Keeping Dry and Toasty This Winter
By Dennis Doyle
We are living in the best of times these days, if only for cold weather clothing. There has never been such an availability of apparel that are so temperature effective and affordable. There are three main categories to consider when dressing for bad weather: head, hand and foot warmth; core body temp control; and foul weather protection.
While the main difficulty seems to be the sometimes overly auspicious marketing claims of manufacturers, there are simple answers as to the critical materials in each category that can make decisions easier.
A good, warm hat is a wise first choice, but hand and foot warmth is also essential. Mittens are always warmer than gloves and waterproof materials are important in rainy and snowy weather. Wool will keep you warm even when wet, synthetic insulation generally won’t, and feather down is useless once sodden. Beyond those choices the options come down to simply style.
For footwear, the best extreme weather material in snow and wet weather has proven to be neoprene. Boots featuring this material are not only fully waterproof but provide superior warmth and comfort. There are a number of manufacturers that are top tier choices but for general outdoor applications, I have to disclose that my overwhelming favorite is the Muck boot, though you can’t really go wrong with any of the other major producers.
Socks have always been a simple decision and for overall warmth there is only one choice: wool. Thickness will define the level of comfort and heat retention but when in doubt, wearing two pairs will be warmer than one. Wool will keep your feet warm despite perspiration or leaky footwear and are available virtually everywhere. My favorite brand is Wigwam.
Core (body) temp control has also become a simple affair. Synthetic base layer clothing (previously referred to as underwear) are the key to comfort. The warmest level of protection is provided by expedition-weight items and the superior material in my opinion is synthetic fleece. Higher quality base layer items are of more complex fleece construction and geared to intense sporting activities like skiing, hiking, sailing and climbing. These provide superior moisture control from perspiration as well as excellent heat retention.
More sedentary activities such as spectator sports, duck or deer hunting, fishing or bird watching can be handled by any of the less expensive options made of 100 percent fleece. Again, the deciding factors for base layers will be comfort and style. The warmest uppers are the zippered, high-necked models and the warmest option of all is the one-piece “union suit.”
Additional clothing layers are a matter of style choice and prevailing weather conditions. Moderately cold weather welcomes a cotton or flannel shirt on top while more extreme conditions dictate an additional wool or insulated piece.
Foul weather coats and pants are the final level of protection against the most extreme conditions of wet, cold and wind with the deciding factor being breathability. Will the outer shell allow water vapor (perspiration) to pass through, providing superior cold weather comfort? Fully waterproof models are less expensive, yet warm and windproof, but pose a problem of moisture retention. That can eventually cause your inner layers to dampen and get cold, so beware.
A last, and particularly handy winter accessory, is a simple, chemical handwarmer. Developed for hunters, skiers, sailors and wintertime anglers, these small packets of iron oxide (rusting iron particles) generate a comfortable level of warmth for hours when exposed to air. Available in many models designed for hands, foot or body applications, they can be a welcome comfort when enduring extreme exposure or with clothing that proves only marginally effective. They are inexpensive and have a long shelf life so it’s sensible to keep a supply on hand in the home and in your vehicles and watercraft.
Always be prepared, it’s going to get cold outside.
For those hardy enough to venture out on the Bay these days, the rockfish bite is the best of the year. Good sized rock (approaching 24 inches) are swarming to attack schools of baitfish moving down the Bay to wintering grounds. Looking for birds is the easiest way to key on the bite but jigging bridge structures or trolling good finder marks are producing excellent catches. White perch are schooling and moving to deeper water and providing the best eating fish of the year. Crabbing, remarkably, also continues to be productive with the fattest jimmies of the year. This is the grand finale, better get in on it while you can!