Outdoors In Winter
Spending time outdoors in winter can be fun or it can be miserable. Whether or not it is fun or miserable depends on how well you are dressed to withstand the frigid temperatures that come with winter.
Hunting In Winter
I learned a lot about dressing for cold weather outdoors in winter from many days spent in duck blinds and in the softwood swamps and woods hunting snowshoe hare with rabbit hounds.
Cold Weather Rabbit Hunting
The latter experience, hunting with a rabbit hound, is particularly cold work. The season here usually runs through the fall until February. Trust me, some January days can be pretty brutal in the North Woods.
Rabbit hunting with beagles in winter can be colder than even duck and goose hunting. Waterfowl hunting usually means you are snuggled into a blind, that provides some comfort, or at least shelter from the wind, it gets cold, but I would argue that rabbit hunting can be colder.
Rabbit hunting with a beagle often requires you to stand completely still for long periods of time, as you wait for the rabbit to approach, chased by the dog.
Any movement, however slight, such as moving your cold feet or hands can turn the rabbit, and you don’t get a shot. So it’s important to be dressed appropriately and therefore be able to withstand the freezing cold without moving and scaring the game.
No, that is not me in the picture, that is legendary wabbit hunter Elmer Fudd. Elmer wasn’t a very successful rabbit hunter, but he always looked warm.
I freely admit, I spent a lot of miserable cold days afield before I figured this stuff out. But over time I learned what worked well for my winter hunting and other outdoor winter activities. I’ve been at this for awhile…
And no, that is not me in that picture either. C’mon I am not that old.
It’s very possible to be warm and comfortable on the coldest of days if you have the right winter clothes. To be clear, in this post I am talking mainly about hunting, hiking. If you are snowmobiling or riding an ATV there are other clothes perhaps better suited for those purposes, like one piece snowmobile suits for example. However, for hunting, these are the winter clothes I wear.
Keep The Heat In – Wear A Hat
First, and perhaps the most important aspect of your winter clothes is your head. We lose a great deal of heat from our heads, and ears, being an extremity of sorts, get cold quickly.
That is where a stocking hat is essential. Hats with ear muffs etc, are ok, but they will not keep you as warm as a stocking hat that can be pulled down over your head ears and neck. Just promise me you won’t wear it like this…pull it down!!
And yes…that is me in the picture.
Baseball style hats, while stylish no doubt, are not much good for cold weather unless you get one that is insulated and has decent ear flaps. They are good for keeping the sun out of your eyes. It’s best to wear one that has the flap all the way around the back to number one keep the back of your head and neck warm, and to help keep snow off your neck like this Blaze Orange Hat With Ear Flaps
I always wear a wool stocking cap that had full face coverage, with holes cut for my eyes, nose and mouth known as a “balaclava” like this High-Visibility BalaclavaIt could be rolled up if I didn’t need my face covered. You can always wear an hunter orange peaked cap over top of this if necessary to keep the sun out of your eyes.
One word of caution, when you go into the corner store on the way home, roll the balaclava up, or better yet, take it off. The last thing you want to do is walk in wearing one of these over your face…it won’t end well.
Layer Your Clothes
As any article on staying warm outdoors will tell you, it’s all about layering your winter clothes. You start with a base layer and add additional layers. This enables you to remove a layer if the temperature goes up midday and put it back on when the temperature drops again later in the afternoon.
The first layer should be long underwear. Good long underwear will add a layer of warmth in it’s own right. Once you put pants and a shirt on over top of it, you will be even warmer.
Underwear For Underneath It All
There have been many innovations in fabric and materials for long underwear, including fabrics that act like wool, which tend to keep moisture from your body and other space age fabrics that purport to add lots of warmth without being too bulky.
You can choose between either one piece “long johns” like this traditional “Union Suit” or pants and t-shirt style of underwear.
Personally, I like the one piece “uni-suit” long underwear because the bottoms of the two piece outfits tend to slide down over your hips when you are walking which can be annoying. Plus, and I know this for a fact, the women find a man in these red one piece union suits reaaaaallly sexy, which explains why Alleghany Al wears his all year….well not the same pair…I guess…
It’s kind of a personal decision, wear what will keep you warm, but be comfortable. These days there are lots of new fabrics like thermal underwear from Hanes.
I know that there are lots of new fabrics for socks, but for me, it’s hard to beat thick wool socks that come up high on your legs like these Smartwool Hunting Extra Heavy Over The Calf Sock If they are thick enough, one pair is usually enough. You need to carry a spare pair of socks with you that you can change into midday, or add over your first pair if it is really cold.
Pants. I have tried many different types of pants for cold weather. I firmly, steadfastly believe in heavy wool, sometimes called melton cloth pants like these L.L.Bean Maine Guide Wool Pant They are heavy, but quiet in the woods and will keep your legs and lower body warm while protecting you from brambles etc. Add suspenders to keep them up.
This type of pant can be hard to find, so failing that, as a second choice, I recommend a pair of cordroy pants with a lining. Jeans are my last choice for extreme cold weather, but you can get by with them provided you have good long underwear underneath. Nylon ski pants might be fine for skiing or ice fishing, snowmobiling etc, but I find that they are too noisy for hunting.
Shirts and Coats
On top of my torso, I wear a long sleeved t-shirt over my long underwear, then a wool or chamois cloth hunting shirt, then a sweater or sweatshirt if necessary and a down filled insulated vest. (layers remember) You can always take off the sweater if the temperature goes up.
Over those clothes I add my winter hunting coat, an insulated coat in a camo pattern, and over that, for rabbit hunting, my hunter orange vest.
I find winter coats with hoods are more of nuisance than an asset. Buy a good winter coat with lots of pockets and a removable hood, you can always attach the hood if you need it.
A coat that comes down over your hips is better for cold weather than a waist length jacket. You can get one in hunter orange or for duck hunting, a camo pattern, but regardless of the color, you can always put an orange vest over your winter coat to be legal and safe.
Winter Hunting Boots
When it comes to boots for cold weather, you need to consider a few requirements, firstly they should be waterproof and secondly they need to be insulated for freezing temperatures. Your feet will be your achilles heel (pardon the pun) in really cold weather, and once they get cold or worse, wet and cold, your done.
I swear by a pair of rubber-bottom-leather-upper boots for dry feet, warm feet, and comfortable walking. After trying insulated leather boots and rubber boots, I decided that combination was the best.
Buy a pair of winter boots with good insulation, or even better for cold weather, the kind that have full felt liners like these Sorel Men’s Caribou Boots They may look a little “clunky” but you will be glad you got them when the temperature drops. These are similar to snowmobile boots with the felt liners, but better for walking. I also recommend these Sorel Conquest Boots for winter hunting or outdoor activities.
As for your hands, vitally important for successful hunting, I have only one answer, “mittens”. Gloves are only good for milder temps or short term use. A good arrangement are combo mitts/gloves like these Hatch MG100 Mitten Re-Trak Glove which have a mitten cover that “flips” off to allow use of your individual fingers. You can also get mittens with a trigger finger, like these Leather Trigger Finger Mittens With Liner which are excellent for cold weather.
Choose Mittens Over Gloves
Regardless of the type you choose, choose mittens over gloves. You can always slip one off your trigger hand when the time comes for a shot. Either safety-pin them to your coat cuffs, or run a string from each mitt through your coat sleeves. You won’t lose one, and you can slip the mitt off your trigger hand when it comes time for the shot. Always carry a spare pair of mitts, and a good pair of gloves too, for milder days.
When it comes to gloves, I find a pair of leather gloves with a wool fabric liner quite serviceable, but again, not as good as mittens when the temperature really drops.
Although not “winter clothes” in the strictest sense of the word, I always carry a few of these Grabber Hand Warmers in my pockets during winter hunting excursions. These are great for warming your fingers and toes on the coldest of days. Remind me to tell you about the time Lonesome Larry tucked a couple of these into his speedo swimsuit to fight the dreaded ‘shrinkage’ before he dove into the cool waters of our cottage lake.
There you go, some ideas for winter clothes to help make your winter hunting or other outdoor activities comfortable. These days there are many types of excellent winter clothes available. The winter clothes I mentioned above are what have always worked well for me here in the Northeast.
It’s important to not scrimp on quality when you are purchasing winter clothes for outdoor activities. For example, a good warm shirt needs to be thick, long sleeved and hopefully with two button shirt pockets. There are lot’s of knock-off, less expensive clothes like this, but they are not as warm as the real thing.
Don’t forget your emergency kit, including waterproof matches, knife, first aid kit, compass etc, carry them and know how to use them. Other useful things to have in your pockets are some plastic grocery bags. I remember a hunting partner who discovered a hole in his rubber boot first thing in the morning. Thankfully a buddy had a plastic bag to put inside the boot, thus keeping his foot reasonably dry and able to enjoy the day.
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