About a third of you who visit this site regularly are trigger pullers of some kind or another so I thought you non-Western Hunter Magazine subscribers might like to see what I am doing over there. Here is my article from the most recent issue. I have received more positive feedback on this article than any of the others I have written for them.
PROTECTING THE HUMAN MACHINE
By Wade Nelson
Gear Editor, Western Hunter Magazine
The difference between success and failure out there on the ragged edge boils down to; a good head on your shoulders, a strong body, and the right gear. Coach Paulsen will address physical conditioning and nutrition in his new Fuel The Fire column but even the fittest person can’t survive being too hot or too cold for too long. As magnificent as the human body is, as good as its thermoregulating mechanisms are, it simply can’t tolerate much more than a few degrees of variance in operating temperature without a dramatic drop in performance. Protecting the human machine from adverse environmental conditions with the right gear is critical to the safety and success of the serious outdoorsman. The right clothes and some good tips can make a big difference.
Assuming you are healthy, in good shape and properly hydrated and nourished, the biggest challenge to keeping the human machine running at peak performance is maintaining optimal body temperature. For most adult men that is an average of between 97 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit at the core. Keeping the needle in that narrow operating range is part of what the Docs call Homeostasis. When you’re at home it’s just a matter of turning the thermostat up or down but it’s a much different proposition when you are on the mountain and living out of a pack. A drop in core body temperature (hypothermia) can occur under the right circumstances even in the mildest weather and is indicated by signs/symptoms that begin with shivering, headaches, lack of muscle coordination, and mental confusion progressing to cardiac, respiratory failure and death.
The scariest thing about hypothermia is that it sneaks up on you and affects your ability to think clearly which means you may not respond appropriately or quickly enough to remedy the situation. I have been on many SAR missions that turned into body recoveries because of an all too common sequence of events. Victim gets cold, makes bad decisions, gets lost, gets hurt and dies. Circumstances and details vary but once the downward spiral begins the results are usually the same, however, it is predictable and preventable. The right clothing system can protect you.
Knowing how we lose body heat helps us use our clothing system to either stay warm when we are sitting still or cool off when we are working hard.
• Convection-A fluid (air or water) moving (wind is a big factor) across your body and taking body heat with it. Water convects heat much better than air which is why getting wet in the backcountry can be dangerous.
• Conduction-Physical contact with something colder than you. This is why we use sleeping mats and sit pads to insulate us from the cold ground.
• Radiation-Our body emits or radiates heat constantly. The goal, depending on our situation, is to keep it in and stay warm or let it out and cool off.
• Evaporation-The transformation of water into vapor. This is why we sweat when we’re hot. It’s our most effective cooling method and works best when combined with a breeze (convection).
• Inhalation/exhalation/ingestion-Breathing cold air in, breathing warm air out, and eating or drinking things that are cold (like snow or runoff water).
To remain effective in the field our gear has to be flexible in dealing with these processes. It would be easy if we drove to a tree stand and waited for something to walk by but that is not how most Western Hunter readers do it. We hump a good size pack and cover a lot of ground on foot which means we generate a lot of heat and sweat but then we stop to glass for hours at a time and get cold. Fortunately, the outdoor equipment industry, driven mostly by mountaineers and the military, has developed gear that Lewis and Clark could have never imagined but even with all the progress, modern mountain men still turn back the wind, rain and snow, retain vital body heat and cool off by layering our clothing. We constantly adjust to changing conditions and activity levels with the mixing and matching of protective shell, insulation layer, active ventilation techniques and physical exertion control to keep from freezing up or overheating.
I want to repeat something I’ve said here before. I’ve yet to find the perfect set of clothes that performs adequately in every situation so to properly tune your gear list to the trip you have to do your homework. Terrain, historical temperature range for that area at that time of year, distances to public road access, places of refuge, trails, etc. My point is you need to know the area and what to expect so you can develop a good plan, then use that plan to tailor a proper gear list. Research, plan, gear list, in that order. Sound like we are preparing for a military special operations mission? Yes, because that’s how professionals maximize their probability of success while minimizing the chance of failure or mishap.
Here are the basic layers and techniques that I use to stay dry, warm and productive while hunting the Western U.S. in the fall and winter.
Base Layer-Provides some insulation but has to be able to pull or wick sweat away from the skin efficiently and dry quickly. Wet skin loses heat at an exponentially faster rate than dry skin so this component of the system is critical. I suggest long sleeves and form fitting with a deep zip t-neck for good ventilation when you need it. REI and Patagonia have light, mid and expedition weights to suit different conditions, hunting friendly colors and are made of Polypropylene or Merino wool. I wear bike short length bottoms unless I expect it to be very cold.
Insulation-The big decision is goose down or synthetic which is determined by your research and the answer to a very simple question. Can you keep the down dry or not? Down is lighter, more compressible and a better insulator than even the best synthetics unless it gets wet. Insulation pieces are meant to be worn under the protective shell so they should be as simple and lightweight as possible but they need to be thick enough to make an overnight bivy survivable. Look at Wild Things, Wiggys, and Sitka Gear for Primaloft, Lamilite and Climashield synthetic insulations. For down go to Western Mountaineering, Nunatak and Mont-Bell.
Sometimes I bring a second insulation piece, a light, tightly knit synthetic wool button down shirt from Cabelas or a Patagonia Synchilla fleece pullover. They cut the wind, “breathe” well and are good when it is too warm to wear my shell but too cool for just my base. They are also quiet. 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.
Shell Layer-The perfect hunting shell is lightweight but very durable, uses a waterproof/windproof/vapor permeable laminate, has pit zips, adjustable cuffs and a double front zipper for active ventilation and is quiet. Look at Gore-Tex and eVent shell jackets and pants or bibs from Tad Gear, Sitka Gear, Wild Things and Arcteryx.
Head-I always wear a ball cap. It shades my eyes and blocks the sun when I am glassing. It also makes the brim on my shell hood work much better when it is raining hard. I keep a windproof balaclava made by Outdoor Research for nasty conditions or bivys. Remember the old saying, if your feet are cold put a hat on. Everything from your neck up is very vascular and prone to major heat loss. Expose those areas when you are hot, cover them when you are cold.
Hands-And wrists are another part of the body where large blood vessels are close to the surface of the skin. They are also farthest from the heart so circulation is a concern in cold weather. I wear Hanz Nomex gloves, Outdoor Research mitten shells and carry a thick pair of fleece mittens. Disposable heat packs make great hand/pocket warmers. Carry more than you expect to need and replace them every year. Very important, when the body gets cold it shunts blood flow to the brain and vital organs in the core. Feet and hands are the first to feel the effects which is why they are particularly susceptible to frostbite. Protect them.
Feet-Most people buy boots that are too small. Make sure that yours fit properly and have extra room for thicker socks and swollen feet. Fall and winter hunting boots should be made of waterproof materials and use Gore-Tex liners to keep feet as dry as possible. Lowa (offers wide sizes), Hanwag, Kenetrek, Scarpa and Asolo are outstanding brands. Make sure that you have figured out what socks work best for you. Carry at least one spare pair and switch them out to dry often. Smartwool, Lorpen, Danner and Bridgedale make great hunting and cold weather socks. If you are expecting severe temperatures and nothing but snow then I would strongly suggest insulated boots or a technical pac like the Sorel Conquest.
Take care of your boots. Clean them and properly dress them after each trip to ensure maximum performance and durability.
I know it seems early to be thinking about this now but we are going to be hunting in less than three months and it will be here before you know it. Check your gear, do your repairs, replacements and upgrades now then conduct a couple of full dress rehearsals with your system to make sure you have all the bugs worked out of it. Opening day is a bad time to find out that you have a problem.
There you have it.
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.