When I first started hunting I had no idea of how to stay warm in the field. In fact, there was a time early on in my hunting career when I almost gave up hunting in cold weather. I became so cold on numerous occasions that when I got back to my truck I couldn’t turn the ignition switch – or had to use both hands. I remember thinking to myself on one occasion of what a shame it was to be able to make it back to my truck only to freeze to death because I couldn’t start the truck and turn on the heater.
I will not detail the dangers of becoming too cold, but my experience has taught me that once I start shivering, I am what my father-in-law used to say “D U N” DONE!” Needless to say I was miserable in cold weather. On top of that I couldn’t hunt my best when I became so cold that I shivered and my hands, legs and feet became numb and stiff. Something had to give. Either I was going to learn how to stay warm in frigid weather or I was giving up cold-weather hunting for good.
I am a scientist and researcher at heart. I have a Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and know more about statistics and research design than the average bear probably should. So, one day the thought occurred to me to use these research skills to solve this problem – just as I help organizations solve their issues and problems as a consultant.
One of the few shows I like to watch on T.V. is “Life Below Zero.” I remember thinking that if the individuals in this program can stay warm above the artic circle in sub-zero temperatures, why was I struggling to stay warm in Alabama!? And thus began my research. One thing I noticed immediately was that the individuals in these shows almost exclusively wear one thing in common…coveralls. I subsequently learned that there were a wide variety of coveralls on the market and that they were filled with this wonderful, marvelous filling called insulation! I will not go into detail with the various types of insulation in this article, but this is one of the keys my experience has shown me…insulated coveralls are a must! What type and how many grams of insulation will be needed where you hunt will vary widely. Here in Alabama, I use 150-gram Thinsulate with a breathable and waterproof membrane. I personally have been using Guide Gear’s coveralls (I do not get any compensation at all for saying that).
Thus, one essential piece of gear is:
- Insulated Coveralls.
Now, this left me with the question of what do the individuals in this T.V. show wear underneath these wonderful, marvelous, insulated coveralls. Now sometimes it can be intriguing to imagine what certain individuals wear under their outer clothes, but not the individuals in this particular program and that is the precise point when I turned to my research skills. I sometimes tell my college students that “what I am about to tell them is worth the cost of admission in and of itself.” I believe that is the case here as well if you are struggling to stay warm. Here it is.
Another essential piece of cold-weather gear is:
- A Good Base Layer
A good base layer will fit snuggly against your skin and will wick moisture away while also providing the essential, initial insulation of your body warmth. It is the first and also perhaps most essential aspect of staying warm in cold weather. Ever notice how downhill skiers aren’t wearing bulky outer garments even though the wind chill when skiing is 80 below? It is because they are wearing a base layer that covers everything from their feet to their head. I have a base layer used by many professional skiers and it has one hole in it – a hole for your mouth so that you can breathe. Base layers also come in various materials, can be one-piece or two piece, and also vary in the amount of insulation provided. My favorite base layer is Land’s End Crew Neck Expedition Thermaskin Long Underwear (again to compensation received for mentioning them).
Here in Alabama, these two layers are usually enough for me. In fact, I don’t wear my insulated coveralls unless the temperature is going to be 38 degrees or lower. However, at other times, even here in Alabama, the temps can dig into the twenties or teens – and sometimes into single-digits. When these situations arise, I turn to the third essential piece of gear:
- A Good Mid-Layer
A good mid-layer will also insulate while wicking moisture away from your body. I personally prefer a fleece mid-layer. I became a fan of fleece while whitewater rafting in Montana. What I learned is that fleece’s insulating properties stay intact – even when it is wet. I use a polyester fleece because it is inexpensive, has excellent moisture-wicking properties, dries quickly, and is much less expensive than other options.
When I was trying to stay warm in cold weather previous to my enlightenment, I used to think that the secret to staying warm is in layering – and it is. However, I would wear two or three shirts, a sweater, and two jackets. After my enlightenment, I learned that even in the coldest weather you only need three specific layers as outlined above.
Further, when I was cold-weather ignorant, I truly believed that insulated boots were a marketing gimmick. They are not. I used to try to insulate my feet by wearing three or four pairs of socks and regular warm-weather hiking boots. Bad idea. What I learned is that not only does this not work, but it also impedes blood circulation which only serves to exacerbate cold feet. I learned that in cold weather, your feet need plenty of room for good circulation. I further learned that insulation is as important for boots as it is for coveralls. I went out and bought me a quality pair of 800-gram insulated boots. My feet haven’t been cold since. I now have a pair of 1000-gram insulated boots that I wear in the late season. I also have a pair of Glacier ice-fishing boots when it gets “sure enough” cold.
Not only are boots important, but so are socks. In temps above about 25 I have found that one pair of good socks is all that I need. I personally prefer Cabela’s Extreme Cold Mid-Calf Wool Socks. Now, if it is below about 25 degrees, I will also wear a pair of Cabela’s Mid-Calf Polypropylene Sock Liners. Cold feet problem solved with the fourth essential piece of cold-weather gear.
- Insulated Hunting Boots combined with wool socks and sock liners.
If I am honest, and at my age there is no reason not to be, the one area in which I continue to struggle is keeping my hands warm. I have small, skinny hands and they get cold quickly. I have tried every type of insulated glove on the market (OK, not all of them – but most of them) and they have simply not worked for me. The best thing I have found for keeping my hands warm is “Hot Hands.” I open up the pack while eating breakfast in the morning and give them a vigorous shake. By the time I am ready to get in the truck they are warmed up and ready to go. I actually put them inside my gloves. I have found that by doing this, I can wear thinner gloves that don’t interfere with my trigger finger. I also place a pair of “Hot Hands” body warmers inside the kidney pockets of my Guide Gear insulated coveralls. That way, I can simply put my hands in my pocket every half-hour or so and keep my hands warm. Thus, another piece of cold-weather gear is:
- “Hot Hands” Hand and Body Warmers
Now, all of this gear will keep your body warm, but I have said nothing yet about the body’s Grand Central Station – the head and brain. It does me no good if my body stays warm, but my head gets so cold that I can’t think straight. Under most conditions here in Alabama, a good wool beanie cap will suffice – especially since I almost always use a camo head covering for concealment. However, when the temps drop below about 25 – and especially if the wind is blowing, I wear a quality balaclava under my beanie cap. My Guide Gear insulated coveralls also have a insulated removeable hood with a drawstring. If I wear a balaclava underneath my insulated hood my head stays warm even in the coldest weather and I will think clearly. Thus, the final piece of essential cold-weather gear is:
- A Beanie Cap and Balaclava
There you have it – how I have learned to stay warm even in the coldest weather. It is my sincere desire that if you have been struggling to stay warm while hunting that you will learn from my mistakes and experience.
Also, if you have comments or suggestions on how you have learned to stay warm, please share them. Your experiences are as valid as mine and I would love to hear from you!