Staying warm is about as basic as it gets. Everyone understands if you get cold, you’re not attentive, you won’t shoot well, and you often can’t finish the day. It is so fundamental, you would think most of us would do a better job of keeping temperate, when in fact, many don’t.
What makes us cold isn’t that we use bad equipment; it’s that we use our garments badly. Today’s gear has never been better, lighter and, in most cases, more affordable considering the value. If you’re cold when you’re waterfowling, then you’re simply doing it wrong.
In this piece, we will provide you a better understanding of what to choose, and how to wear it, to make sure you’re the last man standing.
Let’s start with your body. Your health is an immense factor in your ability to stay warm. Consider the following questions when you’re out in the marsh:
Are you out of shape? Do you sweat heavily? Are you overweight? Are you diabetic? Do you have poor blood circulation? The answers to each of these questions will weigh in on your ability to get and stay warm.
Time is also a factor. It’s really easy to stay warm for an hour or two. Pass two hours and the challenges increase dramatically. Trade up to three to four hours and you have arrived on a completely different hunt.
Older men, children and petite women also face challenges that a 190-pound, 35-year-old, 6-foot man with years of cold-weather exposure doesn’t. Their bodies are not used to the cold. They might need far more insulation and won’t have nearly the attention span and adrenalin-producing motivation you have.
Be sensitive to your guests, and remember, good hosts hunt for their guests, not themselves. If they get cold, get them warm quickly, or call it a day.
Perspiration is the constant culprit of bone-chilling cold. You must seriously manage it to stay warm. This is accomplished by not sweating in the first place, cooling your body when you’re active and choosing the right undergarments.
Start with the drive to the hunt. If you’re looking at an hour on the highway, dress lightly in your base layer or fleece in the truck. Don’t wear insulated boots, and never put on outerwear. Set the heat on low, and get your passengers on the same page. The goal is to arrive with warm skin and dry clothes.
If you’re looking at a long walk or wade to the blind, wear as little as possible on the trek. Be mindful of sweating. If you start sweating, slow down, take off your hat and remove layers of clothing.
When you get settled in, use a hand towel and make an effort to dry your skin. This will provide huge benefits, because your base layer has far less perspiration to displace.
Here’s where so many hunters cross into cold country. If you’re wearing anything you must struggle to put on, it’s simply going to make you colder.
Tight garments restrict blood flow. If you have gained a few pounds since you purchased your last pair of waders or jacket, then you’re probably getting colder more frequently than you used to.
A good rule is your clothing should slightly hang. If you fill the cut of the garment out, it’s most likely too snug.
The goal of your insulated clothing is to trap air, and if the insulation is squashed, then it can’t perform as designed. A great example is wearing two pairs of heavy socks. If you have to struggle to get your boots on, then the insulation created by the loft in the sock is compressed.
Yes, you have more insulation, but it’s so mashed together it no longer traps air. Add constriction of blood flow and the inability to have air dry out moisture and you have a formula that will send you back to the truck quicker than if you just wore one pair of socks that were half as thick.
This also translates to waders, jackets, pants and even fleece. If you’re squishing your clothing together, you will be colder more quickly than if you didn’t.
So, if you used to be a large and now you’re an extra-large, remember to size up. If you have freedom of movement and your clothing slightly hangs on your frame, you will stay far warmer than if you look like the Michelin man with twice the extra insulation.
What you choose to wear next to your skin might be the most important selection at the hunting closet. I’ve found that base layers thinner in construction often are more effective than thicker, lofty ones.
The goal of the base layer is to keep moisture away from your skin. There is no shortage of great base layers, and I’ve found most work exceptionally well, whether they are spun from merino wool or Polarguard. If the material is thinner, it will dry faster than it if it’s not.
Cotton has no place in the duck blind, especially not next to your skin.
Wading among the trees in freezing water is about as cold as it gets. You are completely immersed in frigid water, often up to your chest. These conditions will challenge anyone to stay warm for more than two hours.
This one of the few times 3.5 to 5mm neoprene boot-foot waders will be your only ticket to staying warm. However, they must fit slightly loose, and if you can’t freely wiggle your toes, your feet will be frozen in no time.
This is in contrast to most other wading you do, whether you’re picking up decoys or just getting to the blind. In most hunts, when you’re not immersed in deep water for long periods of time, you would be far better off with generously cut, breathable boot waders. The key is generously cut, and boot foots. In this case, I would choose a wader based on fit, before considering the durability and outer material construction.
Although stocking-foot waders are great when you have to walk for miles, your feet will eventually get cold because of the constriction of the laced wading shoes. Boot-foot waders trap air, and the breathable fabric displaces moisture. The result? You’ll stay warmer.
Realizing when the cold sets in before you get thoroughly chilled is also important. When you are chilled enough for you to shake or your teeth start to rattle, you have literally fallen into the early stages of hypothermia and must immediately call it a day.
The good news is that you most likely already own the right gear. Just make sure your fit is generous, manage your moisture output, and be sensitive to the needs of your less-experienced guests.
There are plenty of accessories that produce heat. You can get jackets with wired heating panels. Old standard charcoal heating pads and even propane blind heaters are options.
Here’s the bottom line. If you have the space and can take the time, a heavier, more complicated accessory like a small propane heater can be a magical way to take the chill off and can make the difference for someone who wants to spend all day in a blind.
Battery-powered clothing can make a comfortable difference for the person with less cold experience or less tolerance due to a physical challenge like a heart condition or diabetes. Just keep in mind, the items can be pricy, they require preplanning for charging, and they rarely last pass three hours. They are generally heavy and can really add up if you are packing in a long way.
Charcoal heating pads (chemical hand warmers) are a staple and can be the perfect tool for taking the edge off. However, they will only work if they stay dry, and be careful when placing them next to the skin. It’s best to have one layer between you and the pads.
Insole heating inserts (battery or charcoal) can help improve your comfort, but you must have the room for them in your boots. They need air to work effectively, and in most cases, you should go up one boot size.
When it comes to insulation, in the last few years, one has emerged as the best. It’s PrimaLoft. This stuff has been around longer than you might realize, but it continues to evolve in its efficiency.
Developed for the United States Army in the 1980s, PrimaLoft was originally designed as a synthetic down substitute. Since then, it has continued to be refined beyond basic insulations to specialty loft products and high-tech yarns. Today, many industry professionals regard the products as the benchmark in performance insulation.
Although used by small mountaineering companies at the start of the millennium, it was testing by the Special Forces that gave the company the infield performance proof.
During the last few years, the fibers have been adopted by the hunting industry’s top brands, including L.L. Bean, Browning, Sitka, Under Armour and Rocky, to name a few. These established premium clothing companies consider it to be the one most efficient, value-added, licensed insulation able to meet their design needs due to reduced weight versus volume, warmth and the crucial ability to perform when wet. If you’re buying a new piece of gear, you should consider this insulation.
Your clothing has to be clean to have loft and effectively displace moisture. Although you might not have gotten around to washing your favorite hunting shirt, the clothing next to your skin will certainly betray you if it has not been to the laundry.
It’s not enough to just wash your base layer and socks. You need to wash them in the right detergent, and that’s Sport Wash from Atsko. It will effectively and gently clean all your hunting clothing and leave no detergent residue behind. The result is a softer, loftier garment that can effectively do the job for which it was designed.
Use the same product for all your waterproof breathables. Wash them in warm water and finish them in a hot dryer. You will be amazed at the improvement in their waterproof performance and breathability.
Staying warm can be a task in mental confidence. One of the ways to stay on track is to always have something extra.
Whether it’s a heating pad, a neck gator, an extra pair of dry gloves or a fleece sweater stashed in your gear bag, just knowing there is something else to put on, mentally, is sometimes enough.