In response to the letter on Wednesday Feb. 5th regarding “Heating Concern in LP/OP“, I submit my thoughts.
Indeed, those of us in Northern climates should be very concerned with keeping warm in a LP/OP during the winter months. When in the LP/OP, we typically have to stay put. Wandering off or doing laps around the property could allow those who would do your group harm to enter your property unannounced. The other important point is that an effective person in a LP/OP is also quiet. Having the upper hand in a tactical situation could very well hinge on the LP/OP giving his/her group advanced warning and/or striking against attackers who are not aware of the LP/OP. Even simple activities such as jogging in place or doing some jumping-jacks can create noise that can be heard from afar.
So we have established that an effective individual in a LP/OP assignment will for the most part be sitting or standing with minimal movement for an extended period of time. As was mentioned in HJL’s response, sitting still in a cold spot is something that hunters have done for many years and you could likely learn some great ideas from hunters in your region. Plains hunters may be fighting windchill while mountainous areas may be hampered by annual snowfall that’s measured in feet, not inches. Whatever your surroundings are, take some time to find out what is going to work best for you in your local area.
Wind makes a massive difference in the “am I warm enough” calculation. Any exposed skin is going to get cold right away in subzero temps. Frostbite can set in within a matter of minutes. Look at your current LP/OP or where you are planning to build it. Does it offer a natural barrier against the cold? I’m a big fan of dugout LP/OP positions. Not only do they block wind, they provide natural protection from small arms and tend to blend in better with surroundings than an outbuilding will. Trees, bushes and other natural materials can also block the wind. Just be sure to design the layout in a way that vision won’t be blocked while in the LP/OP. In extreme situations, ski goggles will keep blowing snow out of your eyes and help keep your face warm. You should opt for clear lenses and not the heavily tinted versions that only work well in daylight. A natural roof of sod, pine boughs or logs over the LP/OP will not only keep out snow and wind, it will also hide your position better.
- Ideally, you should have a base layer that wicks away moisture, an insulating layer on top of the base layer and an outer layer that is water and wind proof. I’ll be diving into each one of these in greater detail.
- Base layer:
- We have a saying up here – “cotton is rotten”. Cotton may be comfortable but it’s terrible when it comes to keeping you warm and dry. To be the absolute warmest, you should be covered from head to toe in some sort of a performance fabric that keeps you warm and wicks away moisture. Thinking you can build your layers by starting with cotton undies and socks, denim jeans and a cotton t-shirt is foolish at best and dangerous at worst. Everyone in your group should have a base layer set. Many of these fabrics have particular wash and dry requirements in order to maintain their performance so be sure to read the labels and instruct whomever does the laundry at your home to follow directions. Thinsulate is a name brand from 3M that you’re likely familiar with that’s great to have in your outdoor items but pay close attention to the amount and type of Thinsulate.
- Insulating layer:
- Ditch the jeans, sweatshirts and cotton-based flannels in favor of fleece and wool. Take the time to tuck in undershirts and other items so that you can retain the most heat. You want items that give you flexibility and movement. You will also want items that will be comfortable if you need to start removing items. For example, a loose-knit wool sweater will likely let in too much wind to be comfortable if you remove your jacket.
- Outer layer:
- You’re going to want either a full snowsuit or a quality jacket and snow pants combo. Snowsuits keep out more air but are often harder to move about in and make it difficult to remove layers. There have been many times where I have removed my jacket but kept everything else on. This allows me to cool down when I get too warm but keep the heat in my extremities. Try sitting in a snowbank with your outer layer for 30 minutes. Do your outer layers remain dry or are they starting to take on water? If your outer layer is taking on a bunch of water after a short period, imagine what will happen when you have to be outside for hours on end or hike for miles in knee-deep snow.
- There’s going to be some debate here but my favorite so far are my Sorel Glacier boots which are no longer made. Sorel does however make similar boots of the same caliber. I’ve found boots to be like sleeping bags. If the manufacturer says they are good down to “X degrees”, add 30 to that number. So if the manufacturer says their boots are good to 0 degrees, it means they are good to 30 degrees. I say this because we are planning on being sedentary in the LP/OP. You may be able to tolerate cooler temps if you were active but not in the situation we are discussing here. Wool socks are a must have to keep your feet dry and warm.
- I’m a big fan of a balaclava which will keep your head warm and also cover your neck. Add a stocking cap or mask on top of that and you’ll stay warm, especially if it contains Thinsulate or a similar material. Note that this arrangement is going to limit your hearing. You can look at ways to cut holes for your ears, use listening devices or other methods to improve hearing but keep in mind that any attackers are likely facing the same challenges. This is where having quality visual tools such as spotting scopes, nightvision, etc will pay off in spades. When temps permit, a stocking cap with exposed ears will keep you the warmest while still allowing you to hear.
- Thinsulate or a similar material is a must as a base layer. Whether you choose, mittens or gloves, be sure you can operate all of your tools such as communication devices, spotting scopes, firearms, etc. I have seen some military surplus gloves out there that offered quick access to a shooter’s fingers. While I liked their design, I felt they need more insulation. Perhaps you could use layering to make them work for you. Mittens will always keep you warmer because they keep your fingers together to share the heat. Northerners already know this but transplants from the South might not be thinking of this point. One of my favorite setups for hands is Thinsulate gloves inside of wool gloves that are placed inside leather mittens that have a cuff which reaches my forearm. We called them “choppers” where I grew up. Treat the leather choppers with some mink oil to waterproof them and your hands will never feel the wind.
- Other items:
- Hand warmer packets are popular with hunters and can be found for very little money. Just be sure to follow directions to avoid burns or irritation. A quick way to warm yourself when cold is to drink warm liquids. If it’s meal time, have some warm soup. If you are drinking water, warm it up. Stock up on tea bags if you need flavored water. Alcohol may give a temporary reprieve from the cold but it actually works against you when you’re trying to keep warm so avoid it. Just like sleeping on the ground makes you colder, so too will laying in the snow. Use foam, straw bales, pine boughs, old couch cushions, etc to insulate yourself from the cold ground. If you have a chair in your LP/OP, a pillow will do wonders when compared to a cold seat (not to mention the comfort aspect). Don’t overlook having a few military surplus wool blankets to put over yourself. A pair of waterproof gaiters will keep the snow out of your boots when going through the deep stuff. Have a plan for drying wet gear between assignments. Hang a drying line near a heat source and use it regularly. Wet gear is uncomfortable and only makes you colder.
- Get creative:
- Can you have a small woodstove, kerosene or electric heater next to you? Would your barn make a good LP/OP? The livestock will help keep you warm. Place some hot rocks in your gloves or pockets (be careful not to burn yourself). Rice bag heating pads can be made in about 5 minutes using instructions found online and will retain their heat for a very long time. If you can get electricity out to your LP/OP, an electric heating pad or electric blanket will add to your warmth.
A few closing points. Buy quality gear. I know many of us are on a budget but the cheap stuff just doesn’t keep you warm or last through several seasons – “buy nice or buy it twice”. Many deals can be found on Craigslist, eBay, etc. We found winter gear for our daughter a couple years ago that I know cost the seller over $200 when new. We paid $20 for the set when the seller’s daughter outgrew the items. Also worth mentioning; right now, many retailers have their winter items on clearance. Just today, I purchased two Thinsulate stocking caps for $2 each. Lastly, be sure to test out your gear. Put it all on and go sit outside in the dark for a few hours in cold temps. It’ll be boring but I’d rather see someone be bored for a few hours now than suffer endlessly through a cold winter (or a few winters!) in a grid-down situation because they failed to test their gear.
When it gets dangerously cold outside, group members should be checking in on one another regularly to ensure everyone is safe and warm. Keeping warm isn’t just a comfort item; hypothermia and frostbite have real consequences and become grave when no doctors or hospitals are available. Stay safe and keep warm my friends. – E.B.
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I’ve spent my fair share of time in a fox hole and on nasty weather operations. You must adapt to the climate and accept that there is no bad weather, just bad clothing. A good attitude makes a big difference when the chips are down. Make the investment in quality clothing, especially for your feet. If you have a well made LP/OP, you might get away with some nice to have items to keep one warm without compromising your presence. It depends on your individual setup. Not all LP/OP’s have to be totally concealed and without comforts to be useful. You can have an LP/OP that is also meant to be abandoned as soon as possible, when trouble arrives. You then fall back to your secondary and better concealed location that doesn’t have the comforts. The greater the weather challenge the more often you change out your sentry. If an LP/OP is exposed to the elements, I found in that you have to rely on military grade cold weather gear and always have the thick poncho available which keeps just about everything out. Wool is excellent because it’ll keep you warm even if you get wet. A good German Shepherd Dog will save the day regardless of the weather. Two would be better. Save one from the shelter and give him some basic training and they’ll reward you countless times. Get him a dog jacket too. I got several on sale for my rescues. While you might be distracted because you are messing around with your clothing or dozing off a little in unfriendly weather, he won’t. Army or Ranger Surplus stores have the kind of clothing I mentioned. – F.
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My plan for this has four parts.
- have a chair that swivels or rotates. A used QUIET office chair would be great. I use a padded swivel boat seat mounted on a small bench made from a short width of 2″ x12″ lumber that is only 16″ wide. The height is set so your seat sit flat on the ground. This allows rotating 360″ degrees and tilting backwards a bit. This greatly aides movement of the feet and legs and keeps the blood flowing. I have successfully sat on one of these for 5 hours at a time deer hunting.
- Have a good supply of your favorite hot beverage in a QUALITY vacuum (“Thermos”) bottle that will keep it steaming hot during your watch. A good high-protein snack every hour also helps to keep your energy flowing. I prefer a smoked sausage sandwich. I keep it warm by carrying it inside my inner shirt so it is warm.
- Along with Hugh’s multilayer clothing I also keep at least one thick wool or polyester blanket to cover my legs and boots as I cool down. A neck gaiter is a must to prevent losing heat through the major arteries in your neck. This will lower your resistance to cold by another 20 degrees. Ski instructors say that if you are cold, cover your neck and head. If you are too warm, uncover it.
- The last item is an amazing “technology” discovered in previous centuries– the hot water bottle. One of these inside your coat is an amazing thing. They come in different sizes, from “extra large” clear down to the “baby” hot water bottles. Take a coupling in a small “ice chest”. It works for heat also. Take a few to last through your watch. Or have some one bring you some during your watch.
Stay warm/Stay awake. – MER