It was a December sunrise several years ago on the Apalachicola River, and the air temperature hovered in mid 20s. When my friends and I had started paddling the previous afternoon, the air temperature was a balmy 72 degrees. When I crawled into my tent the night before, I left my wet clothes to dry on top of my kayak. But when I awoke in the morning, I was in for a rude surprise. My shorts and booties were frozen. Adventuring in Florida, particularly during the winter months, can be a challenge. It's possible, especially in the northern part of the state, to have temperature swings of near 50 degrees in a short period of time. It can be warm and sunny in the afternoon, but after sundown, the temperature can still drop near freezing. As a result, you must plan for the worst and pray for the best. And that usually means carrying lots of extra clothing.
Layer by layer
Carrying extra clothing adds bulk and weight to any load. If you are into adventure sports, you have to keep it light. The trick is to wear several layers of multipurpose clothing that can be peeled off or put on as the temperature changes.
Start with a thin, synthetic material on the body that helps transmit water away from the skin. Don't be afraid to pile on the layers of this high-tech long underwear. Light, easy to store, it works to keeps you warm even when wet.
Most of your warmth will come from your second (or third) layer. Many choose fleece.
Then finish with a layer of wind-and-water-resistant material as an outer shell.
Some advice on clothing materials: You can't beat wool when it comes to warmth. But wool is heavy and bulky, and it's often impractical for most high-activity outdoor sports.
Cotton, perhaps the most popular and widespread material in use today, should be avoided. Outdoor industry insiders call it "death cloth" because it drains heat from the body when wet.
Neil Irwin grew up in St. Petersburg, but his parents were Canadian.
"When you go back and forth, you are never prepared for the weather," said the clothing designer who now lives in Malibu, Calif. "If you are a Floridian, you are cold wherever you go."
Irwin, an avid sailor, snowboarder and surfer, wanted one jacket that would serve him just as well on the waters of Tampa Bay as it did on the slopes of British Columbia.
"What I really needed was three jackets in one," he said.
Irwin's answer is his Adventure Gear jacket, a three-in-one, all-weather system that offers high performance for the active lifestyle, yet stylish good looks for a foray into the city.
The jacket consists of a heavyweight soft shell (for 30-55 degrees), a lightweight soft shell (40-65 degrees) and a base layer top (40-65 degrees). When all three are worn together, you can feel comfortable in a temperature range of 5 to 65 degrees.
"There is no logo," Irwin said. "These jackets are built for performance."
Pull it together
The layering system, which is available at the Bill Jackson Shop for Adventure and Watersports West in Pinellas County, and Tampa Bay Outfitters in Hillsborough County, has sold briskly since it arrived a few months ago.
"The jacket was designed so the three components work together," said Clearwater resident Michael Lokey, the director of sales for Adventure Gear. "It removes a lot of the guesswork. You don't have to figure out which base layer works with which jacket. This is one jacket that will literally take you around the world."
The combo is pricey — $370 — but comparable to a top-of-the-line ski jacket. If you were to put together your own system of base layer, microfleece or fleece, then jacket, you would probably spend at least $300. The Adventure Gear components can be purchased individually (base layer, $32; lightweight soft shell, $159; heavyweight shell, $179).