Archive for merino wool

The Salmon River Conversion to Darn Tough Socks

Posted in Fishing Conditions, Gear, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , , on January 19, 2014 by stflyfisher

In a scene from the movie “Forrest Gump” – a Southern Tier Fly Fisher favorite – Forrest and his good friend Bubba are introduced to Lt. Dan Taylor, their platoon leader. Lt Dan, as he is referred to by Forrest, is a pretty straight-forward type of military leader who instructs his “FNG’s” in a few basic essentials on his way to visit the hooch. Among his words of advice is the following:

“There is one item of G.I. gear that can be the difference between a live grunt and a dead grunt. Socks. Cushioned sole, O.D. green. Try and keep your feet dry. When we’re out humpin’, I want you boys to remember to change your socks whenever we stop. The Mekong will eat a grunt’s feet right off his legs.”

LtDansocks

Most of us anglers have some idea of the importance of Lt Dan’s advice. Socks can make a huge difference to the fly fisherman, particularly in cold weather. For soldiers in combat, proper foot-wear is even more critical. Trench foot may be the best example of what happens when soldiers don’t take care of their feet in the field. Caused by prolonged exposure of the feet to damp, unsanitary, and cold conditions, it can be prevented by keeping the feet clean, warm and dry. Trench foot was first noted during the retreat of Napoleon’s army from Russia but it was the horrid conditions of the trenches in World War I that brought it to the attention of the medical profession. A key preventive measure that was implemented during that time was regular foot inspections by officers. It was also encountered in WWII, and in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Trench foot even made a reappearance in the British Army during the Falklands War of 1982. The causes were the same: cold, wet conditions and insufficiently waterproof boots.

A WWII GI with a bad case of trench foot.

A WWII GI with a bad case of trench foot.

So feet, it turns out, are of high interest to the military to this very day. A work colleague of mine recently told me of his time in the Marine Corps – where he and his platoon would do forced marches and then be told to sit down roadside and remove their boots and socks for a foot check by a navy corpsman…

uncover... feet!

Foot inspections – a preventive measure…

The lesson learned through all of these wars is the same: take care of your feet by wearing good quality socks and change them as often as necessary…

When it comes to good quality socks, there’s a pretty big selection out on the market these days. One could purchase a pair of authentic Vietnam-era socks, the very socks Forrest Gump would have worn in the Mekong Delta, for example.

Straight from ebay...

Straight from Ebay…

The socks pictured above are the real deal – original unissued Vietnam era olive drab green, wool cushion sole socks made of a mixture of wool, nylon & cotton material and available on Ebay for the nostalgic fly fisherman. While wool is a great material for its wicking and drying capabilities, the use of cotton these days is a big no-no. Cotton tends to absorb moisture, saturate quickly, and dry slowly – a perfect recipe for blisters and worse!

Forrest, Bubba, Tex, Cleveland, Phoenix, Detroit, Dallas, and Lt. Dan would have been a whole lot better off with today’s sock which include advanced synthetics and fine grades of wool, such as merino (click here for some good writing on the topic of merino wool and here for the general topic of dressing for cold weather).

So what would I recommend to these men or anyone venturing forth in the cold and damp? Darn Tough is the brand of sock I like. I was sold on them after spending a rather bitter winter afternoon watching my son play hockey up in Pulaski, NY, where the indoor rink temperature seemed colder than it was outside! I stood there in full shiver along with the other hockey parents – all of whom were doing the same – with one exception. Rich, who works as a NYSEG Lineman, seemed unaffected by the arctic air. He watched the game without one shake from the cold. By the end of the first period, stepping out to the concession area for hot coffee, I had to ask…

“I always used to get cold feet” he confided to me  when asked why he appeared Eskimo-like in the midst of Frigidaire conditions. As a lineman, he explained, he was frequently up in the bucket in some pretty bad weather. And he was tired of being miserable because of his feet. He searched a while for a better sock, and found them in Darn Toughs. He added that they were pricey, but the company claimed free replacement for any reason, forever. He’d yet to have to take one back – they were as hardened to wear as their label suggested.

Needless to say, I decided to give these socks a try, and I was not disappointed. In fact, I’ve been a loyal customer ever since, even buying them for my daughter who often tends the playground in Syracuse winters as a teacher’s aide. There are other brands out there, such as SmartWool, Under Armor, and Icebreaker. These are good options, but I happen to like Darn Tough’s just fine. The price tag is on the hefty side for a sock, but it’s nice knowing they’re the only sock you’ll ever need to own. Your feet will surely thank you.

Ever since my Salmon River conversion, I always let my friend Rich know how darn good his Darn Toughs are. He just smiles, asking if I’ve hooked anyone else on the brand. Turns out he finally wore a pair through. “They took them back and replaced them free of charge, just as promised”. Try a pair – they may just be the only pair of socks you’ll ever need.

Advertisements

There’s no bad weather, only bad clothing…

Posted in Gear, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , on February 19, 2012 by stflyfisher

Blogging is a mostly lonely business. One slouches over the computer terminal in the oft bleary-eyed hours of the morning, and pounds out strings of words that on occasion resonate with a few other souls out there. A few write comments, an occasional inquiry or curiosity gets sent my way, and a few keep in touch, in response. But for the most part, it’s a solitary affair, not too different from standing butt deep in a river on an otherwise dreary day, casting, casting, casting…

So imagine my surprise when out of the bloggy depths comes a friendly email with an offer. It’s from a group that searched the internet blindly, happened to find me, and wanted to know if I would review their product – not just any product – no Acme lead-free split-shot, or arctic lip balm – no, no, no – I’m talking honest-to-goodness cold weather undergarments, real merino wool

Now, I must admit, I’ve never been much into dressing for cold weather. I remember reading about layering in my trusty Boy Scout Handbook and wearing the classic cotton long johns under cotton jeans for the infamous “Klondike Derby” camping trip (and wondering why I was still cold), but I never really understood how important it is to dress right and that in doing so, one could be pretty comfortable in down-right miserable weather. I’d just assumed being cold was part of fishing. I rejoiced when the big opener was mild and grin and bear it when winter wasn’t about to yield to April…

My intro to layering, circa 1970

So this email from a company by the name of RedRam was quite the blessing. It woke me up to something the Scandinavians have known and lived – that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. The modern fly fisher’s corollary would be, learn how to dress for the weather and you’ll never spend a bad day on the water, comfort-wise at least. And while we’re on that topic, I’ll shamelessly recommend the following series of posts at my Examiner site to my fly fishing coterie on dressing for cold weather: part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4 – all evidence of the fact that I now take this subject seriously.

Before I received the product samples, I hastily read up on the company supplying me with what would turn out to be the equivalent of cold weather manna. RedRam is a division of a New Zealand company known as Icebreaker, which pioneered the merino outdoor clothing category way back in 1994. It all started when our story’s hero, Jeremy Moon, was introduced by an American girlfriend to Brian Brackenridge, a merino sheep farmer she’d stayed with while hitchhiking around New Zealand. Brian showed Jeremy a prototype thermal tee-shirt made from 100% merino wool. Moon, was impressed…

“It felt soft and sensual, looked lustrous and was totally natural. It was nothing like the wool I had grown up with, which was heavy and scratchy. And you could throw this stuff in the washing machine.”

Moon saw opportunity in a market of synthetic fibers and decided to challenge it by making natural performance garments.  Synthetics dominated the outdoor clothing market at the time. “Don’t talk to me about wool. Wool is dead,” a buyer reportedly told Jeremy on his first sales call. And so, his company, to be named “Icebreaker”, invented the world’s first merino layering system, and was also the first outdoor apparel company to source merino directly and ethically from the growers.

A Merino Ram - company spokes-sheep straight from the Southern Alps of New Zealand.

So going along the theory that science and chemistry make life better, why buy merino? Well, it seems that mother nature has a habit of “bringing it” to modern science on occasion. Merino sheep, it turns out, have a bit of an edge in terms of “time in the field”. The breed dates back to the 12th century, when merino sheep arrived in Spain where the line was cultivated and refined. Merino thrived in Spain, becoming a prized royal flock whose wool was widely used in soldiers’ uniforms and as a mark of wealth and privilege in luxury clothing. By the 18th century, merino wool was a precious commodity, coveted throughout Europe like gold. In 1765, King Carlos III of Spain presented a select flock of his rare sheep to the German Elector of Saxony, thus beginning the spread of merino throughout the world.

Merinos  that supply their wooly shearing to RedRam and Icebreaker spend their days roaming high in the spacious Southern Alps of New Zealand. Their coats can handle all extremes of weather – from subzero temperatures in winter to scorching 90+ degree days in summer. And since merino wool is 100% natural, the product of grass, water and sunshine, and also renewable and biodegradable, it helps assure that blockage of the Straits of Hormuz, world domination by Dr. Evil, and other potential disasters, won’t interfere with our desire for comfort in the elements.

"Throw me some freakin merino wool..." Surely Dr. Evil's cat, Mr. Bigglesworth, could stand some warmth...

Merino sheep are shorn each year – then return to the mountains to grow more “underwear”. Unlike cotton and synthetics, they use very low-energy production processes. The garments that use this silky smooth, super light wool provide the warmth of a heavy sweater without any of the bulk, mainly because of merino’s finely crimped fibers, which create millions of air pockets to capture body heat. And no matter how active you get when wearing merino wool, it won’t get smelly. Synthetic fibers have a reputation to stink from sweat but Merino is far more efficient at releasing sweat and moisture.

My product was shipped to me neatly boxed and feather light, so light, in fact, that I wondered if the packer had forgotten to pack the stuff, and then, upon finding the individual packages, if this wool could possibly be all it was claimed to be. It was soft, smooth, and light-weight, and oddly, almost cool to the touch. I found the distinctive red tag, and sure enough, the bold “PURE MERINO WOOL” claim beneath the brand…

 

You'll look almost as good as you feel with RedRam undergarments on. They tend to have a slimming effect - heck, I lost 10 pounds with one wearing...

RedRam undergarments are available in a number of different styles and different colors. I was sent the tank top, long-sleeved top, long-sleeve zip top, and the leggings, but boxers and a short sleeve top can also be purchased.

I wore my RedRam undergarments on a number of fly fishing trips, ranging from several outings on beautiful Salmon Creek in Ithaca, NY, in the fall, to a day-long outing fly fishing for steelhead on the famed Salmon River in early December. Weather ranged from frigidly cold mornings – you know, the kind where you have to strip the ice from your guides on almost every cast – to pleasantly cool fall afternoons  and absolutely miserable wet and cold conditions.

Looking upstream on Salmon Creek, home to spawning Landlocked Salmon from Cayuga Lake...

In all cases, I never found myself uncomfortable – not from the scratchy / itchy feeling that wool has a reputation for, nor from being cold. In every case, I did find I didn’t have to layer as much as I originally thought and ended up peeling off layers as movement and/or daylight generated warmth. As thin as the product appears, be careful to not over-layer as this product not only wicks but insulates as well. I also found RedRam’s claim regarding merino wool’s ability to be odorless, even after a day of rigorous wading, to be spot on.

But these undergarments, as stated by RedRam, are truly “EVERYDAY WEAR”. They can be worn just as easily in the office as they can as a baselayer for rugged outdoor conditions.

I plan on adding to my inventory of this great product – more leggings, the boxers, and more of the zip-top which is great for dumping extra heat when the need is there. I also plan on trying the short-sleeve top in summer conditions. I’m curious how this great product’s claims stack up to a hot day wading the Susquehanna for smallmouth bass…

Stay tuned and tight lines…