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Outdoor Tips for Greater Enjoyment:
How to Dress & More

On Jan. 2, 2014 it was -9°F along the lakeshore of IL Beach State Park, but at least there wasn't much wind, so I didn't really notice the cold that much. I know, it may be hard to believe, but you can really stay warm if you dress like an astronaut! Here, my clothing held in a stable aura of heat. But on the morning of Jan. 6, it was -16°F, seven degrees colder. Normally, I'd hardly notice the difference, but on this day the wind blew at a steady 25 mph. After two-and-a-half hours, I could tell the difference between the two mornings as my body had to work harder, particularly in my hands, feet, and face, to replace the aura of warmth that the wind was sucking away.

Okay, this is a little extreme. But, on Jan. 2, 2014, it was -9°F along the Lake Michigan shoreline at Illinois Beach State Park. There wasn’t much wind, so I didn’t really notice the cold that much. I know, it may be hard to believe, but you can really stay warm if you dress like an astronaut! Here, my clothing held in a stable aura of heat.
But on the morning of Jan. 6, it was -16°F, seven degrees colder. Normally, I’d hardly notice the difference, but on that day the wind blew at a steady 25 mph. After two-and-a-half hours, I could tell the difference between the two mornings as my body had to work harder, particularly in my hands, feet, and face, to replace the aura of warmth that the wind was sucking away.

I want you to enjoy your nature experience, so I’ve put together some proven tips for you to use. I use them regularly, which is why I rarely have trouble with mosquitoes, ticks, heat, or cold. It’s about common sense and preparation. Therefore, if you feel cold during a winter hike, then you’re not dressed correctly. If you’re being eaten alive by mosquitoes or bothered by ticks, then stop using that “natural” eucalyptus repellent crap that never works and lather on a liberal amount of a safe and effective DEET repellent. And, if you wear shorts into Chicago nature, then you’re not using common sense, and you get what you deserve. So, here’s a full list of tips and ideas to help you enjoy Chicago nature even more!

  • Wear Insect Repellent that contains DEET or Picardin: Both are recommended by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) to be both effective and safe. I’ve never tried Picardin and it looks like good stuff. However, DEET has been around for over fifty years and nobody’s yet grown a second nose. So, apply it to your skin, onto your socks and thin layers of clothing, and don’t forget that “skin” includes your ears, neck, and some of your face. See TIP 4 about protecting your head and face. Most people who say that DEET doesn’t work simply aren’t using enough of it. If you find yourself having to frequently replenish repellent in the field, then you’re probably not putting on enough to begin with. See Tip 2. DEET may be stinky, slippery, and inconvenient, but it’s better than the alternatives.
  • **TIP 1** Don’t Be A Cheapskate: Apply DEET liberally or stop complaining to me that 1) DEET doesn’t work, 2) the mosquitoes are bothering you, 3) you’re wasting your money.
  • **TIP 2** Save Product and Protect Plastic Items: DEET is safe, but it’s a plasticizer that melts most plastics. (It’s safe for humans, but not ) Therefore, it’s smart to keep it off of your fingertips because you’re bound to leave permanent fingerprints etched into the plastic of your phone, camera, dashboard, steering wheel, car radio, etc. However, DEET doesn’t affect polyethylene, like Zip-Lock bags. Therefore, store your repellent in such a bag and leave it in your car. When you’re ready to use the repellent, remove the container from the bag and place your hand safely inside. Now, spray or squirt a liberal amount of product onto the plastic-covered palm of your hand. Massage the product to spread it out, and then use the coated bag to apply the repellent to your body and clothes. You’ll get a lot more mileage out of the product because you’re evenly distributing it over your body and clothes, and not wasting it by spraying it everywhere else, including your eyes and the eyes of those nearby. When finished, the bag will essentially be dry. Return the container into the side of the bag that was just covered in DEET.
  • **TIP 3** Use Permethrin for Clothes: Permethrin is a powerful insecticide that you apply to clothing. It will repel or kill ticks, mosquitoes, and other insects for up to six weeks or six washings. You can also buy clothes that have been factory treated to last through seventy washes, according to one company. Studies show that seventy washes is probably overreaching, but that the factory-impregnated clothing is better than untreated clothing. Remember, though, the bugs will stay off the fabric but you still have to apply DEET to your skin. I just apply DEET to my clothes at the same time I’m using it on my skin.
  • Wear Long Pants, Never Shorts, with Over-the Ankle Boots: Some “experienced” people swear that they can control ticks by stuffing their pants into their socks. I believe them, but they look total nerds and scare away the nature newbies. Hey, I’m a nerd, but I don’t have to look like one. Instead, just make sure that you wear boots that go above your ankle, socks that reach a few inches higher than your boot, and pants that drape a little over the top of your shoe. Then, if you want, spray your socks and bottoms of pants with DEET. The whole point is to keep the ticks from getting in from below, which has never happened to me because, I don’t wear nerd-fashionable “floods.” I rarely find ticks on my body but, when I do, they are on my pants or shirt. So be sure to apply the DEET to your waste line because ticks like tight spaces.
  • Wear a Brimmed Hat: Protect your eyes and topside from the harsh sun by wearing a hat with a brim. It also keeps the bugs at bay, especially when you spray the brim with DEET. (See TIP 4.) I buy those military “dilly” hats from an army surplus store.
  • **TIP 4** Protect Your Head and Face: Lay your hat on the ground and spray the inside of the brim with DEET to create an impenetrable aura of mosquito protection around your face.
  • Stay Dry. It’s Wet in the Mornings: In the prairies and savannas, trust me when I say, “It’s wet out there.” In fact, the morning dew will drench you. So, it wouldn’t hurt to wear rain gear and waterproof boots.

STAY WARM

  • Glove Liners: Even in June, the mornings can be chilly. That’s when I break out the glove liners.
  • Mittens Over Gloves (in the cold months): Mittens are much warmer than gloves because your fingers keep each other warm. However, my mittens are roomy enough for glove liners. When it’s under 30° to 50°, I’ll wear flip mittens with a thin liner. When it’s between 15° and 30°, I switch to a thicker liner. And when the temperature is even colder, I’ll wear both liners, with the thin one as the base layer.
    **TIP  5** 3M Thinsulate™is a Must: To get the wonderfully warm results that I do, you must use mittens and liners made with Thinsulate. Period.
  • Keep Hands Warm By Keeping Your Wrists Warm: The blood vessels in your wrists are very close to the skin and, therefore, give off lots of valuable heat. However, to keep your hands warm, you need warm blood flowing to your hands. And this is the reason to use gloves and mittens that reach well above your wrists. Also, wear shirts with sleeves that cover your wrists. And finally, your coat sleeves should reach over and past the wrist and be able to be cinched down to stop the cold air from entering or leaving. Of course, if you have a regular case of cold hands, you can always use chemical hand warmers.
  • Warm Cold Hands by Swinging Them: This is my invention, and it really works great! When your hands begin feeling cold, reach one hand well above your head and, with the elbow loose, swing it vigorously outward and downward. Do this as many times as needed. You’ll quickly feel warm blood rushing into your fingertips. Now repeat the process with your other hand.
  • Keep Hands Warm by Keeping Your Legs Warm: Warm legs means that warm blood is travelling to you feet. So, wear an extra layer over your legs.
  • Wear Warm Winter Boots: In the winter, I wear 3M Thinsulate boots that are about a size bigger than what I normally wear. I then add an extra padded insole. I wear just one pair of socks (see Tip 5). People with cold feet may like to use chemical foot warmers.
    **TIP  6** Don’t Wear Too Many Socks: Wearing extra socks can decrease circulation in your feet and make them much colder.
  • Wear a Hat: Obviously! I also use an headband that fully covers my ears, and I’ll flip up the hood when it’s really cold.
  • Keep Your Neck Warm: All I know is that when my neck is cold, I’m miserable. I often just use another headband and let it rest around my neck, as shown in the photo. Also, a good hood will also cover your neck, though I have it unzipped so I could smile.
  • Breathe Warm Air: Covering your nose with a hood, balaclava, scarf, or wrap to warm as you breathe will warm the air as it enters your body. Warming the inhaled air takes lots of energy. You’ll feel less beat after being out in the cold if you breathed in warmer air. In the picture, you can see a gray band just below my mouth, but minutes earlier I was breathing through it. When it’s extremely cold, the entire thing will become covered with ice with the moisture from your breathe. Still, at -9°F, the air temperature under the band must have been at least thirty degrees warmer.
  • Cold Feet After Your Hike? Take Off Your Shoes in a Warm Environment!: If your feet are cold after you return to your car, take off your shoes and turn on the heat directed to the floor or rest them on the dashboard. At that point, your body can’t warm your feet on its own, and your boots are now working against you by locking out the warmth from the surroundings.

STAY COOL & SAFE IN THE SUMMER HEAT

  • Wear a Hat: I know. This seems counterintuitive. But, wearing a hat protects your head from the heat of the sun.
  • Don’t Wear Shorts: I know it’s tempting, but due to bugs and the itchy plants that rub against your legs on narrow trails, it’s best to wear pants as mentioned above.
  • Drink Lots of Water: Drink as much as you can before you begin your journey. Then pack a water bottle or hydration bladder (like Camelbak) so you can drink throughout your hike. On especially hot days, I like wear a hat that’s drenched in ice cold water. If you are feeling hot and you have limited water, the save the water for drinking. If there’s plenty of water, then you can use it to lower you body temperature by pouring it over your head and neck and dribbling it over your wrists.
  • Use Sunscreen: If you’re hiking in the hot sun, use sunscreen. I usually don’t hike and I definitely don’t photograph during the middle of the day, so I rarely use sunscreen. Plus, given that I’m wearing a brimmed hat, long pants, and a short-sleeve shirt, only my arms are getting sun.