Snow Day Reflections - Proper Layering
As I sit on the couch with a fire roaring sipping a hot cup of coffee, I find myself reflecting on my morning outing on a local spring creek. I have made fishing in the first snowstorm of the year a tradition for as long as I can remember. Although, I have always been horrible at layering properly.
Over the past four years I have lost a significant amount of weight and with that loss of weight went any natural insulation I had. In order to keep myself fishing comfortably and hovering a few degrees above miserable, I had to force myself to learn and practice the art of layering.
I have been back and forth from Boiling Springs to Erie PA a lot through the fall and early winter guiding for steelhead, so layering properly was a must. Rather than just showing you all the fish pictures, and telling you how awesome it was, I decided to combine a few memories from the 2020 steelhead season with a short write up on layering. It is perfect because they go hand in hand with layering properly.
First let’s break it down a bit, starting with the base layer. In late October and into early November, the weather isn’t always super cold, in fact sometimes it is the exact opposite. The first trip to Erie this year it was 72 degrees one day, then as the season progressed and we got into mid-December, it wasn’t uncommon to only see 20s to low 30s as a daytime high. With this change, I know it is important to pack a couple different base layers. For those warmer days, a sun shirt like a Simms Solarflex or Solarflex Hoody is perfect. Being made out of 100% polyester, it will wick the moisture away from your body, keeping you cool and dry. When the weather takes a turn for the worse, wool is my go to base layer, it is perfect for layering under a fleece or Primaloft mid layer, not only does it wick moisture, and holds in your natural body heat, it is also a soft material that other layers can slide over nicely, keeping you comfortable and unrestricted. The base layer is crucial to not losing body heat between layers.
The Mid layer is next in the staying warm equation. Fleece has always been a popular mid layer choice; it keeps heat in and can be purchased in different thicknesses to achieve your optimal warmth. I am a big fan of a midweight fleece opposed to a thicker fleece like a Simms Rivershed Sweater for my layer directly over the base. They are thinner and often a mixture of polyester and spandex, allowing for more movement and stretch. A slightly thicker option for colder weather would be a fleece mid layer, which is about twice as thick as the midweight fleece. It often has a softshell face fabric with a waffle fleece backing. The softshell face helps keep heat in and wind out. Many times, you can also find this fleece design with a hood for added warmth and protection of your ears and neck.
Another great mid layer option would be any jacket or vest with Primaloft insulation. Super lightweight, amazingly warm, and easy to get an outer layer over. Vests can be a great option for a second mid layer over a wool base layer and fleece mid layer. After all, the purpose of layering properly is to keep your core warm, which in turn pumps warm blood to your extremities. So, a vest is always a first choice for me. I am a big fan of the new Simms West Fork Vest. Insulated with Primaloft Gold, its super warm and not very bulky, so if you have to throw a raincoat over it you won’t look too much like a marshmallow.
Your outer layer doesn’t always have to be a raincoat, sometimes if you know it’s not going to rain, a down jacket, or jacket with a synthetic insulation with an equivalent down rating is an option. Or at least something with windstopper features to cut wind. No matter how perfectly layered you are without something to block wind, you are still going to be cold, and cold wind can cut right through you. Gore-Tex rain shells like the Simms Pro Dry or G3 Guide Jacket, are a great windstopper outer shell. The outer layer is many times the most important piece to the layering puzzle, so don’t skimp on that.
The last two things we need to discuss is your outer extremities including your head, and under wader pants. I will always be a fan of wool socks, there isn’t a warmer sock material out there. They breath and keep your toes warm, all while not being too bulky like some synthetic materials. The last 2 generations of Simms heavy weight wool socks have been awesome, but the newest pair of Heavy Weight OTC socks are killer. Wool, Fleece, or Windstopper beanies are a must in cold weather. Keeping your head covered will keep heat from escaping through the top of your head, keep those ears warm, and it will just make life a little better. Pick your favorite brand and seal that heat in.
Gloves are another important one. For me, exposed skin is what chills me the most and being a guide, your hands have to be exposed a lot. So how do I cope with that, foldover mitts or a pair of wool liner gloves inside a pair of waterproof gloves. The hand part is always tough for me, but I have realized (maybe a little late in life) that the warmer your core is, the easier it is to keep your hands warm. Any foldover mitt will work, but ones that are insulated with microfleece or Primaloft are going to be the warmest, and if you can find one with a waterproof outer layer that will help even more. Not so much to keep your fingers dry at all times, but if its waterproof, it will keep water from penetrating the insulation, rendering the glove useless.
The final and one of the most important parts of layering properly in winter months, wading pants. For those 50 and 60 degree water temps a midweight fleece is all that is really needed. However, when the water starts to dip into the 40s and 30s, cold legs can chill your whole body, so you will need a little bit more. A simple solution would be just to add a base layer of wool or a Lightweight Core bottom under your fleece pants. The other option would be to go for a crazy warm single layer of bulky and thick fleece, that is also highly breathable. This is super important, so you don’t get moisture against your skin. Moisture can be detrimental to staying warm in cold water. The Fjord Pant by Simms is a great option for that. Another design that is pretty popular by a lot of companies these days, is a pair of pants made of Primaloft or other synthetic materials. It’s like taking your favorite jacket and make it into a pair of wading pants. Seems like a perfect plan to me! I personally don’t have a pair just yet, but I will be getting a pair soon.
Keep your core and legs warm! This will in turn help keep toes, fingers, and ears warm. When all that is warm, you can focus on the important stuff, like choosing the right fly, walking a little further, and making that perfect presentation. Being cold can hinder all of that, so stay warm and Fish It Well!
Ok I think that’s enough about all that, let’s get to a few more fish pictures. While admiring the fish, take notice the transition of clothing from the beginning (taken in early November) to the last few (taken in mid December). A simple sun shirt with a vest when the weather was in the 60s and 70s, to December when the temps dropped in the 20s and 30s with rain and snow, that is when the down and Gore comes out. Stay warm this winter, hope this article helps out a bit.