It's not cold outside; you just don't know how to dress
December 14, 2016 3:39 PM   Subscribe

How do humans deal with and survive extreme cold? Your best defense is knowing how to dress. "The Protective Combat Uniform emphasizes durability and functionality and has been described as the best cold weather clothing system ever developed. The primary operational theory for how it works requires some understanding of physics, so buckle in." posted by AFABulous (101 comments total) 119 users marked this as a favorite
 
you may notice your cat or dog becomes noticeably larger outdoors when it gets below freezing for instance.

Hell yeah sweetie puff puff
posted by Greg Nog at 3:58 PM on December 14, 2016 [31 favorites]


Nice to see Mark Twight referenced (third link)- his book Extreme Alpinism is an absolute classic - telling all you never knew you wanted to know about climbing high mountains in terrible conditions...
posted by gyusan at 3:59 PM on December 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


OP, why are we listening to Antarcticans when it's 12 degrees warmer there?
posted by The Gaffer at 4:05 PM on December 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


Hell yeah sweetie puff puff

pass pass

also that's probably not good for your cat
posted by beerperson at 4:06 PM on December 14, 2016 [10 favorites]


Just a few weeks ago I was involved with some cold temperature testing of some hardware. When I do this kind of work, it's usually on smallish boxes, but this time it was a trailer so it went in to a chamber large enough to fit a Humvee. We had to go in to the chamber occasionally to make some adjustments and do some inspections.

It was -40 in the chamber, and we had standard issue military cold weather gear with us. The whole kit includes two top layers (a pretty standard fleece liner and a more durable shell with hood), insulated trousers, gloves, hat with ear and chin flaps, and booties. Figuring we'd only be in the chamber for a few minutes, I just opted for the tops and the gloves. It being a warmish day in Alabama, I was wearing thin chinos, a t-shirt, and chukkas.

I think we were only in the chamber for about 10 minutes but the effect was startling. My feet were completely numb and took the rest of the day to warm up again. It was literally snowing in the chamber because the little bit of humidity that was getting in was immediately condensing and freezing. The parts that I put the cold weather gear over were fine, but the rest of me was chilled straight to the bone in no time flat.

It was still preferable to the hot test we did the next day with the chamber at 55C and a bunch of solar lamps beating on us. I thought I was going to pass out when I had to go in the chamber that day.
posted by backseatpilot at 4:08 PM on December 14, 2016 [41 favorites]


dress for the job you want, backseatpilot
posted by thelonius at 4:12 PM on December 14, 2016 [35 favorites]


It's funny that high performance wear is so much better in quality and functionality AND is still cheaper than most clothing brands on the market. Like my 5.11 pants are a goddamn miracle in terms of durability and POCKETS (so many of them) and they still cost less than most jeans.

Super fascinating, thanks.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 4:17 PM on December 14, 2016 [5 favorites]


So....layers? I mean that Army are exemplars of bean-plating, but the PCU system seems to be "layers."
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 4:18 PM on December 14, 2016


I used to do a lot of winter hiking and backpacking when I was in my 20s, and I spent many a night out in the woods in winter. It's hard to imagine doing it now that I'm 47, though if I were in better shape I think I'd do it again.

We were in New Hampshire, not Antarctica, so it wasn't that extreme, but there were some cold times. 20 degrees F would be nothing, you'd be hiking with your sleeves rolled up, but when it got below zero it could get kind of uncomfortable once you stopped moving.

The coldest night I ever spent out was -25 F. That's actual temperature, not wind chill. We were camped below treeline, wearing just about everything we had with us, and it took us about three hours to melt enough snow for cooking and for the next day's drinking water. My buddy Mike and I were leading an AMC trip and there was an older couple in their 60s on their first ever winter backpacking trip. Once we got to where we were going to camp, a couple miles short of our goal due to the cold, they pitched their tent (with our help) and promptly got inside and didn't come out until they absolutely had to the next morning. We cooked and melted water for them because otherwise they'd have been in much rougher shape.

At the time I had a bag rated to zero degrees, and I had some polypro and fleece on, including a hat, gloves and thick baraclava. We survived the night but we weren't exactly comfortable. Other than those two, we were all in good spirits. The next day the tents were so frozen and brittle we couldn't get them in their stuff sacks and had to just strap them to our packs.

It was the same night two UNH students were attempting a traverse of the Presidential Range and one of them stuffed the other halfway into a sleeping bag and crawled to the summit of Mt. Washington for help. The one kid died and the other lost most of his fingers. There happened to be a reporter for the Boston Globe at the summit weather observatory that weekend and he wrote about the whole thing. It was a bad, bad story. We were in the trees, I cannot imagine what it would have been like above treeline.

While hiking, especially up a mountain, the difficult part is usually keeping from sweating because once you stop you'll be a lot colder. Our tricks for keeping warm once we stopped and set up camp, aside from proper clothing, was to stay hydrated, eat lots of chocolate and other carbs, and then chug a 1 quart nalgene bottle of hot water with a packet of lime Jello mix dumped in it. The sugar would help keep you warm all night. We'd also sleep with two Nalgene bottles filled with hot water.

We used to run a winter hiking and backpacking program and we'd sometimes invite Dr. Murray Hamlet, one of the Army's cold weather experts working out of the Natick R&D Labs, to give a talk. He'd show all sorts of gory slides of frostbitten feet, talk about trench foot, and basically scare everyone into taking that shit seriously. He also sold some socks he designed himself.

I miss those days. Now I'm cold sitting in my living room typing this. Stay warm.
posted by bondcliff at 4:34 PM on December 14, 2016 [72 favorites]


So....layers? I mean that Army are exemplars of bean-plating, but the PCU system seems to be "layers."

Yup, and pretty much layers of the same things you'd already pick up at the REI yourself, too.

Even less fancy is that these layers seem to have the same problem I have with wearing five or six layers: all those collars colliding.
posted by rokusan at 4:37 PM on December 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


It's funny that high performance wear is so much better in quality and functionality AND is still cheaper than most clothing brands on the market. Like my 5.11 pants are a goddamn miracle in terms of durability and POCKETS (so many of them) and they still cost less than most jeans.

One of the odd things about The Walking Dead is that despite synthetics being nigh-on indestructible, better in wet weather, and lighter, basically every item of clothing and equipment anyone uses is cotton, denim, leather, and metal. Obviously it's for production design coolness reasons - with the traditional gear on they look more like rugged frontier types rather than incredibly unwashed hikers. Still, I wish they'd retconned a Coily style "No Plastics!" plastics eating bacteria or something in there. Hell, the whole zombie outbreak could be a research labs plastics breakdown genetic engineering going horribly out of control.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 4:41 PM on December 14, 2016 [10 favorites]


Also, there is nothing harder than getting out of your sleeping bag in the middle of winter to go outside and pee. You always try and hold it, it never works, and you have to go out eventually. It's never as bad as you think it's gonna be, but it's never easy.

I never used a pee bottle, but I knew a lot of people who did. I was always afraid I'd miss or spill it.
posted by bondcliff at 4:46 PM on December 14, 2016 [11 favorites]


So....layers? I mean that Army are exemplars of bean-plating, but the PCU system seems to be "layers."

The specific composition of the layers is interesting. Like a mid-layer windblocker vs the mid-layer fleece for different conditions. And different types of underwear depending on the temperature. But yes, layers.
posted by GuyZero at 4:47 PM on December 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


Regarding pee: I was told retaining urine taxed your body's tendency to keep other extremities warm, due to the heat capacity of water, so get rid of it. It was my experience I was warmer afterwards.
posted by lazycomputerkids at 4:50 PM on December 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


Also, there is nothing harder than getting out of your sleeping bag in the middle of winter to go outside and pee.

Dude, you chugged a nalgene of lime jello water before going to bed!
posted by paper chromatographologist at 4:51 PM on December 14, 2016 [44 favorites]


Regarding pee: I was told retaining urine taxed your body's tendency to keep other extremities warm, due to the heat capacity of water, so get rid of it. It was my experience I was warmer afterwards.

Yeah, we were told the same. You body has to keep all that liquid warm too, get rid of it.

Dude, you chugged a nalgene of lime jello water before going to bed!

Proper hydration has its downsides. At least my pee was usually nice and clear.
posted by bondcliff at 4:53 PM on December 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


LMAO at the "morale patches" at "Its Tactical" for Soldier of Fortune wannabes.
posted by jfwlucy at 4:59 PM on December 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


There's nothing worse than lying awake in the tent trying to decide whether to go out and pee or to try to hold it in till morning. A camping buddy used gallon ziplock bags as pee bottles. He claimed they never failed, but I never dared share a tent with him.
posted by monotreme at 5:07 PM on December 14, 2016 [7 favorites]


When I moved to Minnesota it was august and unbearably hot and humid, I decided despite the heat to purchase a massively heavy Romanian wool officer's military surplus coat from a local fleet farm. It was the best decision I made that year. Having coverage down to your shins and sealed sleeves was a joy during the -20° F without windchill winters.

You got used to it fairly quickly, just toss on some layers, cover your face as much as you could and you were good to go.
posted by Ferreous at 5:23 PM on December 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


A camping buddy used gallon ziplock bags as pee bottles. He claimed they never failed, but I never dared share a tent with him.

That is bravery. I know people who use nalgene bottles to pee into, but I have always figured that if you are unzipping your sleeping bag anyway you may as well just step outside.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:28 PM on December 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


OP, why are we listening to Antarcticans when it's 12 degrees warmer there?

I just checked and it's 32F at McMurdo Station and 1F in Minneapolis. The forecast low for Minneapolis this weekend is -23F not counting wind chill. We could easily be looking at a 45 degree difference.
posted by beandip at 5:32 PM on December 14, 2016 [7 favorites]


I bought some TravelJohn disposable packets a while back but haven't had a chance to use any yet.
posted by Greg_Ace at 5:32 PM on December 14, 2016


I have always figured that if you are unzipping your sleeping bag anyway you may as well just step outside.

But scrunching around and bending over to put on pants and shoes in a tent while I'm bursting for a pee is sheer agony. I'm happy to avoid that part of the process.
posted by Greg_Ace at 5:33 PM on December 14, 2016


And the windchill is -20 right now. Good thing I don't need to fill up the gas tank. It always seems like this is the weather where you need to re-pressurize your tires, too. Typically in the dark.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:34 PM on December 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


a tent w a pee tube to the outside would be a good idea no?
posted by shockingbluamp at 5:48 PM on December 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


(If you are like me, and Bondcliff's mention of a tragedy in the Whites the same night he was camping there made you curious for the whole, terrible story, here you go. )
posted by minervous at 6:01 PM on December 14, 2016 [12 favorites]


When I snow camped, I just unzipped the door, stood up with my feet still inside the tent, and let go. That might have been before every tent had a vestibule though.
posted by LionIndex at 6:07 PM on December 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Autumnheart, I'm in Minneapolis, and came back in the house not 20 minutes ago after going to air the tires that had gone all flabby with the drop in temperature.
posted by Ickster at 6:08 PM on December 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


I suspect a pee tube from a tent outdoors would freeze solid after the first use and be rather a Bad Thing.
posted by Death and Gravity at 6:12 PM on December 14, 2016 [5 favorites]


Yeah, we were told the same. You body has to keep all that liquid warm too, get rid of it.

But where is that heat going when the liquid is inside your body?

I mean of all the places you could keep water without it losing a lot of heat I'd think "inside a pelvic organ" is a pretty decent one? And then suddenly you're losing 300-1000ml of that body-temperature liquid? I'm not getting the argument that this helps keep you warm.
posted by atoxyl at 6:14 PM on December 14, 2016 [5 favorites]


I'm a relative lightweight when it comes to camping; all I've done is car camping in campgrounds with permanent sites. Peeing onto the tent pad is frowned upon and there's not always sufficient underbrush to hide you from the neighbors when they look out to see what that splashing noise is. The only choices are the TravelJohn (bottle, ziplock bag, whatever) or throwing on some clothes and trudging to the bathrooms. That's a year-round issue regardless of the temperature.
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:20 PM on December 14, 2016


I bought a weird neck to knee "windstopper" somewhere during my misspent youth. It was light, and had a light removable liner, and a snap on hood. I have no idea what carcinogen was in that shell but it stopped wind. Completely.

The weather in Minneapolis has to be seen to be believed.
posted by Sphinx at 6:20 PM on December 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


I highly reccommend the Serius Balaclava. I've used one since I was a year round Boston cyclist. (Now I just snow blow the driveway in mine.) They don't make a kids sized one, so mine have ones from OR that I don't like as much. I used to spend 6 hours a day outside wearing them - great for all manner of errands (except banking*).
posted by Nanukthedog at 6:31 PM on December 14, 2016 [15 favorites]


The weather in Minneapolis has to be seen to be believed.

Yes, I lived there for about 7 years back in the 80's/early 90s. I'll never forget the first time the temperature dropped to -25 F (not windchill). I set up an old school mercury thermometer and I had never seen so little mercury in the tube before. I just stared at it in a state of "holy shit" disbelief. This is when I discovered that bluejeans without long underwear = DEATH.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 6:36 PM on December 14, 2016 [6 favorites]


Also, there is nothing harder than getting out of your sleeping bag in the middle of winter to go outside and pee.

The article mentions an elephant's foot bag, whose primary feature is suspenders, so you can unzip the bottom, lift it up, walk around, do your business and return without losing too much heat.

It's discontinued, so I doubt it was all that effective.
posted by pwnguin at 6:58 PM on December 14, 2016


"I mean of all the places you could keep water without it losing a lot of heat I'd think "inside a pelvic organ" is a pretty decent one? And then suddenly you're losing 300-1000ml of that body-temperature liquid? I'm not getting the argument that this helps keep you warm."

Piss because:

1. Your body is no longer heating fluid, its heating meat. Which is more efficient.
2. You sleep better if you don't lay there with a full bladder thinking about how you have to pee.
3. More often than not you will see amazing stars.
posted by ITravelMontana at 7:03 PM on December 14, 2016 [33 favorites]


Favorited with thanks!
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:14 PM on December 14, 2016


I'm just gonna pop in and say lined pants are the bees knees. Winter finally decided to descend on Alberta (it was unseasonably hovering around 0C, 32F until a week or two ago), and I'm super jazzed because now I can wear my fleece lined jeans and chinos without having sweaty legs. They're like the mullet of pants: sweat pants on the inside, business casual on the outside.
posted by selenized at 7:17 PM on December 14, 2016 [11 favorites]


Nthing selenized, had my first pair of fleece jeans last year (just had never noticed) and it was just toasty warm on shovel days!
posted by sammyo at 7:35 PM on December 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


Your body is no longer heating fluid, its heating meat. Which is more efficient.

I don't want to give the impression that this is a very important issue to me, but my point is that the fluid is inside a bag made of meat, inside the bag of meat-bags that is your lower torso, and at the same temperature as the meat. So I wouldn't think it's absorbing much heat from the meat, and I wouldn't think it's losing much heat to the outside - until you push it outside.

I agree, however, that one does have to pee eventually. That seems to be a hard rule to break.
posted by atoxyl at 7:36 PM on December 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


(If you are like me, and Bondcliff's mention of a tragedy in the Whites the same night he was camping there made you curious for the whole, terrible story, here you go. )

I still remember their names after all these years. There have been many deaths on Mt. Washington before and since, but that's the one tragedy I remember most.

A couple weeks after that we were climbing Mt. Adams, staying at a Randolph Mountain Club cabin called Grey Knob. It's just below treeline on the side of Adams. It was the closest shelter to where the one guy left the other, though I don't think they knew about it. I read the caretaker's logbook from that night and it was chilling, reading the play-by-play of what he heard over the radio, as they searched and as the rescue turned into a body recovery.

If you know those mountains, you will know that getting from Mt. Jefferson to the summit of Washington in any conditions is a feat. I have no idea how that kid managed to get all that way that night.
posted by bondcliff at 7:46 PM on December 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


In testing the system, users are encouraged to get wet before starting, in order to see just how quickly water is forced out of the system. After submerging the system, the wearer engages in movement on land, which results in the next-to-skin clothing being dry in about 15 minutes and the entire clothing system being dry within 60 minutes.

This is fascinating. I wonder how much that differs from a set of normal technical layers that a novice like myself haphazardly assemble from REI or wherever?
posted by R a c h e l at 7:49 PM on December 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


Looking at that PCU gear makes me hate my time in Graf/Hohenfels that much more. Sitting in the back of a deuce for so many hours on end, so few bits of useful gear. Being thankful for your NBC gear just so you'd have another layer under your BDUs. Wearing the gas mask just because that's another barrier between you and the cold. That absolutely worthless field jacket. Gah.

And I love cold weather. It's my jam. Now if only we'd get some snow to go with the Arctic chill.
posted by Fezboy! at 7:51 PM on December 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


I preferred when army gear was called "kit", not a "system". "Kit" makes me think of soldiering, done by soldiers. "System" makes me think of quasi-sentient drones getting exploded on battlefields.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:13 PM on December 14, 2016 [11 favorites]


I decided despite the heat to purchase a massively heavy Romanian wool officer's military surplus coat from a local fleet farm.

I got a Swiss Army wool greatcoat 6 or 7 years back that wound up being one of the best cold-weather purchases I've ever made. It's a shame it didn't come with the button-in lining, but even as-is it's warm enough for the worst Boston has thrown at me.

I've experimented with coats (Duluth Trading, who you'd think would know better) that have built-in fleece linings, but as warm as they are they're damned hard to layer with anything. The linings always seem to extend down the sleeves, which is all well and good if you're wearing just a t-shirt under them or something, but they interfere with anything else you'd want to wear underneath. And if it's cold enough for a fleece-lined jacket, you better believe I'm wearing something with long sleeves under it. That's just a given.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:22 PM on December 14, 2016


The thing about comparing Antarctica to Minnesota is that, this time of year, this is the best they get down South. And they grade on one heck of a curve: when I was down there, around this time of year, I was playing frisbee barefoot in the sand.

I wanted to make the "dress like Amundsen, not like Scott" point but as it turns out that "dress like the Wildlings, not like the Night Watch" article already got there. So yeah: layers are important but when it gets really cold, making the layers warmer is better than adding more of them. Otherwise you start to get like Maggie from the Simpsons or that kid from A Christmas Story.

"This is fascinating. I wonder how much that differs from a set of normal technical layers that a novice like myself haphazardly assemble from REI or wherever?"

Anecdotally, there's been a couple times where laundry timing meant I put on my technical-ish running pants wet, then went out in mid-winter weather. 15 minutes is about right for when they got dry.
posted by traveler_ at 9:01 PM on December 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


The "Dress like a Wildling, not the Night's Watch" article does cite Benchmarking functionality of historical cold weather clothing: Robert F. Scott, Roald Amundsen, George Mallory (Havenith 2010), but I don't think its author read the paper very carefully, as evidenced by this passage:
Inuit-style parkas like those worn by the Wildlings trap radiant heat both between and inside the hollow caribou hairs worn against the body.
Radiant transfer is only one form of heat transfer, and in the case of clothing convection and conduction are really important (heat transfers from your body to the caribou hair not just because of radiation but also because it's in contact with them).
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:36 PM on December 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is fascinating. I wonder how much that differs from a set of normal technical layers that a novice like myself haphazardly assemble from REI or wherever?

I'm pretty sure the super fast drying soft shell is made from Polartec Alpha which you can buy at LLBean or REI in various jackets. I wish I could find it in pants, it's pretty bomber and cheaper than most. It does dry incredibly fast. Patagonia Nano Air jackets are pretty incredible too. I got one for about 60% off thinking it would be a decent light weight insulation piece but it's amazeballs. Throw a windshell over it and it's really warm, wear it alone and you can run or ski and it just breathes and keeps you comfortable no matter what.
posted by fshgrl at 9:46 PM on December 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


Speaking as an anorak anorak, why don't hiking stores have mens' coats that go down to mid thigh? I'd buy and wear snow pants if I were out mountain climbing or something, but I'm just waiting for the bus, ffs.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:22 PM on December 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


Mid thigh is too long for climbing with a harness or skiing. Most manufacturers make parkas for men and those are mid-thigh but they're expensive so you only find them in stores in really cold places, otherwise you have to order them online.
posted by fshgrl at 10:56 PM on December 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


I've experimented with coats (Duluth Trading, who you'd think would know better) that have built-in fleece linings, but as warm as they are they're damned hard to layer with anything.

I've noticed a lot of Bean's jackets and coats have taffeta lined sleeves to make layering easier.
posted by Beholder at 12:33 AM on December 15, 2016


Living in the (sub)tropics, oh how I miss the cold. (I know, wah wah wah, but still).
posted by deadbilly at 2:08 AM on December 15, 2016


I tried to find it...I recall the best advise to warm up is feet and hands. It was from a cable channel program with military extreme weather reaearch and tough people, including one of the big wave riders from Mavericks, Half Moon Bay,CA
posted by xtian at 2:25 AM on December 15, 2016


Mid thigh is too long for climbing with a harness or skiing. Most manufacturers make parkas for men and those are mid-thigh but they're expensive so you only find them in stores in really cold places,

Here in Ottawa the low tomorrow is -25 C. I'll be wearing my heavy coat, and not my new midweight coat that cruelly neglects the delicate upper thigh region.

Also I suspect most of those coats are being sold to folk to people who just wear them to wait for the bus.
posted by sebastienbailard at 3:24 AM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Is this the thread where we put together the best of thrifty winter layering items from retailers or surplus?
posted by jadepearl at 4:22 AM on December 15, 2016 [10 favorites]


Oh god I hope so
posted by middleclasstool at 5:11 AM on December 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


Usually the best advice for what to do in the cold is "do what the Russians do". The winter version of the Afghanka is pretty simple and supposed to be extremely toasty. We don't get proper cold weather in Ireland but I've been in eastern Europe and the northern Finland in winter when it got down to -25 C.

I'm pretty cold tolerant but I have lousy circulation so really I only ever worry about keeping my hands and feet warm. I get uncomfortably warm wearing a hat unless it's well below zero so I just don't own one. I got a few odd looks walking around with a bare head on that Finland trip from locals but I wasn't uncomfortable. On the other hand, if my hands or feet get cold, they stay cold. I wear thick gloves and thermal socks cycling for a good chunk of the year.

A couple of years ago when we did have a proper winter in Ireland and it got down to -17C I wore an old West German army winter coat I picked up in a charity shop - it's probably the warmest thing I own but when I wear it I have to keep explaining "no, West German, post war" as the grey colour and black-and-white details give people the wrong idea, and I feel extremely self-conscious.
posted by kersplunk at 5:36 AM on December 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


when I wear it I have to keep explaining "no, West German, post war"

This is why I got a Swiss greatcoat.
posted by tobascodagama at 5:50 AM on December 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


I went passé and bought a vintage US Navy peacoat with corduroy pockets. Those things are perfect for layering and do a pretty good job keeping the wind off you, especially if you flip the collar and button the top button. Plus they look nice.

Downside is that they're A Thing now, so you can't just pop out to a military surplus store and pick one up for forty bucks like you could 20 years ago. I think the internet killed surplus stores, which is a national tragedy.

Other downside is that if you, like me, work with actual Navy reserve sailors, you get a lot of amused comments and looks.

Speaking of surplus, I once bought a coat from a local surplus store that was tagged "O.D. Mountain Coat" and it was one of the best cool-weather jackets I ever had. Most notably, the thing had a pocket across the back that was accessible from either side, big enough to hold a large iPad or maybe a small laptop.

It was basically an in-a-pinch small backpack if you needed it. I used to throw a small paperback in there to keep a book on me at all times. Sadly, I lost it 15 years ago to a wall radiator when I put it down carelessly. I haven't been able to find one since.
posted by middleclasstool at 6:07 AM on December 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


A Filson Cruiser style jacket has a rear map pocket (I think they invented it) but the prices for them have gone from moderately to outlandishly expensive over the years. They come in several different fabrics.
posted by Bee'sWing at 6:14 AM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Bean's Main Guide Wool Parka has a large, reinforced, butt-height pocket too.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 6:17 AM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


I just checked and it's 32F at McMurdo Station and 1F in Minneapolis.

Yeah but it's winter in Minneapolis.
posted by ryanrs at 6:19 AM on December 15, 2016 [12 favorites]


I've had the same base layer (Patagonia capilene) and hat (OR) for 15+ years so if you run across these brands in a thrift shop, go for it. I also like Marmot and Mountain Hardwear. Whatever you do, don't waste your money on Columbia or "North Face for normal people" - NF quality has gone downhill IMO except for their really expensive stuff.
posted by AFABulous at 6:21 AM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


A Filson Cruiser style jacket has a rear map pocket

Bean's Main Guide Wool Parka has a large, reinforced, butt-height pocket too.


Pretty sure we're gonna hug, thank you.
posted by middleclasstool at 6:22 AM on December 15, 2016


I'll be wearing my heavy coat, and not my new midweight coat that cruelly neglects the delicate upper thigh region.

I have a light car coat that goes down to my knees and is bulky enough to wear even a puffy down layer underneath. It's perfect for this weather. But that's a multiple layer solution unlike a heavy wool coat. It does take me a bit longer to dress for the outside and is somewhat more complicated. On the upside, it's flexible and I can generally stay out as long as I want, as I can customize to temperatures.

The kryptonite for all synthetics, I find, is dirt. Mud blocks all those breathing pores in the fancy DWR layers. If all you're in is snow, and mostly staying dry, then that's not a problem. Colder is actually easier than that interval of 10 degrees plus or minus around freezing, because of dirt.

My job takes me to shorelines all the time. One site we had this year was sucking mud over a metre deep in places. Our last field day was -5C and high wind with light snow. The mud had crusted over from the frost, but was still liquid below. I find these intermediate temps with high levels of muck much harder environments to plan and dress for than say a -30C winter sampling trip, even doing through-ice coring where there is water about, because, for the most part you stay clean and dry and all you need are decent waterproof gloves and boots.

Which may be the answer for why a post-apocalypse zombie fighter might want a good wool outfit compared to synthetic windbreakers. They don't fail when they get mucky. On the other hand wearing cotton of any kind is just asking to die of hypothermia.
posted by bonehead at 6:29 AM on December 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


The weather in Minneapolis has to be seen to be believed.

It's better in St. Paul, because, well, everything is better in St. Paul.

My cousin Bridget was a teacher living outside Brainerd (or Bemidji? Maybe Bemidji) a decade or so ago. One cold morning her truck wouldn't start, so she popped the hood to have a look. When she pulled out the dip stick, a long, taffy-like strand of engine oil s-t-r-e-e-e-t-c-h-e-d out and then broke and blew away in the wind. She dropped the hod, went back inside, and called in.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:47 AM on December 15, 2016 [13 favorites]


My oldest brother found a heavy wool coat like that at Fleet Farm one July and mailed it to me. It was cheap enough that he didn't even want to be paid back! It turns out to be one of these, and I wear it all winter long:
http://johnsonwoolenmills.com/product/classic-button-mackinaw/

Thanks, Cris!!

A Filson Cruiser style jacket has a rear map pocket

I thought that the big, newspaper-sized pocket across the kidneys was for storing ducks you'd just shot. I loved having it as a strap-hanging MBTA/T rider because I could store all kinds of shit there like books and magazines and extra paper towels and whatnot.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:52 AM on December 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


A couple of years ago I splurged on an L.L. Bean Maine Warden's Jacket. I justified the cost because its probably the last coat I'll ever need to buy. I spend a lot of time in the cold waiting for my train in the morning, or walking to the train, or walking to lunch, and really needed something warm and versatile. I have no regrets. Add some nice ski gloves and a hat to that and the coldest mornings are usually tolerable. I'll be wearing some long johns tomorrow, though.

I thought that the big, newspaper-sized pocket across the kidneys was for storing ducks you'd just shot.

Yeah, I remember Bean would advertise their rear pockets as blood-proof.
posted by bondcliff at 6:59 AM on December 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


My most prized material possession is a full length US Navy issue wool coat. The only problem is it seems to have gotten smaller over the course of 25 years and I can no longer fit as many layers underneath.
posted by whuppy at 7:01 AM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


If your car will still start, drive north from Minneapolis several hours and go to the Steger Mukluks store in lovely Ely, MN.

Buy a pair of handsome, soft, WARM mukluks -- I chose the "Arctic with Ribbon" last year because I am a popinjay -- and winter will not bother your Little Piggies again.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:04 AM on December 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


minervous, that story reads like science fiction except it's not. I feel for all of those people involved.
posted by tommasz at 7:43 AM on December 15, 2016


If we're going to brag about outerwear, several years ago I inherited what I affectionately call the Bear Coat. It's a (fake, I think) fur-lined suede dress overcoat that goes to just below my knees. It includes a hidden toggle under the lapel to close up the throat and weighs roughly 20 pounds. Its only disadvantage is that it's so warm I can only take it out on the coldest of days.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:48 AM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Sometimes people in NYC are kind of dicks about being able to 'handle' the cold, and might, for instance, make fun of me for wearing long underwear and knee-high wool socks and this coat today, when it's about 27 degrees out.

To those people, I say: I'm fucking warmer than you. I'm pretty sure I actually win, here.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:55 AM on December 15, 2016 [10 favorites]


When I was in high school in Boston, I bought an enormous men's wool overcoat at a by-the-pound place in I think Kendall Square - it cost $8. I wore it through most of college in New Hampshire, including my sophomore winter, when I spent pretty much all term standing outside on the Green, next to a fire barrel. We had built shanties (it was the 80s, we were protesting apartheid). The coat smelled like a campfire for years; it was wonderful. It was big enough to layer many layers under, and battered enough that I didn't mind all the candle wax from candlelight vigils that lived on the cuffs.

We took turns sleeping in the shanties that winter. They were uninsulated (but with plywood floors) wood shacks. One of my nights, I knew it was going to be cold, so I borrowed another sleeping bag and stuffed it inside my own; I wore longjohns and sweatpants, socks, mittens, a thermal shirt and a loose turtleneck, a hat. I took my alarm clock into the sleeping bags with me. I did manage to sleep but when I woke up, the cold was shocking. I got back to my room to get ready for my shift at the cafe, and when I heard the weather report on the radio I was like, well, no wonder I was so cold: it was -25F.

I don't miss that cold. I live in San Francisco now, and if I want that kind of cold, I can drive a few hours to Tahoe and visit it. That suits me fine. Although I have better cold weather gear now, though - my favorite item is probably my merino wool hoodie. If I'd had this in college, I never would have taken it off.
posted by rtha at 8:08 AM on December 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


It was -20°C plus whatever the windchill was this morning during my 30 minute walk to work up here in Frozen Canuckistan. Tonight it will be -25°C. Below freezing I wear a toque, wool coat and light gloves. I break out my parka (Canada Goose Expedition) at -15°C, snow pants at -25°C, and I add a sweater under the parka at -30°C. I like winter and cold never bothers me as long as I am properly dressed. If anything, I usually worry more about overheating during my walk.
posted by fimbulvetr at 8:18 AM on December 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


I thought that the big, newspaper-sized pocket across the kidneys was for storing ducks you'd just shot.

I think that was probably more of an L. L. Bean thing. Filson cruisers were originally designed for timber cruisers (sort of supervisors for lumberjacks) and were made out of oiled canvas. They are heavy and pretty bulletproof No doubt they have been used that way though.
posted by Bee'sWing at 8:21 AM on December 15, 2016


As long as I can remember those big back pockets have always been called game pockets. Certainly what my family has been using them as for the past 4 generations.
posted by fimbulvetr at 8:29 AM on December 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


DC feels about 10 degrees due to windchill today, but when I was walking to work in all my layers I passed a dude in a sweatshirt and shorts. Has anyone ever studied "dudes who wear shorts year-round, but especially during bitter cold snaps"? Maybe their body chemistry could be turned into a new super-fleece.

Just LOOKING at that guy made me feel colder.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 8:36 AM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


dudes who wear shorts year-round

I did that kind of thing in my late teens (a year in shorts and a winter without a coat). I think I just thought I was tough, but it probably had more to do with never actually having to be outside for very long.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 8:42 AM on December 15, 2016


Great post – came for the winter layering suggestions, stayed for the anecdotes about the sub-zero, al fresco peeing experience.

Re: winter layers: When it comes to keeping warm, I'm all about the footwear, and as a longtime New Englander, I can recommend silk sock liners as light but effective insulation.

I picked up mine at least 15 years ago at the South Portland, Maine, outpost of Filene's Basement. They're not around anymore (at least not in brick and mortar form), but I've found a good deal at sunandski.com: $7.83 (regularly $15.99) plain white Terramar liners in adult sock sizes S (7-9) and L (10-13).

(That was a quick search; there are many many options, and I'm sure more extensive Googling will turn up other bargains.)

For people who prefer dresses and skirts to trousers, lingerie designer and blogger Quinne Myers has useful suggestions in this post for The Lingerie Addict: 4 Amazing Winter Lingerie Solutions So You Never Have to Wear Pants Again.

It's a good read, and she offers where-to-shop suggestions. I can vouch for Sock Dreams, where the extensive staff and consumer reviews make it easier to narrow down the choices.

Here's the tl;dr:
1. Cotton-lined wool, fleece-lined or wool-blend tights.
2. A sturdy garter belt with stockings, for those with "narrow hips, a big booty, thin legs, or any sort of proportion that makes ready-made tights ride up or fall down."
3.* Thick high socks, over-the-knee or to the thigh, on their own or layered over thin lycra tights.
* Note from virago: If this is your choice, I suggest reducing the chilly gap between top of stocking and bottom of underpants by wearing boxer briefs. I like PACT (organic cotton, $28.99 for two pair; keep an eye out at your local Whole Paycheck and you might run into a two-pair-for-$25 sale -- I did) and Bia Boro (bamboo; $27-$28 for one pair).
4. Over everything: The warmest boot socks.

Now go forth and saunter.
posted by virago at 8:44 AM on December 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


The worst part about extreme cold is knowing that if you make a tiny mistake -- trip and twist your ankle out of sight of other people, run out of gas, lose your house keys at night, get hit by a falling icicle and pass out -- there's a good chance you'll literally freeze to death.

Yay. I have no idea why anyone lives here.
posted by miyabo at 10:09 AM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


The location of the windshirt in the layering setup surprised me. I never would have thought to put that garment inside some of the outer layers.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:23 AM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think it is acting as a Vapor Barrier Liner</a. They have limited application but provide a lot of warmth for the weight.
posted by Bee'sWing at 11:11 AM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Also, you might want to strip off your outermost layer during heavy activity (e.g. loading/unloading vehicles) without completely sacrificing all resistance to windchill.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:45 AM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


The windshirt is breathable, so it's not a VPL.
posted by milkb0at at 12:30 PM on December 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


a tent w a pee tube to the outside would be a good idea no?

My sister and I talked about just inventing a robot that could go pee in the middle of the night for you, because even in the summer that is the worst.

It's so cold in Minneapolis we're inventing new swear words. I will be wearing approximately twelve sheep.
posted by louche mustachio at 12:38 PM on December 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


miyabo: ...if you make a tiny mistake -- trip and twist your ankle ...there's a good chance you'll literally freeze to death.

As a teenager I went running in a Minnesota winter for the very last time on a day when I was wearing a stocking cap, two sweatshirts, warm mittens, some shorts, and running shoes. I was motoring along plenty warm -- until I hit some sheer ice (damn you, sloppy St. Thomas ground crew! *shakes fist*) and wiped out.

I came back up with a very twisted ankle, but realized I was only three blocks from my dad's office. I had to hop along (uphill, natch) on my good leg until I got there, with legs now BRIGHT RED from the cold and then endure No Lecture At All Only A Pitying Look until he could drive me home.

Screw winter exercise.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:50 PM on December 15, 2016


Seems like good weather for a Doctor Who scarf.
posted by ZeusHumms at 2:17 PM on December 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


For those in the know, is a puffy coat enough for the PNW? Just city stuff, not hiking or anything?
posted by Beholder at 2:34 PM on December 15, 2016


My favorite winter coat is a vintage Pennsylvania tuxedo (like this one), picked up for a song at a rummage sale. Complete with game pocket!
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:30 PM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


until I hit some sheer ice [...] and wiped out.

Yeah, my big fear is not cold but ice. It's a huge problem in the city when we have a snow-thaw-freeze cycle. I still haven't tried any winter traction devices but I should - fear of falling on ice is the main reason I don't walk more in the winter. I've never broken any bones but I've gotten some horrible bruises and scrapes.
posted by AFABulous at 3:50 PM on December 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


Perfect timing; the bitter cold reached Maine today. Winter camping? I have a difficult enough time going downstairs to pee in the winter, because I lower the heat at night. But the benefit of waking up at 4 a.m. the last few nights has been the full moon on fresh snow - just gorgeous.
posted by theora55 at 4:17 PM on December 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


Best and longest-wearing ice traction for urban conditions that I've found is Due North Industrial traction aids. I wore out multiple Katoolas (probably really good if used off-road only) and Yaktrax Pro pairs (flipping useless and breakable) on the regular. Not linking only because Amazon apparently just doubled the price on Due Norths; you can usually get them for under $20. Also, the spikes are replaceable.
posted by vers at 4:33 PM on December 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


For those in the know, is a puffy coat enough for the PNW? Just city stuff, not hiking or anything?

Sure, unless it is raining, in which case you hopefully bought a waterproof/breathable puffy coat.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:01 PM on December 15, 2016


Gloves and boots, people. I got insulating fat on most of the body except feet and hands. What y'all recommend?
posted by jadepearl at 8:09 PM on December 15, 2016


Well, what will you be doing outside and how long will you be out there? Just walking to/from your car is a different ballgame than waiting for the bus, which is again different from walking for an hour. I highly recommend liners for both hands and feet, and if you're walking through snow/puddles, gaiters to keep you dry.

My system for walking around on REALLY cold days (Wisconsinite here): glove liners*, thin gloves, ski gloves, mittens. Silk sock liners, thin wool socks, thick wool socks, boots. Pants get tucked into boots. Sleeves go over gloves.

This is total overkill for running errands; this is for standing around in subzero temps/wind chills.

*those stretchy ones at Walgreens for $2.99? They're fine for this.
posted by AFABulous at 9:16 PM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


I have woolen mitts (black and white stripes, yo) that go inside thick moosehide mittens -- which are usually called choppers, and which are so awesome because you pull out the wool liner to make drying quicker.

Also mine have a picture of a moose on the back. A guy in Ely made them for me, but he died a few years ago. :7(
posted by wenestvedt at 3:08 AM on December 16, 2016


Interesting article, thanks. There are also some of us who prefer to face the cold dressed in rather less...

Lone Swimmer is an Irish guy who regularly swims in the sea, year round, which means at this time of year, he's doing hours or more in water at 7C... nippy.
posted by itsjustanalias at 7:57 AM on December 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


I was reading Princeton's Outdoor Action Guide to Winter Camping -
The key to providing this dead air space is through having a number of layers of clothing. Each layer provides a certain clo value of dead air space. This allows you to add or shed layers to increase or decrease your accumulated dead air space as the temperature changes and/or as your activity level changes. Remember, your body is the heat source, the clothing layers only serve to trap the heat and slow down your heat loss to the cold environment. If you have too much clothing on, you will overheat and start to sweat. You need to find the proper heat balance between the number and types of layers and your activity level.
Indefinitely Wild (now at Outside):
How To Choose The Perfect Base Layers To Keep You Warm This Winter
Winter Is Coming, Are You Ready?

How To Stay Warm When It's Cold Outside


turns out 99 million years of evolution does a body good....
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:41 PM on December 16, 2016


Every now and then somebody in Chicago mocks me for dressing warm and suggests a Canadian should be able handle the cold.

All the Canadians who tried that strategy died.
posted by srboisvert at 1:19 PM on December 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


Many Canadians died to bring us this insulation
posted by middleclasstool at 5:39 AM on December 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


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