Ooh, baby, it’s cold outside!
It’s no news flash that the last week of near zero, and below zero, temperatures were uncomfortable for all of us.
And getting older now, I certainly seem to feel the cold in different ways now than I did back in the old days.
My knees ache, my fingers ache, and there aren’t too many moving parts that feel really ok once the temperature drops below 20.
I wasn’t made for warm climes, though, and while I doubt that I’ll ever find myself living in Fargo or Minot or, God forbid, International Falls, I certainly don’t see myself living in Palm Beach or Phoenix, either.
No, these cold spells are just a part of the territory around here and being a dyed in the wool Coloradoan, I know that these frigid days will be balanced with an equal number of uncharacteristically warm days throughout the winter.
I don’t normally fret too much, then, over the cold weather and I still like to get outside, even when most sane people are sipping hot chocolate on their couches.
Not that I’m insane, but if I sit in the house too long I end up getting a little crazy.
So in the interest of not becoming a
major crab, even under the most demanding conditions, I’ve got to find a way to spend time outdoors.
Getting out isn’t easy under such circumstances, and under the conditions that we experienced last week, it can be downright dangerous.
It’s important to take the proper precautions, then, to make sure that time outdoors doesn’t turn into a survival situation.
The first thing to understand is that Mother Nature is an unforgiving beast.
In fact, I firmly believe that if you give her the opportunity, she’ll own you.
Being forewarned is being forearmed, and that’s the way to approach everything from hunting and fishing trips in these conditions to driving to grandma’s house for the holidays.
Preparation is the key to winter outdoors activity.
Prepare poorly and you’ll suffer; prepare well and you may still suffer but at least you’ll have a way to minimize the damage.
Good preparation always begins with a plan. If you know what you’ll be doing, what to expect, and have an idea about the types of conditions you’ll be facing while you’re there, you can prepare properly with the least amount of space and weight.
Knowing the weather conditions and the forecast are important for the day that you plan to be out, but I also like to get the forecast for the next five days as well, just in case.
Cold kills, so in order to combat the effects of cold, you have to dress appropriately or have the right clothing available that will help insulate you from the cold.
Layers are the key and I’m a firm believer in synthetic materials, like polypropylene, or natural wool for my base and mid layers.
Synthetic or natural wool are excellent insulators that will create pockets of air, wick moisture, and maintain their insulating properties, even when they’re wet.
Cotton, on the other hand, absorbs moisture and is tightly knit, which allows moisture to migrate and absorb into the material.
Wet means cold, so staying dry or having an insulating material next to your skin that breathes and allows moisture to move away from your skin is important.
Cover all exposed skin and know when to say when.
When you start getting cold, begin to shiver, or you get wet, it’s time to get warm.
Wait too long to start addressing the cold and your potential for putting yourself at risk begins to rise exponentially.
Dressing properly with a good base layer, an insulating mid layer, and a shell that will repel water and wind is a good start.
Even if your outdoors plan doesn’t involve actually getting out of the car, but your trip will take you out into unpopulated areas, it’s a good idea to have the right clothing in the vehicle with you.
A small tote or gym bag containing the right clothing and a few other emergency supplies is something that you probably won’t ever need, but will be worth its weight in gold if you ever do.
As far as emergency supplies, travelers should always keep some high energy snacks in their kits.
Unopened cans of nuts, granola, peanut butter, or a box of energy bars are great for emergencies.
These items aren’t meant for snacking on while you’re driving across the country, but they have lots of carbs and protein that your body will need if you get into a bad situation.
The emergency kit should also contain a small shovel for digging out your tailpipe in the event you go sliding off the road, a bag of kitty litter for traction, a couple candles, which provide a surprising amount of heat in a closed vehicle, and a sleeping bag, which can be used as a extra insulating and heat retaining layer.
Those spending time outside the car, hunting, fishing, or hiking, should also carry a food and water supply.
Most people won’t need to carry a ton of food with them, but keeping enough water for a day is important.
Dehydration, even under frigid conditions, is a hazard and I always consider water to be good weight in my pack because it only gets lighter as the day wears on.
Mentioning my pack, whenever I’m hunting or fishing in the backcountry or far from the nearest populated area, I always carry the things that I’ll need for the day in my pack.
Fire starting material, extra clothing, high energy snacks, emergency medical supplies, and my other survival supplies are never left in the vehicle when I hit the trail.
It doesn’t do me any good unless it’s on my back or within reach when I need it.
It sounds a little complicated and a bit of a hassle to put all the supplies together and keep them handy enough to help you when you need them, but when the outdoors call, it’s tough to ignore.
Prepare properly, use some common sense, and make a good plan for the conditions you’ll likely face, and spending time outdoors in even the most austere conditions is something that you can look forward to.
Pueblo West resident Bill Claspell is an avid outdoorsman, hunter and fisherman who also enjoys writing about his adventures. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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