When I arrived at lake Monona the other morning it was 11 degrees outside. I was all bundled up in my Ice Armor gear and was comfortable and warm. The poor fellow just down the terrace from me was not dressed for the weather and was noticeably miserable. After about 20 minutes he went back to his car and called it a day. Since I was dressed for the weather the fishing was comfortable and productive.
So what is the secret to lasting when out in the elements? First off take some time before you head out the door to see what the conditions are. Remember that when standing on the shore you will get cold fast. The wind by the lake will always drop the temps a bit and any exposed skin will make you suffer. A few basic layers will help you last when your out fishing in the nastiest of weather conditions.
The first step is the base layer. For most of us this starts with long underwear. You want a blend of fibers not just cotton. Cotton doesn't dry quickly and since this is the layer closest to your skin you don't want moisture trapped in the fibers or you will get cold. Worse you could start to chafe which can be miserable when walking, trust me!
The second layer is what I call the "run into the gas station layer". I have a tendency to always need to get something when on my way to the lake. Maybe a soda, cup of coffee, or a snack for the kids. You don't want to run into the store in your long undies and if you have your Ice Armor on already you will be a dripping ball of sweat before you get to the lake. For me this layer usually involves my jeans, t-shirt, sweatshirt, and hat. This layer or layers is where you can add more to stay warm. If it is unusually cold I will add a fleece instead of sweatshirt or a stocking cap in lue of a ball cap. This layer will help you adjust your body temperature when out fishing. Alot of people will wear specialized clothing. Merino wools, cold weather running gear, or climbing layers. Whatever works for you is fine. I am a bit cheap so I just add or remove sweatshirts and hats to keep myself warm but not sweating. Again if you get wet, be it by sweating or water contact you will get chilled and suffer. The more layers you can remove or add the better at this point.
The final layer is the outer layer. You need something designed to take the beating the weather has in store. Lots of companies make cold weather gear. I am partial to Ice Armor because I get all the features I like for a decent price. The outer layers by Frabill, Eskimo, Striker, and others works well too. Look for an outer layer that is windproof and waterproof. Welded seams and covered zippers are nice too. Keep in mind to match the gear you choose to your conditions. Some sets of outerwear have floatation incorporated into the clothing so that if you fall in the water or through the ice you will float to the surface improving your chances of a rescue. Others have padded knees so when you are crawling around on the ice to set tipups you don't cut your knees. My favorite feature of the Ice Armor is the padded butt. You don't realize how cold a bench is in the winter till you have to sit on one to clear a birds nest. Another thing to consider is wear and tear. Most outerwear designed for fishing or ice fishing has areas of reinforcement because ice is hard. It sounds funny, but try the gear on and move around in the store. If your legs are long or your arms are short the reinforcement will be in the wrong areas and could cause the outerwear to wear quickly. Outerwear is expensive but worth it. Take care of the gear you buy. Hang it up to dry when not in use and keep it out of direct long term UV exposure.
A couple more things to help in to you in the cold. Waterproof gloves will help you stay warm. Buy your gloves slightly oversized. If your gloves are to tight they can cut off circulation. Also you want a little extra space in the gloves to trap some air. Look into the use of face mask. The mask I use is made from neoprene. It blocks wind and traps heat close to my face. The bottom of the mask has fleece stitched onto the bottom so I can tuck it into my sweatshirt. As I said before exposed skin will make you suffer so this allows that little area between your face and chest to stay wind free. Most masks are small when folded and will fit easily in a pocket so you can have it when you need it. Lastly sunglasses and chap stick. Nothing is worse is than burnt eye feeling, except maybe the pain of chapped lips. So apply the chap stick before you get out in the wind and throw those sunglasses. Hypothermia kills, keep that in mind.