My chook and long johns
What is a chook to a Yooper? According to the online Da Yoopers Glossary (www.usaring.com/yooper/glossary.htm), chook, or chuke, is defined as "What the Trolls call a stocking cap; a knitted hat usually with a tassel and usually hand-knit by your grandmother (pronounced 'chook, sounds like book' or 'chuke, sounds like puke')."
You will also find chook to be an Australian or New Zealand chicken. But as U.P. slang goes, chook, or chuck, somehow comes from the Quebecois French word "tuque." According to Wikipedia, the tuque is a knitted cap originally made of wool, though now often made of synthetic fibers and designed to provide warmth in winter.
I recall that besides having to put on my chook before going outside to play, I also had to put on a pair of long johns or insulating underwear, a heavy one-piece hooded snowsuit that zipped up the middle, mittens that clipped to the sleeves of my snowsuit, and a big pair of rubber galoshes.
The character Randy, Ralphie's little brother in the popular holiday movie "A Christmas Story" truly reflects what I felt like in the 1950s when I played outside in winter, especially when Randy whined and cried while attempting to walk in his bulky snowsuit with arms forcibly outstretched and unable to get up once flat on his back in the snow.
The story I want to tell, however, is all about proper clothing for snowshoeing. Hopefully you will never inflict your children or grandchildren with the winter clothing of the 1950s.
In the past, wool was about the only fabric that protected us from the cold. It insulated even when wet and dried fairly quickly. Although cotton clothing was also worn, we now know that cotton is hazardous as an outdoor winter fabric since it does not insulate when wet and dries slowly.
Today we have high-tech fabrics that insulate, provide warmth and are safe in cold weather. Water-resistant, windproof, waterproof and breathable, wicking capability, insulation value, performance-base layers and quick drying is the terminology now used in garment marketing campaigns. With newer fabrics like polypropylene for example, moisture is wicked away from the body and the fabric dries quickly.
Fleece, made of polyester and other synthetics, take the lead as fabrics designed to be warm, insulating and lightweight. Gore-Tex and a myriad of other brands of waterproofing fabrics and fabric coatings prevent moisture from entering while letting body moisture out, thus helping those wearing it keep dry.
Still used are wool and wool blends, such as that in my wool-acrylic blend socks. However, wool is not as popular a choice for winter activity since there are now many synthetic alternatives that do an equal or better job when it comes to wicking, insulating and keeping us dry.
My main objectives when dressing to snowshoe is safety and comfort. I keep dry and warm, and regulate my body by way of layering. By dressing in layers, you can open up and take off clothes when in motion, and close them up and put them back on when at rest.
The first layer should be the wicking layer made of a fabric that removes moisture from the skin, such as breathable and nonabsorbent underwear made of fabrics like polypropylene or other microfiber synthetics. The second layer should be a quick-drying synthetic insulator that traps your body heat while still moving moisture away from your body, such fabrics include fleece, polyester, acrylic and other synthetics. The third layer, or shell layer, should be a waterproof or water-resistant and breathable jacket and pants often made of a weather-resistant coated nylon fabric.
In addition to layering over your torso and extremities, layering options can also include wearing insulating warm socks - wool, synthetic or a blend - with a polypropylene or nylon sock liner underneath them for wicking purposes. And a warm but breathable hat topped with a hood helps hold in heat that would otherwise escape from the head.
One other possible layer to consider are warm gloves or mittens with a liner. Fingers are better insulated in mittens than in gloves.
My son-in-law's name is Ken. So for the purpose of visualization, let's dress him up like a Ken doll for an afternoon of snowshoeing, starting at the head and going all the way to the toes.
In the first scenario, the Ken doll is wearing a warm but heavy cotton jacket over a cotton sweatshirt, a pair of bluejeans, tennis shoes with cotton socks and a baseball cap. And he has on a pair of cotton gardening gloves with leather palms. This is not recommended dress for snowshoeing.
In the second scenario, Ken is wearing a wind and waterproof breathable Marmot jacket with an all Gore-Tex shell and nylon polyamide liner. Inside that he has on a 70 percent polyester and 30 percent rayon pullover shirt on top of a thin polypropylene undershirt. He is also wearing a waterproof breathable pants shell over a synthetic pair of pants and polypropylene underwear.
On his head is something quite different for Midwesterners. Ken is wearing a 100 percent wool Western hat by Scala with a fleece headband covering his ears. He says it is warm, comfortable and dry.
On his hands, Ken has on a pair of polyester and latex waterproof gloves. His boots are waterproof and breathable, worn over a pair of wool-polyester blend socks. Now this Ken doll is decked out for snowshoeing.
You don't have to pay an arm and a leg for quality winter clothing. Look for end-of-season sales in stores and online. Almost every item of winter clothing I own I bought on sale for 20 percent to 80 percent off the retail price.
Style, it can be said, isn't important when on the trail. But quality is. So last year's clothing at a savings makes for a good purchase.
Those looking for a Valentine's Day gift for that special person, ponder socks, gloves, mittens, chooks and long johns. They can be somewhat romantically fun gifts. For bigger spenders, consider jackets, pants and boots.
I remember that I always grimaced when my wife bought me dress socks as a gift. But a pair of Wigwam moisture control, blister-free, 31 percent Marino wool, 63 percent acrylic blend socks with 6 percent spandex stretch elastics - now that's a different story.