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Outdoor Survival Guide - Snow Gear

Columbia Fleece Jacket
Drew Hardin
| Contributor
Posted October 1, 2005

When Keeping Warm And Dry Means Staying Alive

Getting wet in a rainstorm makes you uncomfortable until you can dry out. Getting wet in the snow can have far grimmer ramifications, ranging from chills and frostbite to hypothermia, an abnormal lowering of the body temperature that can lead to death. Now, we don't want to be total buzzkill for you winter wheelers, but being well protected against the harsh elements means living to wheel another day, right?

Jacket Or Parka?
There is a difference: A jacket is generally shorter, covering the upper body down to the waist or a little further; the inner lining and outer shell are generally of one piece (though there are jackets with removable liners). A parka is longer, covering the upper body down to mid-thigh; typically parkas are two-piece garments with a liner that separates from the outer shell.

Personal preference and your winter activities usually determine whether you buy a parka or a jacket. If you can afford an outer layer just for wheeling, though, think jacket. Since it's shorter, you won't have to sit on it when you're driving, giving you better maneuverability inside the cab.


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Columbia's Ice Fall Soft Shell is a polyester fleece jacket with a nylon outer shell to provide wind protection.

Down Or Fleece?
When it comes to outer garment insulation, there's no question: Down is best when the goal is warmth. Down is also extremely light, and even the bulkiest down vests, parkas, and sleeping bags can be stuffed in very tight spaces, which is why it's so popular with backpackers.

Get down wet, though, and it loses its loft (the air spaces around the feathers), which is what gives it its excellent insulation capabilities. If you're going to be in a wet and cold environment, be sure to put a waterproof layer over the down garment. Or choose one of the synthetic (polyester) downlike materials.

Down jackets, such as this Arctic jacket from Rocky, provide excellent insulation and are extremely lightweight. Get them wet, though, and you lose their insulating properties.

Synthetic fleece is being used more and more as an insulator, as it too is lightweight but doesn't lose its insulation properties when wet. It also breathes well, meaning perspiration that's wicked away from the body via a poly undershirt can get through a fleece outer layer.

That breatheability, however, can be a negative in windy environments. Wind can cut right through fleece unless it's coupled with some sort of wind barrier, whether that's an additional layer of fabric (such as Columbia Sportswear's Windstopper, a Gore-Tex laminate) or a second, outer garment. According to Columbia's Dan Tiegs, the hang tag on a fleece garment can tell you a lot about its qualities, from the weight of the fleece to the protection it offers from the wind.

What's A Pac Boot?
"Pac" is the name given to a type of winter boot made from a combination of leather (or some other sort of fabric) and rubber-leather where it binds around the top of your foot and ankle (and the lower part of your leg, if the boot's tall enough), and rubber around your toes and down to where the boot meets the snow. Pac boots are incredibly versatile: available with Arctic-explorer levels of insulation or none at all; available in a wide variety of colors and styles (including camo patterns); available with scent-locking features for hunters; and so on. Here are just a few.

Cabela's Predator Extreme Pac boots are, as the name says, built for cold-weather extremes-as in -140 degrees Fahrenheit. That's because they're engineered with 1,200 grams of Thinsulate Ultra insulation and feature a 9mm Texel liner that wicks moisture away from your feet. That liner, and the Moisture Trap footbed, are removable so you can pull them out at the end of the day and let them dry overnight. The 1111/42-inch boot's exterior features an upper made from full-grain leather and molded polyurethane shell panels down below. Cabela's Dry-Plus membrane makes these boots fully waterproof.
Cabela's, 800.237.4444,

Boot Insulation
How much insulation do you need in your snow boots? Your feet generate heat when you're active; they don't when you're not. So, according to the folks at LaCrosse Footwear, match your activity level with these weights of Thinsulate insulation:

200 grams: Cold conditions and high levels of activity, like working or hiking
400 grams: Moderate activity levels600-800 grams: Very cold conditions and low activity levels
900-1,300 grams: When you're stationary (driving, sitting in a tree stand)


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