Late-season hunting isn’t for the faint of heart. Trekking through the woods, spending hours in a treestand, or trudging through swampy reeds in freezing temperatures will test even the most seasoned hunters. Winter hunts bring special challenges as well as unforgettable experiences. You’ll need to consider your weapon, what you choose to carry, and especially what you wear. While it may be easy to just say, “layer up,” different types of hunting expose you to the elements in unique ways. For example, treestand hunters are mostly stationary. They need to layer but don’t have the same need for a range of motion. Spot and stalk hunters spend stretches of time hiking and need clothes that are removable when activity is high. Waterfowl hunters are particularly susceptible to wind and cold because they are near and often in water. The basic components of each layering system are the same, but let’s consider what differences you might encounter when you head into that snow-covered world.
Treestand hunting is a quiet, patient sport. You will likely spend hours sitting high in the trees on a cold metal seat. Higher in the sky, you’ll contend with increased wind, and the lack of movement means that whatever body part is exposed to that wind will continue to be exposed for hours on end. The need to be stationary means you won’t be changing out layers on a regular basis, so your outfit should reflect that and be comfortable and warm.
For your base layer, we recommend something of a heavier weight, this includes pants. Because there isn’t a great deal of movement involved, you don’t need to worry about sweat quite as much and can opt for that warmer layer. For the mid-layer, continue to choose a heavy fabric. You could even elect to choose multiple mid-layers including ones with and without sleeves for a comfortable range of motion. One of these layers should have a hood. The insulation layer in treestand hunting is unique because you won’t need to take it off and pack it. Because of this, you can choose a synthetic or down jacket. Your outer shell can be a combination of a hard shell and a set of bibs. Bibs are popular with treestand hunting because they are adjustable and can keep wind out of any gaps in the layering. Additional accessories should include windproof gloves (be sure they are trigger compatible), wool socks, a heavy hat, and a neck gaiter.
Spot and Stalk Hunting
Spot and stalk hunters experience long cycles of activity followed by equally long periods of stillness. Layering for this type of hunting needs to be easily added and removed. While hiking or following an animal, your body will inevitably sweat and overheat underneath too many layers. However, when stopping, or glassing, your body is likely to become cold if the layers are insufficient. In many ways, this layering replicates cold-weather hiking needs. All layers need to be conveniently removed and packed, quiet, durable, and breathable. This can be a tough balance to strike, so try different fabrics to see what works for you.
The base layer for spot and stalk hunters should be an active blend. You will be sweating at times, so be sure both the top and bottom layers are moisture-wicking. Your mid-layer should be a light zip-up fleece that can be vented if you are too warm. It should be sturdy but soft, as it will rub against your body as you walk. Be sure your insulation layer is packable so it can be removed when needed; down is a great material for this. It should also be windproof and preferably have a hood. For the outer shell, you may want multiple options. A windproof vest can be great for that high-activity time because it allows flexibility and venting while warming your core. We also recommend having a heavier outer shell that is breathable, quiet, and ideally packable. Outer shell pants should have waterproof knees and comfortable stretch. Your accessories should include an insulated hat, gloves, and heavy socks.
Of all the hunting types we’ve discussed, waterfowl hunting may be the coldest. Because you’ll be near or in water, and activity is lower than spot and stalk hunting, it can be tough to stay warm. You’ll want to be sure to incorporate both waterproof and windproof layers. If you have a bird dog, you may be less likely to go in the water, but you should be prepared to do so just in case.
A waterfowl hunter’s base layer needs to be heavier weight than other hunting types, moisture-wicking, and flexible. This layer should help to warm your core. It is important also to add this base layer under pants to keep your legs from becoming too cold. Much like treestand hunting, the mid-layer can and should be multiple layers. You’ll be able to take off and stash layers more easily, so don’t be afraid to put a few on. The insulation layer should be a slim profile jacket intended for layering. This layer won’t be removed, so be sure it allows for a full range of motion. Your outer layer is critical when waterfowl hunting. It needs to be both waterproof and windproof on the top and bottom; look for a high-quality shell. Be sure to add accessories like waterproof boots, waterproof pants or waders, and windproof gloves before heading out.
You might be looking at these lists and thinking, “That’s too much. I don’t need all of that,” but the cold isn’t something you should downplay. Layering up is the difference between having the hunt of your life and having to leave early because your hands are turning blue. Do your homework, spend time shopping for each piece, and stock up on the right gear. And when in doubt, follow every mom’s advice and double-check that all the zippers are zipped, and your hat is tugged over your ears before you leave. Remember this winter hunting trip for the right reasons, layer up.