Editor's Note: We ran Part I of the Cold Weather Clothing feature by our correspondent Tiger McKee before our hiatus. This is Part II, originally run in our companion service, The Tactical Wire. As we're in the cold weather season, it's a good reminder.
Last column I talked about outerwear, finishing by discussing the need for layering. Here in northern 'Bama at night the winter lows can drop into single digits but in the daytime the temp can rise fifty to sixty-degrees. As temps change or your activity level varies you compensate by removing or adding layers quickly.
Your base layer should have high wicking properties to keep moisture away from your body. Polyester blends and micro-fiber fabrics work best. I use lightweight military surplus polypropylene pants and shirt as a base. Colder environments require a thicker base. Wool is ok but may not feel good against your skin, and while silk is efficient it's difficult to maintain. Cotton has good insulation properties but should be avoided; once wet it's heavy and takes a long time to dry.
Over the base layer I wear normal weight pants and a long sleeve shirt with a mock turtleneck. A lightweight wool sweater goes over that. Wool may be considered low tech, but it works well as a mid-layer and has low odor retention, a concern when wearing the same sweater or pants for extended periods of time. A light to mid weight jacket over the sweater provides additional insulation and protection. Finally, I have my outer garments - top and pants - for total cold, wind and rain proofing.
There are a lot of models to work from when it comes to layering. I mentioned Wild Things Tactical last time. Another great example is Blackhawk's
"Shell" jacket and pants, "Ops" jacket, and "Training" jacket. These can be used separately, but truly shine when combined. The Shell Jak and Pants are made from a breathable three layer laminate to offer excellent protection from water and wind with sealed, waterproof seams and zippers on the side, shoulder pockets and side vents. The collar is lined with fleece for warmth and comfort and the stow-away hood has an extended visor with a drawstring for fit and unrestricted vision. The pants have zippers on legs and are adjustable at the cuffs.
The Operations jacket is a high-performance mid-weight jacket with three layers with excellent water and wind resistance. It has two hand pockets, a breast pocket, a large "tailbone" pocket with zippers on both sides, plus three inside pockets. A Velcro flap insures a tight closure to protect the front zipper, and scuff-resistant panels protect the elbows and forearms. It's a tactical jacket that you can wear about town without screaming tactical. The lightweight "Training" jacket is water resistant, wind proof and wicks moisture away from the body. It's cut to fit tight around the body so when adding layers you're not building bulk and it can be compressed into a package small enough to go in a cargo pocket. With the three-jacket system and the "Shell" pants, made to the same specs as the jacket, you have a package designed specifically for layering. It's like the leisure suit for the twenty-first century, except in a good way.
Protective clothing is like all other gear. You need to have in with you at all times. I'm usually dressed for the predicted temps, but when rain pops up I need to stay dry. For my lifestyle this means multiple sets of wet gear. I have Gortex jacket/pants in my range bag, stashed in my truck in a go bag, and hanging by both doors at home. Once you start adding up how many sets you actually need it can start to bend a budget.
My affordable solution for this is military surplus Gor-tex™, which is lightweight and easily fits over mid-layer clothing. The German sets are good, and you can often find others on sale. I recently got some surplus jackets from Greece. They are quality gear, and were only twenty dollars a jacket. The only size was in XXL, but this is good since it will fit over anything else I might be wearing. A few years ago after bad tornadoes the only way to get around was by water. Having this gear in my go-bag kept me from getting soaked during boat trips to extract people from damaged areas. Staying dry meant I didn't get cold after the sun set while patrolling by boat with the local authorities to prevent looting.
Everyone's requirements are different. When you choose a firearm it's mandatory to find what works for your particular requirements. Clothing is the same. Your environment and anticipated activities determine what you need. It takes time and testing to find what will work for your particular needs.
Next time we'll discuss details like hats, gloves and footwear. Till then stay dry, safe, and keep your eyes on the horizon and nose in the wind.
Tiger McKee is director of Shootrite Firearms Academy, located in northern Alabama. He is the author of "The Book of Two Guns" - http://shootrite.org/book/book.html
writes for several firearms/tactical publications, and is featured on GunTalk's DVD, "Fighting With The 1911 - http://shootrite.org/dvd/dvd.html