Whether you are a large-game hunter tracking the likes of elk and deer or a small-game sportsman looking for pheasant or quail, or even something in between, chances are you’ll be out in the elements during the frigid, winter months. Protecting yourself from the weather is paramount and keeping yourself dry and warm is a high priority.
Perhaps the gear you have isn’t quite adequate to keep you warm hour after hour, or maybe you need advice on how to properly bundle up for a long trek into the woods. Follow along as we outline some of the key elements to staying dry and warm, with details on fabrics and materials as well as suggestions for layering, and even a few product ideas to get you started.
Examining Fabrics and Materials
The key to staying warm while out in the woods is keeping dry. While you might automatically think of avoiding the elements like rain or snow, you also need to consider body sweat and how your clothes retain moisture. While a flannel shirt appears to be cozy and warm, sweating through it can result in a soaking wet shirt, and in drastic cases, lead to hypothermia if you’re stuck wearing it in extremely cold temperatures.
Let’s take a look at a few common fabrics and how they’ll hold up outdoors.
Cotton. While cotton is a great option for staying cool in the summer months, it’s not the preferred material for layering during outdoor activities in the winter months. Cotton does not wick away moisture well, and once it’s wet, it can lose the majority of its insulating properties. Cotton will feel cold and damp and it will be awfully hard to dry when the temperatures dip below freezing. Skip cotton materials if possible.
Polypropylene. This material is used in many ways, including in packaging, plastic parts, automotive components, and so much more. One of its common uses is in thermal underwear. Polypro is a great choice for cold and damp weather because it’s lightweight and has hydrophobic properties, meaning it repels water. It can be worn as a base layer and can also be mixed with other synthetic materials like polyester and Gore-Tex.
Polyester. This fabric is great for keeping you warm as it does a good job of holding in heat. In addition to the insulation value, it also has windproof properties and is a great fabric for a lightweight coat meant to repel the rain.
Nylon. A good choice for the outer layer, nylon is durable and doesn’t tend to absorb moisture and if it does, it will likely evaporate quickly. This would be a good choice of fabric for hunting in early fall before the temperatures drastically change.
Wool. Wool has been a go-to material for warmth for centuries. While wool production has dropped over the years, the benefits of wool are still the same – it can retain moisture without feeling wet. In addition, wool doesn’t tend to absorb nasty smells, so you can count on your wool clothes being free of odors like mold, mildew and sweat. Wool also becomes a natural insulator based on how the fibers are woven together. Bottom line, wool traps heat while absorbing moisture, which keeps you warm and dry.
Thinsulate™. You’ll often find hunting gear like boots, hats and gloves labeled as having Thinsulate™ included. Thinsulate™ is actually a brand of synthetic fiber thermal insulation used in clothing. They advertise that the material is more effective as insulation because the fibers are denser, but smaller in size than other fibers like polyester. The idea is that while it retains body heat, moisture like sweat should evaporate.
GORE-TEX®. Like Thinsulate™, GORE-TEX® is a trademark brand that’s a synthetic waterproof fabric, permeable to air and water vapor, used in outdoor and sports clothing. The idea is that wet fabrics rob your body of warmth. GORE-TEX® focuses on the waterproof and windproof technology, stating that wind won’t pass through and it will keep water out.
It’s all about layering if you want to stay dry and warm during a long day in the woods. While you may be tempted to layer every long sleeve shirt you own, topped with two or three hooded sweatshirts, the fact is that you can properly layer with just two shirts and a jacket, increasing your mobility and comfort.
- Your first layer, also called a base layer, should be snug fitting and made up of a material that is moisture wicking. You’ll want to take into account the durability, breathability and the material. Remember, any material that retains smells is going to be a bad choice because as soon as you start to sweat, your scent is out there for all of your prey to smell. Choose a base layer that is made of wool and you’ll be warm and odor free. In fact, many hunters recommend products made of merino wool because of its comfortability against the skin.
- Your next layer, also called a mid-layer, works together with the base layer, helping to trap heat in while also removing moisture. These layers should be pretty flexible, and you can double up this layer if you’d like, allowing you to remove it if you become overheated. Ideal fabrics for this layer include polyester and merino wool, but nylon is also a good choice.
- The final layer, or outer layer, is meant to protect you from the elements like wind, rain and snow and anything else that may come your way. This layer should be durable and able to withstand rough terrain. Choose outerwear that has a hood, as it will help prevent the elements from sliding down your neck and back, and can add a little extra warmth to your head. Keeping this layer lightweight will make it easy to pack if you need to remove it, but also help keep you more flexible. Consider nylon and GORE-TEX® for this layer.
Protect the extremities
While it’s incredibly important to make sure your body is covered, don’t forget extremities which includes accessories like hats, gloves, hand/feet warmers and hand muffs.
- Stocking caps/beanies/hoods. Protecting your face and neck is just as important as keeping your core warm. The last thing you want is rain or snow running down your back, and a wind-burned face can take days to heal. Keeping your head covered is just another way to keep your body heat in, and full-face masks can protect you if you are hunting outside of a blind.
- Hand muff / gloves. Some hunters don’t enjoy wearing gloves because it hinders dexterity, however in extremely cold temperatures, you’re going to want to keep your hands from being exposed. A hand muff is a convenient accessory that can be worn around your waist, and combined with hand warmers and thinner gloves, allows you to keep your hands warm for 6-7 hours without having to worry about easily handling your weapon.
- Hand/feet warmers. Hand and feet warmers are a cheap and easy way to keep your extremities warm. For under two dollars per package, you have a portable, lightweight soothing warmth at your fingertips.
Now that you know what it takes to stay warm on a long hunt, check out CHIEF Supply for a selection of products that will make your next hunt a little more comfortable.
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