Winter is coming up fast.
It’s still November, and the highlands of West Virginia have already had their first snows. Deer hunters have had to bundle up to ward off the early-morning chill.
The cold here in the Mountain State is an especially miserable type — a damp, heavy cold that seems to seep into one’s bones. Stay in it long enough, and the risk of hypothermia becomes quite real.
Hunters, anglers and other outdoors enthusiasts who venture afield during the West Virginia winter should be aware of that danger. That doesn’t mean, however, that they should fear it; instead, they should prepare for it.
Dressing properly for the cold is a lot easier nowadays than it used to be. Synthetic “technical fabrics,” if layered properly, allow wearers to stay warm even during the nastiest winter conditions.
Such fabrics perform one vital function — they keep wearers’ skin dry.
Physical activity generates sweat. If that sweat lingers on the skin and the cold gets to it, body temperature can drop quickly.
At the very least, such a situation will generate an uncomfortable chill and perhaps some shivering. At worst, it can cause the body’s core temperature to drop and trigger the onset of hypothermia.
I found these things out the hard way. Years ago, I went fishing with a fellow who had a reputation for catching big muskies. We went to Cave Run Lake near Morehead, Kentucky. The weather wasn’t bad for March — chilly and overcast, but pretty tolerable. My host and I fished for several hours, but got only a couple of half-hearted strikes for our effort.
We decided to take the boat out of the lake, put it in the Licking River near the dam, and run downstream a few miles to one of my host’s secret honey holes.
We made the run, put out the trolling motor and eased up into a tributary stream. My host made several casts, then turned and looked at me quizzically.
“Why aren’t you fishing?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “I think I’ll just sit here a while and watch.”
Without a word, he reached into one of the boat’s compartments and pulled out an insulated coverall. “Put this on,” he ordered. “And don’t argue. You’re hypothermic.”
I didn’t argue. My host was a physician. I presumed he knew what he was talking about.
Funny thing was, I thought I was well dressed for the day. I had on thick wool socks, cotton undershorts, blue jeans, a cotton flannel shirt with a cotton t-shirt underneath, and a modestly insulated windbreaker-style jacket.
All that was fine while we were poking around the main lake under trolling-motor power. It didn’t stand a chance, however, against the wind chill generated during our high-speed run down the river.
It taught me a lesson. I’ve since been happy to pay a few extra bucks for long underwear made from materials designed to wick moisture away from my skin; in shirts made from fabrics that stay warm when damp; and in insulated outer shells impervious to rain, snow and wind.
Do yourself a favor. Invest in moisture-wicking underlayers, synthetic fleece mid-layers and waterproof-but-breathable outer layers. When conditions go bad, such clothes can save your life.