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Grrrrrrrr!!! VIKING!!!

Most hats work fine. Warm thing on head, sort of woolly or fleecy, = warm head. Good hats are probably the easiest gear item to scrounge. We have a few tips:


The Fisherman's Sou'Wester. For REALLY wet places, this hat moves water off your head like nothing else.

The Home-Knit Big Wool Hat. Knit and/or get someone who loves you to knit a big wool hat that hangs down to your eyes and has earflaps. It will make you life good. Even better, make it spacious enough to wear a balaclava underneath it.

The Polypro Balaclava. This hat is a balaclava at its most minimal: a thin poly "ski mask" with a neck opening and a single large face opening with an elastic border. As such, it can be worn as a beanie, a neck warmer, a hood (with the full face exposed), or a mask with only the eyes exposed. It's very small and lightweight, easily rolling up in a pocket or purse, yet provides considerable warmth if it's dry. Being poly, when it gets wet it dries fairly quickly.

The Boonie Hat. The boonie hat is a wide-brim hat, often made of cotton. It's useful in dry and/or warm tropical climates as sun protection. It also breaks up the outline of your head. It rolls up, crushes up, and still works. The chief author found an old army surplus boonie hat at the 1999 Endfest punk/alternative rock festival, after it had been trampled by a drunken crowd. It's served him well ever since. Look in surplus stores for boonie hats.

Rain-Proof Home-Made Hobo Hats. You can make a rain hat with a brim easily out of gore-tex or treated nylon.

Other Commercial Rain Hats. Wide-brimmed commercial rain hats are also available. In wet climates, these can be extremely valuable, keeping underhats drier and preventing major heat loss through the head.

Beyond Spec's Culinary Icthyologist fishes from an Alpack in the Kenai Fjords, wearing the Magic Hat.

The Magic Hat. This technological wonder was first innovated by Bretwood Higman with a hot glue gun and closed cell foam. Basically, it is a cap made of closed cell foam and fitted with a chinstrap. It was later determined the duct tape is superior to glue in constructing it. The magic hat is very warm and completely waterproof and windproof, covering the head with a layer of foam normally used for sleeping pads. For cheapness, it's unsurpassed. For style, it's also unsurpassed, but in a different way.

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There are more gloves out there than we can shake a stick at, but these are few of our less conventional favorites:

Some of our less successful experiments include:

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The most consistent rule we've found for socks is that it's good to have two pair: one for the day, one for sleeping in. In a cold climate, feet can lose a lot of heat at night. No matter what our socks are made of, they're warmer when they're dry.

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Two pairs of otherwise identical Montrail Vitesse shoes.

We wear shoes and sandals, not boots, except for serious mountaineering, skiing, and firefighting. Why?

We try to consider weight, durability, and comfort when looking at shoes. We also often use stability inserts, such as Superfeet, which minimize pronation (side-to-side rolling of the feet that can lead, among other things, to knee problems). You can find such inserts at any good running shoe store.

We haven't used most of the shoes out there. For that reason, the only actual models we discuss are our favorites, but we try to explain why we like them, so you can take our experience and assess the goods yourself. Besides, all our feet are different. Don't take our word for nuthin'.

Avia 2050 Running Shoes. The Avia 2050 is now discontinued, but exemplifies a good off-terrain shoe, suitable for alpine rock, snow, heavy brush, and river crossings. It featured an aggressive sole, a lot of torsional stability (resistance to twisting), and good, strong side edges, which were useful for kicking into snow and steep earth, and for edging on rock. The heal counter was similarly stout and sharp-edged along the sole, making it good for plunge steps on steep snow. Like almost all shoes, it had a flexible toe box, which wasn't much good for front-kicking up snow or standing on rock nubs. This failing, however, is the modest price of having an agile shoe that's pleasant to run and scramble in. Like almost all running shoes, the toe box also offered minimal protection to the toes. Either watch out for this, or accept that you'll toughen your toes. These are all usefull criteria to think about when evaluating any off-trail shoe.

Montrail Vitesse The Montrail Vitesse is of that new breed, the "trail runner." The Vitesse is a shockingly durable shoe compared to most of its brethren. It's unusually light and drains well. Like most trail runners, it offers more toe protection than running shoes, but at a slight cost in agility and speed. The big flaw of the Vitesse is that the cloth shoelace grommets can be abraided through if you're walking in a lot of dirt and muck. This is easily fixed by punching new grommet-holes in the top of the shoe.

Teva and Chaco Style Sandals. Many are the nice sandals out there, and we can't review them too much. Suffice to say that the chief author has used these sandals extensively in the desert and summer mountains, and got to 17,000 feet off trail in Asia wearing old Tevas. (We are not claiming he is bright, just stubborn.) The big weaknesses? Four:

A sandals-and-neoprene-socks combination works well as a substitute for shoes.

Flip-Flops. With proper conditioning, we find flip-flops to be great for trail hiking. Flip-flops are light and flexible enough to allow the foot to move in a fairly natural fashion, conforming to the terrain and using small muscles. Plus, sun and fresh air feels good on our feet. It was Nepali farmers and porters who turned us onto this, wearing flip-flops while negotiating steep, slippery slopes in the monsoon with loads of 90 pounds our more. If they can do it, so can you. Rough off-trail travel, river crossings, and snowfields are not ideal places for flip-flops.

Wrestling Shoes. Wrestling shoes offer ground-feel with a modicum of foot protection. We were turned onto wrestling shoes by the folks at Tom Brown's Tracker School. For those who like to photograph, hunt, or just watch animals, wrestlings shoes offer much of the silence of mocassins.

Heavy Sox. Heavy sox can be great for easy terrain or trail hiking when it's cold out.  2 pair can provide significant insulation.

Mocassins We have yet to try mocassins ourselves.

A NOTE ON KEVLAR LACES: In a world without dirt (such as Los Angeles?), Kevlar laces are a great idea. Kevlar is vulnerable to abrasion, falling apart when ground upon by grit. Those who live in a world with dirt are advised to steer clear of laces that disintegrate after 300 miles.

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Traditionally, "pants" and "rain pants" are separate categories. Bollocks, we say! How often have you worn your so-called "rain pants" on a dry day? How long have you froliced in the rain in *gasp* non-rain pants? Free yourself from the tyranny! We hold true that they're ALL trousers, meant to provide the protection to the legs.  A few general rules about pants:


Rainpaints. There are a lot of super-spiffy rain pants and/or waterproof ski pants out there, made of everything from treated nylon to the latest waterproof-breathable fabric. We adhere to some general rules:

Brush Britches.  A pair of rainpants (or any other pants) can also be transformed into "brush britches," for those who face lots of river crossings in open terrain, or simply have a callous disregard for their own shins and calves. To make brush britches, just cut off an old pair of rainpants at mid-calf. Even when kneeling, they should still protect your knees. This creates a well-ventilated, agile pair of britches that drain quickly, don't get soaked in shallow streams, and don't snag at the cuffs on brush.

Classified CIA archival photograph of brush britches during amphibious operations in the San Juan Islands, or possibly
Turkmenistan. Note the duct tape patching, heavy wool sox, trail shoes, PFD, raingear, and hat-over-balaclava.

Foul Weather Gear. "Foul Weather Gear" is used here in the nautical sense, refering to VERY heavy, totally impermeable rain bibs. These are great if you're in a storm at sea, but we find their heaviness, stiffness, and resulting spacious fit unsuitable for trekking, bushwacking, and climbing. Of particular note: the fit results in poor insulation.

BDUs (a.k.a. Army Pants). We are still collating data on BDUs.

Fleece Pants. Fleece pants can be great, but they don't offer nearly as much protection as they offer warmth. We discuss insulation under Body Insulation, below.

Woolies. Wool pants are great. They're fire-resistant, quiet, and warm even when wet. They can also be scratchy. Army-Navy Surplus stores can be a good place to look for wool pants.  King of the Mountain makes great wool products, including pants, but they're also EXTREMELY expensive.

We don't have as much experience with wool pants as we'd like.

Nomex. Nomex-treated forestry pants are lightweight, tough, slightly warm, and dry fairly quickly. They're available in dark green, and some versions have large cargo pockets as well. They're fire resistant, but also slightly abrasive. If you're doing a lot of fire-camping in a hot, dry climate, nomex can be great. They can also be expensive: up to $80, or - for the tan ripstop kevlar ones - $120 or more. Note, also, that the Kevlar ones will break down much more quickly, due to Kevlar's abrasion vulnerability.

Nomex pants may be useful in warm climates if you’re working with fire a LOT.  Otherwise, there’s not much reason to wear them.  If you want nomex, we recommend the "Crew Boss" pants. Avoid "wrangler" style at all cost if you're a man.

Jeans & Carharts. Denim or canvas work pants can be great in hot, dry climates as long as you take care not to get them wet when it's cold. In situations where we might have to bivouac or might endure a thundersquall or river-crawl followed by cold, we avoid these pants like the plague.

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We think if very general terms about raingear, even though we wear it a lot. There are roughly 10.7 Billion different raincoats out there, and in our collective experiences, the differences between the Super-Gonzo Zazzagucci Tech X-9000 Anti-Water System and Honest Bob's Nylon Slicker aren't as big as the $400 price difference would have us believe. If you're traversing mountains, forests, and sub-arctic plains in driving wind and rain, no matter what you wear you WILL get at least a little WET.

Raingear Arrangements. Left: Beyond Spec's Bioweapons Expert in the traditional coat-pants combo.
Right: Two Beyond Spec Operatives (Identities Confidential) in home-made unibody rainsuits.


Do-It-Yourself Raingear.
Some of us prefer to make our own raingear, or to improvise it.

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Body Insulation.

Beyond Spec's Runway Diva models this year's "in" unibody fleece suit w/ integrated hood.

Body insulation is the warm clothing on your body extending out to the neck, wrists, and ankles.  Unless we're someplace very cold, covering our lower legs and forearms is not nearly has important as insulating our knees, elbows, hands, and feet. For this reason, "shorty" garmets can be very excellent insulation when negotiating wet brush.

Note that signficant heat loss occurs wherever clothing separates, such as at the waist line between coats and pants. For this reason, unibody suits - such as we sometimes make - are superior insulators to two-piece outfits.


The Capilene Base Layer Question. Conventional wisdom seems to hold that it's always better to have some sort of thin, "wicking" base layer of capilene. The idea is that it wicks moisture "away" from you, and the moisture - a la the magic of wicking - then evaporates quickly. his is sort of funny, since our experience is that a very thin, wicking garmet spreads moisture laterally, since it lacks the loft to move it away from your skin. Then, if you're in a dry climate with good air circulation, the water evaporates. If you're in, say, a temperate rainforest during a drizzle and you're wearing raingear over your magic capilene undies and bushwacking through heavy thickets, capilene underwear doesn't work so well. It wicks water and sweat all over you, but it doesn't evaporate. No, the garmet stays wet, and makes you colder.

For this reason, when we're in very wet environments, we prefer to wear fleece against our skin. Fleece wicks moisture vertically as well as horizontally, moving it away from our skin. Furthermore, fleece drains well and has enough loft that, even after full immersion in a river, it's warming us within minutes.

 Merino Wool.  We’ve got 2nd-hand testimony from a couple fellas who climbed Denali (McKinley), and rain into the same capilene-underwear problem.  They also had lightweight merino wool underwear, and wore that – in great comfort – for the entire trip.  They found it was warm, even when soaking wet.  Wool is, after all, magic.  It’s got that sheep mojo goin’ on.  Nonetheless, we have not verified this.  Merino wool is expensive.

The Fleece Body Suit. The Fleece Bodysuit is the king of wet climate body insulation, in our somewhat deranged experience. Since the Building Gear section isn't written, we refer you to Erin and Hig's Alaska Trekking Page, where Erin showcases last season's stylish model.

Coats & Shirts. Any coat or shirt of insulating material obviously adds warmth.

Beyond Spec's Heinousness Epert wears a cotton hoodie on the Colorado in January. As long as he stays dry, cotton's killer!

Vests. A vest adds a great deal of body core insulation at less weight than a full coat, but often leaves something to be desired at the armpits and collar. If you want to carry a vest instead of a coat, you may consider adding short sleeves. Currently, we're looking into fabricating a short-sleeved, high-collared pullover tunic to fill this role.

Fleece Boxer Shorts. In our demented little world, these are strictly homemade contraptions, and they're invaluable. Our fleece shorts are short (think runner shorts), close but not snug (loose fabric wastes warmth), and are outfitted with a tie-off drawstring at the waist. The important thing is to have your crotch and high inner thighs insulated. Thanks to this coverage, they provide much of the effect of full-length fleece pants at a fraction of the weight. The chief author even skis in fleece shorts and rain pants, only occasionally adding long underwear beneath them.


Warming up on the Alaska Peninsula. Note the sleeping bag around the chest.

Hypothermia is more likely to kill you than sharks, bears, wolves, cougars, wombats, and meteors combined. If times are tight (or cold, as it were), you can employ several quickie insulation solutions:

Beyond Spec's Common Sense Technician hunkers like an intelligent coward
in a light space blanket and an Alpacka Raft on the 2004 Alaska Wilderness Classic.

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