Here are tips to keep you warm and dry while you're hunting

rphillips@idahostatesman.comSeptember 12, 2013 

Winter duck hunt.JPG

Hunting means spending long hours outdoors in tough weather, and proper clothes will keep you comfortable.

Staying warm, dry and comfortable can be as important as sighting in your rifle because if you’re cold, wet and shivering, you’re probably not going to be an effective hunter.

Modern hunting clothing has come a long way from cotton and canvas. In recent years, hunting companies have borrowed fabric and technology from other sports, such as mountaineering and skiing, and adapted them make high-tech camo.

There’s good selection of hunting clothes available, but don’t feel like you have to stick to the camo aisle to find suitable hunting clothes.

If you participate in other cold-weather sports, you already have a lot of what you need. Just add some camo and you’re ready to hunt.

ESTABLISH YOUR BASE

Comfort starts with a good base layer, which is a fancy term for long johns.

But forget those old waffle-textured cotton long johns. Their time has passed.

Your base layer may be the most important because you can wear it every day unless it’s unseasonably warm.

Your best options for long underwear are synthetic or wool. Don’t bother with cotton because it loses all insulating ability and will actually make you colder when wet.

Synthetic underwear (which is typically polyester or polypropylene) is reasonably priced and wicks moisture well, which means as you generate heat and sweat, the fabric draws dampness away from your skin and keeps you dry.

Synthetic fabric isn’t perfect. It doesn’t feel as warm against the skin as wool, and it can feel chilly if you’re not moving and generating body heat. Synthetic fabrics also tend to retain body odor, which isn’t good in hunting camp.

Modern merino wool is soft and incredibly warm, even when damp, and comfortable in a wide range of temperatures.

Wool doesn’t wick moisture as well as synthetic fabric, but it tends to feel warmer when damp. It’s also better at fending off body odor, so you can wear it for days without it stinking.

Wool is very durable, and you can machine-wash and dry it (unlike old-school wool), although hang-drying is often recommended.

The downside is it’s expensive, but consider it a long-term investment.

Long underwear is typically sold in light-, mid- and heavy- weight fabrics. If you’re going to be hiking, avoid heavyweight because you will overheat and sweat, even in really cold temps.

If you’re doing a lot of hiking, say chukar hunting or hiking in steep country for big game, go with light- or mid- weight fabric because you will be producing a lot of body heat, and lighter weights breathe better.

BUILDING ON YOUR BASE

This is where things get tricky because what you wear over your base depends on how cold it is; whether it’s raining, snowing or windy; and your physical activity.

Most hunting falls into a few basic categories:

• Active: Upland bird hunting and big game hunting where you’re doing lots of hiking.

• Moderate: Stop-and-go activities where you’re hiking and waiting; or hunting for big game where you’re slowly stalking and not producing much body heat.

• Sedentary: Duck and goose hunting, where you’re mostly sitting in a blind and waiting.

SECOND LAYER

The next layer is either more insulation between your base layer and a weatherproof jacket or something to wear over your base layer if weather is mild.

Remember, the goal with second layer is adding warmth and some weather protection with minimal bulk that won’t interfere with shooting.

You’re also trying to avoid overheating, which will cause you to sweat. Any moisture that soaks into your clothes will lower its insulating ability regardless of what material it is.

A fleece jacket is a good option for a second layer because it’s warm, breathable and quiet. Other options are a down sweater or a synthetic-fill “puffy” jacket.

You can also wear a vest (think of it as a half layer), which will keep your core warm but is less bulky than a sweater or jacket.

A good option is a down vest that stuffs into its own pocket, which makes it really compact to stuff into a day pack or an upland game vest.

You can do the same with a fleece vest with a small stuff sack or even a stout zip-top plastic bag.

KNOW YOUR INSULATION

Fleece is ubiquitous and found in camo for hunters. It’s a favorite because it’s warm, breathable, wicks moisture, provides some warmth when wet and is inexpensive. “Windstopper” fleece also does as the name states, but is typically more expensive.

Polyester fill, which is the stuffing inside puffy coats that aren’t down, isn’t as warm as down, and it’s heavier and/or bulkier. But synthetic fill insulates when wet, and it’s much cheaper than down.

Goose down has the highest warmth-to-weight ratio of any insulation and is excellent for extreme cold or when you’re sedentary.

But it’s expensive and provides little or no insulation when saturated. Down is rated by fill weight; the higher the number, the better it insulates, and the more it costs.

Down jackets and vests are often built with thin outer fabric to be lightweight, and they can snag or tear in the brush. You will probably want to wear down as a mid layer with another layer over it.

OUTER LAYER

When weather turns nasty, you will want to add a waterproof/breathable jacket, or “hard shell” as they’re often called, or its counterpart — a “soft shell.”

The difference between the two is subtle but important.

A hard shell is typically fully waterproof, and most brands use waterproof and breathable fabric.

They provide full protection from wet weather, but most still let some heat and sweat out to prevent condensation inside the jacket.

Waterproof/breathable jackets are typically best for prolonged periods in wet weather and/or moderate or sedentary activities.

They’re warmer because less heat escapes than with a more-breathable soft shell, but you will get some dampness inside if you’re working hard.

Soft shells are waterresistant instead of water proof, but more breathable. The tradeoff is you won’t build up sweat inside that will make you chilly and clammy, but water will seep through the soft-shell fabric during a prolonged rainstorm.

Softshells are often well-suited for Idaho’s drier climates because you’re rarely going to be in an extended rainstorm, but you will usually be sweating, even when it’s cold.

Some hunters hedge their bets by wearing a soft shell most of the time, and having a lightweight, waterproof jacket as a backup in case the weather really gets nasty. But then you’re buying and carrying two jackets while hunting.

PANTS

Pretty much the same principles apply for pants, but most hunters opt for just a base layer and pants.

One of the challenges of hunting pants is finding a pair that isn’t made out of cotton. If you can’t part with your camo denim jeans, wear a good base layer under them and go for it.

Denim is durable, comfortable and inexpensive. Just don’t get soaked or you’re going to be cold and possibly hypothermic.

When cold, wet weather arrives, you’re going to want something better.

Hunters love old-school wool pants because they are warm, rugged and quiet, but they weigh a ton when they get wet, and they take forever to dry.

A good base layer and/or pair of fleece pants beneath waterproof, breathable rain pants will keep you hunting in almost any weather.

Roger Phillips: 377-6215, Twitter: @rogeroutdoors

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