Whilst it’s easy to think of shelter as tents, tarps or even debris shelters, the fact of the matter is that the first line of defence we have from the elements is our clothing, so making sure that you have the right clothes for the time of year and climate is essential.
Based in the south east of England the summers are generally warm, typically with night time temperatures around 10 to 15°C and day time temperatures of 15 to 25°C. At this time of year I tend to wear inexpensive clothing for my bushcraft , and there are plenty of bargains around that mean you don’t need to stretch your budget. Get to boot fairs, charity shops, army surplus shops, search online and you’ll be surprised what you can find. This weekend (in September) I had on a pair of boots that cost £20, trousers that were £10, a t-shirt that was £5, a shirt for £6 and a fleece that cost £12.
With that said, a sudden downpour coupled with wind can make conditions unpleasant even dangerous at any time of year so I always make sure that I have my waterproof coat with me, there’s no point in taking any chances.
So what about bushcraft winter clothing? Well, even here in Kent the winter is much less forgiving and I think there are some items that are worth spending a little extra on. It would also be irresponsible of me not to tell you that you need the right clothing to go into the woods (or indeed outdoors in general) in the winter. So I’m going to go through what I wear during the winter.
I find that when I’m out in the woods I have periods of activity, so collecting wood and lighting a fire perhaps, followed by periods of inactivity, so waiting for the kettle to boil. This means that I heat up and cool down all the time so I make full use of the layering system and use clothes that can work with these cycles.
By and large what I describe below is what I’m wearing in the photos (the second photo, in the snow, was the lowest temperature I’ve experienced in the UK, probably -10°C at night and never above freezing) .
I love the merino wool and possum fur hats, really warm and comfortable, although sadly I shrunk my first one in the tumble drier and gave it to Ho Kyung (it does say on the instructions not to tumble dry, so I can only blame myself). You can buy these hats on Amazon now in a wide range of colours; Nicola has a purple one. I’ve also got a lumberjack type hat that I got in TK Maxx for £7 which is nice and warm.
I sometimes wear a shemagh around my neck, or more often a merino wool buff that is fantastic; it makes a surprising difference.
Along with your head, your core, or the top half of your body, is the bit that needs to be kept warm. And the best way to do that is through many layers. There’s an old saying that ‘cotton on the hills kills’, and so try to avoid it when you’re looking at outdoor clothing, particularly in cold climates. I’m really keen on merino wool and wear it all the time in the winter. Not only is it a great insulator, it wicks moisture away from your body, doesn’t smell, stays warm when damp and is not too bulky.
I wear a sleeveless base layer that I got from a cycling shop for £20; if it’s really cold, I’ll also wear a long sleeved base layer (Aldi were recently selling these for £15) and then a turtle neck jumper that was £25 in John Lewis (Tesco online also sell them at £25). On top of that I wear a Bison Bushcraft smock. I like the brown coloured one and wear it all the time over the winter. I’ve had mine for maybe 6 years or so and it is incredibly hard wearing. Probably my favourite item of bushcraft clothing.
I also have an ex-army issue norgie(£7) and an Ullfrotte mid layer which I bought about 8 years ago and cost about £50 at the time, although they are more expensive now. I wear these from time to time.
In the photo opposite, Nicola is wearing a Belay jacket from Keela, a good inexpensive substitute to down jackets. I have one as well and we paid £50 for them.
I have a Rohan 3/4 length waterproof coat. They’re lightweight, pack down small and are good at their job. And if I wear this and gaiters, I don’t need waterproof trousers.
I do like my Rohan, but like all coats made of that type of lightweight material, they are prone to damage in the woods from snagging on brambles, branches etc. so if I’m at work in the woods I wear a Faljraven Anorak No.8; these are expensive but real workhorses that can take whatever you throw at them.
I’ve got 2 pairs of gloves, a pair of ski gloves and a pair of fingerless gloves made of merino wool and possum fur. I wear one pair at a time, mostly the finger less gloves. The ski gloves are with me in case the tips of my fingers start feeling cold.
Whilst you don’t lose as much heat through your legs as you do through your torso, it’s important that they are kept warm and dry. I picked up a couple of pairs of Musto moleskin trousers for £25 each a few years ago and really like them as they are hard wearing, warm and comfortable. But there is a big downside – moleskin is just heavy duty cotton so they are really troublesome if they get wet; they take ages to dry out again for one thing and, of course, heat is conducted away from your body much, much quicker if you are wet. I haven’t really worn them much recently and now tend to go with lightweight, quick drying trousers.
If it is wet, I often wear gaiters; I’ve got a pair of Cordura gaiters in olive green, made by Tasmanian Tigers that were £16 on Amazon. I’ve recently added some Berghaus Deluge waterproof overtrousers to my kit. They come in a variety of leg lengths as well as waist sizes, which is useful for me as I’m quite tall.
I have summer boots and winter boots. My summer boots are cheap and cheerful and costing about £20 – £30; they last a summer and I’m happy with that.
But in the winter I like something a little more substantial. I also prefer to wear high leg boots in the winter and currently have some boots from Lowa; they’re expensive but excellent quality.
I tend to feel the cold in my feet so I wear two pairs of socks, both merino wool. I’ve got some thin socks (3 pairs for £12 from John Lewis a few years back) that I wear as a base layer; on top of those I have some thick merino socks that I got on Amazon – 4 pairs for £20.
And being a Labrador, Willow doesn’t need anything extra for the winter, in fact she loves the snow!