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Advice and Tips for Kitting-out the Budding Ecologist - Week #4: Thermals

For the newly qualified ecologist, the prospect of getting yourself 'kitted-out' is daunting. Not only does a lack of field experience and contact with other seasoned professionals, present a major barrier to getting access to the right kit, but other factors, such as available budget and shear variety of choice, help to add further confusion and hinder getting the right kit for the right job!! However, help is at hand! Over the years I've tried the lot, sometimes I made good decisions and sometimes I didn't. Over the course of the next two blogs, I'm going to share with you the sum of my 20+ years of survey experience, with an emphasis on getting kitted-out on a budget! This week looks at keeping your core warm and the choice between feather down and man-made fibres.

One word of advice when it’s comes to feather down… Down is a fantastic product but it looses much of its brilliant thermal properties when it gets wet; basically it flattens and compresses. It’s important you bear this in mind when choosing a down garment for the field survey work. Man-made materials don’t compress in the same way and therefore they usually stay warm even when wet.

Most people who know me well would be surprised to learn that I get cold quite easily, despite my tendency to cut around in shorts for most of the year! The reason I don’t feel cold, most of the time, if down to the fact that I’m always on the go, whether it’s for work or for pleasure. It’s because I’m always on the go that I always thought I ran pretty warm but it wasn’t until I started doing ornithology surveys in support of wind farm development that I realised I get as cold as the next person!

There are some locations in the UK where you can stay reasonably warm and confortable regardless of the time of year. Unfortunately that’s not really possible in the Scottish uplands, especially in the winter, and it was there, whilst undertaking ornithology surveys, that I had my aforementioned cold-running epiphany… After undertaking a couple of week’s worth of survey effort, I decided being cold wasn’t for me and I was going to do something about it!

One of the first thing I did was to ask around for advice. It was a colleague, who was working on a wind farm site near Inverness that brought my attention to the Icelandic 66o North brand and an item called the Vik. The Vik is a hooded fleece sweater that’s really warm, even when it’s wet. To be honest and given I was willing to try anything, it didn’t take too much to sell the product to me! In terms of layering, I decided to couple the Vik with a non-cotton base layer and my Paramo waterproof smock. The overall result was good and although I was warmer than before, I still wasn’t warm enough for an eight-hour stint in the Scottish hills.

After snooping around for some more on-line advice, I was made aware of the Snugpac brand range of clothing. Snugpac is made in the UK and is used by the armed forces, so it get’s a double thumbs-up in my books, a) for being locally made and b) good enough for keeping our boys warm in the winter! After reading through the various item descriptions I settled on the Snupac Saskquatch jacket, which I decided I was going to pair with my non-cotton base layer, Icelandic Vik hoodie and my Paramo smock. The overall result was brilliant! Even after eight hours in the field, I was still warm and confortable, despite being buffeted by wind and rain…

One further addition I made to my cold weather field kit was a pair of insulating trousers. Although I’ve never suffered from cold legs, ironically, I realised one wet and miserable December day that I must be losing lots of heat via my legs, and that this heat loss would be driving down my core temperature. Again I looked around for a value product, and chose the Snugpac Thermal Trouser, which was a steal at £9.99. I also recently noticed Snugpac also do an insulated jacket from the same range, so this might be a suitable alternative to the Sasquatch jacket, if you happen to be on a tight budget.

My honest opinion is that the pair of trousers made a noticeable difference and thus added to my overall level of comfort. However, I would always recommend a pair of waterproof trousers over any thermal pair of trousers, as they help to reduce heat loss resulting from rain and wind.

If you liked the above blog, then stay tuned for more!! My last blog will provide you with advice and tips for those aspiring ornithologists out there, in terms of buying the right optics.

Photo Credit: TETRIX Ecology, 66o North, Snugpac, Surplus & Outdoors

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