With much of the central and eastern parts of the continent experiencing record low temperatures last week, many hunts cancelled meets due to concerns about hard or icy footing, unsafe roads, and dangerous windchills. Unaccustomed to the cold weather, a North Carolinian rider asked followers of the online forum, Foxhunters on Facebook, for their suggestions for warm, but appropriate, attire in the field. The numerous responses revealed a wide variety of recommendations, from the practical to the whimsical.
It's easier to keep smiling when toes and fingers are warm and functional. M. Drum photo.
Pocket hand-, foot-, or -lower back warmers were the most frequently mentioned item. In typical foxhunters' fashion, commenters didn't stop at simply placing these in pockets or socks, but recommended using the adhesive foot warmers around the abdomen, inside gloves, and even under one's hunt cap. Duct tape was suggested more than once as a handy way to keep the non-adhesive handwarmers in place in a pinch. Tip: Unwrap and allow them to heat up in a warm environment before putting them in place.
The second most popular winter clothing article was wool socks. Many people suggested Smart Wool brand, but alpaca fiber was also a favorite. Layering socks and putting plastic bags over the feet were additional tips, although there was some debate about whether the plastic bags should be against skin or over the first sock layer for maximum toastiness.
Many variations of long underwear were recommended in the top three. Some commenters preferred traditional long underwear (usually specifying top and bottom), but many named Under Armour as their favorite base layer. Hot Chillys was another favorite. A number of lady riders started with one or more layers of pantyhose, leggings, or fleece-lined variations.
Rounding out the top five general categories were different versions of ear warmers, ranging from individual ear bags to full on balaclavas under the helmet, and those who suggested simply staying home in temperatures below 40 degrees (tougher veterans lambasted these, as might be expected, but the fair weather riders held their ground).
Unsurprisingly, the contents of one's flask were frequently mentioned - Bailey's Irish Cream, whiskey, sherry, and other libations were named. A couple of readers with medical training pointed out that physiologically, alcohol consumption would eventually cause one to feel colder, not warmer, but it seems unlikely that the flask-sharers will change their established protocols.
Some of the suggestions were fairly predictable, including buying clothes and boots a size larger to accommodate more layers, and even wearing a down vest instead of a wool one. Lined winter boots were also popular, along with wearing fleece-lined britches, moleskin stock ties, neoprene toe covers over one's boots, and insulated coveralls at the meet before mounting.
Less common ideas included many variation of battery-powered heated clothing now available, from boot socks in different weights, to gloves, to entire base layers. All weather riding skirts, appropriate for riding astride, offer the same coverage as a fitted quarter sheet to cover the rider's seat and upper leg. One professional staffer swears by spraying deodorant/antiperspirant on one's feet to keep them from sweating and then getting cold. Another rider makes her own fleece-lined stock ties, keeping her neck surrounded by the cozy fabric while in the saddle.
A few commenters offered recommendations that reflected their experience over many seasons: Ride the most difficult horse who will keep you working; be sure to follow a crack pack of hounds so there's no standing around; consider moving to Florida. It's clear that foxhunters are a resilient and resourceful group!