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  • Writer's pictureThe Drift Team

Staying Warm on the Water - Dress for Success!

It’s official, the toques are making an appearance, more jackets are hitting the streets, and it’s getting cold out! Our finned friends aren’t going anywhere, and the only thing keeping most anglers from hitting the rivers throughout the winter is cold feet, hands, and everything in between!

So what can you do to extend your fishing season without losing your toes to frost bite? Often you’ll hear people talk about throwing on extra sweaters, doubling up on socks, and maybe even growing a beard for extra insulation! However, we also often hear people mention that despite all of this they are still cold when outside, so maybe it’s time to look at a new approach and what it takes to really keep you warm.

Dressing to keep warm in cold conditions is actually quite simple and it follows three simple rules.


Layering in itself doesn’t necessarily make you any warmer, it’s strategic layering that does, which is choosing clothes that work with each other to provide warmth and retain body heat.

When choosing your insulating layers remember that just because they feel warm when worn around the house doesn't mean that they'll perform the same way when on the water. In ideal conditions a cotton sweater may be fine, but generally when dealing with Ontario winters “ideal” isn’t really in our vocabulary. A good insulating material not only keeps you warm when dry, but also keeps you warm warm when it is wet.

If there is one rule to live by for dressing it's "COTTON KILLS" the reason being that cotton is a very absorbent fabric and it will hold moisture against your skin.

One of the largest causes of concern for outdoor enthusiasts in the winter is sweating.  Sweat in cold environments will chill you to your bones and can even cause hypothermia, this problem is exacerbated when your now wet clothing won't dry or wick that moisture away. The best insulators to look at are ones that stay warm when wet, such as merino wool, primaloft, and fleece. Avoid jeans, other denim products or corduroy type material, and cotton track-pants, which offer zero insulating properties and tend to feel extremely heavy and cold once wet.

Staying dry ends with your waders and rain gear, and starts with what happens next to your skin. The moisture from sweating over the course of the day may start out warm, but eventually it cools to the same temperature as the surrounding air and you may end up very, very cold and very quickly. The best course of action to combat this is to wear a wicking layer in conjunction with warmer layering pieces. Products that will lift moisture away from your skin to your breathable outer-layers, keeping you dry. Wicking layers are generally lightweight synthetic materials.

The last factor to consider is making sure that you keep the warmth in. The best way to do so is to have a layer of air between you and the insulating layer. Essentially you want to avoid squeezing all of the warm air away from where it counts. A windproof outer layer is essential for keeping the chill away, and trapping warm air inside your thermal layers. Shells, which can differ from a windproof outer layer, are another great way to stay dry, keep the warm air in, keep the draft out, but allow moisture to escape.

One of the most common places to experience discomfort and extreme cold is the feet, if you find this happening there are a few common causes. The most commonly seen situation is the loss of blood flow in the feet. Boots or socks that are too tight can limit blood flow leaving those extremities ice cold. Try to avoid bulking up on socks and constricting blood flow by limiting space in your boot.  Alternatively wear one very warm sock with plenty of loft, leaving room to wiggle your toes in your boot.  Also be conscious of not tightening up on your laces too much.

Remember.... cotton kills, always wear wool and synthetics for maximum warmth.

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