December 20, 2022
Most hunts—be they for whitetails, waterfowl or predators—require you to hide quietly and motionless for extended periods. That's rarely an easy thing to do, but it becomes even more challenging when temps dip into the teens or lower and winter winds are howling. The answer isn't to just go out and buy another jacket and hope your chattering teeth don't spook the game. It's to employ a system that provides prolonged comfort despite Arctic surroundings.
The system begins with your apparel. First and foremost, ditch anything that is made of cotton, which offers little in the way of insulation and protection, and is difficult to dry if it gets wet. Wool has a place in your socks, but despite its ability to keep you warm even when wet, wool clothes are generally heavy and bulky.
Begin with a base layer of polyester with a thickness rating matched to the conditions outside. Poly-based clothes wick moisture away from your body and dry quickly while transporting any moisture to outside layers. Cabela’s E.C.W.C.S. (Extended Cold Weather Clothing System) base layers, available in three weights, are solid options.
Next, add insulation. While traditional down is lightweight and extremely lofty for insulative purposes, if it gets wet it loses its properties and is hard to dry. You could turn to waterproof-treated down, but newer synthetic alternatives like Thinsulate, PrimaLoft and Polartec Alpha are better bets. These products are compressible and breathable, and they dry faster than down if they become wet. Jackets and liners with 100 to 200 grams of insulation are recommended.
Finally, you need to protect the insulation from outside moisture such as freezing rain or snow. Many synthetic insulations repel water, but protecting them with a waterproof, breathable shell completes your cold-weather clothing system. Gore-Tex is the leader in this category, but more affordable options include Cabela’s 4Most Dry-Plus. Your shell could include the insulation or be a separate, breathable layer.
Complete your ensemble with waterproof boots with up to 1,200 grams of toe insulation, warm gloves (you might even consider a battery-powered pair) and face, head and neck coverings for everything above your shoulders.
Your layering system will provide the foundation for your warmth, but you should also fuel up to stay warm. The average human diet revolves around an intake of approximately 2,000 calories per day. Dieticians recommend boosting that to 2,500 for inactive outdoor activities in cold weather, and military data supports an intake of up to 4,500 calories per day for soldiers in active winter operations.
You won’t need that many calories for sitting in a treestand or goose pit, but you can boost your diet with foods high in proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Your body converts these substances into energy, thus producing warmth. An equal amount of each in your cold-weather diet balances your warmth throughout the day. Carbohydrates convert to energy quickly. Proteins take a bit longer to break down and thus extend your warmth. Fats—the healthy kind—break down slowly and spread the energy release over a prolonged period.
Carbohydrate options include candy bars, but offset sweets with bread, pasta, oatmeal, dried fruit and energy bars. Think lean when choosing proteins. Eggs, nuts, venison (duh!) and chicken are great starters. For fats, you can’t go wrong with more nuts, but also consider avocados, cheese, dark chocolate and, of course, a fatty chunk of salami.
Drink warm concoctions like cocoa and coffee, but supplement with water to stay hydrated. Avoid a nip of whiskey until you’re back at camp for the obvious safety reasons, but also because alcohol can actually make you colder.
Beyond your clothing and diet, there are any number of products that can provide additional warmth. Everyone's familiar with hand and foot warmers that heat up when the iron filings and activated carbon inside are exposed to air and begin to oxidize. But think beyond just stuffing a couple in your coat pockets. One good trick is to position them over the small of your back by taping them to your base layer.
When sitting in a treestand in extreme cold, you can't go wrong with a Heater Body Suit. This sleeping bag-type suit adds another major layer of insulation, yet is simple to slip out of when it comes time to shoot.
Covering your head helps retain heat, but don't forget about your backside. There are many different warming cushions on the market, including those made of waterproof foam and others with insulated fillings that heat up over time.
A final option to consider when hunting in a groundblind or goose pit is a portable propane heater. Just be sure your enclosure has some amount of ventilation to allow carbon monoxide to escape.
Staying warm and staying out longer on any hunt is made easier with a system. Put one to use this winter and you’ll hardly notice the snow piling up on your jacket sleeves as you wait for those late-season bucks and ducks to arrive.