Two Letters Re: Here Comes Winter!

Dear JWR,
I enjoyed the great advice from Peter H. on being prepared in the winter. As a life-long Chicagoan and having spent lots of time snowmobiling in upper Wisconsin, please let me offer a few additional tips on dressing for cold weather.

Keeping warm in the cold is all about layering underneath and waterproof on the outside. I prefer cotton clothes to the newer athletic-type wicking clothes which don’t seem to hold the heat as well. Start with cotton long underwear which is snug but not too tight. A second pair of long underwear is all you should need in the coldest (sub-zero) weather.

On your upper body, add 1-2 cotton t-shirts over the 1-2 pair of long underwear to keep your trunk warm and to leave your arms free to move. I sometimes throw a loose cotton sweatshirt over all of this if it’s really cold. There are lots of parkas on the market. With all the layering underneath, just make sure the one you pick is water-proof (not water-repellant), or has a waterproof lining inside. Also make sure it is oversized to allow room for the layers underneath.

On my legs, I wear a quality pair of cotton jeans over the long underwear, and a quilt-lined bib over the jeans. I’ve taken the advice of guys who work in the outdoors in the winter (one is my best friend who is a union painter in Chicago), and buy Carhartt clothes. I agree with outdoor workers that Carhartt clothes are the best work quality around. The Carhartt bibs are preferable to one-piece snow suits because they don’t restrict your upper body movements while at the same time they are warm, water-repellant, and cut any drafts that can get under your coat. Caution: do not put these bibs in the dryer as they can shrink! These are not totally waterproof, so I sometimes add a pair of ordinary waterproof rain pants on the outside (which also helps cut the wind).

Buy waterproof, insulated, and steel-toed boots. If you walk enough in the snow, eventually you’re going to kick a chunk of ice or a stump hidden under the snow. Buy the boots at least 1 size too large and 1 size too wide to allow room for extra socks and to allow room to wiggle your toes. Having room to wiggle your toes is important to assist blood circulation, which boosts warmth (cramped toes with poor circulation will get cold in a hurry). I recommend boots from Red Wing, which are hand-made right here in America. (I’ve had one of my three pairs of Red Wings now for 12 years, and I wore this pair daily in a manufacturing plant for six of those years. It is the most comfortable footwear I own).

If you have spent a lot of time outdoors in the cold, then you know that your feet and toes will get cold before anything else, and are the hardest to warm-up once they are cold. I wear one pair of cotton athletic socks under a pair of wool socks under a pair of ski-socks. Ski socks are designed to be form-fitting (helps hold the other socks in place) and are padded to cushion your feet in ski boots. A little “trick” comes from my painter friend, who uses simple kitchen baggies to keep his feet warm. Put an oversized baggy over your socks and then go into your boots. The baggies will retain heat and add to waterproofing. This really works well for short durations with a lot of activity (working), or over long durations with little activity (hunting). Just be careful over long durations of heavy activity as the sweat moisture can build-up inside the bags and cause your feet to start pruning.

One last suggestion is to buy an pair of thick, over-sized, waterproof, Thinsulate-lined gloves and a pair of thin, tight-fitting, waterproof, Thinsulate gloves to go inside. I never found any glove liners that really work all that well. By wearing two gloves at the same time, you get the benefits of additional lining and an added layer of waterproofing. Plus, if you need to use your fingers [for fine work], you can pull your hands out of the thick outer gloves without exposing them to the elements.

Of course, all these layers may sound like overkill, but this was taking things to extreme temperatures. The nice thing about layers is that it is always easy to take a layer off if you get too warm.

I hope this helps you stay warm and dry this winter.

Also, please allow me the chance to say thank you and God bless for all the work you do. Besides buying bullion for years, I only started prepping in 8/07 when the credit markets first froze. I’ve been reading your web site daily for over a year, finished Patriots two months ago, and just finished your book on retreats. I sent a copy of Patriots to six close friends and family in the hopes that the light bulbs start going on. I know we’re probably in the eleventh hour, but I’m trying to have a retreat purchased by this fall and hope to get some help from others if they understand. This is a life changing experience and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all your work. My prayers are with the Memsahib. – Chris G.

Peter H’s letter on Winter was spot on. Although I now live where they haven’t seen snow since the last ice age, I used to live in the Colorado high county where it snowed nine months a year and picked up a couple of things:

Tire chains work great but are the most wretched things to get on ( especially if you’re already stuck.). I do three things to make it reasonably easier, besides doing it before I’m stuck..

1. First I lay the tire chain out on the ground in front of the wheel. I made a couple of wood blocks around 5″ square and 21/2″ thick and put one of these into the gap in the chains a couple of feet back from the front of the chain stretched out on the ground. Then I drive forward (this assumes you aren’t stuck already) until the tire is over the block. This frees the chain from the tire and allows you much more slack. Don’t put the block in the center of the chain run or you’ll have to fight to connect both chains ends at the top of the tire. Much easier to drape one long end over and connect near the bottom of the tire.

2. Tire chains are always too short to connect easily, or at all in some situations (as in already being stuck) so the first thing I do with a new set, besides making sure they fit the tires, is extend the outside chain end. The inside link will always connect since you do it first. Buy 6″ of similar chain and a screw carabineer of similar size. Hook up the chain as tight as you can on the tire and put one of those rubber tensioners they give you with the tire chains on the link end and pull it to the opposite side to keep it from flopping around. Drive a few hundred yards and check if you have to tighten things up.

3. Buy more of those rubber chain tensioners.

With regard to Peter H’s suggestion of a hoe to dig out snow from under a car. I must admit I never thought of that. He is absolutely correct in that a regular shovel is useless. The angle of the shovel blade causes it to ride up into the bottom of the car rather than along the ground and snow shovels are too weak to shift hard snow and ice although they are perfect for powder snow if you start shoveling before the disturbed snow sets up hard.

What I use is a shovel called a D-handle sharpshooter. It’s 31” long and it has a D-handle at the top and a long thin straight blade with no pitch on the other end. The blade will go through most anything and it can be swept sideways to remove lose stuff. The D-handle allows full control. Mine has a metal handle and is over 20 years old. Most of my shovels (always with fiberglass handles) wear out the blades in a couple of years of constant use. This one is now 4″ shorter but has followed me to Australia and back.

I’ve used this shovel as a pry bar, brush and small tree cutter and I once whacked a gang member with it outside Denver’s old airport. It’s as useful a tool as you could hope to find.
This brings me to further point. A sharpshooter shovel in a car or even in your hand generates no interest from the police or anybody else, but [if kept sharpened] it’s actually the best edged weapon I can think of this side of a broad sword. It works just fine and if you ever have to defend your actions after the fact, a shovel sounds a whole lot better to the authorities than does a sword, ax, knife, etc. When the cops were called over the gang member incident, I was asked what I hit him with and I said ” a shovel” The cop said I should have hit him twice. Of course it helped that I whacked the guy with the flat rather than decapitating him with the edge.

Kind regards to you and your Wife, – LRM Perth, Western Australia