How to Keep Warm on Cold Days and Cool on Hot Days
If you've been searching the job boards for work, you may notice that many state you must be able to tolerate harsh environments and extreme temperatures. Although I haven't ever worked as somewhere as extreme as Antarctica or Death Valley, the seven weeks in Yellowstone did expose me to cooler temperatures that I needed to endure while spending six hours a day sitting on top of a hill. Spending an hour or two sitting in a Blind, which was essentially a wooden box with a metal roof, during July taught me how to tolerate hot temperatures. This is a blog entry about how to feel comfortable in a cold or hot environment.
Hand warmers and hot beverages are great, but I'm going to focus on clothing.
Thermals are awesome and I would not have been comfortable without them. I wore both thermal leggings and a thermal shirt. Thermals come in different thicknesses ranging from pretty thin to rather thick. They can come in a range of prices, and, if you're smaller in size, try the kid's thermals! I've found that the girls size 14-16 is the same as a women's small. Plus, girl's thermals come in way cooler colors and patterns than adult ones. They're also half the price of adult thermals.
My greatest struggle was keeping my toes warm. I found that wearing sock liners under my hiking socks helped some, but the real saver were Heat Holder socks. They're incredibly thick and may make your hiking boots feel a little snug, but they're totally worth it. I liked to pull my thermal leggings down to my ankles and pull the socks over the leggings. This somehow traps more heat and kept my legs and feet warmer.
When holding binoculars to your face, you need to take care of those fingers. I bought some women's Seirus gloves from REI that are both wind and waterproof. They need to give you enough dexterity so you can still hold a pen to record data, so find some gloves that will still protect your hands from the elements without being bulky. I found it challenging to find a good pair of women's gloves as most pairs seemed more concerned with allowing you to use your smart phone than actually keeping your hands warm while men's gloves seem much more useful. I have small hands, so I had to find a women's pair, but I think men's gloves are probably better than women's gloves.
Waterproof pants are also a good idea when working in damp or wet weather. I have a thin pair of rain pants that I can easily slip on and off over my hiking pants. These are awesome because you don't have to sit in wet pants when in a Blind. I also have a pair of thick water proof pants that are lined with fleece. These are amazing because they keep you dry and warm when sitting on a damp ground for hours.
A warm hat, especially one that covers your ears, is also necessary. I have worn both a beanie and a faux fur lined deerstalker hat. I much prefer the latter as it really did keep me so much warmer than just a beanie.
I wore several different jackets while in Yellowstone. Down jackets and vests are awesome, and I have a faux down vest from Costco which I love (Pictured right in my awkward photo at Mt Washburn in Yellowstone). It was much cheaper than a real down vest but I think it does quite well. I wore this over a North Face fleece jacket, another essential item.
I then wore my favorite, very expensive, graduation present to myself: The Arc'teryx jacket. I love it. It's a thin, breathable outer shell that blocks wind and keeps you toasty. It can tolerate some rain, but it's better to wear a rain jacket if it really starts to pour.
This is what I wore on my coldest day in Yellowstone: a thin tank top, a thermal top, a fleece jacket, a down vest, my Arc'teryx outer shell, thermal leggings, thick fleece lined waterproof pants, sock liners, thin hiking socks, Heat Holder socks, gloves, and my faux fur deerstalker hat. I also had hot tea in a water bottle. I love layers because if you get warm, you can take off a fleece jacket or a down vest. This clothing can be expensive, but it's worth it if you want to be comfortable while counting migrating raptors in Yellowstone at the end of September.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is working in hot temperatures. Dehydration and heat stroke are risks, and it's incredibly important to stay hydrated and cool. Drink plenty of water, wear sunblock, and know when you need to find some shade and take a break. I don't have much experience hiking in hot weather because that's something I tend to avoid. Instead, I have some tips to keep cool when sitting in an incredibly hot Blind.
Popsicles. It may sound silly, but it really does the trick. You can buy those Otter Pop style popsicles from somewhere like a dollar store. They're small and don't take up much room in what is most likely a very limited amount of freezer space or your pack. I liked to bring one with me to eat in the Blind and also one when I got back to the cabin to help myself cool down.
Ice packs can be used to keep things other than your food cool. I liked to bring one with me into the Blind on those especially hot days and hold it against the back of my neck. I've heard you can also freeze water bottles for this same reason.
I always wore a thin tank top under my t-shirt so I could be more comfortable in the Blind. I also wore zip-off pants that I could turn into shorts or I rolled my thin hiking pants up to my knees. This really does help you not feel so terrible as you feel the beads of sweat roll down your back.
I'm not entirely sure the proper name, but there are these awesome bandanna-like things full of gel beads that can really keep you cool. You soak it in water and wrap it around your neck and it keeps you cool for hours. You can find them on Amazon or at REI.
The last thing I'll mention is fans. Places like dollar stores do sell small fans, but these die quickly. We were provided with fans from Home Depot that were pretty powerful and lasted quite a long time. I also used a regular old paper fan and found it was rather effective at keeping me cool.
Heat stroke and dehydration are nothing to joke about. Keeping cool is essential to not only keep you comfortable, but also to keep you safe.
Maybe one day I'll travel to a more extreme environment than Yellowstone in the fall or Central California in the summer. Maybe then I'll have many more tips for extra cool or hot weather.