Dressing for the Elements: Cotton is the Enemy!
With the recent rash of bitterly cold weather that we have experienced in the Southeastern part of the country, we have all been forced to find the best way to stay warm while on the water. For years I would go through the same routine in the wintertime. I would climb out of bed in the morning and put on a short sleeve cotton t-shirt followed by a cotton long sleeve t-shirt and topped off with my favorite cotton hoodie. On my feet, I would layer up as well by putting on a second, often cotton, pair of socks. When I would get to the ramp, then I would add my wind proof layer and it would feel like I was Ralphie’s brother from the movie A Christmas Story. Within a few hours, I would typically be fatigued from the restricted movements caused by the multiple layers and I would always feel like I was standing on a block of ice despite my multiple pairs of socks. Little did I know but I could have had a much more enjoyable day on the water had I known that I was struggling with my biggest enemy; cotton.
Cotton makes for great everyday clothing but it is absolutely horrible when preparing for the bitter cold that we have been facing this winter. First, cotton tends to trap moisture against your skin instead of wicking it away from your body. Moisture that stays in contact with your skin makes you much colder than you need to be.
In the last few years, I have found myself migrating towards the moisture wicking material for my base layer in order to combat the bad attributes that cotton has. There are a few companies that produce these garments these days but I have found Gill products to work best for me. I start off with their i2 Base layer long sleeve tees and leggings. They are not overly tight or restricting like other products and give me the best range of movement. On top of the base layer shirt, I then go with Gill’s Grid Microfleece. I really like this because it is light weight but still very warm. I feel that the fleece midlayer is the whole catalyst for this system since it reduces the bulk substantially and removes the most amount of cotton compared to the hoodies that most of us typically wear. You can finish off with a wind proof jacket. Most people just throw on their rain suit for that.
If you have spent any amount of time on the water in the cold, you know that your feet are typically freezing cold for most of the day. I do basically the same with my feet by wearing either fleece or wool socks. I do things a little differently though when it is going to be hovering around the freezing mark all day. If I am able to, I will avoid putting the socks and shoes that I will be wearing that day on until I get to the lake. While at home, I will put on some other socks that can be removed once I get to the lake to avoid moisture build up while heading to the lake. You will be surprised how much this can help! Also, I have gone as far as taking a spray anti-per spirant and sprayed down my feet to keep them from sweating throughout the day. Bottom line with your feet is that if you can keep them dry then you will enjoy the day much more.
When you put this whole system together what you end up with is a very warm system that promotes the best range of movement possible in these adverse conditions. This will allow you to focus on fishing and not fighting your clothing plus, you will not be as fatigued at the end of the day.
Interesting fact – Cotton can absorb up to 25% of its weight in moisture! Damp air can remove body heat 20 times faster than dry air.