough to take the picture, which should be less than 1 minute. The only problems I foresee are 1) having enough space to write and 2) having the writing show clearly enough on the image to read easily since it is all white.
    – Loduwijk
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 18:55

Think of the basic triangle - you need warmth, dryness, and wind-free.

OP's question does not mention being wet but does reference the cold AND the windchill. So limit the wind with some kind of windproof shield. Here's a generic "outdoor clipboard".

From https://i.ebayimg.com/images/g/BfYAAOSwUV9WmRPZ/s-l300.jpg

So the plastic lid keeps rain off, but will also act as a wind shield.

It will not really act to hold warmth though because of the large opening


-10°C (14°F) is not that cold.

If you keep moving a thin "glove liner" or "running glove" should be warm enough for a while. The glove liners are thin enough where a regular #2 pencil will do fine. Then put on a pair of "Over Mitts" over the liners when you don't need to write.

You're using a waterproof field notes book, right?

You're using dot tally to reduce how much you have to write?

Society of American Foresters has a forum on their website for Inventory questions. Maybe ask in there?

  • 3
    The "thin glove you can still write with" is in other answers, but this one is the only answer to mention that the temp in question is not actually very cold and moving to keep your body warm; that got my +1. This will do a lot; so much, that you might not even need gloves at this temperature if you move enough. Though it does work at OPs temp range, this alone might not be enough for temps that are very cold, so combine with other answers and take frequent breaks from writing.
    – Loduwijk
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 19:08
  • 5
    -10C might be "not that cold" to you but perception of temperature depends very much on what you're used to, and it clearly is "that cold" to the asker. I have a neighbour from India who wears a hat and scarf outside any time the temperature drops below about 10C. Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 14:12
  • 1
    We are talking about working at -10C (14F). That's not so cold that you won't get use to it, unless you have a medical condition like Raynaud's. Keep moving, stay dry, use a glove liner, and streamline your process to minimize the time you have your glove off.
    – Kimball
    Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 17:02
  • 2
    My neighbour hasn't got used to +10C after living here for two-and-a-half years. How quickly do you expect the asker to get used to -10C? Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 22:30
  • 1
    Use to the comfort of a temperature and the biological impairment of function are separate things. Cramping muscles and joints are based on chemical and other bio processes, not on perception. Getting the shivers so bad you cannot write clearly is probably conditional.
    – TafT
    Commented Nov 9, 2018 at 9:10

Pencils. Pencils are also approved by the Bundesmarine (German Navy).

I remember how pencils just worked when we stood outside in the rain and in the snow at temperatures around 0°C, and us recruits practicing morse codes. Unfortunately I have no other quotation for this, except myself (Signalbetriebsdienst class of Winter/2004 at Bremerhaven).

Paper was the bigger problem. Once wrote down, the notes stood there. But it wasn't really easy to not rip the wet paper apart while writing. It's best if you're equipped with both hard and soft ones. Use the soft ones within bad conditions and when the paper is wet.

Baustifte/Zimmermannbleistifte/Carpenter's Pencils are usually in the HB range, though they have a big diameter core. If you want to draw on stone or other materials, use one of these, or a standard pencil with very soft core (2B or softer).

Also, especially when you sport soft pencils, it's a good idea to have multiple of them ready to use, such that you don't have to sharpen them when you can't afford it.


Most answers seem to assume the writing implement is the problem, but the asker specifically states that his comfort is the problem. I can think of two solutions.

If possible, figure out how to simplify your inventory. Consider writing in ways that don't require a large amount of dexterity -- I would consider tally marks.

If you need more detailed notes, consider how you can heat your hands with thinner gloves. You could do fingerless heated gloves, or shove a handwarmer in the palm of the glove.

  • 3
    Battery-powered heated gloves seem like a great solution here, since they help in a variety of ways. I can't find one available, but I think you could make a heated pen without too much difficulty, especially if you don't mind some additional bulk that would probably just make it easier to hold with gloves.
    – William
    Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 16:32

There are some pens that are made for extreme conditions such as the uni-ball PowerTank Retractable Ballpoint pen. I've never personally used one of these but it has many positive reviews on Amazon. There is also a freezer test performed on this pen with the following results:

enter image description here

Source: OfficeSupplyGeek

  • 3
    This is a good answer for the writing instrument. But check how it does on wet paper. It's not always freezing. Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 15:41

I write software for a company that supplies an application for field engineers to use to collect field data with a hardened android tablet. I expect you could use a text editor in a hardened android tablet to take notes. The value of this is that the notes can then be exported to a desktop (our software transmits it to a cloud server) and you won't have to worry about transcription errors, losing the paper, or having the paper become unreadable. There are gloves with wire embedded in the fingers to allow you to work on touch screens with them on. Or you could look for a tablet with a stylus, though a stylus typically needs electrical contact with the skin (mentioned as the gloves may have a broad contact area. But a stylus can be used with gloves like that). Sure it is a lot more expensive than paper and pen but the cost of losing a piece of paper and having to do the work over is high also and you only have to enter the data once. Paper leads to transcription errors, values in wrong fields, etc. Not saying you should look for something like we produce but you might look into a .pdf form you can fill in and then store and print.

  • 1
    Interesting idea. But to operate a text editor requires a bare finger, and is painfully slow. Also: MOst places I take field notes do not have cellular coverage. Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 15:45
  • 5
    @SherwoodBotsford some touchscreen gloves work well, and plenty of text editors work offline
    – Chris H
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 16:44
  • You need to combine this with good gloves, stylus, and a software to generate a form for collecting data. Even if its just Google Forms.
    – cybernard
    Commented Nov 11, 2018 at 17:03
  • Can the tablet be read in full sun? Commented Dec 11, 2019 at 13:24

Depending on the complexity of the notes, you may not have to sightwrite them. So, wear a warm but roomy coat, pull in your arms, and take your paper and pencil notes that way.

  • 1
    With electronic devices, it should be possible to have a screen outside the coat that displays what's being written inside the coat. Commented Dec 12, 2019 at 5:39

I would suggest a pair of good waterproof winter gloves instead of mittens. These will keep your hands warm and protected from wind and still allow for enough dexterity for writing with a pencil.


Let me suggest that some acclimatization may help (though I'm not sure how practical this is).

  • I was personally rather astonished how much we can actually adapt to cold weather: I spent a winter in Winnipeg (office job, no outdoors job). Nevertheless, whereas I had been freezing on the bike in windproof + light fleece pants/jacket in November in +5°C rain, in March when it got warm to "only single digit negative temps (°C)", I was biking in just summer outdoor pants/T-shirt + fleece, no gloves, no cap/scarf and feeling very comfortable.

  • First conclusion: fall/early winter is going to be the most miserable time in the year because you're not yet accustomed to the low temps - still it is probably impossible to do this in any other season.

  • According to Hanna Kaciuba-Uscilko and John E. Greenleaf: Acclimatization to Cold in Humans, NASA Technical Memorandum 101011, p 18, local cold adaptation (hands) is possible as well:

    It was proved that people who habitually expose their hands to cold-for example, Eskimos (Miller and Irving, 1962), Arctic Indians (Elsner, Nelms, and Irving, 1960), fishermen (LeBlanc, 1975; Krog et al., 1960), workers who fillet fish (Nelms and Soper, 1962), and lumbermen (LeBlanc et al., 1976)- respond to local cooling of the hands with much less pronounced cutaneous vasoconstriction, and with more rapid onset of vasodilation than occurs in unacclimatized men. Thus, they tolerate cold-stress better than men unadapted to cold.

    So it may be possible for you to prepare for that inventory by deliberately exposing your hands to cold beforehand. (Biking, I find that it takes my hands, ears and nose get cold for about 3 days to a week with the first frosts in fall until they "remember" how to heat themselves at those temps. But then, I find cold adaptation much easier than heat adaptation. And my impression are that people are very much not the same in that respect.)

  • Whether it is worth while obviously is for you to decide. However, you may also want to take into account that it may not be "only" a question of being uncomfortable but that working in cold environment is associated e.g. with increased incidence of rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Obviously, keeping your fingers warm is only possible if your body core is warm. You could try whether warmer parka/long johns helps as well (parka is probably easier to get on/off). Also, there's a rumor that not only overall food status but protein in particular is important for non-shivering thermogenesis.

Thoughts about gear:

  • From your post, you're able to do things in not-too-thick gloves, so maybe 1+1+3 shooting gloves would be a consideration?

  • I'd probably try to have as much pre-printed as possible.

  • As kids we used to have mittens with a line (so they wouldn't get lost when taken/falling off). A similar line with a very roomy mitten may allow you just put your hand in and out of the mitten without hassle. You you have to expose the fingers only for writing down your Mountain ash line, but they're in the warm while counting the pots.
    This line of thought directly leads to the invention of the muff. A "traditional" one for warming your writing hand while not writing (which would also have space for a heating pad).

  • maybe you could make a more specialized one yourself that accomodates look around whether you can get a suitable pogie (2) which is roughly a mitten that has the pencil sticking out, so you can keep it on while writing.

  • +5 rain is a lot more chilling than -5 dry. Commented Nov 13, 2018 at 14:33
  • @MartinBonner: well, I'd say it's different and you, are right, somewhat difficult to compare. But I had raingear that did not leak, so I was not wet inside. I'd say that rain pants without additional fleece would have been roughly comparable to the pants I used in spring (taking into account the rain vs. dry). (And I did use far thicker gloves/mittens/cap in fair frost in fall than in spring - but I don't remember any specific occasion as clearly as the rain and the spring morning).
    – cbeleites
    Commented Nov 13, 2018 at 14:58

Your question made me wonder how Robert Falcon Scott wrote his final diary entries on his trip to the South Pole in 1912.

This article, from The Guardian, Scott of the Antartic's final diary published online says with certainty that Scott's diary entries on the journey to the South Pole were written in pencil.

Readers can, from today, pore over the pages of faded pencil handwriting that make up one of the most famous diaries in the world – Captain Robert Scott's journal of the final months, days and hours of his doomed 1911-1912 expedition to the South Pole.

The British Library has launched an online facsimile of the complete last diary alongside extensive extracts from the two earlier volumes. (emphasis added)

History Channel on Foxtel describes Scott's final entry:

On 29 March 1912, in a weary pencil script, Scott wrote the final entry in his diary: “Last entry. It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write more–R. Scott–For God’s sake look after our people.” (emphasis added)

The interior of Scott's tent was undoubtedly below zero C. This was Antarctica in March, and one of the colder Marches. Nature News, in its article Scott's Icy Death says:

the last entry in Edward Wilson's diary is a poignant: "Turned in at -37° [F]" [-38 C].

Wilson and Scott, with Bowers, were in the same tent. Wilson's final entry was a day or so before Scott's.

Another source from the British Library mentions Scott picking up a pen, but the reference to a pen was probably a literary expression, not a factual description of what Scott used.

  • 4
    I think the OP has already mentioned that the issue is not the equipment he uses (which is a pencil). It's the cold fingers that are the issue. And this answer doesn't really add anything more than what others have already covered. Except for the historical references (which do not answer the original question either). Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 5:45
  • 1
    OP asked the question using degrees Celsius so it may be helpful to include the equivalent to the Fahrenheit measure. Happily, it seems to work about the same -38 °C. Clearly a little way past the OPs environmental conditions!
    – TafT
    Commented Nov 9, 2018 at 9:15

Fisher Space Pen. Writes down to -30F and won't leak no matter what (say, from altitude changes going up a mountain.)


(And I have no connection to them other than being a satisfied user. At a desk I consider gel ink pens to be superior, but nothing beats a space pen for reliability--if I'm carrying a pen it's a space pen.)

  • My experience with gel pens is that they run if the paper gets wet after. Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 15:46
  • 1
    @SherwoodBotsford space pens aren't the same as normal gel pens, and space pens are what this answer recommends you use
    – Chris H
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 16:45
  • @SherwoodBotsford Note that my mention of gel pens was in comparison--thus space pens are clearly not gel pens. Commented Nov 8, 2018 at 1:36

Approach: Audio recorder with speech-to-text software


  • Audio recorder must work at freezing-cold temperatures
  • Recordings must be processed afterwards by speech-to-text software
  • Transcribed notes must be reviewed
  • 1
    All of these would be quite easily solved if using analogue recording media.
    – Weckar E.
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 16:23
  • 1
    @WeckarE. - How does analog media make speech to text or transcription review any better? It seems the only one that might be better is "must work in freezing-cold temperatures", but that's only true if you're using a purely mechanical wind-up turntable, otherwise, the analog tape recorder will have the same battery issue as a digital recorder. Just put the recorder in an inside pocket with external mic and it'll work in any temperature.
    – Johnny
    Commented Nov 8, 2018 at 5:27

With suitable preparation, photography can be more useful than you currently realise.

The trick is to make yourself some props to communicate the data you need:

  • For species identification, make a set of "cards" (use plastic, really - panels cut from the side of 5-litre containers work well for me), with one or two large letters on each. Now choose the appropriate one (or more) to place prominently in each photo to indicate the species.

  • You can use similar tokens for tally indicators - perhaps use different coloured tokens to indicate one, five, ten, twenty, ... as much as you need. Use the tokens just like coins in your photo to add up to the number to indicate.

  • For numbers and measurements, it's possible to make a similar card with a rotating pointer riveted or bolted on to it. You could also adapt your existing measuring stick by painting alternate contrasting bands (of known length) onto it.

You might like to look at how archaeologists photograph their sites (see example) to see techniques that could be adapted you your own purposes.


When usin pen and paper, you have to move/bend your fingers; only thick isolation helps, but makes writing difficult.

The problem with a phone is that the touch screen only works with fingers or some specific (mostly thin) gloves.

As you tried, audio recordings doesn't work neither.

However, in the past there were PDA (personal digital assistants) where you had to use a small pencil (called stylus) to 'tap' on the device. This means you only have to press your finger back and forth and is much easier than writing, although it can take slightly longer.

I'm sure there are still devices (maybe even some older (?) phones) that can use this approach and you could try to see if it helps.


Use Noodlers Polar Ink. It is specifically designed to work down to very low temperatures and has been tested in Antarctica.

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The inks are also "bulletproof", that means they are very permanent and don't fade or wash out.

  • 2
    I do NOT want to use a fountain pen. Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 15:43
  • 4
    This is just a bad answer in general. A fountain pen is a horrible, impractical implement for taking notes on a clipboard while walking around outside in the cold. I don't think anyone will benefit from this answer as anything but a novelty. Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 14:23

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