It’s white outside. I heard a state this morning that yesterday every single state in the continental US (and I’m sure Alaska too) had one spot at least that reached 0 degrees. Snow is piling up in places not used to having it pile up. The wind chill is treacherous. It’s been deemed the Polar Express or some other such officially named nonsense. Whatever. In most places we just call it winter and its fun.
I’m a huge fan of the snow. I love hiking in it. Snowshoeing, skiing, camping… I enjoy it all. Cold weather, much like water, is one of the few ultimate tests to put yourself and your gear through. If it works in the crap weather, it will work in the good times too. In the working mans world of commutes and dress shoes it’s terrible. People can never seem to remember how to drive in it from year to year. Its hard to dress professionally while still being warm, dry and having traction to keep from taking a dive while slip sliding from your parking spot to the front door of the office.
For me, I cant get enough.
So the normal day to day changes are simple. Pull out the sack of salt from the bottom shelf in the garage. Preposition the shovels at the front and back doors and one in the truck. Drain the hoses, pick up any stray dog leavings so when the kids go to make a snowman it wont have the “coal” already in the wrong spots… simple stuff.
Now getting out to hike, shoot or recon in the woods in the winter might take a little extra preparation and it will definitely take some different gear. My stuff is always evolving, both gear and mindset. Yours will too if you are out in the woods often enough over a long period of time. You will hands down learn the most about your own situation by exposing yourself to it. Reading other peoples reports on the web will only get you so far.
I’ve been asked for a brief rundown of what I take with me into the woods during this time of year. Instead, I’m going to give some general overviews and hope that it is motivation for you to go find out what works and doesn’t work for you.
Clothing wise, I like to be dry and warm. Period. I also like to only be seen when I want to be seen. Realistically, this is a lot harder when you leave a trail of footprints in the snow but that can be mitigated through proper techniques to some extent (circling your own back trial, staying in other peoples footprints to hide your numbers…).
The mantra for winter is WOOL WOOL WOOL. Well this isn’t the 80’s anymore. Yes, wet cotton kills, but with today’s modern and affordable compression fitting under layers and quality fleece, I have said goodbye to most wool everything and don’t miss the itch.
Smart wool socks are the exception.
Goretex is light-years beyond what we had a couple decades ago. It’s also expensive, noisy, and heavy and can be bulky when compressed. It’s still king to staying as dry as possible in a wet environment. If it’s not actively snowing or raining through, and you’ve checked the forecast, I leave it at home for a good outer shell that can handle the conditions.
Special note: Ponchos are popular; they also are almost universally mis-used. A poncho is for standing watch in one place with as little movement as possible, not for hiking.
So warm, breathing layers and knowing how and when to open up those vents to be able to breath.
For hats I again like fleece; same with gloves. Fleece gloves inside a good water resistant mitten are very cozy and lets you slip off the shell to do other stuff while still staying warm. Quality counts with gloves and mittens. Don’t bargain basement shop and think you’ll just make them work. Miserable is cold hands and cold toes. No mater what is on your hands to keep you warm through, it is going to be a real trick to try and do anything that takes some perception of dexterity especially when trying to manipulate small items like a zipper or flashlight… or a trigger.
Eyewear is always tricky. Goggles and sunglasses can fog but my eyes are too important not to protect. I also am very sensitive to light which is awesome at night when stalking around, not so awesome when an oncoming car doesn’t turn his brights off. There are a hundred products to keep fog away but nothing works perfectly. A cheap fix is clear shampoo. Rub a tiny bit on your lenses and it creates a see-through anti fog film… for a while. Venting your eyewear helps a little too.
Boots are what you make of them. I like the sorrels that have shin high built in gator type extensions. They are dry and warm but usually don’t offer much of anything in the way of ankle support. You can use your summer backpacking boots or fall hunting boots, but eventually they WILL get soaked and cold, and that sucks.
Below is a picture from a buddy of mine. I think it shows really well the idea of using two “camos” in the right area. The boots and Nagant sure do stand out dont they?
Next is shot of another friend in all white attire. I’d say it works pretty well.
I like these two pics because they show a good contrast of what you may see both close up and from farther away. If the figures were reversed in the same background, they would stand out much more. I see snow camo as trying to find the right compromise for both situations.
Another little thing you will come to find out if you spend a lot of time in the snow is that its not all the same. Snow isn’t always snow. The point I’m getting at is that sound behaves differently with snow on the ground. Soft snow will dampen footfalls and sound in general will not travel as far, while hard packed snow can cause echoes and make sound travel further or sound like it is coming from another direction all together, and I think everyone knows about crusted crunchy snow just being a pain all around.
The crunchy-crust snow with powder underneath is the worst. Boots bust through it, skis cant go over it and snowshoes may be enough to keep you on that top layer, until they break through and help you to trip onto your face on the crusty edge of the hole you just made. The only thing that works is leg power and mind power to not get frustrated. Suck conditions really help you find out your deficiencies.
Electronics: Don’t like em, try not to use em. Yes I use radios and a GPS when I’m out with a group but electronics and cold and/or wet don’t usually mix well in my experience. Cant get them out of a pouch or push their buttons with gloves on, battery life is crap in the cold… but they are a necessary evil.
Sleeping: Anymore I’m either a hammock guy or nothing at all. If I can’t swing high and dry, I’ll be laying out under the stars. Traditional tarps are ridiculous in this day and age. There are just too many lightweight and durable alternatives. Buy one at $100 or buy 5 cheapie tarps at $20 over the life span of the one good one. The benefits of the one good one will compound drastically too. A proper underquilt for the hammock is great. A pad and good sleeping bag will due in a pinch. I have multiple hammocks for multiple uses. Don’t really need one with a bug net in the winter in my estimation so why carry the weight and hassle?
The only alternative to a hammock that I really go for anymore is a tent with a double sleeping bag and a second warm body to cuddle up to. Tents always leak at some point and if I’m cuddling, I’m not exactly out on a recon.
Firearms: Test your gear. I think this is one area where comblok surplus guns really shine. No small mag release buttons to try and pinpoint with your gloves on, big bolt handles and robust platforms that you laugh about if they get wet. A $2,000 AR, not for me. A $600 PSL, $500 AK, $300 SKS or $100 Mosin? Don’t mind taking one of those out in the crap weather one bit.
Now Im no survival blog fan but there is a fairly decent write up on snow patrols if you are interested in further reading on the subject: http://www.survivalblog.com/2011/02/cold_weather_patrol_tactics_an.html