Angler's Warm and Dry in the Cold and Wet

by Louis Bignami

Part One: Theory and Weatherproofing

Twenty years ago angler's closets seemed bare given today's choices. Selection was simple. Wool or, for the high tech set, cotton mesh underwear, wool shirts, socks, sweaters and watch caps and oilskins or Peter Storm Bukflex(tm) with gum boots did the job.

Much gear was war surplus. Today's gear isn't always more durable even though it's often more efficient. For example, I still own and use a 17 year old Peter Storm oiled wool sweater and Bukflex(tm) foul weather gear. These, with fishermen's gum boots and wool gloves or mittens, were the traditional choice on the sound. For milder conditions, mountain coats or military surplus gear treated with water repellent coatings were usual.

The most important part of any outfit is a weatherproof outer layer such as an uninsulated, but state-of-the-art, parka. These keep you and your insulation and skin level garments dry in the wet and prevent wind chill.

Note: I hunt, so I buy everything in brown camo. If you don't hunt, consider yellow which is more visible on the water or in the snow.

Expect to pay $100 to $200 or more for quality parkas. Most have four pockets in the front with hand warmer pockets under the bottom pair, a large-tooth zipper, pulls at waist, hem and hood, etc. Note: dedicated boat anglers might consider gear with fewer pockets to snag - at the inconvenience of a lack of places to put things. Waders can look at short jackets -- I'm too cheap to buy these; I add a vapor barrier layer and use a vest for weatherproofing when I wade.

All garments in this class need bar tacking on stress points and a large-tooth zipper under a storm flap that, it is hoped, will Velcro shut. A zipper stitched evenly without tag ends is a good sign of quality. If you can, check the inside seams. Careful work here insures value.

The jury's out on hoods. Those that roll up under the collar and offer some protection for the eyes as they turn with your head seem okay in rotten weather, but hoods that hang open on your back get nicely soaked until needed and those that don't turn with your head are wet catchers. Hoods that snap or zip on and off improve garment flexibility -- see head coverings.

The best parkas come in two or three layer shells laminated or sandwiched to Gore-Tex(tm), Bion II(tm) and other materials that allow water vapor to escape, but don't let water penetrate. Some laminate films to, or sandwich films between fabrics, so the fabric types limit the amount of water vapor that escapes no matter how efficient the film. Today you can even find Gore-Tex(tm) laminated to wool. Other manufacturers coat fabric. So, as is the case with traditional Egyptian cotton garments, pore size controls water vapor. In the case of cotton, it twists holes shut when wet to keep you modestly dry.

Unfortunately, you can't tell much about materials from visual inspection, but details which you can check, such as tidy sewing, almost always come along with top grade materials and hidden quality details.

Newer isn't always better. In the last half-dozen years, traditional waxed cotton garments from English manufacturers became more popular. I own two coats and treasure each. My Barbour coat keeps me dry and seems to trap less humidity in humid conditions than films such as Gore-Tex's(tm). My new lined jacket adds a lining for colder climes.

These garments work differently than films do. Their premium cotton gets a bit damp, then twists and seals under the wax coating which keeps you dry. You can reapply the coating to warm, dry garments as needed. So leaking garments can be restored to use. Some firms even do this for a small fee. Unfortunately, when films like Gore-Tex II wear out, they can't be replaced.

Waxed cotton garments do get damp and they neither dry-clean nor wash. So you need a fresh water rinse, before you brush them and give them a quick swipe with a damp rag. Hang cleaned garments in a warm, but not hot place until dry. I find that I can alternate my lined, and unlined waxed cotton garments so one's drying daily.

These "weatherproofs" radically improve outdoor comfort over traditional water resistant fabrics which leak when saturated, and uncoated fabrics which never leak, but soak you with trapped perspiration instead.

However, if you are not active enough to sweat, traditional gob togs made from solid PVC or coated in urethane or rubber coatings work and wear well. Quality is reflected in prices and, as a rule, the most expensive gear is the best buy as it lasts much longer.

Lower body coverings can either mix or match tops. Pullover pants with zippered cuffs go on and off easily over boots. Models which allow you to wear suspenders instead of a belt such as bib-tops seem warmer than belted pants because they don't restrict venous return of blood from the legs, and you get double coverage over the critical kidney areas.

Note: soft closed-foam cushions can help venous return when you sit by improving your circulation and also insulate your bottom from cold boat seats.

Double fabric at the knee and seat improve wear too. You save money with less inexpensive pants or bibs that don't transmit water vapor if the top of your body, which sweats more, has state-of-the-art garments.

Keeping Warm and Dry: Part II