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It's wool season

Glenn MacGrady

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Somewhat sheepishly, I confess to being a little woolly-headed about this topic. Are all you folks talking about canoeing in these various arctic wool togs? I've lived all over the USA, and everywhere I've been the fresh canoeing waters freeze before the climate becomes arctic.

I've canoed in the 30's F with maybe some dips into the 20's F before ice-over or after ice-out, especially in the rivers of the Sierra Nevada and New England mountains. But in just about all those cases I've worn either a wet suit with synthetics over it or, after 1985, a dry suit with with synthetics underneath. Now, I don't paddle in such temperatures anymore. I always felt sorry and even scared for the then old-timers who would dump in frigid waters wearing wool pants and jackets, which would become dangerously heavy and saggy and hard to wring-out when saturated.

In borderline temperatures on flat water, when I don't want to wear a full or partial dry suit, I wear layers of cotton and synthetics with a change thereof and a synthetic towel in a dry bag.

If we're just talking about general outdoor clothing for cold winter conditions, unrelated to canoeing, that's a different subject. For that, I've never personally cared for wool. Too scratchy, heavy and expensive for good stuff, except for some thin wool dress socks and one thin wool stocking cap I do like and have used for decades. Otherwise, I like layering in cottons and synthetics. They feel and smell nicer to me, and the synthetics are especially easy to dry out.

I also like my lightweight down parka for general winter use, unrelated to water sports.

I do need a new pair of winter gloves. I never liked wool gloves as a kid. They didn't keep out cold winds and too much wet snow would stick to the wool fibers when making snowballs to throw at buses. In 1983 I bought one of the very first pairs of Goretex gloves lined with Thermax on the market, and have been using the same pair for all winter recreational and work activities since, including whitewater canoeing in the 80's before I changed to nitrile gloves. That pair now has holes in the finger tips and I need to buy a replacement. But I'm shocked, shocked, shocked at the price increase for that same material 37 years later.
 
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Somewhat sheepishly, I confess to being a little woolly-headed about this topic. Are all you folks talking about canoeing in these various arctic wool togs? I've lived all over the USA, and everywhere I've been the fresh canoeing waters freeze before the climate becomes arctic.

Here in Pennsylvania the rivers I paddle rarely freeze. It would take several weeks of single digit weather for them to start freezing. Maybe a little bank ice sometimes. I paddled the Yough on 12/26 and the windchill with 16mph winds was -3F. I had to walk in snow for 9 miles to shuttle back to the canoe and I wore wool pants and Boreal Shirt. When I got to the canoe, I had to change into my drysuit while standing in the snow. I've had that drysuit for 16 years and it doesn't leak but it doesn't have built in booties! It may be time to upgrade the suit. I wouldn't want to have to save myself swimming in the wool anorak that I was wearing on the hike.

If you have the equipment to safely do it, I recommend everyone paddle a river when it's snowing.

Cheers,
Barry
 
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I don't have a wool anorak, mine is canvas and I wear it over a wool sweater or shirt. It also fits over my pfd which I snug up when it's cold to better retain body heat. I also consider my pfd as an insulating article of clothing. The anorak is long enough that it reaches my knees when kneeling, keeping my thighs warm and it is wind proof and breathable. I don't own a dry suit and am pretty sure I have outgrown my wet suit, I paddle big stable boats on flat water and feel that there is a low probability of going in the drink.
 
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Wool yes. Cotton no. Anoraks have been around for a very long time. Buy them big.
For really tough conditions on the water, a dry suit adds a great margin of safety compared to the old fibers. Otherwise I like wool.
 
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Yup. I paddle big boats on flat water. The chances of dumping are slim, but in freezing conditions I stay along the shoreline just in case. Whitewater would be a different story.

I am not a fan of synthetics. They keep the rain out, but trap the sweat in. They are also not durable. I can't count the number of Gore-Tex shells I have been through over the years.

It's okay to spend money on gear. Especially if it enhances your safety and paddling experience.
 
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I have a mixture of old wool items, and newer synthetics -mostly base layers and quick drying pants. They all have their place and can work well combined. I have learned, as most I'm sure, that buying inexpensive or trendy gear just isn't worth it. It has taken many years to figure out how to be comfortable in lousy conditions taking into consideration levels of physical exertion and how physically fit I am in a given season. I find I need to shed more layers portaging on the first trip of the season vs the last in similar temperatures. I do have my favorite wool shirt/jackets in camp though.

Bob
 

Glenn MacGrady

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Well, I think things get a little mixed up in semi-off-topic threads like these. We oft have threads about what tents, stoves, snowshoes, guns or gear to use in winter activities completely apart from any connection with canoeing. I don't think anyone has ever objected to these kinds of threads during the slow winter season on the board.

If any of the posts in this thread are just about general winter wear in cold conditions, apart from canoeing, then it would be expected that some people favor wool more than than others do.

My personal confusion remains that arctic clothing, wool or otherwise, is not necessary on normal lakes because they freeze solid before really cold temperatures set in. On the other hand, if one paddles non-freezing waters in really cold temperatures, such as swift rivers or the ocean or Lake Superior, they would be far more safely served by wearing a dry suit with insulation underneath. That insulation could be wool underwear, I suppose, but just about everyone I know uses polypro synthetics of various weights and names, which dry easily overnight and can be inexpensive.

Any approach is possible, but I've never met anyone in 40 years of paddling who changed out of their dry suits in the winter snows to portage or to take side hikes. If your dry suit and insulation are warm enough for paddling and swimming through rapids, it's more than warm enough for walking or hiking. That's why I prefer two-piece or zipper-ventable dry suits. I also prefer dry suits with built-in booties.

If you paddle in a semi-cold shoulder season without dry or wet suits, I don't think it matters much what fabric you wear if you dump. Wool, synthetics or cotton will all saturate to a dangerously cold degree. A towel and complete change of clothes in a dry bag is the best precaution against hypothermia.

If I am positive I won't dump in lake water before it freezes, then I don't think it matter what fabrics I wear. That is the same scenario as any other non-immersion, semi-cold weather outdoor activity. I fully understand many people prefer traditional wools for such non-immersion outdoor activities. I don't. I don't own a wool shirt, outdoor sweater or jacket. I use layered cottons of different weaves and different weight synthetics (polypro), and have never had any problems with getting overly chilled or sweaty-wet. Admittedly, I've never worked outside all winter in the far north, participated in dog sled races, or mountain camped in the winter. If I had, perhaps I would have experimented more with wools and furs.

After experimentation, I also never believed in Goretex or similar expensive PTFE products in any climate, because I don't believe they can be both truly breathable and waterproof.

A tight weave outer anorak of cotton or wool, which doesn't have to touch my skin, does sound appealing to me for non-immersion cold weather activities, and I'd wear one if I had it for the many hours I push snow with my tractor on my 600 foot driveway every winter. It takes four or five hours per snowfall. But I'm too cheap to buy one at my age on fixed income.

And I do enjoy hearing about the various products available and personal experiences, even though I may never use them (or build them).
 

Glenn MacGrady

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Coincidentally, Paddling Magazine has an article this month entitled, It Is Never Too Cold To Go Paddleboarding. It's about a Canadian guy who surfs the Great Lakes on a SUP during the winter.

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He wears a wet suit.

. . . as a paddleboarder, it can actually be quite cold until you get some water in the suit. Even though I know it’ll be warmer once I get in the water, I still avoid it while up on my board. But once I fall in, I warm right up.”

. . . Ortiz wears a 5/4/3 suit—five-millimeter thick neoprene on the body, four-millimeter on the arms and three-millimeter on the hood—and rubs “wind and weather” cream on his face.

“With wetsuit technology, it’s really not crazy at all,” says Ortiz. “I can pull my hand out of my glove and shake hands with somebody and my hand will be warmer than someone walking on the beach. It’s not crazy once you start. The session doesn’t end because I’m cold, it ends because I’m exhausted.”

I found this climatic science about water waves in the article interesting:

At any given wind speed, waves build higher in cold weather because cold air over warm water transfers more wind energy than warm air over cold water.

On edit: Just noticed the same magazine has an article by Kevin Callan entitled, How To Extend Your Paddling Season -- Expert advice on how to dress and the gear to bring so you can paddle until ice-up.

In summary, Callan recommends wet suits or dry suits when the 100 degree rule comes into play -- i.e., the water temperature + air temperature is less than 100 degrees F (37 C). Under a dry suit, he recommends synthetic insulation, merino wool (which he admits is more expensive) or a synthetic-merino blend such as Woolpower. For hands and feet he recommends neoprene; and for the head, a balaclava, a neoprene cap or a wool tuque.
 
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I once had many woolen garments, from coats to shirts to pants...but my wardrobe has suffered a blight of wool in recent years. And my wife no longer knits with the stuff. She calls it exorbitantly expensive. I do have however some items suitable for tripping.
Wool can be itchy and scratchy. For that reason alone I've wandered towards the wool blend of merino, and have two sweaters. Easy to wear as mid or top layers depending on the season. Smartwool hiking socks are great too for year round activities, although for winter outings (hiking/snowshoeing) I have some big thick high % wool socks. They performed well as sleepwear on October canoe trips. So well in fact I had to sleep in my lightest skivvies and toqueless some sub zero nights. Speaking of which, my toques are all either wool-less or merino.
I do miss my full wool clothing items despite their scratchiness. The last remaining garment in that category would be my Irish cardigan. It is incredibly warm and scratchy, and I can only wear it with shorts. No socks no skivvies no toque. Just my threadbare shorts and Eire sweater. The scratchiness soon wears off with ample splashes of Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition.
Stay safe, stay warm, stay comfortable.
 
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The last day I paddled with my wife was a last November. I threw a wool blanket in the ditch kit for no particular reason other than there was room. It was cooler then we thought and we ended up putting on all of our extra layers from the get go and we were only borderline comfortable. I told my wife to put the blanket over her legs, which she did and was much happier. I think the blanket will be a permanent part of my ditch kit for the shoulder season.
 
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There are lots of kinds of wool. Merino wool is from merino sheep and alpaca from alpacas. You can even knit dog fur. ( though who wants to smell of wet dog?) When people speak of itchy wool that would be wool that has not had the microbarbs removed from it. Barbed wool is the wool that you mistakenly throw in the washing machine and your mens M sweater now fits Barbie.( the doll)because it felts.

Felting is very useful for making wool hats that are impervious to wind. The barbs lock together to cause the felting and the wool is voila no longer quite as itchy.

But no I don't use much wool except for a wool shirt under drysuit and gloves and hats for actual paddling. My Wool Blanket Shirt is too bulky and the anorak would just tangle me in case of capsize
 
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I could not resist, ordered an anorak from Boreal Mountain Anoraks. Seems perfect for layering according to activity. Love the hand warmer, kangaroo pockets. Hope to use it for snowshoeing this winter.
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I could not resist, ordered an anorak from Boreal Mountain Anoraks. Seems perfect for layering according to activity. Love the hand warmer, kangaroo pockets. Hope to use it for snowshoeing this winter.
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Hope you get snow. We have had some two feet but of course it got rained on and now at best there is three inches all underlain with ice. Today was one of those bluebird days.Temps 35 bright sunny no wind and a long sleeve T shirt. With microspikes for our hike! The winter is not fashionable. BlackFly you will get use out of that. The nice thing about wool is even if it is almost warm it will not overheat you BTW those are IMO very good prices!
 
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Just received an Appalachian Gear long sleeve "All-Paca" crew for Father's Day form my wife. Apparently she (who has zero interest in camping/canoeing) read about it on line. What a score! Probably won't get much use until shoulder season but it seems very well made and super soft!
 
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Just received an Appalachian Gear long sleeve "All-Paca" crew for Father's Day form my wife. Apparently she (who has zero interest in camping/canoeing) read about it on line. What a score! Probably won't get much use until shoulder season but it seems very well made and super soft!

Very useful now too. Wool is actually a good thermoreguator in hot places too. I wear my Merino Wool in the summer on trips. Why? Because my father who worked in the Arabian desert in the 1940's used wool to keep cool
https://www.kuhl.com/borninthemount... has unusual desert-friendly characteristics:
 
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It has been hot for June near 100. Yesterday I was in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada up by tree line around 8,700 feet. We had a great rainstorm and I was wishing I had a light wool shirt.
 
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