Surviving the season: dressing for the cold
The New York state firearms deer season in the Southern Zone, which encompasses most of the state, began in the middle of November and ended Dec. 9. During this period, hunters encountered a variety of weather conditions, not the least of which was cold weather. The last week of the season saw temperatures drop to the low teens and for several days it never got above freezing.
The regular firearms season may be over, but for many hunters, the late bowhunting and muzzleloader seasons are still options for filling another tag. Going out and staying there at this time of year requires that hunters know how to dress in order to conserve body heat while on stand. To hunt deer when cold weather is a fact of life means dressing in a manner commonly referred to as “layering.”
When getting dressed for cold weather deer hunting, the first item of clothing I put on is what I still call “long underwear,” but is now what many call a base layer. The base layer should hug the contours of your body in order to wick away moisture, thereby keeping you warmer.
Base layer clothing is available in natural and synthetic fabrics and in blends such as polyester, silk and wool. Many base layers are designed to have four-way stretch and are offered in ascending fabric weights that accommodate varying levels of activity. The more expensive garments feature scent-absorbing technology and an antimicrobial treatment that provides extended-wear comfort.
Choosing the best fabric and style comes down to your personal preference, your level of anticipated outdoor activity and, of course, your pocketbook. Fabric choice is an important decision when choosing a base layer garment, and whether you go with a synthetic or natural material, it’s important that it wicks well (moves sweat off your skin). Keep in mind the fabric has to be in direct contact with your skin to do its job, so you want a snug fit.
In my opinion, garments containing a blend of Merino wool and spandex are the best. Because of its soft, ultrafine fibers, Merino wool has almost completely replaced traditional wool in cold weather undergarments, thanks to its soft, ultrafine fibers. A base layer shirt or pant, when blended with Merino wool and spandex, enhances both fit and flexibility.
For my next layer, I choose a modern, thin, lightweight vest that features an inside layer that reflects and retains body heat. Over that I slip on a fleece layer that’s worn more loosely than the base layer. The fleece layer is worn semi-fitted and is meant to provide additional warmth while still maintaining breathability. I prefer fleece due to its brushed softness and the different weights I can choose, depending on the anticipated temperature on the day I hunt. I have fleece shirts and pullovers that vary in style from 1/4-zip pullovers to full-zip jackets, and one is even zip-in compatible with my heavier parka. The mid-layer works in conjunction with the base layer and helps to trap heat. If the weather is really cold I like to double up my mid-layer and, if needed, I can remove it altogether if I’m overheating.
The final layer is a protective outer jacket worn over the insulating under layers that defends me from the penetrating, chilling effects of wind, rain or snow. The outer coat’s ability to guard against moisture is a major consideration to safety in extreme cold weather conditions. I have a down-insulated outer coat that has a water repellent finish, and over the years it has never let me down regardless of the harsh weather conditions I’ve faced – even when ice fishing. An outerwear garment’s level of water protection is defined by the specific treatment applied or bonded to the fabric weave for varying degrees of water protection. Knowing the different levels helps ensure you’re wearing the best type for your winter outdoor activity.
A water-repellent garment features tightly woven and sometimes chemically treated fabric with a durable water-repellent (DWR) finish. A garment with a DWR finish provides minimal protection against rain and snow, and if it becomes saturated it loses its effectiveness.
A water-resistant garment is similar to one with water-repellent fabric, but resists water saturation for longer periods of time before losing its effectiveness.
An outer coat labeled as waterproof will maintain its water protection properties even after prolonged exposure to rain, sleet or snow. These garments almost always contain an inner layer of a specialized laminate such as Gore-Tex or Omni-Dry. These laminates reduce fabric pores so they’re smaller than a drop of water, but still larger than a water vapor molecule. The effect is a waterproof yet breathable garment.
Today, I seldom see a hunter in the woods wearing the traditional plaid Woolrich hunting jacket – it seems those days may be long gone. Modern material used for outdoor clothing, is in my opinion, superior to the wool jackets used by hunters for generations. Layering is the key to comfort, but whatever clothing you choose, steer clear of cotton, which retains moisture, draws heat away from your body and tends to cause chafing when wet. That’s not good and it’s almost a sure bet it will ruin a hunt.