Outdoor Survival Guide - Snow Gear
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.
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.
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, www.cabelas.com
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)
You may think of pocket, glove, and other types of warmers as just a convenience, but they're far more important than that, according to the Heat Factory's David Treptow: "They're a must for survival." If you're stuck, and we mean really stuck, somewhere in the snow for a number of days, you can use several of the Heat Factory's large warmers to wrap key areas of your body-the kidneys, armpits and groin-and heat the blood there. When coping with the risk of hypothermia, "It's about keeping your core warm, not the extremeties," Treptow said.
He recommends packing six large warmers to cover those key body areas. Store them in resealable bags, use several at a time, and when you don't need them, put them back in the bag. Because the Heat Factory warmers only generate heat when they're exposed to the air, that process stops when they're sealed up in an air-tight bag. Each large warmer is designed to work for a full 24 hours, the smaller, pocket-sized warmers for up to 12.
Heat Factory, 800.993.4328, www.heatfactory.com
Among the specialty products Heat Factory has developed are these Pop Top gloves. The mittenlike top opens up when you need to use your fingers, and there's a pocket inside the glove for a warmer packet. Other products in the Heat Factory line include kidney belts, back warmers, and head gear-all with pockets or pouches to hold warmer packets.
Whatcha Got Under There?
Long johns may have kept Grandpa's butt warm, but these days we have the benefit of high-tech undergarments that keep us warm and dry next to the skin. What does that mean? If you sweat under bulky clothing, the moisture will make you cold as it evaporates. Why fight the cold inside and outside your clothes? Today's cold-weather undergarments consist of lightweight fabrics that allow perspiration to pass through as it evaporates, keeping your skin dry.
Underarmour, the company that makes all that cool gear for professional athletes, also offers a full line of undergarments for outdoor enthusiasts. ColdGear shirts and leggings feature a soft inner layer of fabric that transports perspiration away from the skin while regulating your body's core temperature. ColdGear is available in a variety of colors, including Realtree Hardwoods Green camouflage.
Underarmour, 888.427.6687, www.underarmour.com
Browning's Hunderwear is designed specifically for hunters and other folks active in the outdoors under extreme conditions. The underwear is available in a variety of weights, including the Expedition II line, shown here, the heaviest of the bunch. It features Polartec Power Dry fabric with brushed fleece nap on the inside. This fabric creates pockets of trapped air for insulation (up to 15 percent more insulation when measured against the same weight of fabric alone) plus enhanced wind resistance.
Browning, 800.333.3288, www.browning.com
Some clothing manufacturers make outerwear that heats electrically. Rocky Outdoor Gear, for example, offers Warmgear vests (shown below) and jackets that use C-cell batteries to warm polymer panels in the front and back up to about room temperature. An adapter sold with the garments allows you to plug them in to your truck's power outlets.
Rocky Outdoor Gear, 740.753.1951, www.rockyboots.com
Dry Your Boots
Are you going to risk damaging those expensive boots by putting them by the fire to dry? There's no need: Here are two very different ways to dry your boots without cooking them.
For around $40, Cabela's offers the Seirus QuickDry boot (and glove) dryer. Powered by 110-volt household current, the QuickDry uses a fan to blow warm or cool air inside the boots, drying them quickly for your next adventure.
Cabela's, 800.237.4444, www.cabelas.com
You don't need electricity to use Axis Outdoor's Dryzone Boot Dryers. Instead, these are "bean bags" filled with moisture-absorbing crystals that you put in your wet boots. According to Axis, eight hours is all it takes to dry soaked boots. Four minutes in a microwave oven or 15 to 30 minutes on a warm heater vent will restore Dryzone's absorbency.
Axis Outdoor, 800.335.0260, www.axisoutdoor.com
Heat Your Truck
Sometimes it gets so dang cold that your truck's stock heater just isn't up to the task-if it's working at all. Here are a couple of options to bring more warmth to your world, one permanent, the other portable.
Mojave Heater Flex-a-lite fans help keep our rigs cool. Now the company is going the other way with its new Mojave heater. Measuring just 12 by 9 by 5 inches, the Mojave puts out a toe-toasting 12,000 Btus and moves 130 cfm of air. It taps into your truck's existing water source, and an optional plenum can be added for directional heating and defrosting.
Flex-a-lite, 800.851.1510, www.flex-a-lite.com
Coleman SurvivalCat This is more than just a heater: The SurvivalCat Emergency Preparedness Kit from Coleman combines an 800-Btu SurvivalCat catalytic heater with two emergency blankets and a box of waterproof matches, all in a compact carrying case. Coleman's propane-powered catalytic heaters work without a flame, and the SurvivalCat can raise the temperature of your truck cab by up to 20 degrees, says the company.
Coleman, 800.835.3278, www.coleman.com
21st Century Snow Chains
GoClaws from Flex-Trax are everything that old-school snow chains aren't. They're made from lightweight polyurethane, install in minutes (even if your vehicle is already stuck), won't clog, and can be used to free your rig from mud or sand in addition to snow. You can visit the company's Web site for a comprehensive, four-page explanation of how GoClaws work; you'll probably be more interested in the fact that Flex-Trax makes GoClaws for flotation tire sizes up to 37 inches.
Flex-Trax, 800.420.1062, www.flextrax.com
Weather Station In Your Hand
Fast-moving winter weather fronts can turn your snow-berm-bashing trip into a real nightmare. Keep track of changing weather conditions with a Kestrel Pocket Weather Meter. The 2500 Series (shown) measures wind speed, temperature, wind chill, barometric pressure, and altitude. It also features a three-hour pressure trend indicator that helps you to anticipate changes in the weather. The Weather Meter is fully waterproof (it even floats!) so you can use it in any ambient condition, and the high-precision impeller can be replaced without tools should it become damaged. The 2500 is just one of many hand-held weather stations made by Kestrel.
Nielsen-Kellerman, 610.447.1555, www.nkhome.com