I am excited about the latest film that we captured in Maine. Not only is it a rare chance to do a film in a relatively extreme environment (let’s face it, everywhere has winter, but not everywhere gets as cold as Maine), but it is also the debut film project for the newly formed “Gray Beard Media”. It was challenging to say the least. The cold weather really takes its toll on the camera equipment and the batteries, but we still got it done.
Many may think that this film is not applicable to a broad audience and that it is limited to extreme cold areas like the north and northeast, but that really is not the case. Like most of my “Into the (fill in the blank)” films, it is meant to highlight different ways to support basic needs. Those basic needs do not change, I am just showing different techniques and using different resources that are not necessarily specific to that area. “Into the Ozarks” is a great example of that. Maybe you will never find yourself in the Ozarks specifically, but the techniques and resources shown in that film are certainly applicable to a number of different environments. Each film is meant to add skills to your skillset that you can call on in a variety of conditions, and the different locations just make it more interesting. Isn’t that really the goal of developing skills? To be able to apply academic knowledge and physical skill to a variety of different resources to support your needs in the wilderness. More skill will always be better than less skill.
The “Winter Skills” film is no different. Not only does it prepare you for cold weather environments, but it also builds upon skills that you would have already learned in other films like “Into the Woods” and “Into the Ozarks”. In fact, this film could easily be called “Into the Winter” as it is meant to be a continuation of that series that so many of you have enjoyed.
During this film I cover:
Cold Weather Clothing Choices
Baseline Gear Recommendations
Cold Weather Gear Choices
The Mors Kochanski Super Shelter and Variants
Cold Weather Tinder Bundles
Axe Safety and Work
Felling, Limbing, Topping, and Splitting Trees
The Long Fire
Fire Wall Construction and Benefits
Procuring Water in Cold Weather
High Calorie Food Sources for Winter Weather
Mobility on Ice and in Deep Snow
Best Emergency Signal: The Smoke Generator
This film was a great deal of fun to make and I think you will be impressed with it and find that it was worth the watch even if you never really get snow where you live. With all of that said, let me get down to business on something I want to talk about from this experience.
There is no such thing as poor weather, only poor clothing choices. This really is the baseline for enjoying yourself out in the cold. This is what separates the winter outdoorsman (or woman) from the ones who stare out the window with hot cocoa in hand waiting for Spring.
I cannot say enough about the 4-layer Clothing System that I have been endorsing and teaching for some time now. In fact, there are likely two or three older blogs that have me banging on the door and yelling for you to get outside in the winter wearing these items so you can see for yourself how great they are. I have even solidified these recommendations for my Winter Skills Course packing list that students should bring to be comfortable. While I have already tested most of it in extreme winter conditions in the past, I had a few newer pieces of kit that I was able to really test out during this filming trip.
I will start by saying I have no doubt that I have gotten the cold weather clothing system dialed in at this point, and I have to share that information with anyone who will listen to me on it. Here is what I wore most often:
(As a note: links are provided, when available, for your convenience and research. Amazon links are Amazon Affiliate Links, as an affiliate I do make a small commission on these sales through Amazon if you choose to buy using them.)
With that baseline, I wore a combination of the following items depending on the weather conditions and activity:
Arcteryx Alpha Bibs or Canadian Military Surplus Wind Pants
Footwear and Accessories:
Smartwool Socks (2-3 Pair)
Wool Military Surplus Watch Cap or Coyote Fur Trappers Hat
So, how did it all perform and how did I decide what combination to wear?
The Base Layers from Minus33 I cannot say enough good things about. I have two sets of because I like them so much. Absolutely worth the investment for anyone who ventures out in the cold. Depending on the temperature, I could wear the lightweight only, or the lightweight with the expedition weight for an excellent wicking and insulating base layer. I have been using them for a couple of years now, so that was no surprise.
The Durable Layer sets the internet experts ablaze with “cotton kills” comments, but I will just stand on my own experience and that of my friends in Canada who also wear cotton in the winter. We do not wear it against our skin, and we do not allow ourselves to sweat to begin with. Can we all agree to amend the statement to this:
“Cotton kills in cold weather if you get wet and cannot get dry…same as any other material will kill you in cold weather if you get wet and can’t get dry.”
There, I said it. Tell your friends. But tell them the whole story so they are not regurgitating half-truths for the next decade or two.
Anyway, I used a few different canvas pants (not all were Mountain Khakis) while out there and several cotton flannels from Mountain Khaki’s and all of them stood up to the work. Again, the Durable Layer is meant to stand up to the abrasions, cuts, and scrapes from the forest and protect your often more expensive and valuable merino wool base layers a bit. That and they keep you from spending time outside in your underwear.
For my Insulating Layer, the Lester River Bushcraft M1951 Field Shirt was a new thing I have been field testing for a couple of months now, and I have to say I think I have worn it nearly every day since I got it. It is the perfect jacket to throw over for a quick trip to the store or to wear as an insulating layer while in the field. I like it over the Anorak style because it is easier to take on and off as needed while working to prevent sweating. It is easy to get lazy in the cold and for me, the anorak-style garments (not limited to the Lester River version by any means) are just not as easy to get on and off so one might be less inclined to fool with taking it off and end up letting themselves sweat when they really should not.
My goal is to never sweat in the winter. I want to be comfortably cool when I am working or moving, and comfortably warm when I am stationary. Most of the time when I was working this was all I had on despite it being either in the negatives (F) or single digits to teens. I would often start working with the Field Jacket on and take it off shortly after when I started heating up from activity. Really convenient way to stay comfortable.
For the Outer Shell Layer, it is important to understand the difference between wet cold and dry cold. Wet cold means it is cold enough to snow and freeze but it is not exactly extremely cold; the snow is wet and melts shortly after it lands on you and the snow on the ground is often wet, sticky, and slushy. It is the good snowman-making and snowball-fighting snow. From my experience in my area in the Northeast, that is usually happening between the low 20’s and mid 30’s (degrees F). This is the worst, bone chilling cold in my opinion and you must protect your layers from getting wet. These conditions are when I use the Muck Boots and the Gore-Tex shell.
At around 20 degrees and below, I get a nice dry cold where it is so cold that the snow will not stick together. Terrible for snowball fights because it will not pack, same for snowmen. Even when it lands on you it is cold enough out that it rarely melts, and it just sloughs off you. This is when the traditional gear really excels. The cotton anorak is lightweight, soft, quiet, and comfortable. It is a tight cotton canvas weave that cuts the wind and is more breathable than the Gore-Tex. In a dry cold, there is little danger of it getting wet and treating it in any way to make it waterproof misses the mark and reduces the breathability. You should not be wearing this in conditions that are a wet cold to begin with. This is why I chuckle at the “cotton kills” statement, the colder it gets the more I like to use my lighter cotton anorak for my shell.
The same goes for my Winter Moccasins (mukluks). Bison hide lower, canvas upper, felted wool insert with 2-3 pairs of wool socks. I was out in the snow all day long filming and trekking through the forest. I can report with 100% certainty that I never felt one ounce of cold on my feet. It was as if they were tucked warm and cozy in the bottom of a sleeping bag the entire time. They outperformed the Arctic Pro’s in the more extreme cold temperatures we felt, so while the Mucks are necessary in the wet cold, when the opportunity presented itself to wear the moccasins instead, I was happy to take it. Check out this short time-lapse of me making those here.
The hat and scarf were nothing new, I still love them both. I did recently get a Cache Beanie from Wazoo Survival Gear but did not have it in time for this last trip, but I am impressed with the quality and comfort of it so far. When it was really cold, I could throw on my coyote fur hat, which I think we can all agree looks amazing and cannot be beaten for warmth.
Another clear winner on the clothing front was the Lined Elkskin gloves from Badger Claw Outfitters. Hands down my favorite pair of gloves for getting work done in the cold. They are not as warm as my Beaver Mittens from Lure of the North, but the tradeoff is the dexterity of a pretty warm glove vs. an amazingly warm and toasty Beaver Mitten. I would not trade either and used them both. Beaver Mittens when I did not need the dexterity and Elkskin when I was working and doing chores. On that note, that is another cool time-lapse video you can watch here.
Hope to see you all outside this winter!
Be sure to check out some of the other live courses we just launched HERE