Last week, I braved and escaped the extreme cold weather in Kansas as I spent another week on our hunting lease with my partners Jimmy Killian and Patrick Glenn.
It was the worst weather experience I’ve ever encountered. Sure, I’ve hunted there into December and even faced a blizzard there once, but the temperatures were never as low as last week.
The temperature was in the single digits and steady winds above 30 mph put the wind-chill as far down as 18 to 20 degrees below zero.
At one point it got so bad I spent an entire day in the house with nothing more than a crackling fire to keep me company while my two cohorts chose to brave the conditions.
Although we’re fortunate we don’t have to deal with such incredible lows here, properly dealing with the cold is still something hunters have to be aware of if they plan on heading to the woods. After all, this sport is supposed to be fun.
Surviving or, better yet, thriving in the cold is not complicated, but it’s an area that many people, including hardcore hunters, don’t clearly understand.
Knowing how to stay warm has many applications besides the hunting world. Your job may require you to spend hours outside. You might have chores around the house that force you to be out or it could just be that you’re attending a football game.
No matter the reason, a low reading on the thermometer doesn’t bring the world to a halt. Life goes on and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t, too.
As a kid, I can remember hating how my mother made me put on a big winter coat over my Halloween costume each year. What’s the point of dressing up if you’re just going to cover it with something you wear all of the time?
Ever see Frankenstein’s monster in an L.L. Bean down coat? I didn’t.
The most important element in keeping your body temperature up is proper layering.
More than once I’ve had people ask me, “Do you have enough on?” or “Don’t you need a heavier coat?”
The answers are yes and no, respectively.
Because I take the time to put on the proper insulating layers, I’m able to spend the day with less bulk on my body and be warmer than those who look like an Eskimo.
If you think that I’m referring to pulling on an traditional pair of cotton long johns, you’re wrong. That’s the worst thing that you can have next to your body if you plan to be active during the day.
Even a small amount of activity will result in sweat and cotton soaks it up and retains the moisture. The result is that it actually makes you much colder because your layer has lost all of its insulating properties.
Polypropylene tops and bottoms have been around for a good while but only caught on in the past decade marketed by Nike and Under Armour. Offerings from these companies tend to carry a pretty hefty price but you can find similar products that will do the job for much less money.
Most of the big box stores and catalog companies even carry their own brands for half the price.
Worn tight and close to the skin, these man-made materials help to insulate by wicking sweat away from the body and allowing it to dissipate. Our hunting versions go a step further by incorporating odor killing properties such as infused silver, but this has no effect on body temperature.
In milder circumstances, this may be all that you need under your normal clothes. If it’s considerably colder, add another layer of them worn more loosely on top of the base.
These are called mid-weights and they’re designed as such. Purchasing a size larger than you usually would often works best.
Top it all off with your street clothes and you’re ready to go.
Nothing will start your teeth chattering quicker than the wind. It’ll cut through any piece of clothing that’s not windproof. Look for jackets and coats that are specifically labeled as wind stoppers and you’ll be amazed at how much warmer you’ll be even if the clothing isn’t heavily insulated.
I wear more windproof fleece when I’m out than anything else.
Some days I use a heavy pullover but, often you’ll catch me in just a fleece vest. It may not look like much but it does a great job of keeping my core temperature up.
If you’re sitting in a treestand, going to a ballgame or sitting outside for several hours without much activity, you’ll need to go heavier. Try a good set of insulated bibs with a matching jacket and you’ll be fine.
Remember the old rubber-like, plastic raincoats we wore as youngsters? They are the worst thing you can put on your body in inclement weather. Again, sweat is the enemy.
Though more expensive, a good quality waterproof, breathable outer shell is the way to go. Gore-Tex material is considered to be the best but it also carries the highest price, with jackets costing $300 and more.
There are numerous others out there that do just as good of a job for far less.
Don’t get too caught up in a name.
Head, hands and feet
Protecting your head is not hard but is often overlooked. If it’s really cold, don’t wear that old knit toboggan. Stay with something made of windproof, acrylic fleece and your ears will thank you.
There are tons of different styles and models out there but you’d be better off going into a specialty store or section. Hats specifically designed for hunting or skiing are best.
Imagine going through life without any fingers. Still, people skimp in this area of protection more than anywhere else. If you plan to be out in the cold, forget the gloves and go with high-tech mittens.
Warmer than gloves, mittens also allow you to use disposable chemical hand-warmers found most anywhere including the discount chains and convenience stores. They’re cheap, last for hours and make your hands get downright hot at times.
Any deer hunter will tell you that a treestand is only comfortable for as long as his feet are warm. Once those toes go cold, the hunt is over.
Although insulated boots help a great deal, the most effective way to protect your tootsies is, once again, layering.
A sock liner will do wonders. You can get them in poly or even silk and they’re so thin that you won’t even know they are there. Just add a heavy wool sock or two and you’re set.
I can assure you that, if you’ll just follow these tips, you’ll find winter to be a lot more tolerable and your trips outdoors to be far more enjoyable.
Brad Harvey is a freelance writer in Clover. Visit his website at www.bradharveyoutdoors.com or follow on Twitter @BHarveyOutdoors.