Cold Weather Clothing
By: John Kuklewicz
Since we are engaging in a mostly sedentary activity, a lot of the usual advice regarding layering, etc does not necessarily apply. With that in mind, herewith are a few ideas and sources about and for cold weather observing (keeping in mind that 40F in CA _seems_ a lot colder than 20F in New England). We are such wimps...
Rule 1: Cover your head. Your body wants to keep the brain warm and will sacrifice almost everything else to accomplish this. The head has rather poor insulation (especially if your hair is getting thin :-) and a good blood supply - this leads to it being a really good radiator. Wear a hat! I prefer one that can cover my ears and the back of my neck. As Russ mentioned, a balaclava really helps, but is not a substitute for a real hat. I alternate between wool and synthetic watch caps and have recently been trying out helmet style 'bomber' hats.
Rule 2: Keep your feet warm. Wear DRY socks. I prefer wool and/or synthetic over a thin liner. I usually change my day socks to night socks a little after sunset, those damp socks you've been wearing all day will suck the heat right out of your feet into the ground. Sorel style pac boots are very warm, but you don't have to spendthe $$ needed for the name brand - since we are just sort of standing around a few evenings a month, the 'off' brands will work fine. They won't last as long, but for our purposes the top of the line Sorels are overkill.
I really like the mil surplus 'mickey mouse' boots. When laced up and with dry socks, these things will keep your feet _toasty_. (Hint: if the front of your legs feel cold even if the wind isn't blowing, put on warmer shoes. What you are feeling is cold blood returning from your feet.) These boots have soles almost 1.5 inch thick with thick felt (encased in rubber) as insulation. The valve is to allow venting of air pressure at high altitude (the cargo area of military transports is NOT heated and at 40K feet it is about -50F. The troops wear O2 masks.)
These mickey mouse boots are sometimes available through Sportman's Guide at reasonable prices. A current catalog () has the white surplus ones for around $60, depending on size and width. These prices are higher than in the past, as the supply of these things is drying up.
But wait, this same outfit is now selling their own knockoff of the military boot for a very reasonable $40, medium width only. These are even better than the originals because the mfr has replaced the air bladders with 200gms of Thinsulate, making the boots even warmer. They were even selling a model with 400gms of Thinsulate, but I can't find that catalog now, probably got thrown away the last time I cleaned the magazine stack in the bathroom.
I suggest ordering a size larger than normal to make room for insoles and extra socks. Also, if your feet are wide, one size up really helps in the width department. Insoles are good both for insulation and comfort.
For torso clothing, I typically start with a silk turtle neck (keep that back of the neck warm) with a thick polypro zip t-neck over that. Layering over this is usually a heavy hooded sweatshirt or cableknit sweater.
On the bottom, I will layer on a pair of silk long underwear (the male version of pantyhose :-) wih thick poly pro long underwear under a pair of jeans. I have had really good success with the military style ECWCS expedition weight stuff. Sold by Sportsman's Guide for $22 (zip Tneck top) and $18 (bottoms). Balaclava for $9. A bargain!
If conditions are not too cold, I usually don't go any further than this, perhaps covered by my leather jacket (which are GREAT for cutting the wind).
When it gets really cold, I break out the insulated coveralls. The ones I use now came from WearGuard. These coveralls zip on over your regular clothes and are insulated. Designed for use by the construction trades in cold weather, these these things are really warm, and rugged. Not too pretty but very functional. Their '30 Below' model goes for $80. Completely encasing yourself in an insulated suit really works because the usual air leaks are now contiguous clothing. Similar clothing can be found as snowmobile suits or motorcycle suits. I have found, however, that the WearGuard stuff is more rugged, and usually less expensive. But considering that we are really using this stuff in a very benign manner, any head to toe insulated coverall will work well.
For gloves, I like the glo-mitts convertible glove mittens I bought at REI. These are fingerless gloves (Thumb is covered) with leather patches on the palm. A pocket-like flap can be pulled over your finger tips to cover them completely when you don't need to handle small items. Weargurad also sells these for $15, and they look warmer than the knit wool ones I use right now. (Not to mention, about $10 less expensive!)
Recently, I bought a pair of neoprene gloves through Sierra Supply for $12! I first saw these used by John Hales and, so far, they seem like they will be very warm. Dexterity is very good, I can handle eyepieces, focus and turn atlas pages with the gloves on. I think these will soon be my standard.
Other stuff - lay in a small supply of heat packets. These can be obtained through REI or similar outdoor stores. These chemical packets use a chemical reaction to generate heat when exposed to air. They never get really hot, but are nicely warm in a pocket or boot. These packets are fairly inexpensive but are disposable. More economical (although higher initial cost) are the sodium actetate reusable heaters and the 'catalytic' handwarmers using lighter fluid. The sodium acetate heaters use a thick fluid encased in a thick plastic envelope. When crystalization is started by a snapover device, the packet gives off a surprising amount of heat for a couple hours. They are 'recharged' by boiling for about 20minutes. I got mine at a gun show several years ago. I remember ice fisherman back home (I grew up in Western MA) using a pair of the large catalytic heaters (each about the size of a paperback book) in a kidney belt. They say it works really well to heat your blood, and thus the rest of your body.
WearGuard , 7 days, 0700 to 2400EST Clothing marketed to the construction trades. Sturdy well-made and functional clothing at good prices.
Sportsman's Guide 24/7 Lots of interesting stuff. Most of it outdoors or military surplus related.
BTW: this mail order house caters to hunters/fishermen, etc and sells a lot of firearms related and hunting supplies. If this will offend your sensibilities, you were warned. Also, once you are on the mailing list, expect a catalog about every three weeks.
Sierra Trading Post Good values on overstock or discontinued merchandise. They tend to emphasize outdoor related clothing and equipment.