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Into The Outdoors: Dealing With The Bitter Cold

By Chris Henderson

You know, this has been a really weird winter. Dandelions were blooming in January. Now, as this is being written, it is bitter cold, with worse in the forecast. The long-range shows warmer days, but a lot of that depends on your definition of warm. And, of course, the stupid groundhog saw his shadow, which is not cause for optimism, if you put any stock in such things.

For whatever reason, we outdoor types like to be outside, regardless of the activity involved. That means that we have to find a way to stay warm.

As far as I’m concerned, being cold is akin to being in pain, and therefore something to be avoided whenever possible. The older I get, the less capable I am of handling the cold. In fact, it has ruined more outings for me than any other factor.

Usually, the undoing of being outside in the cold starts with my feet. Perhaps this is due to the fact that they were slightly frostbitten when I was a little kid. If your feet are painful or numb, it is virtually impossible to have any fun. Years ago, I bought a pair of Sorel arctic boots with thick felt liners in them. For many years, they did the job very well for me, but then the cold started finding its way in after a few hours. I’ve managed to find a pair of battery-powered socks that actually work, and they now serve as a good supplement to the boots. I also have a problem with my fingers, which got a dose of second-degree frostbite, complete with blisters and peeling skin, several years ago.

When it comes to coats and pants, there are many good ones on the market. Some of the most popular are filled with goose down. It is both lightweight and effective. I still have a goose-down vest I purchased almost forty years ago. One of the major drawbacks of down is the fact that the shell containing it is often very susceptible to fire. A friend of mine once ruined an expensive down coat while sitting around a campfire. It wound up full of holes from sparks.

Today, there are a lot of so-called “down substitutes” out there. Some of them are OK, I suppose, but it’s been my experience that they do not perform as well as the real thing, although garments featuring them are somewhat easier to care for.

As far as I’m concerned, the only material for fighting off the brutal cold is wool. Over the years, I’ve accumulated a full line of Woolrich clothes, including coats, wool shirts, and pants. They’ve never failed me yet, and they wear like iron. One of the true beauties of wool is that it keeps its insulating properties even if you get it wet. On the downside, some people are highly allergic to wool, to the point of breaking out if it comes into contact with their skin. I’m glad I’m not one of them. A lot of today’s wool clothing comes with an inner liner that keeps the wool from coming into direct contact with the wearer’s skin. With unlined items, such as shirts, a long-sleeved undershirt will often provide suitable protection.

A major key to staying warm is dressing in layers. That way, you can add or remove layers as needed. This allows you to keep from sweating. If you get sweaty, the chills can set in shortly thereafter. My favorite layering pattern for brutally cold weather is a T-shirt, wool shirt, wool vest, and wool coat. It’s really a matter of what works best for you.

When it comes to hats, don’t skimp on quality. A tremendous amount of body heat can be lost through the head. Here again, I think wool is the number one choice. A knit cap with another hat over it protects both ears and head from the cold. Personally, though, my favorite is the Stormy Kromer. Not only is it warm, it originates in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, which I consider to be the most beautiful place I have ever visited.

Cold is simply a fact of life that those of us who love the outdoors are forced to put up with. You might hate it, but with a little planning, you can deal with it very well.

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