Layering for the cold is a necessity, especially for hunters this time of year. Here's Will Jenkins from TheWillToHunt.com with some tips.
If you grew up hunting like me, layering meant plenty of waffle pattern long johns, flannel and denim. Once you were layered up you could barely move and your walk to a stand often made you sweaty, and despite a ridiculous number of layers you still froze.
Today, there is a plethora of natural and synthetic fabrics that make layering much more effective and comfortable.
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When choosing your fabric, you'll need to consider your hunting style and the environment you hunt in. You may find that a mix of natural and synthetic materials fit your style perfectly, or maybe you'll prefer all synthetics. I wanted to go through a little information that should help you make your decision.
Today's latest synthetic fabrics have great breathability and moisture wicking properties. They are also amazingly silky and comfortable during long walks or long sits.
The drawback is they stink. Literally. If you work up any sweat, no matter the claims of the manufacturer, they will stink.
That said if you're going on day hunts and don't mind washing frequently, synthetics can be the ticket for you. There are loads of brands out there but I've had the best experience with PolarMax or XGO synthetic products. They are based in North Carolina, make everything here in the USA and have great quality control.
When I say natural, I really just mean wool, and more specifically merino wool. It's a wonder fabric! It's not itchy like your memories of that old wool scarf; it's comfortable, retains heat well even when wet, wicks moisture well and best of all it doesn't stink. If you go on backpack hunts you'll want merino at least as your next-to-skin layer.
The merino market has exploded with companies like KUIU, First Lite Gear, Ice Breaker and Minus33. In my experience KUIU and First Lite should be your go-to brands for hunting because they were engineered for the sport and tend to be more durable.
So now that we went over the basics of the two, I'll give you my strategy for hunting in comfort with layers.
Your outer shell or jacket can make all the difference, but we'll start with what goes between skin and shell. I recommend, no matter what your hunting preference is, that you use a pair of merino boxers and a t-shirt. It does wonders for scent control.
If you're backpacking or on the move a lot, go with merino layers all the way. They come in various weights and you can easily design a system of layers that keep you warm and comfortable.
If you aren't going to be moving much I'd start with a merino t-shirt and boxers, add a lightweight merino top and bottom, then put on a mid-weight synthetic and have an additional heavy synthetic to put on at your destination. For a heavy layer I've found nothing better than Carol Davis Sportswear. Their body sock is phenomenal at retaining heat and being comfortable at a great price.
I've focused a lot on merino wool, but after my last two backpack hunts, spending five days during each in varying temperatures from the teens to the 80's, the merino layers rarely left me uncomfortable or cold. Keep in mind that's no shower for five days as well, and while I didn't smell great, the merino didn't stink at all. I've found these layers to be incredible when treestand hunting as well.
Synthetics have their place, but in my opinion, it isn't on your skin. If you already own a bunch of synthetics, start adding some merino wool as your first layer or two and you'll see a difference no matter what.
Follow those with some heavier synthetics or wool, and a PrimaLoft or down jacket as the temperature drops, and you'll be comfortable, scentless, and ready for whatever this polar vortex sends your way.
Related story: Read about the polar vortex and how it's affecting deer herds.