Yeah, I did say TJ Maxx for outdoor gear. Yeah, I was suprised too. Hang on, this is going to be a long story.
I have a pretty good wife. Not that we don’t have our issues, but overall my complaints are minor. Of course part of any good relationship is compromise, and that means that sometimes I have to not go fishing or shooting or kayaking and have to go shopping instead. My wife is what is known as a “Maxx-anista”, an avid fan of the discount places like the outlets and especially TJ Maxx (from whence the title comes), Marshalls, and Home Goods.
I was doing my husbandly duty in this regard, accompanying my wife to TJ Maxx, when she said “Hey, have you thought about looking here for that stuff you’re looking for?” The “that stuff” she was referring to is winter outdoor clothing. I’d like to develop an interest in winter kayak fishing, due mainly to the fact that it’s winter and I want to continue kayak fishing. That requires much different gear than in the summer, spring, or even fall. One needs stuff to stay dry and stuff to stay warm.
There is a huge segment of the outdoor industry devoted to this already. Plenty of people kayak, fish, kayak fish, hunt, hike, bike, jog, and generally wander around the outdoors all winter while wiser folk sit home where there is heat and shelter. So there is already clothing for this. But it can be expensive. So I was thinking I was going to spend all winter piecing the gear together a little at a time and I would have it all just in time for spring. And that would be going with the cheapest end of the spectrum. Now I might actually get to kayak fish before the end of the year. But first let me talk a bit about the needed gear itself.
The Yachtsman has an excellent article on cold weather outdoor gear, but I will try to summarize it a bit here. You need 3 layers; a base layer, an insulation layer, and a shell layer. The base layer keeps your skin dry by wicking moisture, especially sweat, away to the insulation layer. The insulation layer creates a boundary of warm air around your body while allowing moisture to move out to the shell layer. The shell layer allows moisture to escape while preventing moisture and wind from entering.
Not all materials do these things well. Cotton, for example, not only does a poor job of these things, but activley leaches heat from your body. Wool, and silk are among the best natural fibers for these things. However non natural fibers such as polyester are even better. Wool, silk, and polyester all retain their insulating properties even when wet. In other words wet cotton will add to your misery, but wet polyester will still help you.
Polyester does not absorb moisture and dries quickly when it does get wet. Even though wool and silk still insulate when wet, they do loose efficiency. And they also absorb moisture and do not dry quickly which can increase your discomfort. In cold weather and on cold water discomfort kills. Wool and silk also weigh more in proportion to their insulating abilities than polyester. Acrylic can also be good.
You may hear the term “techinical fabric” being used by winter sports enthusiasts. Technical fabrics are things like polyester, acrylic, gore tex, and other non natural materials used in winter outdoor gear. These fabrics and fibers are designed to perfromed the nessecary functions of cold weather gear.
Don’t forget your accessories such as hats, scarves, balaclavas, hoods, neck gaiters, buffs, gloves, and socks. You can lose as much as 50% of your body heat through your head, so keep it covered. If you find your feet or hand are getting cold make sure your gloves and socks are loose enough. Impeded circulation is a leading cause of cold digits. If your core is warm enough then your body will circulate war blood to your extremities. But not without good circulation.
As I said discomfort kills in the cold. As discomfort increases you lose focus and ability. You get “the umbles”; mumbles, stumbles, grumbles, and fumbles. You start making mistakes. Your fingers and other body parts don’t work like they should. It makes everything ten times more difficult and makes it easy to make potentially fatal mistakes. That’s what we’re talking about here. Life and death.
Turn your kayak over in cold water and you can go into shock within seconds if you aren’t properly prepared. Maybe you went all summer without turning over. But now you have cold fingers, and chills, and are wet with frigid water and the wind is blowing freezing cold spray in your face, and you turn a little too far trying to reach something in your crate……………………………………….
So I’m not being melodramatic. Cold weather gear is life support equiment. Being comfortable isn’t about being a wimp. It’s about not making the mistakes that will kill you. Comfort is the difference between a fun day fishing and a newspaper story about a guy who drowned in the river or lake during winter.
Even if you aren’t a winter sports enthusiast it is a good idea to have some winter gear. Winter gear, including all 3 layers, should be a part of every emergency kit or bug out bag. A spare set should also be included in a kayak dry bag emergency kit. That would facilitate quickly changing into dry gear should you become immersed.
So, back on course, I was doing my husbandly duty, accompanying my wife to TJ Maxx, when she said “Hey, have you thought about looking here for that stuff you’re looking for?” I sneared “Here? I doubt it!” But she was already headed for the mens clothing section where low and behold there were base layers hanging on the wall. From Terramar and Weatherproof . Wow. I was shocked. Further looking revealed wool and techinical fabric socks from Cabelas (Hunting and Hiking), Smartwool, Icebreaker, Woolrich, Heat Holders, and Darn Tough. On subsequent trips I found $250 hunting bibs from Underarmor for sale for $129, and stuff from Avalanche Wear and Carhartt, equally discounted. I have’t seen waders yet, but I am looking.
They have layaway for those on a bidget, or even less. So if you want to get out in the outdoors this winter and just don’t have the money to buy from the big usual outdoor retailers give TJ Maxx a look. They have gear that you can use for anything from fishing in the wilderness to jogging in the city. I should have known. I got my Underarmor beanie hat there last year.