In my employment as a ranch hand working in the Pacific Northwest I have had to work nearly all day, every day, in every kind of weather conditions: From sub-zero temperatures and 4 feet of snow, to blazing hot summer days when temperatures can reach upwards of 110 degrees (Not to mention the fall and spring months when there’s constant rain and ankle deep mud and muck).
Through these experiences I have learned to adapt my wardrobe for working in every kind of condition. Below is a breakdown on what I wear in every season:
During the winter months when I have to work in sub-zero conditions and multiple feet of snow I find myself relying heavily on my Seara Design down coat. In my opinion, wool is to a large extent over rated. I have been a big advocate for down ever since I converted about 5 years ago. Down is significantly warmer and lighter than wool.
However, wool does have one advantage. That being that it retains heat better when wet than down does. Down is next to worthless when wet. As such, I use a good waterproof jacket made by a company called “Trespass.” I have used this jacket for the last 2 years and although it does show its age, it has never failed to keep me dry.
On really cold days when the wind is blowing I also wear a down vest under my down jacket. Layering is key in cold winter weather. However, too many layers can restrict movement. The advantage to a vest is that it will keep you warm, but won’t restrict your movement.
During the winter months it’s incredibly important that you carry a good wool hat. The reason being that you lose about 16% of your body heat just through your head alone. As such, wearing a hat can greatly reduce the loss of body heat.
For pants I wear Nordic Ski pants manufactured by SWIX. They are designed for Nordic Skiing and as such are both warm and breathable. I also wear a set of long underwear for good measure.
When it comes to foot wear I generally stick with the same leather boots (made by Red Wing) that I use for most of year. However, I wear thick wool socks over the top of cotton socks. The reason I wear both is that I don’t like the feeling of wool socks. I find that my feet have a habit of ever so slightly slipping around. As such, the thin cotton socks allow better traction and feel more comfortable.
When it comes to footwear, I dutifully see to it that my leather boots are never without a liberal amount of waterproofing. I generally prefer to use Hubberds Shoe Grease. Though I have also had a favorable experience with a brand called “Snow Seal.”
Another thing to consider when it comes to leather boots is which side of the leather is facing out. Leather generally has two sides. One being smooth and the other being rough. The vast majority of the time the smooth side is facing out with the rough side facing in. This is generally preferred since the smooth side is better at repelling water. I have read that during WW2 the Americans outfitted the troops with winter boots that had the rough side facing out. Their thinking was that the rough side would better absorb waterproofing and they were right. Unfortunately, it was also better at absorbing water, which meant that many servicemen found themselves with wet/cold feet.
The Spring weather of the PNW can be unpredictable to say the least. Some days it’s clear and sunny, the next it’s raining sideways. It’s during these months that I find myself putting more emphasis on staying dry. Because of this, I generally hang up my down jacket/vest and focus more on layering. I still wear my waterproof jacket made by “Trespass,” but I also wear another waterproof jacket under that. Generally something that is made by either Eddie Bower, or Patagonia.
When it comes to pants, I generally wear something breathable such as blue jeans, but with thick waterproof pants over the top.
For footwear I often find myself trading in my leather boots in favor of knee high rubber boots. Though I take great pride in my care and waterproofing of my leather boots, they often times find themselves outmatched by rubber boots in the ankle high mud and muck.
During the summer months when temperatures reach 110 degrees, I find that less is more (obviously). Sometimes I will wear blue jeans, especially if we are expecting company. However, I generally find myself wearing basketball shorts since they are both comfortable and breathable. Though this may look somewhat out of place, who am I trying to impress? A bunch of horses and an old-timer named Rusty?
It’s this time of year that I find myself switching from by rubber boots of spring back to my leather boots. Though obviously without the wool socks. Some days when work is light I can get away with wearing breathable running shoes, but these days tend to be few and far between.
I also trade in my wool cap for a wide brimmed straw hat to keep the sun of my ruggedly handsome face and neck. During this time of year some high falutin members of rural society decide to wear felt cowboy hats, while us straw hat wearing common folk look at them like the idiots they are (no offense, but felt isn’t as breathable as straw).
During the fall months I have found it to be bitterly cold in the early morning hours and moderately warm (compared to the 110 degree summer) in the afternoon. As such, wearing layers are key. I can’t exactly ask my boss if I can take off early for a wardrobe change. As such, I generally wear my down coat in the early morning hours and then trade it in for either my Carhart jacket or a simple parka.
Fall is also generally a good time to break out the long underwear. And as with spring, the weather can be unpredictable. As such, keeping a good rain jacket on hand is advisable.
Brands I know and Trust:
Some of the clothing brands I have mentioned aren’t exactly cheap, especially on a ranch hand salary. However, they are worth the investment. Companies such as Eddie Bower, Patagonia, and Seara Design guarantee their clothing for life. For example, I bought a jacket made by Patagonia 12 years ago for $180 dollars. That might sound like a bit much, but I will last me for the rest of my life. If it starts to fall apart (which is does) I can take it back to Patagonia and they will either fix it, or give me a brand new one.
Besides the fact that you only have to buy it once, they also tend to be of much better quality than less expensive brands. For example, the aforementioned Patagonia jacket has lasted 12 years. Whereas the significantly cheaper jacket from the local hardware store/Wal-Mart tend to only last a few months. Not to mention that they tend to not work as well.