I will be the first to admit that I hate the cold, the hatred for the cold runs so deep that I get cold just thinking about it. My strong aversion to cold used to complicate things like fall chinook and winter steelhead fishing. I have tried many products that were designed to keep the average person warm and dry without success. Fortunately I have found products that work well for me that allow me to fish year around with minimal complaints.
Base layers are so important to staying warm and dry. The fabric that you select to wear needs to be a synthetic or a merino wool. Cotton is not a good choice to wear while you are fishing because once it is wet it will be all day, leaving you feeling chilled. The reason you want to choose synthetic or wool fabrics is because they are moisture wicking. I wear both synthetic and wool at the same times on very cold days. The wool layer is next to my skin and I top that with a Columbia Omni-Heat base layer top. I do this because the Omni-Heat seems to perform better when it is not right on my skin. I prefer not to buy base layers with any type of collar because rain seems to find it’s way inside my clothes faster with collars. My base layers are always snug fitting but do not limit movement.
Mid layers were something I had troubles with when I was learning to dress for the elements. It was easy to wear too many layers that would compress which made stretching and moving difficult. The compressed layers did not trap much needed warm air next to my body. I have many different mid layers I wear and I still layer them but I am conscious of how they will layer to keep warm air next to my body. I absolutely love fleece and it’s ability to trap warm air and wick moisture. My favorite fleeces are made by Mountain Hardware and Columbia. I wear fleece pants and tops that do not have hoods but they do have ¼ zip collars. Wool is another one of my go to fabrics for mid layers because it does not compress as easily as other mid layer materials. I am always on the lookout for wool ¼ zip sweaters
that are not tight fitting.
The ¼ zip collar on the mid layer tops is nice because they are a great way to help regulate your heat. Zip them up for extra warmth and unzip them to cool down. I tuck the collars of mine into the shirt when it is raining to help keep rain from creeping into my dry clothes.
Down is a wonderful mid layer but it is not the greatest to wear when fishing. When down gets wet it gets flat and does not retain heat. It is almost impossible to avoid getting wet while fishing, so I avoid it when possible. There are treated downs that are made to handle moisture without compressing but am hesitant to try them because of how much I value warmth.
There are other fills for jackets that are wonderful at retaining heat when dry or wet. PrimaLoft is a great insulator as it retains 96% of it’s warmth when it is wet. I currently stay toasty in a Columbia jacket that is insulated with Omni-Heat. Mountain Hardware has a synthetic down called ThermicAero. For my next insulated jacket I am leaning towards a Mountain Hardware with ThermicAero.
Outer layers can be tricky because there is a lot of selection at different price ranges. Simms is at the top end of the spectrum as far as price. I have the Simms G3 Guide Jacket and like it a lot. There are a lot of pockets on this jacket. Some people love pockets but I don’t because I end up losing things in them. I stay dry for the most part in the jacket but have to remember to keep everything zipped up when it is raining. Simms offers options for women that look good and keep the rain out. Other brands that I hear good things about are Grundens, Dryft, and Huk. There are some good looking coats out there that are at different price points to fit your budget.
Neoprene is another material I wear a lot of when I fish. Stormr makes some pretty incredible products that are perfect for fishing in the Pacific Northwest. The Typhoon is a jacket designed for women. I like that my Typhoon is cut for women and is made of a lighter weight neoprene for those warmer days. My favorite Stormr jacket is the Prime. My favorite feature of this jacket is the adjustable water-sealing cuffs. They actually keep the rain out when I am fishing and when I put my hand a little too far in the water. The neoprene is thicker so I stay warmer. As with their other jackets it is waterproof, and has just the right amount of stretch. I have found that I wear less layers under it and stay just as warm as I do with other coats.
Socks and footwear seem like they are no brainers but for me there was a lot of trial and error. Electric socks did not work very well and the battery pack was a hassle and began to wear a hole in my waders. After the electric sock trial I did some research and tried Thermacell Heated Insoles. The insoles worked and they are remote controlled so changing settings is very easy. I combine those with compression stockings and 1 pair of puffy fleece or wool socks. The compression improves circulation and then the fleece or wool socks provide the material to trap the heat close to the skin.
Gloves are the biggest struggle I have as far as keeping warm. My hands are small and I have found that many gloves do not fit. Fishing becomes very difficult when wearing gloves that do not fit. Mittens are great for hiking but that is about it. I have given up on trying to find gloves that I can fish in. My solution is thick nitrile gloves. They stretch to fit my hands and keep them dry for the most part. The other solution to my cold hands is a hand warmer (muff) that is attached to a belt. I put 4 Little Hotties in the hand warmer and it turns into a sauna for your hands. The hand warmer stays out of the way while fishing as I can easily slide it around behind me but is always within reach when I need it. It is a simple item and there are a lot of different manufacturers. They are all basically a fleece line muff with a waist strap. The one I use has elastic cuffs at both ends creating a small hole that you can push your hands in to. I find it retains more heat and keeps the little heat packs from falling out.
As you can tell I am serious about staying warm while fishing and have put quite a bit of effort into finding a system that works for me. My hope is that you can learn from my trial and error of cold weather clothing. Have a great fall fishing season and stay dry out there.