Author: Jordan Budd, Muley Freak contributor and owner of Running Water Media

Photos Credit Muley Freak

With late season weather typically being cold and bitter, it’s important to know the clothing you are putting on your body to keep you as comfortable and dry as possible. This article will dissect layering your hunting clothes for cold weather hunting, but also applies throughout the year for all seasons.

First, What is Layering?

I would say the majority of hunters have grasped the idea of using a layering system whether they know it or not. Here I will layout the idea behind the system in 4 easy steps. The key to staying warm is staying dry and the whole idea behind a layering system is to regulate your body temperature. When you have a bunch of clothes on and start hiking, you’re going to start sweating as your body temperature rises. Without being able to ventilate, letting the sweat evaporate, as soon as you stop your going to be wet with sweat and get chilled quickly. Which in the late season with plummeting temperatures can become life threatening. Layering allows you to strip multiple layers off while hiking for maximum ventilation, so when you get to a stopping point you can have multiple dry layers to put on and be comfortable. Layering systems typically go in this order: your base layer(s), mid layer, insulating layer and outer layer.

1) Start With a Base

A good base layer is important as this layer is next to your skin, wicking the perspiration off of your skin quickly and transferring it to other layers for evaporation. There are a couple types of base layers as far as fabric, synthetic and merino wool. You ABSOLUTELY don’t want a cotton layer anywhere in your system, but specifically not your base layer. Synthetic layers have the advantage of drying quickly but the disadvantage of no real heat retention value while wet. Merino wool has the advantage of still having some insulating value while wet but the disadvantage of a slower drying time. Merino is also said to help regulate heat and lightweight merino can be worn on warm hunts as well. I personally prefer merino wool during the later seasons but I know I typically won’t be doing any strenuous long hikes. If I plan on doing a longer hike where I may get sweaty I will use a synthetic next to skin and put a merino wool layer over the synthetic.

Base layers go next to the skin. Breathability is important when choosing base layers and we find tighter fitting base layers breath and wick moisture more effectively.

2) Move to the Mid

The next layer is your mid layer, typically some kind of a fleece. Again you’ll want to avoid a cotton sweatshirt. The fleece layer should provide some insulation as well as some wind resistance but also be able to wick some moisture that your base layers are feeding it. I like the 1/4 and 1/2 zip options for the ventilation, I also love having a hood on this piece. Most companies have a soft shell option that can be nice pieces for a layer system to cut wind, add more warmth value and have some venting options. Some classify these as an outer shell however I typically use them as another mid layer on top of my fleece layer and add an insulating layer over the top as needed.

This mid-layer piece has a hood when things get a little cooler and zips down to ventilate if the situation gets a little warmer.

3) Now Insulate

Next is the real insulating layer which is typically going to be a puffy jacket, especially in the late season. There are two types of insulations that can make up a puffy jacket, synthetic and goose down. Synthetic insulation has the features of still holding some heat retention when wet, where if down insulation gets wet it basically has no warmth value. That is something to be mindful of when choosing your puffy jacket, know what conditions you are probably going to be in before selecting. I cannot recommend a puffy jacket enough to folks, it’s legitimately a sleeping bag in a jacket form. Along with the puffy jacket, companies are starting to produce puffy pants, another item I can’t recommend enough if your going to be doing a lot of sitting or glassing.

This down puffy jacket is a great next piece in your layering system. On some warmer hunts the coolness of the mornings and evenings aren’t quite cool enough for a full jacket. Consider a nice down puffy vest to keep your core warm. Many companies make the same version of the puffy jacket in a vest.

4) Put a Shell On It

The last category for a layering system is your outer layer, or shell. For the most part every layering piece as explained previously, I use throughout the entire season. For late season what really changes is my outer layer. What you are most likely needing is a wind proof and water proof shell with the high winds and snowy conditions. I like to find an option that is waterproof with some kind of a lining inside to help with insulation. Some companies offer a later season jacket that isn’t water proof, but a rain jacket will cover on top of that can make it waterproof.

A shell like this is the final piece to your layering system. It’s windproof and waterproof to keep the elements from working their way through your layers.

If you have these 4 pieces in your layering system you’re ready to take on about anything.

Don’t let the vast amounts of technical hunting clothing confuse you. If you have these 4 pieces in your layering system you’re ready to take on about anything. As elements change throughout the year feel free to use each piece to fit the situation, don’t be afraid to mix them up a little too. If you follow this layering system and pay attention to the fabric you are choosing for your hunting style and conditions, you will stay more comfortable allowing you to be out in the elements longer. Always remember that staying dry is the key to staying warm.

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2 thoughts on “Layering Simplified in 4 Easy Steps

  1. rwfields_3 1 week ago

    Good, easy to understand advice! I think it is important to point out a few extra things, though.
    1) A lot of us got into hunting long before technical garments with synthetic fabrics were readily available, and were successful long before we had technical garments to greatly reduce the suck factor while in the field. The warmer and drier the weather, the less important layering with technical gear is. I do hope a beginning hunter doesn’t have to suffer through the cold feed in cotton socks I did growing up hunting!
    2) Technical gear is expensive, so when it comes down to deciding between good optics, footwear, clothing, etc. it is a balancing act when deciding what to buy and how it possibly impacts success rates on a hunt while once again hopefully reducing the suck factor.
    3) Also relating to cost, it is sometimes good to evaluate gear available for other active pursuits to find more affordable alternatives. A plain-colored, mid-layer fleece that you buy for $20-$30 is just as effective as a pricey hunting brand with a cool camo pattern that is ultimately going to be under your base layer anyway. I have a lightweight polar fleece (that is a camo hunting pattern) that I paid $20 for that I wear as an outer layer in more moderate weather (dry with temperatures warmer than the high 20s). The brown coolmax t-shirts and black coolmax “long johns” I had issued to me on active duty in the mid-2000s perform as good for base layering as most any expensive alternative out there. Ultimately, I hope new hunters or those who might try hunting for the first time realize they don’t need to drop hundreds of dollars on apparel to get started.

    Bobby Fields
    Sierra Vista, Arizona

  2. Clint 1 week ago

    All valid and on point considerations Bobby. Thanks for adding your thoughts. I like your point on cost especially. One of my favorite places in the past to find cheap hunting clothes was from a discount/clearance climbing and backpacking retailer. They had lots of seconds and discontinued stuff that was as great for hunting, no camo but still did it’s job!