Every time I see an old black-and-white picture of hunters in the Midwest or Northeast, I can’t help but be impressed at the grit they must have had. The heavy wool plaid parkas, wool pants, tall lace-up pack boots, and leather gloves are a fraction of the resources we have today. Between weatherproof shells, down insulation, and merino baselayers, we have a lot more options. But if you’re riding out a late-season sit 20 feet in the air on a metal treestand, high-tech modern clothing alone isn’t going to save you. You’re going to need a well-thought-out approach to stay warm.
1. Avoid working up a sweat.
When it comes to battling the harsh elements of the late season, it isn’t just about choosing the right clothing. It’s about layering that clothing the right way, which starts with managing how much you sweat. The first thing you want to think about is how you’re planning to access your hunting spot. If you’re walking any distance at all, dress lighter than you think you need to.
Nothing creates a more miserable, cold, and potentially dangerous situation faster than working up a sweat and then sitting in damp clothing for an extended period of time. Instead of dressing in your warmest clothes to hike in, take off your jacket and pack multiple layers into your setup. That way you can add more clothing as needed throughout your hunt.
2. Start With Base Layers to Help Regulate Your Body Temperature
Merino wool base layer tops and bottoms are your best friends. You should be using them in your clothing system any time during hunting season, especially when temps drop. Merino wicks moisture away from your skin and dries quickly, helping regulate your body temperature. Your bottom half is relatively straightforward. First put on a lightweight merino base layer that fits against the skin then add a thicker midweight fleece or long nap fleece layer.
3. Use Outerwear To Protect Yourself From Cold Wind
Once I have my baselayers on, the third layer I add is a windproof membrane, usually a vest. Moisture’s ugly cousin in late season conditions is the wind. If you can keep the wind from passing through your clothing while staying dry, you are well on your way to beating the elements. For bottoms, put on a fleece windproof bib outer layer over your base layers before walking in to keep the chill off your legs.
For the upper body, it’s a little more complicated. I like to wear a thin insulated down or microfleece Primaloft windproof vest because they allow for mobility in the shoulders and arms without adding bulk. From there, I prefer a combination of one to two more fleece or microfleece layers. These snuff out any noise created by the windproof layer. Your goal should be to wear the least amount of clothing for the conditions without sacrificing warmth so you can stay mobile enough to shoot a bow or rifle. Add these two or three layers to your top half after getting to your stand.
4. Keep Your Toes From Getting Cold With Good Socks and Boots
Since I was a kid tromping through the frozen swamps of Michigan with my dad, my toes have always been the first to get cold. When it comes to cold feet, boots seem to get all the focus. Sure they play an important role, but in my experience, the foot’s fight against cold temps is won or lost with socks. When it comes to socks, less is more. It’s tempting to grab a couple of pairs of the thickest wool socks you can find and wedge your feet into them with the idea that your feet will be nice and toasty. We’ve all been there, but try not to fall for it. Circulation is a huge part of keeping feet warm and if you have two pairs of thick socks on, your boots will be too tight and your feet won’t get any blood.
The Alphaburly Pro boots will keep your feet warm and dry. Lacrosse
Instead, wear a thin sock liner for moisture management and then one thick pair of wool or wool/poly blend socks over that. Then it’s time to rely on a good pair of insulated boots to keep the heat in and cold air out. My go-to boots for cold weather are LaCrosse Alphaburly 1600-gram Thinsulate. Unlike leather boots, they are completely sealed, so no warm air can escape through stitching or lace eyelets. They can be a little bulky for hiking and climbing, but they’re perfect for sitting in a treestand or ground blind. Be sure to get a size big enough so you can wiggle your toes when wearing thick socks or a toe warmer heat pack.
5. Cover Your Head and Neck to Keep Heat In
You can dump a lot of heat from your head and neck. As with the layer system for your body, you’ll want to avoid overheating on the walk in and trap heat once you get to your stand.
I always have a ballcap on, so that’s my first layer. Once I get to my stand or blind, I put on a stocking cap right away to try and preserve as much heat as possible. If the wind really picks up and the temps are dropping, I put on a thick neck gaiter with a windproof membrane long enough to cover my face and still tuck into my jacket. I’m not a fan of hoods, so I try to avoid them if possible, but that’s a personal preference.
6. Warm Your Hands Without Wearing Gloves
The longer I hunt, the less I like gloves. Obviously, when the weather gets really nasty, they can be a necessity, but I’ve spent a better part of the last decade finding ways to avoid needing to rely on gloves to keep my hands warm. Hand muffs have been around for a long time, but a few companies have recently come out with microfleece muffs with windproof membranes to keep the wind out. For extra warmth, I bring a couple of handwarmer packs, too. There is a little shock factor when it’s time to pull your hand out of that warm muff and grab a frigid bow grip or pull an icy trigger, but it’s a lot easier to shoot without a glove in the way.
7. Use Body Warmers So You Can Cut Down on Bulky Layers
Longtime friend and proficient Michigan big buck killer John Eberhart turned me on to a tactic years ago that changed the game for my cold weather approach. During a conversation about layering to avoid bulk in cold weather, John suggested placing adhesive body warmers on the base layer closest to the skin—one over your chest and one over your kidneys. It’s not a revolutionary approach as body warmer packs have been around for years, but it seems to be an overlooked strategy and one that I took for granted.
Michigan deer hunter John Eberhart recommends using adhesive body warmers during the late season. Hot Hands
Since I started doing this, I’ve been able to leave more layers at home without sacrificing warmth. Plus, that rush of heat once applied does wonders for morale during those brutally cold sits. As we all know, grinding out hours on stand in harsh conditions is more of a mental battle than anything. The more we can focus and stay in the game mentally, the better our odds are of filling a late-season tag.