A living portrait is painted every morning, as every hunter knows. The darkness gives way to the slow amber glow of the sun coming over the horizon. The squirrels churn from the nightly slumber. The birds take to the air searching for breakfast. The whitetail deer move gracefully from there night of running to the bed. The chill on ones face and the mist of breath can be seen in the cold air. Hunting truly does get into our DNA, as the cold creeps into our bones. This passion comes with sacrifice and one of them is dealing with hunting during cold weather.
Everyone knows that we humans can go roughly 3 weeks without food, 3 days without water. But, few realize that in just 3 hours hypothermia can affect us. It actually takes an estimated 1,500 people each year in the United States. Though, few hunters in the Midwest fall prey to this. The body mechanism’s which keep this from happening usually puts a damper on the hunter during the drop in mercury (digital today).
The Human body regulates its temperature around 98.6 degrees. It does this through several mechanics, which is too long for this article. For human’s we have come to rely upon garments to assist us in regulating the corps body temperature. Generations of hunters have struggled with this, and a whole industry has sprouted to address a more effective way to accomplish this with lighter and thinner wardrobe. But, the most effective way to pursue our passion in lower temperature is by a system of “layering”. Below, I will go from foot to head on some suggestions that may help fellow hunters when afield.
Feet- When your feet get cold, you must move. Your body is trying to protect itself. One of the biggest mistakes I have seen hunters make over the decades is wearing too tight of a boot. The key thing is to keep some “wiggle” room in your boot, to warm the air inside which in turn will keep your “tootsies” warm. I personally have several different boots for the temperature difference. For cold weather, I wear a Polypropylene sock (to draw moisture away from skin), then I wear a quality wool sock (70% wool). My boots have “thinsulate” of 1,000-1,200 grams. This seems to work down to -10. When it gets colder than that, I wear military cold weather boots (known as “Mickey Mouse” boots) which has a wool layer.
Tip- if your feet sweat a lot, an old trick is to apply “Mitchum” anti-perspiration to them, keeps them from sweating.
Lower body- From the waist down, I find multiple layers works most efficient. In the past I used polypropylene next to my skin, in past 5 years, I have worn “wool power” wool long johns, wicks moisture away and keeps heat close, over them I wear a cheap pair of “modern” Long johns made of synthetic material, which acts as a layer to wick moisture away further and retard heat loss. As an outer Garment, bibs are the way to go. They circulate warmth between upper and lower body and keep the “gap” of the lower back from happening. I am a big fan of wool (would take another article to explain why). I love my bibs to have leg zippers. This way I can “ventilate” on the way in to keep from over-heating (more on that later).
Upper body- From the waist up, I layer in the same way as I do with lower body. Though I often wear a polypropylene layer next to my skin first (most people sweat from the corps first, so this takes more moisture away), then the wool. I will then have a pullover (wool), then if needed I will wear a vest. Many people underestimate the value of the vest, in keeping the corps warm but allowing arms to have less bulk (if using firearm, I would suggest a jacket-parka design, as you have less worry of bulk). Tip- on those windy days, use a golfer’s trick. If you have a golfer wind shirt, put that on then your outer garment. This will assist in keeping the wind out, and you can hang out in that precious warm air pocket you’ve created.
Neck- this is the area a lot of people forget about. A neck warmer does wonders in warming the blood going to the head. It will keep you warmer. This is why the Balaclava has become more popular in that it encloses the head and neck. I wear a poly one around my neck on cold days.
Tip- do not place this in a pocket walking in. Place in between your chest outer layer and undergarment, so it nice and toasty once used.
Face- here is where we get to personal preference more or less as we are all little different. I wear a poly face mask, when it gets cold; I pull my neck gaiter up to help keep my face warm. The popular ski mask works wonders, the key is the keep the nose from “running” away (it runs as the body is trying to warm the cold air as it comes in).
Tip- I wear my poly face mask, then cut ear holes in the “ski” mask, so I could still hear movement well.
Head- old saying “to keep your feet warm put on a hat”, many people know that 80% of body heat is loss from head and neck. A wool hat for me does wonders in keeping my head warm.
Hands- I saved this for last, as I have seen a lot of hunters struggle with this. The hands like the face are often over looked from the benefits of layering. Gloves get bulkier and dexterity drops and the hands still get cold. I use a pair of glove inserts. I have found the green military wool ones to be awesome, but for the last 5 years I've used a pair of “serius” inserts that work, with less bulk. I then put on a pair of “mechanix” gloves, to stop the wind. This works for me, but when it drops down to sub zero, you will not be able to beat a good “hand warmer” that can be worn around your waist or inside bibs.
Tip- when hands start to get cold, ball up your fist and squeeze tight, this isometric action circulates the blood and provides warmth.
Stomach- What? Many people also over estimate the benefit of having food in the “tummy”. The body will digest it and provide warmth. I do not advocate eating a dozen eggs and 5 pancakes (which will cause other issues, wink). But a bowl of oatmeal or a peanut butter/honey sandwich will go a long way; an hour after the sun comes up.
Tip- leave the sugar in the jar, use honey. The body burns honey more slowly and it last longer in the system.
Sweat- this is a big one as well. When you have a little trex to the “stand” opt for carrying in a layer or two (remember Ventilation). This will keep you from overheating and sweating. When you are wet it takes three to four times longer to warm up (if at all). Start out with being cold, then when you get to where you hunt, finish dressing and you will be warmer longer.
Tip- this is where polypropylene and wool shine, as they draw sweat away from skin and keep you warm (wool is the only material that will keep you warm when wet).
These are just a few things that I wanted to share with many of my fellow members. There is much more and really many articles on each could be done and am sure members have even more “tips” to share. This is meant to be a basic guide to those struggling or starting out. It really is simple, stay dry, and keep the air you warmed inside the garments. Another old saying, “Cotton Kills” holds true today, this fabric has no insulating properties and this is why it is awesome in the summer. If this is all you have fine, just get a good base layer to draw moisture away. A word of warning, “Listen to your body”! When you begin to shiver, that is your body telling you I need to warm up; do it. Isometrics when on “stand” works wonders, a slow climb (safely) up/down your tree stand works like a truck heater. Do not try and tough it out, it is suppose to be fun remember.
In closing, I hope everyone has a safe, wonderful season. Remember, the hunt is more than just the harvest. I hope you find some of these tips useful.
Stay dry/stay warm,
Todd R. Mendenhall