Winter stuff

Originally published at Notes from the bunker…. You can comment here or there.

Too much gun talk here lately. Sure its fun, sure its sexy, but theres so much more to life and being prepared than that…..

Winter approaches and things are starting to get chilly. Montana has four distinct seasons, but that distinction is, well, distinct. Summer doesn’t gradually become Fall, and Fall does not gently slide into Winter. Every three months or so, someone in Helena heads to the basement of the State Capital building, flips a switch, and temperatures across Montana change by 25 degrees. It happens that abruptly.

My particular region of Montana is called the Banana Belt because its actually very temperate in this area. When its -6 in Billings, 0 in Great Falls or -1 in Butte it’ll be a balmy +15 here. Snowfall is very mild. However, that’s no reason to be complacent about things.

In the event of power disruption we’ve got to have options for staying warm when it’s a howling 0 degrees outside. My first choice for localized heating is the trusty kerosene heater. The fuel is safe to store, readily available, and can be used in my lamps and stoves. Very handy. A few years ago I upgraded to a newer kerosene heater and relegated the second to backup usage or use as a loaner. Both heaters, by the way have spare wicks…a good thing to have. Additional gear includes a small siphon, fuel funnel, instruction manuals and most importantly a couple of quality fire extinguishers and a carbon monoxide detector. Carbon monoxide poisoning is nothing to take chances with.

I normally keep the thermostat pretty low in the winter since Im cheap and I operate best at cool temperatures. However I do understand that extreme cold and water pipes do not mix. The backup heater is an excellent way to keep a vulnerable basement above freezing. I’ve had pipes freeze in the past and although I was lucky enough to dodge any of them bursting, it was a near thing and I don’t recommend the experience.

Propane heaters are another option and since Im all about options I also have one of those small ‘buddy’ heaters that runs on 1# bottles of propane. Theyre good for heating a small room and they seem to work quite well. Some people prefer to store propane for the convenience and I do agree its a lot easier to handle than juggling a 5-gallon drum of kerosene and a funnel. Even with propane its still a must that precautions be taken – fire extinguishers and CO detectors for everyone.

For personal gear, I like down but it has a couple drawbacks. First is that it aint cheap. Second is that many of the garments are a bit delicate with thin nylon shells that will tear like tissue paper under any real stress. While it insulates quite nicely, it loses that value if it gets wet. I do love that it compacts easily for stuffing into a backpack and that it does a great job of keeping a person warm…but sometimes that’s not enough. Wool is great stuff and theres tons of cheap military surplus available in wool so that you could get some very nice gear for very little money. The surplus catalogs almost always have German, Swiss, Swedish and Austrian surplus clothing that is made of wool. It can be heavy, it can itch but it really is an excellent material for staying warm. I have a Filson vest that is great and I hope to someday get their impressive Double Mackinaw Cruiser coat. Big bucks, though…but it’ll last a lifetime. Some of the synthetics like polypro get a big thumbs up from me. A pair of polypro long underwear and a pair of wool pants over it will make you impervious to pretty much anything except Antarctic temperatures. Lately I’ve been playing with polarfleece-type jackets worn under a windproof outer layer. This seems to be an excellent compromise for warmth versus mobility and versatility.

For hands, I prefer mittens instead of gloves although many times I’ll wear both. The military system of a three-fingered wool mitten inside a heavy outer mitten shell works quite well and is very affordable. I have a pair of Outdoor Research mitten shells that are one of the best products Ive found. The overmitts are a waterproof nylon shell, with reinforced palms and other stress/work points, with long gauntlets, cinches to keep out snow, and loops for a keeper cord. They are my first choice for when Im out stomping around in the snow. They make almost any pair of mittens or gloves warmer and drier. An excellent product. Although they make you look like a five-year-old at recess, those absurd keeper cords are vital. If your tromping through the boonies and take off your gloves to fish a compass out of your bag, punch buttons on your GPS or anything else you really don’t want to either lose your gloves or have them drop to the ground and get filled with snow. Putting on gloves that have snow in them is a major drag. Use the dummy cords. And its not a bad idea to carry a spare pair of gloves.

Another product I can recommend with absolutely no reservation is the polypro neck gaiter sold by Brigade Quartermaster. I bought my first one over twenty years ago. Since then other companies have started making them but I find the original one from BQ to be the best. Its thick, long enough to have extra material for other uses, affordable, and available in the usual subdued colors. It can be worn as a neck warmer, hood, hat, mask, etc… I have such high regard for these that I keep several in storage and guard them jealously. You really should spend ten bucks and get one, I think you’ll be very glad you did.

For hats, I like the nylon ‘watchcap’ type of hat. A few years ago I was wandering through WalMart and found one that was about three times the thickness of the average military cap, came in subdued colors, was around $4 ea, and was, amazingly, made in America. I think I bought six of them. They’ve been excellent in their assigned role. If you don’t mind looking like Elmer Fudd those quaint wool/fleece caps with the goofy earflaps are actually pretty good too. If, like me, you just want to sometimes mess with peoples minds, theres always the thermally inefficient but aesthetically outrageous Jayne hat. Pretty cunning, dontcha think?

If you’re feet are dry and warm, the world seems a whole lot nicer. A terrific product is Goretex socks. Wear these over a pair of good wool socks and you could wear sneakers in a stream and still feel warm and dry. I usually go with a cotton sock, then a wool sock. If things are really ugly I’ll go with the cotton/wool/goretex layering but the boots have to be laced loosely for it to work. A good pair of high-quality insulated boots will easily cost a couple hundred bucks. Its worth it for the comfort and warmth/dryness. I used to wear Danner’s but now the majority of them are made overseas and the ones that are still made in the US aren’t the style I want.

Of course, all this is academic becuase we’re all gonna be living in the desert ’cause of global warming, y’know. Al Gore said so….

6 thoughts on “Winter stuff

  1. Those neck gaiters work well for me, too. I do wish I had a good cold weather hat with ear flaps like we used to have in Minnesota, but they don’t really sell them around here and I keep forgetting to find one on the interweb. A Jayne hat, on the other hand, is every bit as stylish and thermally inefficient as you claim ;p

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