Winter Gear for Astronomical Observing

Lots and nothing going on in my life tonight. I had planned to observe tonight, but conditions outside are only okay and the moon comes up here around 12:30a.m. to 12:40a.m. AND I have a funeral to attend. No one in my immediate family, an uncle passed away yesterday. The funeral is Saturday so that means a 3 hour drive and the funeral. Good news is I just may get to use the Obsession this weekend and pick it up. I'm bringing it home (as of today) for the month of October . . . unless I decide to leave it and go and spend 2 weeks down at the cabin to get away from everything. I'll also take the 14 in case my brother-in-law doesn't bring the 20" as the skies by where I am going are nice and dark so I am going to take advantage of it. Perhaps use the hobby to get some people's minds off of other things.

As I have posted, fall is here in Utah, and as of next week, the Indian Summer we have enjoyed will be going away. Daytime temperatures will be dropping and night time temps will drop even more. So in lieu of observing I thought I would offer up what I wear during the fall and winter for my observing sessions. There is nothing fancy here, and nothing really expensive. I will point out that the base is what I wear, even in the summer months, and I'll point that out in a minute. One thing I ask, please forgive the bed if you are a organize clean freak. I only make the bed on the weekends as I am flying out the door at 6:30 to 6:45a.m. to get my son to high school and me to work.

So where does it begin? Not with a picture of me in my underwear! But underwear is the first order of business and I wear boxer briefs with a non-cotton tee-shirt. The tee-shirt is made of a fiber that absorbs sweat. I need to buy a couple of briefs like that as well. Anyway, after the underwear I put on a polypropylene undershirt and leg long drawers (see the pictures after this paragraph). I purchased these ones from Cabelo's during the summer for $25.00 to $45.00 on closeout. Buying off season is a wonderful time to find deals on this type of clothing.

These are the briefs/pants This is the undershirt

Here you can see the underwear/pants that are still in the bag.

At this point I move to my feet. Keeping my feet warm is critical to a good cold session. The first item I put on is a pair of polypropylene inner layer socks. These socks are critical as they absorb the sweat from the feet while still allowing the feet to breathe. It's why I put that layer next to my body when first dressing. After the polypropylene inner socks, I put on a nice pair of warm wool socks. The polypropylene socks stops the itching from the wool (for me at least) and then keeps the warmth of my feet in my feet. Doing this I have never gotten cold in my feet, and one's feet is second only to the head for heat loss. Also, I tuck in my underwear pants into my wools socks to keep the heat in. You can see the set up in this photo:

Now I go to layer my legs. When I layer I wear clothes that are loose and I wear several thin layers as you'll see here. I find I begin next with a pair of warm pajama bottoms. They are baggy, loose and comfortable. It is here that I also begin my upper layer as I put on a large tee shirt (the one pictured is short sleeve, I have long sleeve ones I use in the winter), and tuck it into the pajama pants here. Keeping that extra long tee shirt allows the other layers to stay tucked in. If that tee shirt comes out, I usually have to stop my observing, and redo my layers so the cold doesn't get in. So the tee shirt is a very important component.

Next comes a regular pair of sweat pants that go over the pajama bottoms quite easily. If you look you'll see I am laying down the layers as I would put them on. If it is REALLY cold I put on another pair of sweatpants here.

As you can tell, fashion is not what this is about. Frankly, I don't care what someone thinks of me when I am wearing my gear. Again, I have never been cold but I have watched enough observing friends get cold by not being prepared. The last item I wear are not jeans. I wear nylon pants that fit over my other clothing quite comfortably. The nylon in my opinion is better than cotton jeans because it further traps the heat in while cotton allows the heat to be breathed out into the surrounding environment. I will also state that I also have a snow suit that I use for snow shoeing and if it is really cold, I will wear that over. It has a nylon like outer service as well (similar to nylon) that is water resistant and seals on the wrist and ankles.

Now on the top, after the tee shirt I wear a long underwear long sleeve shirt which goes over the tee shirt. Nice and baggy also, it provides a good layer of warmth as well.

Over this I put on a wool sweater that is large and loose. When I am wearing this sweater, you know it is cold out . I have another one I wear to work because it is so warm.

Over all of this I put on a extremely large (2 sizes to big for me) hooded sweatshirt. I find I can put the hood on when I need to and then a hat (see below) if I need additional warmth.

Last I put on this parka which is large if I am not layered. It is long, down to my mid thigh and the sleeves go to the middle of my hands. It seals up so air cannot escape and has a lined hood if needed. It is rated down to - 40 degrees below zero. I find with my parka on I simply don't get cold. Note on the color. The color gets dirty but it was available at the end of the season two years ago for 50% off (because of the color) and being cheap, but wanting a great coat, I snatched it up. Another thing is it has a pocket over my left breast/heart which zips so an eyepiece can fit there, and the pockets on the side are HUGE! A TV Pan 35 can fit in them. In addition I have two more pockets on the front that are similar. Enough storage if needed to store the two eyepieces I am using the most, and a couple of other things if needed. All the pockets zip shut.

Now, to the two important layers that you need to cover. Your head and your feet. Here are my winter/snow boats that I use to observe. For observing you can get the military's version called Mickey Mouse Boots. They are warm down to -20 degrees F. This link will let you see some of them. Snow mobile boots will also work good. Some like Baffin boots because of their warmth and water resistant. Below are my boots, that are 10 years old, still going strong. They are lined and are good to about -20 degrees below zero (I've had them down to -15 degrees with no problem). I was thinking of replacing them and then thought why? They work and work great! The key is to tie them tight and so no air gets in or out. Looks like I need to clean them up a bit!

Next comes the headgear. I have a variety that I have picked up. Some I hate, some I love. I'll go through them here.

My first head gear are just binnies. One is hand made from a good friend. The other is not. I have a sentimental value to the hand made one, because it comes from that dear friend. In reality, it is horrible in the field. It is better than nothing, but I don't wear it often. The blue one I love. It is warm, stays on my head, fits well and if needed will cover my ears. It is the one I most often put on in a session if the weather is in the 40 degree range to begin the session.

The next set are two a full face ski mask and a balaclava. The full face ski mask (the blue one) worked, but I found it to be tight, itchy and it just didn't fit right. It has been sent to be a mask for Halloween or if for someone reason, I cannot find on of my other options. The balaclava (the black one) is by far, my first choice. This one is fleece, and works extremely well for me. It keeps my face warm, and I can cover everything but my eyes with it, or expose my eyes and nose, or go so far as to expose my eyes, nose and mouth. If I want, I can remove to the neck level as a warmer if I choose. Often I put it on before the binnie I wear so I my face gets cold later, I can take the binnie off and just pull up the balaclava.

Just the balaclava. Keeping your head cold is the key to staying warm, so don't skip on this step.

My last option is a balaclava with a longer neck extension. Here are the two that I have. The black one is nice, made of fleece and keeps one warm. My problem is my head is I have a large neck and it always seem to me that I am being strangled in it. This is one my son uses though for observing with me in the winter. It fits him perfectly.

My favorite though is the camouflage one. I find that hunters gear work wonderfully for observing because both activities can be very limited in the amount of heat they create. In other words, both can be sitting for a long time. As a result, the gear they make for hunting works wonderful for cold weather observing. My camouflage one fits perfectly, keeps my ears, nose, and neck toasty and I love using it. It is the only thing on a REALLY cold night that I will opt not to put the balaclava on for.

Last are my hands. I have several gloves that I use and one set of mittens that I did not take an image of. The mittens are gray and are the very first item I put on when I think the temperature is dropping. I am able to use my hands with them and fingers normally. If I get colder than that then the gloves or the second wool mittens come out. One thing you will see here are that in all of these cases the fingers are allowed to be exposed on the end.

These mittens are made of wool, and the ends are cut off so my fingers can stick out. I can wear these with my gray gloves and have a fully functioning set of fingers. However, when it gets really cold, then the cold will come through the fabric and the hands and fingers get cold. Nothing worse than a very cold set of fingers and hands.

When these don't work anymore I move to fingerless gloves, heavier to do mittens. Here I am equally torn between two sets. I have the black set, and with these the fingers can be exposed by lifting the mitten pouch back over the hand. Most have Velcro that connects the pouch to the top of the hand so it doesn't flip back and forth. If you look carefully at the thumb, on these (which were a gift from a student) the thumb is exposed. I love that feature.

This is the set that I have used for a long time. Again a pair made for bow hunting and sitting in a stand and they have been very good to me. What I don't like about this pair is the thumb is not exposed. I suppose that would be a simple fix and we'll have to see about doing that.

The last item I'll mention is Hot Hands Warmers. These are warming packs that you shake up and then put next to your body part to warm up that area. I've seen them for feet, hands, and body. I have only ever purchased the hands one. If for some reason my feet were to get cold, I would simply put a pack in my socks and warm them up. I had a friend do this who was dressed appropriately last winter season and it worked fine. I mainly use these for my hands. I usually have one in each of my mitten pouches while my hands are warming to increase their warmth. They have preserved many an observing sessions. I have also used one in my eyepiece pocket in my jacket to warm up the area so an eyepiece can become defogged from my breathing on it. That is the one down side to the head gear I mention that can cover the mouth and nose. You can breath on an eyepiece and fog it up. Just be careful and you won't if your aware of it. I get these chemical warmers from Walmart, which has the cheapest price, and I usually stock up at the beginning of the season. I usually over estimate and then have extras heading into the next year.

Other items to consider.

Vehicle or landscape as a wind screen. Often I have found it is not the actual temperature that drives me to close up shop, but the wind chill. So when picking a spot, try to pick one that is protected from the wind. If at a dark site, use your vehicle to provide a shield from the wind. Also, use the vehicle. My Pathfinder remains dark adapted, in other words I can turn off the two dome lights and it remains completely dark. So if it is windy, go into the car and use it to read charts, or to finish an observation or a sketch.

Since dehydration only makes worse the affects of hypothermia, take and drink plenty of your favorite hot drink. Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine can increase the effects of hypothermia while alcohol will mask hypothermia.

One item I read from a couple of sources and talked to a friend about is the use of catalytic propane heater in the range of 3000 BTU/hour. You can take it and start it, and then when cold, take a blanket, open up your coat and put the blanket around you like a tent and lean forward toward the heater. It will make you warmer from what I' ve read and been told. You can also put it in a van or a SUV if the rear seats are down, and leave a window or two slightly open. It will increase the temperature in the car so you can be quite toasting when you get cold and you avoid the buildup of the gas. Not sure on this one though as I have never tried it and wouldn't do it if I was alone. Here is one example, the Coleman BlackCat which sells for $58.00 on Amazom. Based on reviews and reading up on them, this is the one I want. The Coleman BlackCat Perfecttemp Catalytic Heater. I check the local dealers from that link and it is available for me and it is right now around $55 on Amazom . It seems like a great idea now that I have read up more on it. Love to hear if anyone else has an experience with it.

There are plenty of people with more experience and you can google and find lots of available sites. I'll list a few I have found on cold weather observing, some of their information is part of what I have shared while most of it is based on my own experience. I hope that you may enjoy the fall and winter observing seasons in as warm of conditions as you can find.

Robert and Barbara Thompson on Cold Weather Observing

12 Tips to Choosing Cold Clothes

Saguaro Astronomy Club Keeping Warm While Observing