Over ten years ago we produced an article on cold-weather
clothing for bowhunters. It was the result of both personal experience as well
as collecting clothing tips and secrets from some of the best bowhunters in the
Like everything else, technology has advanced the bowhunter’s
arsenal to make us leaner and more effective. While technology has certainly
improved our ability to see (optics), shoot (archery equipment) and learn (Bowsite.com
of course) - no hunting gear has seen greater technological advances than in performance
Today’s clothing is lighter, quieter, better insulated, and highly
effective at moisture management. Since this article deals with extreme cold
weather apparel we’re focused on the three most important aspects of winter
clothing; the ability to move moisture away from the skin (wicking), the
ability to efficiently retain heat (insulation), and coupling these two traits
with complete freedom of movement (agility). All three of these factors are
vitally important to the hunter and especially the treestand bowhunter.
The ability to move moisture away from the skin where it can
be managed and evaporated efficiently is the first step to staying warm. I know
this is basic but it’s worth repeating. Exertion in cold weather followed by
inactivity is the single greatest threat to your comfort - and even your
safety. Get wet when it’s fifteen degrees and at best you are looking at a short
duration hunt. I now use a series of progressive base layers that are on me at
all times. This includes one set for my legs, and two to four sets for my torso
depending on temperature. The key to this system is variability. I have learned
how many base layers are necessary for my comfort.
These base layers are all made from high performance fibers
designed for maximum wicking efficiency. They are also a close fit but not so
tight that I look like some fashion manikin. In fact, I have found better
wicking results when these layers are not tight which runs counter to many
performance clothing claims.
The concept of insulation is quite simple; trap air and
minimize its movement. Body heat that leaks out of your insulation layer is
wasted energy. If you are cold, that heat will need to be replaced either by
generating more heat or adding more layers. When deer hunting from a stand you
won’t have the luxury of generating more body heat. Adding more layers creates
more bulk and that inhibits shooting – especially for archers. So using
efficient clothing that traps that heat must be your goal.
For years I used wool. I have a soft spot for the tradition
and qualities of wool. But wool is not an efficient insulator. It holds water
which robs thermal properties. Its fibers also leak heat unless the weave is
extremely thick and rigid which then inhibits movement.
The best way to illustrate clothing efficiency is by using a
thermal camera. We obtained a FLIR device to test the thermal efficiency of our
clothing. These cameras see heat as light waves giving us an instant visual to
where our clothing was leaking heat. The results were dramatic. Cheap, poorly
fitted clothing dramatically leaked heat. But a performance clothing system such
as Sitka’s base layers and Fanatic series outerwear was remarkably efficient at
The least obvious, but perhaps the most important aspect of
cold weather clothing is Agility – the ability to move freely while wearing it.
If you hunted long enough you probably did what most of us
did twenty years ago; bulked up like the Michelin Tire man in order to stay
warm. Sure, you might have been warm but getting off a clean, unencumbered
shot was difficult, sometimes impossible. Back then it was a necessity – to stay
warm meant layers of insulation and loft. Thank Goodness that’s no longer the
case. During a recent deer hunt with temps hovering at single digits I was able
to pivot in my stand and shoot a buck easily with my Fanatic system. That shot
would have been tough five years ago with my wool system and impossible with my
bulky coveralls and down jacket.
My 2013 System
This past year I began using Sitka’s Fanatic system coupled
with a variety of base layers and an optional vest depending on the
My first hunts were in November with temps in the thirties
and forties and it was very comfortable. For these temps I use base layer Merino
bottoms, Merino Zip-T top, Traverse Hoodie, Fanatic Bibs and Fanatic Jacket. I
carried my jacket in my pack and unzip the sides down the entire length of both
legs for the walk to the stand. Gloves consisted of the Merino Liner gloves
only. I wear a ball cap to the stand and only put on a facemask after a brief
cool-down once in the stand.
As winter set in and temps dropped into the teens and single
digits, I used the same system as above, only I added another base layer top,
and a Jetstream vest. I beefed up my gloves only for the walk out but the Sitka
Merino gloves work well once in the stand (I love the Fanatic’s handwarmer
pouch with a couple of Grabber Mycoal oxygen-activated handwarmers). I also use
the Stratus Hat over my facemask.
For subzero, I add a battery heated vest, Stratus gloves,
and use the Fanatic Hood over my beanie.
I have found this simple, incremental system to be the most
efficient system I’ve ever used. The wicking properties of Sitka base layers
are well known, and their new line of insulated outerwear is highly efficient.
Topping that off is a superb design that eliminates bulk and allows for
complete freedom of movement and I can’t imagine a better system for treestand whitetail
hunters in cold weather.
Footwear – this is a real wildcard. For extreme temps (10
degrees to -10) I still use military issue Mickey Mouse boots. For 10-30
degree temps - a 2000 gram insulated rubber boot works fine. Anything above 30
and it’s any number of boots depending on the amount of walking and what I need
to cross along the way. I always use 1 pair of wool socks in all temperatures. I have learned that less socks is more. Never use tight socks, or stuff your feet into a snug boot. Blood must freely circulate inside your foot and lower leg. I always use the boot as primary insulation - not the sock.
Develop your own system and keep track of it. While I don’t
do this, I know a hunter who keeps an inventory list on his smart phone in
increments of 10 degrees - separated by categories (stand hunting, and mountain
hunting). This is a smart idea and can certainly save you some time when grabbing your gear in a hurry.
Staying warm is a process of regulating your body
temperature to maintain comfortable, consistent temperature. Despite the
space-age wicking technology used in my system, I still pay attention to periods
of exertion where I could overheat – like a long, uphill, pre-dawn walk to my
stand. I am very careful to regulate my temperature at this stage. The best
way I’ve found has been to wear just enough of my base layers to stay cool
during exertion without the jacket. On very cold walks I’ll wear a vest along
with the base layers. For my legs, I have merino wool long underwear under my
fanatic bibs but I have the legs unzipped the entire length - this keeps them
cool. Finally, I always pack in my Fanatic jacket.
On days of rain or heavy snow I would add a lightweight gore-tex
shell to stay dry but I am careful to vent it as much as possible. I plan my clothing for maximum exertion. This means I may very well be quite cold when I first leave the truck or cabin in the morning. My goal is to be comfortably cool and dry when I rach my button-up location to seal up my system. If I am sweaty at that point - I have failed.
When I am 200 yards from my stand I put on my
jacket and zip up the legs. I seal up my system away from my treestand in order
to minimize human scent.
Note: if you are one of those guys who perspire heavily? You might consider a 2nd set of core base layers to change into. It's certainly a hassle, but you need to minimize moisture when you finally seal your system.
This system of regulating my temperature has been effective for
temps down to -10. Below that temp is beyond the scope of this article.
Outdoor clothing has come a long way in the last twenty
years. Today’s efficient clothing systems like Sitka's Fanatic series
provide the variability to regulate your temperature. These systems are highly
efficient at insulating heat, they effectively manage moisture during periods
of exertion, and they do this with a smaller footprint that is remarkably agile.
Whatever brand you use, have a process for regulating your body heat and staying
dry. Find a system that works for you and refine it over time. Keeping a
journal of temperatures and conditions is a smart move. Understanding what
works best for you is imperative.
One last point; serious hunters know that quality, efficient
hunting clothing is an investment. I know lots of guys who buy cheap long underwear,
cheap insulated outerwear, then top it off with a cheap cap and gloves. They
sit in their stand with a $1000 bow –shivering- and when that trophy buck shows
they can barely move. Just like there is a significant difference between a
$1000 Mathews Creed and a $399.00 Martin compound, quality clothing makes a big
difference too. I don’t know anyone who invested in a quality clothing system
who has regretted it. I know lots of guys who bought cheap clothes who did. Most of those hunters eventually went on to buy
quality gear a year or two later.