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Dressing for a Cold Weather Hunt

by Josh Fletcher 14. November 2011 10:42
Josh Fletcher

As the rut heats up, the temperature begins to drop, and if you get cold you won’t sit long causing you to miss out on valuable time in the tree stand. A good family friend has been preaching to our deer camp members that you can’t kill deer sitting back at camp. To be able to sit long hours under cold temperatures requires a specific layering system.
 
The system that I describe below is tried and true. There are no gimmicks or one product by itself. The layering system requires specific layers that serve specific purposes, however when used together the layers work like a team to keep you in the stand longer under extreme temperatures.

Extreme weather calls for proper layering, or your hunt will come to a quick halt

Base Layer

To start with, the base layer is your most important layer to your body’s cold weather system. The base layer will mean the difference between a long and comfortable sit or a really short and cold sit. If you get sweated up while walking into your stand it’s up to the base layer to pull you through the cold weather wait.

Cotton may be a comfortable fabric for lounging around the house; however it spells disaster for a cold weather sit. The reason is that cotton absorbs sweat and moisture very well, however traps it and does not allow the moisture to evaporate quickly, leaving a wet fabric against your skin. Wet clothing then means a short sit when the temperatures drop. In short, avoid any base layer that has cotton as its main fabric.

Some people prefer to wear a form fitting base layer, to allow the base layer to grab perspiration and wick away moisture in locations of your body that a loose fitting shirt normally would not have full contact with.

The best fabrics for your base layer are polyester and merino wool. When reading the tags on your long underwear you will want polyester or a polyester/ wool blend. The polyester wicks sweat from your body and quickly evaporates the moisture leaving your body dry. I prefer my base layer to be a mock turtle neck or a full turtle neck.
 
Pocket Layer

The pocket layer can consist of any type of shirt that has chest pockets, as long as it is not made of cotton. If you perspire heavily while heading to your stand you will run the risk of having moisture bleed through your base layer and absorbed by your pocket layer.

The pocket layer often consists of polyester, but it should have chest pockets. The purpose of this layer is to hold commercial air activated hand and body warmers. By placing hand warmers in your pockets of your pocket layer allows the hand warmers to be added to the heat created by your body. Another location to place the adhesive warmers is the area of your kidneys. The weight of your pocket layer shirt will depend on the weather conditions you will be facing.

It is not recommended to wear any garments with hoods except for your outer layer. The reason is that the hood sticks out over your outer layer, if it gets wet from either rain or snow, it will cause the moisture to be wicked by the fabric and be pulled into your inner layer holding the moisture against the back of your neck.

Insulating Layer

The insulating layer is the clothing layer that will hold the warmth created by your body heat and the added warmth from the hand warmers. The fabric of choice is wool.  Wool has been used by old time hunters from the 1800’s. Wool also retains heat even if wet. I personally prefer this layer to be a vest. I prefer vests because they free up my arms from bulk after dressing in several layers, making it easier to pull back my bow and decreases the bulk of fabric on my arms to cause string interference with my bow.
 
Wind Proof Layer

Wool and other high quality fabrics work great at holding in body temperature, however as the wind blows through your insulating layer, it will rob you of your precious and important body heat. This layer consists of a special wind blocking fabric that is designed for stopping heat robbing wind from your insulating layer. Products that work great for this layer can be WindBlocker by Scent Blocker, GORE-TEX, or other breathable water proof fabrics.

Outer Layer

This is your last layer; you will want this layer to be a quiet fabric. The reason being is that most wind proof fabrics have a tendency to be a little noisy. This has to do with the materials used to stop the wind. Your outer layer will cover and dampen the sound made by the wind proof layer. I prefer a heavy fleece jacket. For years I also used wool as my outer layer, both work great for added insulation. Your outer layer should be a good insulating layer to catch any heat that may escape from your other layers.

Pant Layering

I placed how you layer for pants in a category of its own, because how you layer with your pants will depend on your hunting situation and weather conditions.

First with pant layering you will want to start with a base layer just like your top. You will again want to use a fabric for long underwear consisting of polyester or a polyester/ merino wool blend. Also just like the top you want this layer for its moisture wicking capabilities along with added heat insulation.

For crisp cold days with minimal snow depth or no rain, I wear a polyester blend pant. The thickness of the pant will depend on the outside temperature. For extremely cold days I will often wear a wool pant instead of polyester.

The outer layer will consist of a heavy fleece or wool, for warmth and quietness of walking to and from your stand.

As you noticed there is no wind proof layer involved unless there is a special weather condition. The reason for this is when you are walking to your stand wearing a water proof or wind proof pant you will begin to sweat and accumulate moisture. The only time that I will utilize a wind proof or water proof pant, is when I am walking through deep snow, extremely windy conditions, or rain. It is recommended that if you have a long walk to your stand, pack in your wind proof layer and put it on when you get to your stand to avoid accumulating extra moisture.

Another trick that I have learned to deal with mild depth of snow to avoid carrying a wind proof layer is to utilize snow gators. These are a shin high water proof fabric that covers the top of your boots and shins. This helps to keep your pant legs dry during the walk in to your stand.

You get what you pay for is the "golden rule" when it comes to a quality pair of hunting boots

Foot Layers

A complete cold weather set up doesn’t just end with your body. Your feet are just as important. If your feet get cold, you will be packing it in for the day very soon.

To start with you will want a good pair of socks as your base layer, just like the base layer for your body you will want them to wick moisture from your feet. If you have a problem with extra perspiration on your feet, it is also recommended to powder your feet with a moisture absorbent foot powder.

The next layer for your feet is a high quality pair of wool socks. Just like your body this is also your insulating layer to hold the heat from your foot. I also recommend using commercial toe warmers to help produce more heat to be held in by your hunting boots for extreme cold weather sits.

Your boots are the most important item for your feet and your whole body. This is an item that you don’t want to skimp on warmth or quality. A good high quality pair of hunting boots will keep your feet warm and dry, and will last you for years. I once owned pair of high quality pack boots for twelve years before replacing them.
You are better off paying more for a good quality pair of boots than skimping and buying boots to get you by. Often cheaper boots won’t last as long as a good quality pair, causing you to buy more boots and paying more for several pair of less quality foot wear than if you just purchased a good quality pair from the start.

I recommend a good quality pair of pack boots for cold weather hunts. Also keep in mind when looking for boots that just because they are rated for -25 degrees does not mean they will keep your feet warm down to -25 degrees. You will want to select a hunting boot that is designed for the type of extreme temperature that you are likely to encounter on your hunt.

You will also want to make sure that your hunting boots are 100% water proof with no exceptions. If your feet get wet, you’re done hunting. It’s that simple. Long story made short when selecting hunting boots, get the best quality hunting boot that you can afford, this is one part of the cold weather system you don’t want to skimp on.

Gloves

I personally prefer to wear thinner glove used with a hand warmer muff. A hand warmer muff has a waist strap and attaches at your waist. With openings at each end you can keep your hands warm without added bulk and loss of finger dexterity for handling your bow and other items.

If you decide not to use a hand warmer muff, you will want to use mittens instead of gloves. Mittens keep your fingers warmer because they are allowed to share heat produced by each finger, versus gloves separate your fingers allowing only the heat produced by each finger to keep that particular finger warm. Basically mittens work on the concept of warmth in numbers.

Hats

Like your feet this is another layer that you don’t want to skimp on. Majority of your body heat is lost from the top of your head. Use a thick high quality hat that covers your ears down to your neck. Also like your base layer you don’t want to use any hat made of cotton. You want to keep your head warm and dry.

A good quality warm hat is a must for a cold weather hunt

Neck Gaiter

Once you use a neck gaiter during a cold weather hunt, you won’t leave home without one. Select a good neck gaiter that obviously covers your neck but also is able to be pulled up over your nose and mouth without exposing your neck. The purpose of this is to reflect the heat given off by your breath to keep your face and neck warm.

Back Pack

With your cold weather system you’re designed to stay stationary for long periods of time. You won’t be able to walk a considerable distance without getting sweated up while wearing your cold weather system. For that reason you will want a good quiet back pack to allow you to pack in your cloths.
 
I usually walk into the stand wearing just my base layer and pocket layer, if it is extremely cold out I will also walk in with my wool insulating layer. The rest of the layers go into your back pack. You never want to walk into your stand wearing your wind proof layer. The reason being, these layers are designed to stop wind cutting down on the clothing’s ability to breathe. By wearing this layer while walking you will often accumulate moisture from the wind proof layer.
The key to the back pack is to pack in your layers to be put on once at the stand, because you want to avoid getting heavily sweated up for your cold weather sits.

Conclusion

The key to dressing for extreme temperatures is to utilize layers. Like assembly line workers, each layer has a special purpose and design. However to keep you warm under cold temperatures each layer needs to perform its job and work together as a team to maximize and retain your core body’s heat. The key is to prevent the loss of as much body heat as you can. Several thinner layers will help hold in more body temperature than two heavy bulky layers. Use special layers for maximized warmth this year, because after all you can’t kill deer sitting back at camp.




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