Dressing For Late Season Hunts
By Terry Hart
Those few days each year when hunting season is open and we can also escape the demands of family and job are very precious. Too often those same days seem to be the ones when Mother Nature chooses to vent her most hostile wrath and we have no choice but to grin and bear it. Having been an avid year around outdoor person for some 50+ years, I hope that you may find some of my conclusions interesting.
On days when the thermometer is below 30 and the wind howls I still shiver some. The perfect solution to this problem has not been invented. Nevertheless there are some things that you should, and should not, do.
My wife insists that our home thermostat never be set above 65 degrees during the winter. Several years ago a major outdoor catalog retailer put their 100% silk long underwear on sale and I stocked up. For the duration of this article you should assume that my silk undies are always there 24 hours a day. You might visit me anytime during the winter months and find me setting in front of the computer or TV snug-as-a-bug-in-a-rug in my pretty red silks. They are always there and I would not be without them.
When you get ready to go afield, check the weather forecast and dress accordingly. If the wind chill adjusted temperature is going to be above 40 degrees, dress lightly. Street clothes plus the shell garments described below should be adequate. When it is going to be 32 to 40 degrees dress moderately with one additional warm layer under your Shell. And below 32 degrees bundle up good. Pay attention to the wind forecast. It isn't always accurate, but when the wind blows you need significantly more protection.
The humidity is also important. When it is humid the cold will penetrate and you will be less comfortable than when it is dry. This last item is often overlooked or not appreciated.
Next ask yourself what you will be doing. If you are going to walk a short distance and then sit down and stay put all day, you will need maximum protection. If you plan on moving around (still hunting) you will need less protection. When you exercise your body generates much more heat than it does if you sit still. If you plan on moving around very much you also do not want to weigh yourself down with unnecessary weight and bulk.
Most cold winter days I wear three layers above the silks, for a total of four layers including the silks. The first layer is heavy weight, two-piece 100% wool. The brand name is Windsor Wear and it is made in Canada. Nothing works as well as wool, no matter what the ads claim. I have tried it all as my closets, and wife, will attest. I prefer the top and bottom two-piece variety because it is much more convenient on those unavoidable occasions when nature calls. I also try to find tops with turtle neck style collars. crew and vee necks let too much valuable heat escape up the chimney around your neck.
A close second choice for this first layer is heavy military weight Polypropylene. It is almost as good. Avoid the button up the front styles. Those gaps between the buttons let out too much valuable body heat.
If the temperature is going to be below freezing then the second layer is a two-piece set of quality Down. Good Down garments have become much less expensive the past several years, and usually cost less than the inferior synthetics. Nothing else comes close to keeping you as warm as down. Down garments are generally light and will not bog you down when you hike. I look for bottoms with fly's and snap open waist's, as opposed to those with elastic or draw string waist's and no fly.
The final shell layer is always Gore-Tex, or one of the so-called equivalents. The most important thing that this shell layer does is to block the wind and air from penetrating into your warm insulation. It also comes in handy when it rains.
My Gore-Tex shell pants and jacket are very light and not lined. This light weight style is normally classified as Rainwear. Mine is attached to a Polyester material, which is supposed to be better than the more common Nylon.
Generous and frequent pockets are a must for this outside shell layer. The Gore-Tex pants are especially hard to find with side slash pockets, at least one rear pocket, belt loops, a snap open waist and zipper fly. You may need to look around some to find just the right ones.
These shell items get used year around. In the summer when I hike they are always with me. When I am home the jacket hangs on the coat hook by the door year around. Since this outside shell layer may be put on over several under layers of insulation it is not a bad idea to purchase these items one size larger than you would normally wear.
Don't overlook the leg detail of all of the pants. It is important that the leg opening be closed somehow around your ankle to prevent cold air from coming up you leg. Zippers, elastic cuffs, and Velcro strap closures all are acceptable. Avoid open cuffs as are commonly found on street trousers and jeans.
Never overlook the importance of protecting your neck and head. Because our brains demand so much oxygen the blood flow to our heads is quite large. If you leave your neck and head exposed you can quite literally freeze to death.
I insist on a hat with a big bill sticking out to shade my eyes. I find this a must for looking in the direction of the sun in the early morning and just before dark. I wear glasses and that hat bill becomes indispensable when it rains or snows. Like most folks I wear a baseball hat. Over the baseball hat I put a big fluffy pull down stocking cap. And then there is always the hood on the Shell Jacket that can be used when needed.
Then come those impossible feet. Mine are size 13 or 14 extra wide. My closets are full of expensive failed attempts to keep them warm. All of the many hard to put on, high-top clod-hoppers I have tried over the years feel like big clumsy blocks of cement shortly after I enter the woods.
Several years ago I stumbled onto a pair of ankle high tennis shoe style all weather hiking shoes. They are mostly Nylon with leather reinforcement panels, have a Gore-Tex liner, and thin layer of Thinsulate insulation. The soles and footbed are thicker than most of the light weight tennis shoe style. With a heavy pair of wool socks they keep my feet just as warm as the coldhoppers and are more comfortable than anything else in my closet. When I have to go out and there is deep snow I sometimes pull on an old fashioned pair of Arctic's (or plain jane black buckle-up boots) over the light weight tennis shoe style hikers.
All of those other failures just set there collecting dust. The only exception is that when I have to go out and there is more than about 3 inches of snow on the ground, I will sometimes regretfully dig out the heavy Pac Boots.
And what about those hands? Again, I have tried everything there is. But what actually gets used are inexpensive, thin cloth gloves. The big bulky insulated waterproof types are just too clumsy and set here with my shoe collection gathering dust.
And remember those pockets. That is where at least one of my hands spends most of it's time. I carry a generous supply of those chemical hand warmer packets and keep one activated in each of the most used pockets.
Avoid garments that contain cotton. Cotton is a very poor insulator. It also absorbs water like crazy. If you perspire or are out in the rain it quickly turns into a worthless, water logged, miserable mess. The popular and inexpensive sweat suit garments usually contain at least some cotton are very high on this no-no list of items not to wear.
Common denim jeans fit into this same category. The air goes right through them and the wide open leg bottoms are real killers. They are also relatively heavy.
Also on the no-no list are common flannel shirts. Most contain lots of cotton and your valuable body warmth will vent out between the buttons like crazy.
Coverall garments look like they should be very practical. But getting them to fit properly is a huge problem for most folks. My inseam is 32 inches. But my sleeve length is 37 inches. I therefore need regular length bottoms and long, or tall, tops. Many of us have similar sizing problems.
Coveralls are generally heavy and cumbersome to put on and take off, no matter how many zippers they have. I have tried many pairs over the years and never found one I considered really acceptable.
Nor do I like the bib type trousers. That additional material above the waist seems like wasted weight and bulk to me. I find the suspenders bearing down on my shoulders to be quite irritating after stomping around the mountains for any length of time.
Seldom do I wear full featured Parkas anymore. Since I discovered the very effective light weight Gore-Tex rain jackets several years ago my heavy Parkas sit in the closet most of time.
I do have several sets of fleece jackets and pants. They are quite soft and comfortable. But if they are not covered with, or laminated to, some kind of wind shell the air goes right through them. Sometimes when it is really bitter out I will add a forth layer of Fleece under the Gore-Tex shell for additional insulation. But pound for pound and dollar for dollar, fleece is not as warm as down, or wool.
Many of us carry a small pack for extra clothes, tools, lunch, coffee, etc. This fall one of the catalog mail order houses had a light weight, blaze orange, Ultimate Pack Vest on sale with an extraordinary number of pockets, including one back pack size monster on the back. This got rid of the need for the extra pack. Finding the shell garments described above in blaze orange or red is nearly impossible, so I always just wear a light vest.
For those on a tight budget, several years ago I discovered a water proofing solution. You soak a tight knit nylon or polyester garment in it, run it through the dryer on high heat, and then immediately iron it, also on high heat. I was impressed with how well it restored the water and wind resistance to the garments I on which I tried it.
Finally, I always carry a piece of folded up heavy plastic about 2 feet square in my pack. Weighs practically nothing but sure comes in handy for sitting on those cold or icy rocks and logs. A plastic Poncho will work too. Even Gore-Tex drawers won't protect you from this misery for very long.
And never forget to bring some toilet paper or Kleenex tissues. It can save you a frantic trip to the nearest gas station, or worse, and is useful for other things, like blowing your nose and cleaning your glasses.
No matter how harsh the conditions, being out there is an absolute requirement for being a successful hunter. Happy Hunting!
Copyright 2005 by Terry Hart. All rights reserved.