As a long-time Minnesota resident and lifelong duck hunter, Mark Brendemuehl knows a thing or two about cold weather. He's hunted in sub-zero temperatures on countless occasions and he's a regular visitor to North Dakota, where a cup of hot water tossed into the air can freeze before it hits the ground.
"One of the most important things is to not overheat," says Brendemuehl, a territory manager for Avery Outdoors. "If you sweat on your way to the blind or while you are setting decoys, you'll be cold the rest of the day no matter how many clothes you have on."
He'll start the day with a hearty breakfast and snack throughout the day. Food is energy and energy is heat. Brendemuehl drinks lots of water, too, even if he doesn't feel thirsty.
Most important, though, he'll dress for the weather from head to toe. And the old conventions of dressing for the weather are gone, replaced by better fabrics and new technology. This ain't your grandpa's duck-hunting clothing anymore.
Then: Cotton socks, wool socks
Now: Polypropylene socks, acrylic socks, battery-powered socks, socks with built-in hand warmer pockets
Brendemuehl wears a single pair of heavy wool socks. Wearing too many socks can constrict blood flow to the feet.
Then: Wool gloves, cotton gloves.
Now: Gore-Tex and neoprene gloves, disposable hand warmers.
"Hands are the hardest things to keep warm, especially duck hunting, because you are always getting wet," says Brendemuehl.
Instead of relying on gloves, he uses an Avery fleece waist-belt muff with a couple of disposable hand warmers in it. He also prefers elbow-length, heavy rubber gloves when he's picking up decoys from water.
Then: Thin canvas or dry-rotted rubber waders.
Now: Fitted, insulated neoprene waders lined with 2,000-gram Thinsulate.
"There's no faster way to ruin a hunt than to find out your waders leak after you've gotten to your spot. Check before you leave home," says Brendemuehl.
Then: Cotton T-shirts, one-piece union suits, cotton/polyester long johns.
Now: Under Armor Cold Gear, polypropylene long underwear.
Brendemuehl starts with a layer of Under Armor Cold Gear on top and bottom. He doesn't like the tight fit typical of UA gear, so he buys it a size too big.
Then: Wool shirt, chamois shirt, blue jeans, canvas pants.
Now: Wool shirt, heavy hooded sweatshirt, Cabela's Windshear sweater, polypropylene long underwear.
"I put a pair of polypro pants and a hooded sweatshirt over my Under Armor and then I usually wear a pair of BDU-style pants under my bibs," says Brendemuehl.
Then: Down jackets, wool jackets, canvas jackets, as many jackets as you owned.
Now: Gore-Tex shells, Game Hide polyester-insulated 3-in-1 jackets, insulated bib overalls.
"I don't even wear my jacket when I'm setting out decoys or walking in. I do everything I can to keep from sweating," says Brendemuehl.
Then: Wool stocking cap, Elmer Fudd-type hat with ear flaps.
Now: Wind-proof fleece skull cap, fleece neck gaiter.
Place a hand warmer inside your hat, or put one over each artery on your neck. Keeping your head warm helps keep the rest of your body warm.