I have a list of things important to me to make a day of outdoor activity satisfying and memorable. Near the top is staying warm. Also near the top is staying safe.
I don’t care how well the fish are biting or the ducks are flying, if I’m shivering, the action isn’t going to put much of a smile on my face. Sure, I can take a bit of short-lived discomfort, like reaching into a cold minnow bucket or shedding my warm, hunting parka to wade out and fetch a downed duck. But an all day chill is the same as all day torture.
Being warm is comfortable. Being safe is comforting, not necessarily comfortable.
So when the Frabill company came out with their “I” parka last fall, it peaked my interest as a multi-tasking coat capable of keeping me comfortably warm in extreme conditions and providing me a comforting level of safety I hope to never need.
The parka is formally called the I-Float Jacket which alludes to its multi-tasking purpose. Much of the insulation material in the jacket is made from a closed cell, buoyant material, the same stuff used to make life jackets. There’s enough of the material used and incorporated in the right places inside the jacket to allow the U.S. Coast Guard to put its “seal of approval” on the garment as a certified, wearable, personal flotation device.
Frabill geared and marketed the I-Float coat as an “ice fishing” garment. Ice anglers always have a chance of becoming winter swimmers if they inadvertently tread across unsafe ice. Certainly, there’s less chance of an unwanted plunge for those consciously learning and following ice fishing safety tips. Regardless of whether a watery ice fishing situation is the result of foolishness or just bad luck, surviving such a mishap would be more certain if the ice-walker were wearing a life jacket. Most aren’t.
In my mind, if the ice an ice fisherman is planning to traverse is such that wearing a PFD seems sensible, it seems more sensible to find some other activity to pursue. How about waiting for ice conditions to improve? How about waiting for the ice to melt away so it’s possible to fish from a boat? How about traveling to a place where winter is sufficiently absent to allow fishing from a boat all year long?
I often start my Lake Michigan fishing season in late winter (usually mid-March) and since the cold water in Lake Michigan delays spring-like conditions often well into May, I’m no stranger to winter parkas. Remember, I listed staying warm as being high on my list of important things.
Boating regulations require (summer or winter) having a PFD for each person in the boat. The law doesn’t mandate the devices actually be worn. Sure, it would be sensible to wear one for safety’s sake, but remember, staying warm is higher on my list than remembering to be safe or sensible.
That’s why I got an I-Float Jacket (and matching bibs). I get all the warmth of wearing a well-insulated outer layer and at the same time not be encumbered by having to fit a PFD over or under my jacket.
Earlier this month I had the chance to try out my new, sensible garb without having to worry about ice conditions. I was at Lake of the Ozarks – just far enough south to preventing it ever freezing over, far enough north to warrant warm clothes needed, most February days.
Indeed, the outdoor temperature was well below freezing the morning I had scheduled for crappie fishing, and the thermometer had barely climbed above 32 when the trip was over. My hands were undeniably chilled when I reached into the bait-bucket and my face certainly felt the wind chill as we boated spot to spot. Happily, my multi-tasking I-Jacket kept me warm and safe as I logged one more memorable day outdoors.