After 25 years outside, author discusses his secrets
Throughout my tenure as a Great Lake’s outdoor enthusiast, I’ve had some very memorable adventures. And, while some great opportunities presented themselves in mild conditions, I’ve come to realize that the best hunting and fishing often occurs in the worst weather. From ice fishing jumbo perch in three feet of snow, to frozen duck hunts on the last remaining open pothole, winter often brings the biggest bounty. However, sportsmen must be willing to go through the ringer to get it.
The greatest lesson I’ve learned over the last 20 years has little to do with the fish and game, but the ways in which we humans can compete on their playground. Often, the most important factor is simply knowing how to stay warm. Mother Nature can only be adapted to, and never harnessed. For success, the right clothes are necessary, but the basics, and science behind, are just as important. Here’s my take on how to never be cold again in the duck blind.
Proper under-layering is the first vital step to staying warm outdoors. Luckily, great advancements have been made in this area. Stick to materials that allow moisture to escape like polypropylene or the newest soft wool garments.
Never, ever, wear anything cotton.
I’ve found it best to actually “layer my layers”, so to speak. Start with an under-layering garment intended for “active” use, and follow with a heavier, thermal underwear. Fleece-lined lightweight wools are wonderful; even wool-blend boxers, like those made by First Light, help to keep everything toasty from the start.
Mid-range garments need to continue with our theme of moisture-wicking by allowing sweat out. Again, synthetics here are great, but it’s important to consider the facing, or outer portions, or the garment. Many manufacturer’s try to cover too many options by coating breathable materials with non-breathable “waterproof” exteriors. The result: sweat moves away from your body and then gets trapped under your coat, creating a bad scenario. Avoid such garments, and keep your waterproof concerns to your outer layer.
With outer layers, you get what you pay for. Avoid “all-in-one” coats with zip-in liners: again, separate your lining from these outer garments intended to keep you dry. Choose a high quality coat guaranteed to be 100% waterproof, but still advertised as breathable, like this Hardcore model.
Accessories are just as important as the garments themselves when keeping warm. I’ve found old-school fingerless, wool gloves with a liner to be invaluable and irreplaceable, even in today’s world. And, when it comes to winter hats, the higher and taller, the better. Old-fashioned stocking caps are far superior to beanies, as they trap considerably more heat. Neck-gaiters help, but full balaclavas are even better. Choose moisture-wicking material there, as well, to avoid frozen areas around the mouth.
Other considerations: while heavy neoprene waders are toasty warm, they can severely trap moisture. Consider new breathable models like the Banded Redzones, and layer with fleece-lined wader pants -- another irreplaceable item.
Finally, consider your seat. Noting zaps heat from a body faster than when sitting on a hard, cold bench in a blind. Always carry a cushion of some kind and, when in a jam, a floor mat from the truck is far better than nothing. The same goes when laying on frozen ground in a goose field.
I’ve often said that the greatest advancements in hunting and fishing in the last decade are actually in apparel. Gone are the days of bulky snowsuits and remaining immobile just to stay warm. Today’s gear is ergonomic, lightweight, and a thousand times warmer than yesterday's garments. If only my shooting skills could improve as much.
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Realtree waterfowl editor Brian Lovett has been an obsessive duck and goose hunter for more than 30 years, chasing his passion on the Dakota prairies and the marshes and open water of his home state of Wisconsin. He's been a writer and editor in the outdoors industry since 1991.