It’s official – Winter is on its way here in Southwestern Ontario! I’m sitting in my office watching snow flurries dance outside the window – quite pretty if you ignore for a moment the 30km/h north wind that cuts everything to frozen ribbons. I’m also still adjusting to the clock’s “falling back” an hour – a needless twice-yearly ordeal in my opinion, but one that at least twigs my brain into planning for the coming Northern Piping Season.
For a pipe smoker living in a true four-season climate, winter bowls present a challenge unseen during the softer summer months. Gone are the long, mild evenings perfect for enjoying a bowl or two on the porch, deck or around a campfire. Dusk, and dark, come quickly and early now, and July’s warm, gentle breezes are replaced by November’s frigid blast. Add in the other diverse vagaries of dear old Mother Nature, and winter pipe smoking can become a real trial to the dedicated.
How, then, do we stalwart Northern pipers prepare for the next 6 months of less than ideal outdoor smoking conditions? Those lucky few who can do so retreat inside, ideally to the warmth and comfort of an armchair by the fire or a favourite spot on the couch. For others, a heated garage, shed or man-cave may provide sanctuary, but for most of us living in the age of indoor smoking bans, a truly comfortable winter smoking venue is unattainable. With this in mind, here are some thought to help you prepare for a cold-weather bowl:
1. Dress for Success
“Clothes maketh the Man”, as the saying goes, but instead of a well-cut suit, winter pipers may be more interested in a well-insulated parka. Check the weather before stepping outside and wear suitable clothing to keep you comfortable (or at least not glacial) while you light up your pipe. Function over Fashion here, gents, unless you’re trying to impress someone. That puffy down-filled jacket you turned your nose up at in middle school can make the difference between a relaxing smoke and a masochistic ordeal.
2. Get Out of the Wind
Smoking a pipe in the wind, as any dedicated lunter will tell you, can cause your tobacco to burn faster and hotter, bringing with it a degradation in flavour and an increased risk of burning your favourite briar. Add in bone-chilling temperatures and perhaps even the risk of frostbite and putting something solid between you and the wind begins to make a whole lot of sense.
I might also suggest trying a wind cap on your pipe when outdoors. These caps cover the tobacco chamber with a perforated lid that allows smoke to escape and combustion air to enter while blocking the worst of the winter wind. Depending on the design, tamping the tobacco during a smoke can be a bit of a chore, but I’m willing to accept that in return for a cooler, slower smoke.
3. Up Your Flavour Game
Temperature affects the perceived flavour of your favourite tobacco. Hot weather can make a strong blend unbearable and cold weather can render a delicately nuanced Virginia positively bland. In response, many outdoor pipe smokers select more stalwart tobaccos when the mercury dips. That bold Balkan blend that overpowered in June may be perfect during the Holidays, so now’s the time to bring out the big guns. The cold outdoor air will mellow the strong flavours while you smoke, but, in fairness, may not make a difference to the smell of your clothes when you go back inside.
4. A Little Piper Proselytizing Never Hurts
This last thought is aimed at those of you hoping to carry the light of the briar to those suffering in ignorance. OK, that’s a bit over the top, but early winter is a great time to take advantage of the fact that people seem to be more accepting and less judgmental of your pipe during November and December.
Perhaps this phenomenon is rooted in our collective cultural memory – of fathers or grandfathers enjoying a pipe by the fire, or the image of Jolly Old St Nick, replete with pipe smoking encircling his head like a wreath, or maybe it’s just that people are happier during the Holidays. Whatever the reason, I have yet to receive a negative comment about the smell of my pipe wafting through an outdoor Christmas market, parade route or sidewalk sale. So why not pack a pipe with a crowd-pleasing aromatic blend and go for a Holiday lunt around town? You may even find a fellow piper who can invite you INSIDE for a bowl!
I hope these cold-weather piping tips help you make the most of the upcoming season. Don’t put your pipes into hibernation for the winter. Instead, plan ahead and get out there! There’s nothing quite like enjoying a bowl on a still winter evening while the snowflakes fall gently around you. It may even make you wish for a longer season!
If you’ve got a winter smoking tip or story, please share in the comments below. Until next time, stay warm and Happy Piping!