Deacon Patrick

Of Fishnet Long Johns and Boiled Wool

In which we explore a wondrous clothing system far superior to the bog-in-a-bag-boil-and-freeze standard synthetic system of winter clothing that allows me to feel the same riding at -20˚F as if it’s a summer day with a cool breeze, climb a mountain, stop for an hour or two for a pipe and coffee, and descent with 30-60 mph winds for an hour or so all without changing a single thing in what I’m wearing, and being warm and comfortable the entire time. This photo post is a compilation of a number of posts and questions I’ve received over the years.

Why fishnet baselayer? Simple. Moisture management. Fishnet longjohns minimize the moisture at the skin, keeping me warm and toasty when I’d otherwise be cold and clammy. See that frost on my sweater and outside of my leg? That’s the moisture happily escaping into the frigid air.

I use a wool fishnet longjohn top base layer. With it, I then can insulate with any fabric, including cotton flanel. It’s highly effective at moisture management and that is key to staying warm when aerobic activity is involved, especially when stops happen and you cool down. You can test the system with Wiggy’s for $38 (not skin friendly nylon, but his video also explains why fishnet baselayer is superior), or the wool version is Brynje

Fishnet long johns revolutionized my riding, giving me flexibility to stay warm on whatever longer rides toss my way. Before it, I kept winter rides to under an hour because if I needed to stop for anything, body temp plummeted. Now, my winter rides are as long as my summer rides, and I feel (almost) equally safe from the weather (the margin for error at winter temps is far smaller, the cost of error far greater and more rapid, and clothing doesn’t change that!).

Hiking and running have close to zero wind generation, whereas cycling regularly generates winds of 10-40 mph, so cycling pushes clothing much more. I just got back from a 3.5 hour ride, including an hour plus coffee and pipe at the top, with temps -5˚F down low when I left home and about -20˚F up top, with 1,300 feet climbing in 8 miles. Which is to say if I’m dressed to be warm, I’m sweating and I want moisture to easily escape. With this system, it does. My ventile jacket stayed in reserve, and I wore my boiled wool sweater the entire ride. It snowed a few inches durring the ride to returning home. Winds were 20 mph plus bike generated air speed (up to 30 more mph) Warm and cozy the whole ride, and stop, and inner layers were dry when I took them off at home (I had to shake the snow off my hat and sweater, and perspiration had “frosted” on the outside of the boiled wool.).

Sweater: The sweater is less wind blocking than the 4-ply mittens. However, combined with the fishnet baselayer shirt and a medium to heavy cotton flannel shirt, buttoned or unbuttoned to regulate heat as needed, it works beautifully from 15˚F down to -20˚F (if the winds are blowing in the lower temp range, I add my ventile jacket over). If I’m just sitting around at the lower temps, I add my ventile jacket over.

Boiled wool is stunningly hearty against scraps and the like. Not at all like a nylon shell of any kind, far more like a stunningly hearty canvas, if not heartier.

What’s between the fishnet and sweater?

Any insulative layer. I tested this in the extreme early on, putting on a soaking wet heavy cotton flanel (Duluth burly flannel I’d just taken ouf the the washer, which doesn’t spin dry welll) and my Ventile jackt and then riding for an hour at -10˚F. I stayed “not cold”, so long as I was moving (didn’t test stopping). Parts of the sleeves were frozen stiff when I got home, but I was fine. My usual:Standard weight cotton flannel: 50˚F down to about 25˚F when climbing (toasty at 50 when climbing, but I just unbutton the shirt a bit and it ventilates well)Heavy weight cotton flannel: 25˚F to 10˚F when climbing2 weights of sweater: normal (like Riv’s sweaters), and boiled wool (like wearing 4 regular sweaters, but far better. Blocks a lot of wind. I’ve ridden down hill into headwinds at 0˚F.). I will add at the top for cofee/pipe/writing as needed, starting at 50˚F and cloudy.

Boiled wool. Rick is great to work with. A note on the boiled wool hats: I’ve added a chin tie to keep them on. People with smaller heads may not have this issue. Basically a leather shoe lace inside the back headband of the hat, pushed through at the front of the ears. When tied, it holds the hat snuggly to the back of my neck and below my ears.

The key before fishnet was to wear enough layers to absorb sweat, then change to dry base layers if stopped, or just don’t stop. Since fishnet, the key is to manage moisture, and when things get wet it’s not a big deal because I’ll stay warm even when I stop, and at an extended stop just add more insulative layers and wind block as needed. It allows me to do extended stops at all temperatures, which has opened up my riding. Ventile:

Mittens: 3 ply boiled wool glomitt down to 20˚F. Add a 4-ply boiled wool mitt below that, and an Empire Canvas chopper mitt as needed for wind block/heat retention.Wool scarf, blocks wind into shirt and keeps neck warm starting around freezing. Hat: Walts wool cycling cap to about 25˚F. Add 2-ply down to 10˚F, 4-ply below that and/or at stops at the top, for descents. Ventile hood if windblock needed, but that doesn’t happen until below zero as the 4-ply blocks wind very well and is 2 or three layers thick around the ears/headband area.

I wear a chopper (leather) mitt over my 4-ply boiled wool mittens when needed, but that generally only happens below 15˚F, including wind speeds (total combined of natural and bike generated) of 60mph. Chopper mitts can be gotten from the hardware store for $20-30, but if you want the ability to cinch down, be snow proof, have a gauntlet, I highly recommend these: standard mitten system is now 3-ply boiled wool glomitt to 20˚F, add the shell down to 0˚F, add the wool mitts (thinner) that came with the overmitts for below 0˚F, and in extreme, use a 4-ply overmitt instead of the thin wool overmitt.

Here are the boiled wool mittens without the chopper over mitts.

What about pants layers and sox?

Tweed breeks from So far I’ve not added anything under or over and only plan on adding fishnet longjohns if needed, below ˚F. I do add single sock as extra warmth and wind block cod piece at 15˚F and below.Socks: Boiled wool extra heavy 3-ply over the knee sock (folded to be under the knee), requires sizing shoe up 2 sizes. I add a second pair 4-ply ankle sock at 15˚F, good down to zero. Below that, I shift to Sorel Caribou boots with 1-2 pair boiled wool socks.I add ventile gaters, to just below the knee, for a wind barrier as needed, but for warmth due to heat retention starting below 20˚F. My heavy tweed breeks have been brilliant with fishnet longjohn bottoms down to -20˚F.

How do you keep wind from penetrating layers?

Add canvas vest, sweater, or ventile jacket for wind blocking/heat retention as needed. Below 20˚F, this wind layer can be a regular canvas, as all “moisture” is dry snow. However, Ventile does a great job no matter the temperature, so is what I use.

Wind blocking and breathability come in a spectrum, and generally, as one increases the other decreases, though with natural fibers breathability rarely becomes an issue. But keep in mind that the fishnet longjohns are essential to making this system work. Without that baselayer that allows moisture to evaporate to the mid-layers and not be next to your skin, you are still using the boil/freeze-in-a-bog-bag system and will hate me if you mistakenly think you’re doing what I’ve described here. With this system, you manage airflow to manage heat (close or open neck area, add or remove ventile jacket), and if that doesn’t work, you add or remove insulation.

In combination with the fishnet base layer and middle layer shirt that blocks wind (and I sometimes add a canvas vest for further wind blocking if needed), the idea is to have a large comfort range so that I can exert/sweat while biking, be warm and toasty, get the insulative layers a bit damp (but not feeling very damp to me because of the fishnet), but when I stop I stay warm and moisture rapidly evaporates out. The fishnet longjohns are essential to making this work. With this system, I am amazed to be climbing up the pass at -10˚F and (except for the air peppering my nose as I breathe!) feel like it is 70˚F with a cool breeze whisking away my perspiration as I ride. The breathability of boiled wool is essential for this also. Keep in mind, this system works differently (and in my experience is thus far superior to) from the modern synthetic layering system (which I experience as a wet/boggy boil/freeze in a bag system), so the expectations of how things should feel need to shift. Feeling a cool breeze is good. Feeling a cold breeze means I need to add insulation and/or batten down the hatches a bit more (close up air flow at the neck, or add a wind block layer), getting too warm/sweating a lot means time to remove insulation and/or open up the hatches to increase air flow. Put another way, wearing a standard solid-woven base layer top, it will get wet and any airflow feels very cold below a certain temp. Not at all the case with a fishnet base layer top, as the moisture is not next to the skin. Work hard climbing a mountain, stop and have coffee and a pipe for an hour or two, then head down the hill for an hour’s descent with all the cold wind, without changing a thing. Possible with fishnet base layer, not possible without.

Also, keep in mind that as your core stays warmer, you need less heavy extremity layers (hat, mittens, socks) and vice-versa.