Snow Time - Cold Weather Boots, Gloves, Jackets

We got our second big winter storm in as many weeks so I was chomping hard at the bit to get up North and get into the "bad" weather.  It was just me and Coop because the girls chose to go shopping.  Shopping!  Please.  Wandering around bathed in generic seasonal music and phony holiday spirit with thousands of only the most polite, courteous, pleasant “shoppers” is not my idea of fun.  Thank god for the internet and UPS.  Besides, Hardcore Outdoorsmen would rather pull their own heads off then miss days like this in the boonies.

The Dodge Ram 2500 Mega CabPJ utility trailer and Polaris Ranger XP set up was neatly loaded, fully gassed and ready to go.  School let out and we were out of there like a shot and headed north into the teeth of a major rain storm that, with luck, would turn into snow higher up. 

By now my children are all pretty well versed on the little tid bits of information that I habitually share with them on all of these trips.  They know all the stories of the rescue missions that occurred on the mountains that we pass and can even name the peaks and trail heads.  They know that with every 1000 foot gain in altitude the temperature drops 3 to 5 degrees so they don’t ask anymore why the numbers on the overhead console fall as we climb.  They know what wind chill is, that cotton kills in the backcountry and that you lose 50% of your body heat from your noggin.  They also know that we are on these trips to have fun but that this is serious business.  I have told them at least a hundred times, “we are a long way from 911” and “little mistakes out here can turn into big problems” and “your most important survival tool is your brain.”  I wonder sometimes when they are grown and out on their own which of my words will come back to them.     

The big Cummins diesel is cruising up the highway.  Coop, who has a body fat content of about zero point nothing, already has his heated leather seat set on high.  We are both laughing at Ron Whites “drunk in public” routine on the Sirius sat radio but I am wondering if I can keep this kid warm.  I am as prepared as any man on the planet for the weather we are headed into but I can’t help but wonder if it was a good idea to bring him along on this trip.  Regardless of how much he wanted to go, I am the adult and I am supposed to know what’s best.  The stated goal of our little venture is to see how the Ranger with its ITP MudLite XTR tires performs in the snow but it is also to start schooling my son on the fundamentals of working in cold weather and snow.  When you grow up in Minnesota and Missouri like I did, you take that kind of education for granted because you get it every day in just going to school or doing chores.  He grew up in the desert and on the beach, as far as he is concerned, we might as well be going to the moon. 

Despite breaking through the 7000 foot level the rain continues hard and steady as we pull into the hotel and eat dinner.  We, like every Arizona snow skier, not to mention a couple of very anxious ski area operators, are hoping that this rain turns into big snow.  After all, it has been unusually tough the last several years for us snow loving desert dwellers.  The precipitation gods have not been generous.  I finally doused the lights at about 2330 while Coop is still glued to the window.  His Q 2 minute weather reports of “no snow yet Dad” are progressively down beat.  We rack out and drift off, both of us hoping for a surprise in the morning but for different reasons.

We can both see from our beds without leaving the comfort of the covers that the gods have relented and given us everything that we asked for and more.  It looks to me like a solid 6 plus inches of new snow.  Everything is covered.  I have seen this a hundred times and still marvel at the wonder of it all but Cooper is positively stunned.  His questions come at a blinding staccato pace and I know they will not stop until I get him dressed and out there in it.  If I don’t do it quickly, he will surely spontaneously combust and burst into flames.     

I forgot a long windshield scraper and there is ice and a thick layer of snow between me and the ability to see the road at all.  Dumb mistake.  The fix:  a telescoping plastic avalanche shovel from the back of the Ranger.  I retrieve the last of our snivel gear and shut the hotel door behind me.  We get back in the truck and head further up the highway.  It is just us and two snow plows so far and it is snowing hard with those big fat fluffy flakes that seem to float forever.  We turn on the forest road and pull over in a clearing that is big enough for me to turn around.  I leave the truck running and as I get out I tell him to “sit tight” which means don’t get out of the truck.  I want to get the Ranger off the trailer, start it, clear the ice and snow off of it and then go back to the truck and get him properly dressed.  Well, just as I reach for the driver’s side door handle I hear the muffled thud of a car door closing.  He couldn’t wait any longer.  My heart jumps when I try the door.  Shit!  It is locked which means they are all locked.  I normally wear a truck key on a lanyard around my neck but this time that is the key that was in the ignition.  Second dumb mistake.  Good thing that I am anal, retentive, obsessive, compulsive enough to put a valet key on the Ranger key ring or I would have had to figure out which of the truck windows would be the cheapest to replace.  There was not another soul around and we were way out of cellular range.       

We cruised the forest roads and two trackers.  We had a snow ball fight.  We built a Quinzhee shelter.  We cooked up the concoction (see my 10/15/07 "Hot Stuff Coming Attcha" post) and ate at the Tailgate Café (what I call making and eating lunch on the tailgate of your truck or ATV).  The Ranger ran beautifully, as usual, and never even hinted at getting stuck.   After 4 or 5 hours we headed for the truck, town and then home.  We had a great time.  Mission accomplished.

Observations.  Rivers West clothing in their original H2P configuration is amazing stuff for the right situations.  When I first saw it a couple of years ago at the Winter OR show I was very excited about its waterproof, windproof and quiet characteristics.  However, the first time that I used it I found its Achilles heel.  It doesn’t breathe, at all.  As much as I have enjoyed wearing my Rivers West jacket, I have learned that if you plan on doing anything that causes you to break a sweat, choose another shell.  But, if you are going to sit in a tree stand in a steady rain or drive an ATV in a snow storm this is the stuff to wear.  The fabric is a cross between thin, stretchy wet suit material and fleece.  It is thick and heavy but comfortable to wear.  It is silent and protects you completely from the wind and the rain.  Rivers West has a new lighter weight version of this fabric called L.A.W. but I don’t have anything made of it yet. 

I wore my Rivers West Jacket with a Western Mountaineering goose down Flight Jacket over an REI Mid Weight MTS Zip T-Neck base and was toasty all day, even when we were cruising at 25 plus mph in the Ranger.  Those last two items I have mentioned before, they are a staple of my kit.  In fact, the only thing that got cold the whole day was my face and ears when we were driving so I put on what is now called the Sonic Balaclava from Outdoor Research and a set of ski goggles.  The balaclava is made of Polartec Windpro which insulates well, cuts the wind totally and is low bulk so it can be used under a helmet.  I have used it twice on Rainier.  One of those times was in a storm with 70 plus mph winds.  It works very well.  Some of you may prefer the Baffin model which has a removable face piece (which I would end up losing).

On my tootsies I wore my Sorel Conquest boots with a new pair of Under Armour ColdGear Outdoor Lightweight Over-The-Calf socks.  The Conquest is a boot I found for the Air Force PJs at Davis-Monthan a couple of years ago.  It is a cross between a lace up hunting/hiking boot and a traditional snow pac.  It is fully waterproof and rated to minus forty degrees.  It is a great boot for snow shoeing, snow hiking and cold weather work where a sloppy fitting pac won’t work.  The socks struck me as spindly when I got them from UA but I have worn them ten times now and they show no signs of wear.  They are very comfortable and stay up which is a big deal if you have calves like mine.  UA continues to impress.  Prior to these, my lightweight go-to socks were the Walking Light Crew socks from SmartWool which is like the best athletic sock you have ever had but made of stretchy merino wool.  Awesome socks for cool weather or working out.  They come in a low and medium crew size but not OTC which is why I bought the Under Armours.

I am headed for Kansas to hunt pheasant for a few days.  It is cold and there is a bumper crop of birds this year.  Should be a good trip.  I am going to use a couple different pair of pants to finish up my field pant test.  For boots I am bringing my Danner Santiams and the Sorel Conquests.  Since we typically hunt circle corners and small CRP fields, I am going to use the Rivers West jacket with the Cabela's Windshear Trek-Tech Wool Quarter Zip Sweater and the REI MTS Zip T-Neck.  For gloves, I am sticking with the Hanz Nomex gloves from Danalco that have been so good to me.  They are incredibly versatile.  I began using these instead of a standard flight glove when I was with the Sheriff’s office.  They give me great dexterity, fit perfectly and are much warmer than they should be.  Actually, they fit everybody perfectly because they are so stretchy.  The fact that they are Nomex was a requirement but is now merely interesting but I think that it somehow makes them warmer.  Maybe it is the weave.  Anyway, they have become indispensable to my system.  On our recent snow trip, I used these with an older version of the Vector Mitten shells from Outdoor Research and I was fine.  The Hanz gloves might just be the Hardcore Outdoor mascot product. 


Wade Nelson

Sorting through the fads and fashion of the outdoor equipment industry to identify and promote the very best wilderness gear for high end recreational users, backcountry professionals and government agencies.

Hardcore Outdoor is dedicated to those who won't or can't turn back.


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