January 18, 2024
We’ve all been there. First the toes and fingertips start to tingle, and we know it won’t be long before the rest of our body starts complaining. The uncontrollable shakes, numb appendages and pain aren't far off. Shortly after those set in, we’re done. The hunt we’d so looked forward to has succumbed to the cold.
There are a couple ways our bodies can lose heat. The first is due to cold-exposed body parts like hands, arms, neck and head. More often, however, exposure isn't the main culprit, as savvy outdoorsmen know to keep these areas covered when temps plummet.
The second way—and the more common one among hunters—is due to sweating. Our bodies sweat in response to physical exertion, like walking to a tree stand while bundled up in heavily insulated apparel, and sweat serves as a heat conductor (some 24 times faster than air), pulling it from the body.
Cotton is one of our most comfortable fabrics, but it is a horrid choice for cold weather. Cotton has an open fiber, with voids that can fill with moisture (sweat) and trap it against the skin, which draws warmth away from the body quickly. When trying to stay warm while active, steer away from cotton.
The key to staying warm is to have a good base layer such as merino wool. This natural fiber wicks sweat away from your skin, minimizing its ability to suck heat from the body. Merino is also extremely odor resistant—a plus when hunting critters with sharp noses.
Adding a quality mid-layer, such as fleece, is critical, too. Fleece is a synthetic fiber, manufactured from polyethylene terephthalate, and it's a great insulator with a bit of wicking action. If you're prone to getting cold easily, an insulated layer that creates loft (dead air space), like those filled with PrimaLoft, is a good idea. PrimaLoft a down-like synthetic fiber that has similar warmth and weight characteristics as goose down, but with better water resistance.
Lastly, your outer layer, sometimes called the "shell," should offer you protection from the wind, rain and snow. This garment should be large enough to wear over all the other layers. It should be relatively loose fitting and easy to slip into. A hood is always a nice option on this garment as it protects the juncture of your head and neck.
If hunting in extreme cold, you may want to check out one of the many "heater suits." These are worn over your hunting clothes and can be an excellent option for those who never seem to be warm enough. ArcticShield markets a Body Insulator that is essentially a sleeping bag for treestands and shooting houses. Heater Body Suit has a similar version, as does IWOM Outerwear.
Anyone who has spent even the most abbreviated amount of time in the bitter cold knows that the feet and hands are the first to get chilled. This is due to the way our bodies respond to cold. When sensing cold, the body restricts the flow of blood to the extremities (i.e., arms and legs). This automatic response is the body bracing for survival by keeping the brain and vital organs warm. Sadly, our hands and feet suffer.
Mittens are the best way to keep your hands warm. They outperform gloves since the fingers produce more heat collectively (when touching each other) than when they're separated in gloves. If you insist on wearing gloves due to their improved dexterity, wear mittens over your gloves. When you need to manipulate something, like a bow release or rifle trigger, remove the mitten on your shooting hand.
To keep the feet warm, opt for a breathable pair of wool socks for the base layer if walking any distance. Once at your destination, plan on changing them out for a dry pair. As mentioned earlier, steer clear of cotton socks.
Wear a quality boot, whether that be rubber, neoprene or a high-performance fabric. Rubber keeps moisture (water) and wind off your feet but it has next to no thermal-insulating properties, so opt for those with at least 200 grams of insulation. If you want to minimize your foot perspiration, give a foot antiperspirant a try. If you plan on hunting in extreme cold, consider a pair of "boot blankets," which are designed to fit over your hunting boots, keeping heat in and cold out.
Wearing a warm hat or beanie is the best way to keep your head warm. A neck gaiter can help retain your core temperature, too. For years, we’ve all heard that we lose most of our core body heat from our head.
Part of this "myth" can be traced back to an old U.S. Army Field Manual (from a study done in the 1950s) that claimed "40 to 45 percent of body heat" is lost from the head. Over the years, that percentage grew, as did the myth. In 2008, the British Medical Journal published a study that showed we only lose between 7 and 10 percent of our body heat through our heads.
Evidently, the loss isn’t as significant as once thought. However, your face and head are more sensitive to cool temperatures than other parts of the body, which is why they "feel" colder. So, do yourself a favor and cover them up, especially when the wind is whipping.