Monday, March 23, 2015

Cold again: only 5 F this morning

A taxonomy of cold weather clothing, by increments, while feeding the sheep and doing other farm work each morning:

At freezing (32 F), we can walk out in our comfy no-one's-coming-to-see-us-today clothes, sweat shirt and sweat pants and Crocs, without injury, except that we may get a little bit of hay or chickie-shit on us. The main thing to worry about is mud. Substitute wellies for Crocs, and you're all set.

At moderately cool temperatures (20-32 F), we need to put on a coat. I use a double-layered heavy fleece coat made by a Canadian company. I bought it years ago in Canada, and it has lasted well. But the mud is frozen, so you can wear your Crocs if you have thick socks. Except that your wife will yell at you because she worries your worn-out old Crocs will slip on the ice. I tend to think my smooth-soled Crocs stick to the ice better than my boots, but no-one believes me. Take your gloves and hat, but you may take them off later if you don't need them.

Between 10 and 20F, it's too cold for Crocs, and becoming too cold for sweats, even with a coat. I wear felt-lined thermal "Pac" boots, in this case made by LaCrosse, a Canadian company that knows how to keep feet warm. They're expensive, but there's really no adequate substitute. You'll also need to change to warmer clothes if you mean to stay out for more than five minutes. If it's just a night check, and the snow is plowed, I can run out in my sweats and Crocs and run back in without harm, but if it's a longer job, I first change to insulated bib overalls. Gloves and hat are also required for longer jobs. You can take your gloves off for a short length of time to do more delicate jobs, like fixing wiring on the trailer, or tightening a bolt. But not for long. Fingers will get cold fast.

Below 10 F, insulated overalls are a must for just about any length of time, especially if the wind is blowing. Warm socks too. We use thermal liners with thick wool oversocks in our felt-lined boots. Gloves stay on nearly all the time, as does the hat. Fingers will now stick to bare metal, so best keep your gloves on, even when handling tools. I have liner gloves I can wear under my main gloves, which allows me to take the main gloves off for a few minutes to do finer fingery types of work. But for the most part, if it's this cold, I just don't do those kinds of jobs outside until it warms up.

Between -10 F and  0 F, we wear our gloves and hat and insulated overalls and felt boots and double layer of socks. We may add a long sleeved, thicker undershirt, and switch to our warmer pair of gloves, which are made by Carhartt, another good brand name for cold weather stuff. All these clothes are cotton or cotton blend, except for the hat, which is wool, and the insulation in the overalls and gloves, which is usually a fiber-based product. In this kind of cold, cotton clothes are fine, if they're thick and strong and designed for the cold. The old outdoor activity adage not to wear cotton no longer applies.

Between -20 and -10 F, we may switch to a fur-lined "mad bomber" hat, as well as a pair of insulated coveralls instead of bib overalls. We keep our inside clothes -- sweat pants and sweat shirt -- on underneath.

Below -20 F it's best not to go out if you can help it, but the sheep will still need to be fed, so you must. I just wear all of the stuff above, but stay out for only as long as I need and come right back in. If I'm working and there's no wind, its fine. If I'm not moving much and there's a wind, you get cold fast. I have a pair of long bright red cotton "combination" underwear that I can add to stay out just a little longer. But it's very easy to freeze skin, especially your fingers, ear lobes, cheeks and nose. I've had frostbite and can recognize the feeling, so I try not to get it again.

It's always nice to come back in to a warm house when it's this cold outside. Our house has multiple and redundant heating systems for safety in case of power cuts, so we're never really cold inside. We usually use the wood stove and a little electrical heat and that's enough especially with good quality hardwood, but if it gets really cold, we can just crank up an oversized oil furnace, and be toasty in minutes.

Here's how to rock this kinda style:

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