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I have several friends with full beards. After talking at length with one, he started to convince me the protection it offers might be worth it.
So, I thought I would come and ask. What are the Pros and Cons of beards as they relate to the outdoors? Does it provide any protection from the elements? Fires? Bugs? Does it keep you cooler or warmer in the summer? How about the winter?
I understand the choice to wear a beard is a personal one, but I would like an answer that outlines actual practicality (assuming there is some) beyond looks.
Having not seen my chin for 15 years, here are a few thoughts on the practical aspects (assuming one is personally equally comfortable with a beard as without):
Sun protection - for a limited, but sensitive area of skin
Bug protection - a long-sleeve shirt/fleece with a collar turned up and long hair / beard make for a mosquito-free and DEET-free evening.
Warmer (in cold climates) - Beard-cicles (aside from looking grizzly rugged) do provide protection from wind and snow spray when engaged in high wind-sheer activities like skiing, snowmobiling or dog-sledding.
Low maintenance - have you tried shaving on the trail? (Note: I have never once had lice, ticks, gnomes, fungus, or anything else... well any more than I have in my head hair. It's called personal hygiene...)
Provides something to stroke when you are thinking hard about something
Chicks dig guys with beards -- at least a certain class of outdoorsy gal
Provides a handle to remove your head weight from your neck if your job requires staring up at the tree-tops all day long.
Big beards can hide the subtle curl at the corner of your lips that signifies when you are being a smart-ass causing people to mistakenly think you are just an ass.
More weight to carry around?...
Warmer (in hot climates)
Can hide ticks, etc (as Russell points out in his answer)
In my opinion: Winter = Beard Time! Summer = Either/or depending on situation.
Recently a friend and I have began experimenting with the use of our beards as moisture traps while skiing and hiking in snow storms. The general idea is that the skin temperature is warm enough to melt the deepest layer of ice/snow/frost, and one should be able to sip that melted moisture through their beard, given adequate vacuum conditions created by the external snow/ice layer on the beard.
It didn't work, but we were still very excited to pioneer the snow-Fremen culture.
After a month my beard got long enough that it started catching liquid in it the same way a rag might, so as much as I thought I'd escape the mundane task of grooming, I still have to trim my upper lip, usually on a weekly basis.