Killing the Chill

Kevin Short recently wrote a great column about his advice on clothing to stay warm bass fishing on cold winter days.

I'd like to add my two cents on cold weather clothing coming from the perspective of someone who has taught mind-body science to graduate students, and is a Hunter Education Instructor preparing folks for the Sierra snow and frosty duck blinds in the Sacramento Valley, where it gets down below freezing.

First of all, respect cold weather, but don't fear it. Fear, in wilderness survival situations, is what gets people in trouble, because they either panic and begin making bad decisions, or they give up and become depressed.

You lose heat in cold weather three ways: conduction, convection and evaporation. To reduce the amount of heat lost through conduction, you need insulation with lots of dead air space within its structure and resistance to compression if weight is applied to it. Layers, man, layers, like Kevin says.

To reduce heat lost through convection, use a windproof outer shell that you can wear over your insulation layers. This helps cut windchill.

You reduce the amount of heat lost through evaporation by staying dry, including wearing fabrics that will wick away perspiration.

There is a misconception that cold weather can give you a cold. According to Andrew Weil, MD: " ... none of the many studies has shown that weather conditions or getting chilled or overheated affect either the development or severity of colds."

That said, aside from a chill being uncomfortable, the real dangers of not being prepared for cold weather are frostbite and hypothermia.

At or below 32 degrees, blood vessels close to the skin contract, and the skin temperature drops, which can lead to serious damage to skin and tissue — frostbite. Preventing frostbite is pretty straightforward — in very cold weather dress in layers, cover your face, ears, and hands, and keep your feet warm and dry.

All you need is to lose enough body heat to start dropping your core temperature below 95 and symptoms of hypothermia can begin — your metabolism drops, and you begin to lose critical thinking ability, focus, energy and eventually you will pass out and go into a coma. Hypothermia can happen when the thermometer is in the 60s if you are not properly protected.

I recommend that all outdoor sportsmen that venture far from their cars in cold weather should carry a space blanket. Small, lightweight and compact, that shiny silver blanket can save lives by keeping you warm, and double as a reflector if you get lost and want to send a signal to searchers.

Another common belief is that there is more heat lost from the head than any other part of the body. This belief is both false and true, according to the Wilderness Medicine Newsletter. The head normally accounts for about 7 percent of the body heat lost.

However, the harder your heart beats, the greater the blood flow to the brain. When you begin to exercise, there is increased cerebral blood flow, which increases the percentage of heat lost through the head to about 50 percent of total body heat loss.

As you continue to exercise, however, the muscles demand more oxygen, which increases blood flow elsewhere, and heat loss from the head drops back down. Once sweating begins, the percent lost through the scalp returns to 7 percent.

However, and this is important, if a hypothermia victim is shivering, the percent of heat loss via the scalp can increase to upwards of 55 percent.

In cold weather, a covering for your head traps body heat by layers of air space, which have to be much more dense than human hair to provide a thermal barrier. Beards are great, but they are too thin to do much good to keep you much warmer.

Choosing the right clothing — muscle testing
When you buy clothing, fit is essential, looks are important, as are the weight and number of pockets, and what the clothing will protect you from, but there is another factor you should check — how it affects your muscle strength.

During the 1960s, Detroit chiropractor Dr. George Goodheart discovered that the strength of muscles is influenced by health conditions, illness as well as allergies. This discovery led to his developing a system of diagnosis and treatment called Applied Kineseology.

I first became aware of AK in 1975 when athletes competing in the Olympic Track and Field Trials at the University of Oregon demanded that a team of chiropractors be present to treat them with AK before competing. Many of those who were treated either won their events or placed high. Today, many pro sports teams and pro athletes have a chiropractor that uses AK on staff or on call.

Goodhart also found that fabrics could also influence your muscle strength. Hold your arm out straight in front of you. Ask a partner to push down on your arm as you resist the push. Your strength is a baseline. Unless you have an allergic reaction, most people will not be weakened by contact with wool or cotton clothing.

Now drape a polyester shirt over your shoulders and repeat the arm strength test. Various plastics and some synthetic fabrics will dramatically weaken some people. I have seen T-shirts, with large colorful plastic designs situated over the solar plexus area, which reduce a person's muscle strength by 40-50 percent. Such shirts, for distance runners, can decrease knee strength, which can translate into chronic injuries.

The Chill Killer
A friend from Wisconsin recently sent me the Chill Killer, a neck wrap made of highly insulated poly wicking fleece material that blocks the wind, provides insulation, traps heat and definitely makes your neck feel warmer.

I like fleece clothing. No itching. It's lightweight, lots of air space, it wicks away perspiration, and it keeps you warm. So, I put on the Chill Killer, which is a one-size-fits-all collar. Immediately I felt warmer. To my surprise, not just on my neck, but above and below the wrap. And my muscle test showed no loss of strength.

Scarves, balaclavas, and turtleneck shirts all help keep body heat in and protect your neck. But there is a special feature of the Chill Killer for those of you who live in really cold climates. You can insert Grabber handwarmers into two pouches on the inner side that are positioned over the carotid artery on either side of the neck.

My guess is that by placing the warmer pouches (even without the Grabbers) over the carotid arteries, it slightly elevates the temperature of blood going to the head, which feels good. And, the heat also makes your neck muscles relax, which would facilitate warm blood flow. But, I wanted to consult an expert.

I asked Chill Killer inventor Dane Charles to send one to Dr. Mike Billig in Vermont. Mike is a nationally known chiropractor, as well as being an avid waterfowl hunter and outdoorsman.

When I talked with Mike, he had just come in from shoveling Vermont's record-breaking snow. Mike said that he had been wearing the Chill Killer all day and he really liked it. He, too, had the feeling that it seems to warm you over a larger area of the body than just the neck.

"The first place we get cold is the episternal notch, in the front of the neck," he said. The Chill Killer covers that perfectly. Mike also tried AK muscle testing. "The scores were good," Mike reported, noting "if they weren't, I would not endorse the product."

I also took my Chill Killer to my local chiropractor, Dr. Mary Schaffer.

"When a person gets cold, their muscles shrink, which causes blood flow to decrease, which results in weakness," Dr. Shafer says. Muscle testing with the Chill Killer showed that my muscle strength was consistent and strong with it on or off.

Chill Killers come in black, camou or orange and run $19.95. You can get them through many sporting goods stores, or through Wisconsin outdoor radio show host Dan Small's Outdoor Radio Online Store.

Enjoy the winter weather, but kill the chill.

James Swan — who has appeared in more than a dozen feature films, including "Murder in the First" and "Star Trek: First Contact," as well as the television series "Nash Bridges," "Midnight Caller" and "Modern Marvels" — is the author of the book "In Defense of Hunting." Click to purchase a copy. To learn more about Swan, visit his Web site.