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Fishing in Bitter Cold Weather - How to Dress Properly
by William D. Anderson
It takes a special kind of person to go out and brave sub zero wind chills to catch a fish in the middle of winter. Braving the cold can be very dangerous, but also very rewarding. If you do not have the proper equipment and do not take the required precautions, the consequences can be tragic. On the other hand, if you are properly prepared to face the biting cold and wind, you can have a unique experience that few will ever know.
One mistake that many people make is thinking that a heavy coat, a big pair of gloves, and some snow boots will keep them warm. None of these things will keep you warm for very long when the wind chill is near zero. For many it will take some experimenting to find the right combination of clothing, gloves, and boots. Quality outdoor apparel isn't cheap either. You can easily spend $500.00 on apparel, but it will be money well spent if you want to enjoy the outdoors when others would prefer to be curled up under a blanket in front of the fireplace. With the right apparel, you won't notice the cold.
There are several things to consider when preparing for a day in the cold. The first is preventing frostbite. When the wind chill is below zero, skin can freeze in a matter of minutes and the result can mean hospitalization and possible amputation. One way to reduce wind chill is to keep the wind off your skin. This means that there should be no exposed skin. The other thing you can do is carry a source of heat such as a charcoal or chemical heater.
Lets start with the first layers of clothing. Long underwear and a light pair of socks are a good start. It's very important that the socks are not too tight. Any constriction of blood flow around the ankles or feet will cause your feet to get cold very quickly. You should also wear underwear that allows you to move freely and does not constrict blood flow if you sit or squat.
Over the long underwear comes the second layer. This usually consists of a T-shirt, heavy socks, and a pair of Dockers. Blue Jeans are ok as long as they are very loose. Once again it is very important that your socks are fairly loose.
The third layer consists of a hooded sweatshirt and some type of rain pants such as those made by Mountain Hardware or Columbia. These pants are your last line of protection from the wind for the lower half of your body, which is why they should also be waterproof.
Over the sweatshirt comes your upper body's last line of defense from the wind. This consists of a light rain jacket, usually one that is made of Gortex. Again, this jacket should allow for complete freedom of movement. At this point you're well prepared for an average winters day, but it's still not enough to spend several hours in severe wind chills.
Next we add another jacket and a pair of waterproof thermal pants. The jacket should be slightly heavier than the first and completely waterproof. It should also zip up to your lips and seal around your waist and wrists. Some people will wear coveralls for this layer and that's ok if they are good enough to do the job. Both the jacket and pants should be made of a material like Gortex. This provides excellent protection from the elements.
Now we need to think about the trimmings. A quality pull over hat is a must. This should cover your face completely while still allowing you to wear sunglasses. If the hat fits properly, you should be able to put the sunglasses on through the eyeholes. If you can't, the hat is most likely too tight. The hat should also come down low enough to cover your throat.
There are several types of boots out there that work very well in cold weather. Whatever you get, make sure they are 100% waterproof and rated for extreme cold. Boots should be comfortable and not tight. You can also put the charcoal heaters on the bottom of your socks for added warmth.
Remember, the key to staying warm is keeping the wind off of your skin. Wearing wind and waterproof clothing will do this. The other important key is to not restrict the supply of blood to any part of your body.
Another thing to consider is fuel. Your body needs fuel to fight the cold. A couple of energy bars before you head out will go a long way towards keeping you warm. You will not last as long in the bitter cold on an empty stomach. Hydration is important too. Avoid anything with caffeine because caffeine will only make you thirsty. Water or a sports drink such as Gatorade is best. Taking a drink in bitter cold weather may be the last thing on your mind but it takes energy to keep your body warm. Providing fuel for that energy is important.
One advantage to wearing layers as described above is that if the temperature warms, you can remove a layer. It's not uncommon for the air temperature to rise 20 degrees or more during the day. It's also possible for the wind to die down and if either of those things occurs, you may find yourself sweating under your layers. It is possible to be too warm and feeling that way will cut down on your enjoyment.
As mentioned above, you can use some type of heat generating device. These can be carried in your pocket, placed in your gloves, and placed in your boots. There are several different kinds and they all work differently. Be sure to follow the manufacturer's recommendations because misuse of some of these products can result in burns or fires.
With a little preparation you can be prepared to spend an enjoyable day outdoors without the worry of getting cold or frostbite. Keeping your gear functioning in the cold is another issue and we'll talk about that another time.