MESSING ABOUT: Wear layers; be prepared to build shelter

Messing About in the Maine Woods

by Ron Maxwell

Veterans day 2017 found me by Donnell Pond between Schoodic and Black mountains. It was a drippy night and a cool morning but the real fun began at 7 a.m. when a wall of sleet and hail hit from the east. I stood on the beach watching it roll my way. When it hit, I leaned into the blast and enjoyed the buffeting – until the hail started in earnest. Then I bravely ran back to my emergency shelter and hid. (The shelter was a tarp, staked to the ground on bottom and lashed on top to two trees.) This created an excellent barrier that diverted the sleet and wind, while I was dry underneath. I waited out the storm in my layered clothing and emerged from my manufactured microclimate, dry and comfortable. There are two reasons it went well: I was wearing layers, and I was in a pocket of still air created by the tarp.

The first reason is called thermoregulation, which is a fancy way of describing layers of clothing to take off or put back on as you warm up/cool down. I layer with a T-shirt over a long sleeve turtleneck/ long underwear shirt as a base. Then add a wool sweater and a waterproof jacket above the base layer, and the upper torso is set. Lower body layers involve the bottom of long underwear worn under cargo pants. A case can be made for a thermal layer under it all if you feel you need the extra help.

None of my layers is water wicking or fancy or expensive. Standard wisdom says to use wool, because it warms you when it is wet. There is a place for those things if you spend lots of time out in the weather, but for me they are too cost prohibitive. With the layers mentioned above I can remove pieces to keep my core temp at the stage where I don’t sweat, while staying warm enough.

The second reason is the area of stillness under the tarp, a microclimate. The difference between being warm and freezing is how well you get yourself out of the wind. I always carry a folded tarp or emergency blanket and paracord when out in the woods hiking. It allows a dry zone to be set up when the rain starts or a windbreak to take a break behind. But you can also make use of microclimates without rigging up a tarp each time a breeze blows. Use a sheltered area in the trees to recover from the wind. Bask on that warm rock. Make use of the natural features of where you are because simple changes can make a big difference.

So make sure that you have appropriate shelter for the season you are out in. Wear clothing in layers so you can thermoregulate by removing or adding those layers as you get too hot or cold. I also recommend an emergency plan for when something goes wrong – a simple emergency blanket (or contractor garbage bag) tucked in your backpack and some paracord will allow you to make a simple windproof shelter if you get stuck, hurt or ‘turned around.’ And that is how we thrive in the Maine outdoors.

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