The first consideration of getting out there in the winter is making it enjoyable, and being cold and damp just doesn't cut it, and why should it with all the readily available technical clothing available these days? You can wear the most hi-tech breathable gucchi waders but if you aren't wearing the right clothing beneath, you will become as wet and uncomfortable as if you were wearing a sack.
Basically gumboots, jeans, cotton T shirt and a swandri just wont cut it unless you've a hankering for hypothermia.
So lets talk layering...
First you have the base layer, which is closest to the skin. Its primary function is to keep you dry by wicking moisture away from the body. This is followed by the mid, or insulation layer to provide warmth. Then finally the outer, or shell layer to protect you from the elements.
Your Base Layer should be thought of your wicking layer, there to quickly move any moisture away from the skin and through to the outer layers. It should also sit close to the skin to afford some insulation. In this regard, your base layer, more than any other layer is responsible for keeping you warm. Polyester or polypropylene synthetic materials, or a natural fibre such as icebreaker merino make for superb, moisture wicking base layer garments, the synthetics providing fast dry properties, and the wool remaining warm while wet.
Your mid layer should be thought of as your insulation / warmth layer, trapping bodyheat amongst its fibres whilst allowing moisture to pass through. Fleece style garments are perfect here and multiple layers are easily added as needed. I often wear a softshell style fleece jacket which also provides wind protection and DWR finish for more plesant days where this is all I wear, or an insulated nanofill / down jacket on sufficiently colder days. I prefer multiple layers rather than just one thick mid layer for warmth, for items can be shed as the day warms up or for the big walk home, or added as required.
Your outer layer is your protection from the elements. Your weather layer and having a couple of options in the truck is often a good idea. Windproof is a must. Water resistant fleece is great for one option and full waterproof is essential for the other, allowing you to dress to the conditions. Breathable to allow moisture to pass through from within but keep moisture out is a given, and for me it is hard to go past gore tex, or gore windstopper garments here.
Here’s a great layering system that Simms offer:
Base layer: Simms Waderwick Core crew top and pants – lightweight and moisture-wicking
Mid layer: Simms Waderwick Thermal Top and Pants – warm micro-fleece, not bulky under your waders etc
Outer layer: Simms Gore-tex jackets
If conditions don’t require a waterproof shell and windproof/water resistance will do the trick – the Simms Rogue Fleece hoody makes a great outer-layer:
A good hat and gloves will help retain a lot of body heat to the point where you can often cut back on your mid layers. A simple wind-stopper fleece beanie and fleece lined, windproof fingerless gloves hold place in my day pack even throughout the summer months.A pair of quality merino socks too add to your overall comfort, wicking moisture from your feet and keeping you warm in the process. Once the feet get cold ones level of comfort deteriorates fast and home-time often beckons.
A note on waders.
A good pair of breathable waders worn in conjunction with a considered clothing system will often keep you warmer, and yet remain much more versitile than the best neoprene waders out there. You can layer up in the cold and layer down on those warmer days, especially if theres a bit of a hike to that rivermouth.
For my money its hard to beat breathable gore tex waders, for their durability, and degree of waterproofing whilst maximising breathability, plus they are just so easy to repair when needed. Check out the SIMMS Headwaters wader for super light weight and maximum breathability, the G3 Guide model for battle tested robustness or the G4 / G4Z for maximum features and comfort.
For the occasional angler, The price pointed Freestone model features rugged, breathable japanese manufactured Toray Quadralam, designed specifically for fishing waders. Whilst not as 'durably waterproof', or breathable as Gore Tex, they will keep you comfortable and dry and most importantly out there, doing it.
And remember that correct layering is not just for cool, winter conditions, but help regulate your body temperature and increase comfort during the height of summer too. Here a moisture wicking base layer and mid / outer layer will allow your body to breathe whilst staying dry. Add a breathable wind proof / water resistent outer and you will remain more comfortable, and less fatigued on the river for longer. And that means more fish!
Next time we will talk about hi density lines and other essential gear to get you into the winter trout zone!
Go out and get some!