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Keeping Warm in a Frigid Outdoors - a little common sense goes a long way

Tom Lounsbury

Mon, 09 Jan 2017 08:40:38 EST

 


click on the picture to enlarge









   Tom Lounsbury fully appreciates today's high-tech outdoor garments that
are breathable to allow perspiration to escape and are fully waterproof and
windproof. Tom firmly believes in dressing in layers to meet varying
temperatures and activity levels.



                  Keeping Warm in a Frigid Outdoors - a little common sense goes a long way
                                                                          By Tom Lounsbury
This winter has sure been a bit of a rollercoaster ride in ups and downs per weather. One day it is thawing and acting like a springtime atmosphere, and overnight it seems, we are right back into wintertime with some snow and even bitterly cold winds. Getting out and about is part of my job in being an outdoor writer and I actually enjoy winters in these parts, so I have learned to be adaptable and accept the challenges because I know there isn’t a thing I can do about the weather.
When things become frigid, nasty and even downright brutal, my work often requires that I be able to deal (constructively) with it and this of course has truly brought some challenges along the way. I do remember the time when an unsuspected subzero wind that came out of nowhere caused my eyes to water, and then my eyelids suddenly froze shut when I blinked. Fortunately I had a good hood on my coat that I was able to tunnel up and prevent this from happening again, although prying my iced-up eyelids apart with my fingers was an interesting process. Then there was the time that although I thought I had my face covered, my upper cheeks were still exposed and became slightly frostbitten (my nose was a bit tender as well). That is when I invested in a proper face mask to have along for such moments. I have found through experience that Mother Nature shows absolutely no mercy to the unprepared and unfortunate, especially during the winter.
I discovered early on that a layering system works best and using garments constructed of the proper materials is very critical. For the base layer next to the skin I prefer synthetic materials which retain heat but allow perspiration to be easily transferred and dissipated (aka wicked) to the outer layers (I avoid cotton underwear because it soaks up and retains perspiration which will in turn quickly chill you). For the middle, insulating layers I prefer breathable wool and/or polyester fleece, and this is where I can add or remove a layer (I appreciate wool or fleece vests as an easily adjustable layer) according to the critical combination of temperature changes and physical exertion levels. A real key is to avoid sweating whenever possible. Insulated snowmobile-type suits might be great for snowmobiling and ice fishing, but they can cause a detrimental effect during highly exertive efforts and cause sweating in a frigid outdoors.
For lengthy days in the outdoors, I’ve learned to carry necessary middle layers in a daypack and put them on only when I’m in a static position such as during a predator calling session for foxes and coyotes. Also in the pack besides high calorie snacks are a couple foil “emergency blankets” which can even be used for a temporary shelter, whistle (it beats hollering and has more range), disposable hand-warmers, small first-aid kit, the means for starting a fire (including fire-starter), flashlight (you never know how long a day can become), multi-tool w/knife blade, small roll of duct tape, folding saw and of course an ever dependable compass (if you ever get caught in a wintery “white-out” in the woods or out on the ice, knowing which direction to go is an actual life-saver, even close to “civilization”. I’ve been caught in a white-out a time or two, and it is an extremely disorientating experience, trust me. A GPS of course is a handy gadget, but I’m old school and will never be without a compass. A pack of this nature despite all the items doesn’t weigh that much at all, and can besides providing comfort, be a lifesaver if a winter experience ever becomes “longer” than expected.
Of course my wife never lets me leave home without my cell phone. She claims I tend to be a lightning-rod for “unexpected adventures”, and the time I spend afield usually by my lonesome, such can happen.
One little item that doesn’t weigh much at all or takes up space in a pack is “ice-grippers”. My favorite is “YakTrax”, and such can be invaluable to apply to footwear whenever matters get a bit slippery due to ice. Personally folks, I hate icy conditions where one wrong move can have you making unwanted “snow-angels” in an ungainly matter, and I’ve found I don’t bounce like I used to (just put me out of my misery if I ever do “the splits”). Ice-fishermen have long known about ice-grippers, but I’ve found true traction to be just as important for rabbit and predator hunting avenues.
My (very important) outer layer is for keeping the wind and weather out and the coat usually features a proper hood (I’ve never appreciated heat-robbing snow going down the back of my neck while going through the brush). With the availability and selection of windproof and waterproof yet breathable (such as Goretex) outer garments (including gloves and footwear) today, outdoorsfolks actually have it better than ever, and I have learned to take advantage of these high-tech improvements and to choose (and invest) wisely.
It goes without saying that a proper hat pays dividends in my staying warm and the fact is the head can act as a thermostat. Go out in the cold without the proper head protection, and a person will become quickly chilled due to heat loss from the top of the head. When I’m doing some serious physical exertion in the cold, I will often remove my hat to vent off excess heat and to avoid sweating. I prefer headwear that offers coverage for my ears (I’ve found a woolen-knit “Balaclava” is indispensible in the truly nasty weather), and I rarely venture out without a woolen neck scarf (that can also be used for face protection and acts as a seal around the collar) because a lot of produced body heat can also be lost from an exposed neck. I’ve found that if the back of my neck becomes chilled, the rest of me won’t be far behind. Like the hat, a scarf can be easily added or extracted according to exertion levels (my neck scarf made a handy knee-wrap for a long hike during one “unexpected adventure”).
Having a full head of hair for me personally can have its downside. Recent years have seen me getting a “winter haircut” because as I’ve gotten older I tend to perspire more easily and being outdoors a lot and having a wet head (hair) in frigid weather isn’t a very good or wise thing. My wife Ginny let me know she wouldn’t want me to get a shaved head so I just have the “G.I. special” haircut instead which vents off heat quickly when needed when I remove my hat and is easy to wipe dry with a bandanna. However, I do let my hair grow back out when seasonal warm weather returns.
A few tidbits I’ve learned along the way are that mittens (I prefer buckskin “choppers” with removable wool liners) are a lot warmer than gloves (and work great with the disposable hand-warmers), and using suspenders on pants is much warmer than wearing a waist constricting belt (I’ve grown to really appreciate “bib-pant” styles due to the lack of any waist constriction and they also offer additional torso protection). Never put on too many thick socks because if your boots fit too tight, your feet will freeze (I go with a thin synthetic wicking sock topped with a heavy wool sock and have my boots sized accordingly). I also discovered chilling winds (and even blowing snow) can find their way past open pant cuffs. If I don’t have the bottom of my pant legs tucked into boots during extreme weather, I wear knee-high gaiters that effectively seal out heat robbing winds and moisture.
Needless to say, I appreciate any reason for a higher calorie intake and preparing for a day out in the cold outdoors is a very good reason (and always avoid drinking alcohol as it has an adverse effect in keeping you warm despite fairytales to the otherwise). It pays to stoke the body’s internal fire as well as dressing properly.
Just keeping warm is a time honored pastime for those of us who thoroughly enjoy the wintertime outdoors. It just requires common sense, and a little bit goes a long way in regards to comfort, welfare and even safety.                               


click on the picture to enlarge

   Outdoor writer Ryan Walker is properly dressed for a frigid day in the
woods for wintertime predator hunting.

 

 

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