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June 09, 2008

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Out Cold

Aye, lads, it's cold outside
Colder than the edge of an ice-bound pool;
Colder than the tip of an Eskimo's tool.
Aye, lads, it's a wee bit chilly
But not as cold as my boy Willy
He's dead--f**k him.

--Korean-War-era poem which I either heard in the Army or got from a book; it's hard to remember what's real and what isn't.

As hunters, it's part of our lot in life to be cold. The idea that you can be comfortable at all temperatures, no matter what you're doing, is a crock. Having frozen in various outdoor pursuits for 50 years or so, I can boil (no pun intended) the subject down to two great truths:

1) If you get wet, either from sweat, rain, or snow, you're in trouble.
2) If you can't keep the wind off, you're in trouble.

All else is advertising copy.

Here are some more truths:

Wind goes through wool, period. If you have a wool coat, you better have something windproof to wear underneath.

If you really work hard, your "moisture-permeable membrane" which "allows sweat to escape" will parboil you.

Down will do the same. On two occasions, I've seen condensed sweat roll out of the inside of a down jacket like rain off a roof.

But neither will leave you drenched and steaming like oiled cotton, which is beloved of the British and yuppie sporting clays shooters.

Some people can take a lot more cold than others. So if you are sensitive to cold, follow Gresham's Laws (Grits', not Sir Thomas') which states:

If you don't bring it, you can't wear it.
If I don't bring it, it's because I don't own it.

The most useful item of cold-weather clothing that no one seems to sell: Back in the 60s, ski shops used to carry wool fishnet undershirts from Scandinavia that kept the sweat off your hide and did not stink. They seem to have vanished. There are poly versions around, but after two days like this you will reek like a cage filled with baboons.


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Hey Dave, normally I would relish this column at this time of the year. Unfortunately, its still cold up here! In nearly 50 years of beding outside up here in the winter, I think wool is the best compromise. Even in leaf-off, if your in a somewhat mature forest, wind becomes much less of a problem. I think the boles of the trees break it up to the point you can live with it. Also, wool breathes enough to dissapate your sweat. I've often wondered what I would do with the same temps, same wind and a treeless environment, however.


Excuse typo, meant to say being, not beding.

Ralph the Rifleman

I agree with Yooper;wool is a good compromise but i still dress in layers with cotton,nylon, or whatever the weather dictates.
Wind here in MI isn't really a problem with our trees for cover.
I remember the wool mesh sking undershirts in the past with some copy-cat ones marketed in the 80's and 90's never used them, though?
Ever hear of a fiberglass sleeping bag? Well, I used one before and had a miserable night to wake frozen and itchy. I tossed that bag in the next dumpster we came across in town.

Duck Creek Dick

I well remember the Scandinavian fishnet tops and long handles, and still have about three sets packed away in my gear somewhere. Sitting on a hard chair makes the skin on your butt look like diamond-plate.


I hear you Dave! Once I am cold, especially my feet, I am about done and it is axiomatic that no miracle fiber seems to keep my feet warm. I have tried hundreds of dollars worth of miracles and found the best solution was cheapest; a one size too big pair of rubber slogger boots from KMart for $18.97 coupled with a thick wool pac boot insert and a couple pair of wool socks, feels like I am walking on pillows too! I add a wool watch cap and a windproof overcap, a Dacron 88 filled vest from Sears (was about 9 bucks, and a pair of wool long johns under a thinsulate coverall. I keep my pit-zippers open and the hat off on a longer walk in and sit in a folding chair rather than on cold ground or rocks. I bring in a big jug of water and an empty 3 liter pop bottle so I can stay hydrated and still be comfortable enough to be still.
I have found that if I am very active during a cold weather outing I need to stay hydrated as well as dress in layers; should you come upon me splitting wood for instance I will be in a tee shirt and the aforementioned wool longjohns plus a pair of my size boots for good support and traction. If I work up a sweat then the cotton tee shirt comes off and is replaced with a dry one before I put any additional layers on.

When out in cold weather I ALWAYS plan ahead for what I will do if I do inadvertantly get wet or the wind picks up to uncomfortable levels.

sarah brady

One of the best investments I've made is a large daypack that allows me to carry (not wear) my really-cold weather clothes. I always walk to my stand with my coat unbuttoned, too. Working up a sweat on the way to the stand makes for a miserable hunt. And I like wool - sweaters, socks, coats, pants - but only over a layer of polypro or underarmor. I once sat on stand for 6 hours in -15 temperatures, with a wind chill of -65 wearing those layers. The deer were smarter than me that day. I never saw a one.


Having been broken down and busted in the cold in the middle of nowhere (no phone, no engine, no common sense) during one of my "invincible moments", I now keep a pack of spare clothing in the truck. It's not designer stuff, nor is it pricey - but it's warm.


We outdoorsmen should probably worry more about our protection from the elements than deciding which magnum rifle retains more energy at 800 yards.


Agreed. I think the biggest mistakes are:

1) Not bringing proper gear for the weather (underestimating cold, rain, wind, etc).
2) Putting on too much gear, too soon.

If you work up a big sweat on the way to the blind, you're going to have a heck of a time staying warm. Dress just warm enough to keep from getting chilled on the way to the blind... err on the side of wearing too little. If, after 5 minutes or so of walking you're still cold, then slowly add layers.


Try the new Arcteryx wool - Very soft, wicking, warm, and does not smell. Patagonia capilene is some of the best long underwear made, but it does stink, but it wicks like a sponge. I wear both of these under my Filson tin pants (waxed cotton) and have no complaints of moisture.
None of this is cheap, but what is that's good and lasts more than a season?


good afternoon Gentlemen,
my first ever deer hunt took place this February on the coldest weekend recorded in the State of Alabama in 50+ years, snow,ice and low teen's temps in the a.m.. I wore a layer of underarmor sheathed in wool then topped off in insulated water proof camo...oversized at that. Two pair of socks, first layer thin silk skiing socks topped off with thick wool hiking socks stuffed into insulated Vasgue hiking boots. I stayed toasty warm and dry each of my 4 rounds on stand with the slight exception that my feet got cold around 9:00 a.m. of the 2nd day, 26 degrees by 10:00 a.m. I did not use hand or feet warmers,...do they work?

WA Mtnhunter

Amen Brian.

I can hunt longer, stay on stand, walk further, and be more able to get closer to the game if I am warm and somewhat dry. I generally stay in the field long after some of my buddies have headed to the truck!

Inside of 350 yards, any "standard" caliber will do!


...as a post script, I bought all of my gear at close-outs from several of the big box stores(except the boots)with a total out of pocket cost right at $100.00.
I would like to upgrade a bit this year, especially on some bowhunting type apparal any suggestions?

B. Cameron

I layer the bejesus out of my clothing when I hunt. Deer season in upstate NY (that's Fingerlakes to you, Dave, not Westchester) has a habit of getting downright nippy - ten degrees with a wind chill below zero is not unheard of. Twenty and a wind chill around zero is more common.

For those really cold days, it's:
- UnderArmor mockneck/leggings
- long johns top and bottom
- base layer socks
- fleece pants (they're pajama pants, but they're warm!), fleece shirt
- heavy wool socks
- flannel shirt
- sweatshirt
- winter parka
- balaclava
- fleece hat/boonie hat
- liner gloves
- glommits w/ handwarmers
- LLBean Maine Hunting boots

Yeah, it makes a heck of a pile on the bedroom floor, but it's warm, and I can layer up and down easily.


I am from Georgia, and currently live in Chicago-land, IL. As im still not used to this weather, I like dressing warm. I know people that invest in single large, nice parkas that hold them up for the season nice and warm, but they buy a new one every other year. They ridicule me for looking like a hobo in 2-3 flannals, a hoodie, a couple tee-shirts, underarmor, and wool long-johns, and a waterproof shell, but you know what? it lasts for years, im still warm, and it actually pretty cheap for all the clohes you wind up getting. Throw in some jeans, lower-half long-john, wool socks and waterproof boots, with a warm hat, and you will (most likely) never hear me complain of the cold.


As YooperJack, Old Bull and I can tell you, it is no picnic in the park living next to the Great Lakes in winter. We usually get heavy winds and lake affect snow off them. It is not bad the farther inland you go but out near the lakes forget it. 20 to 30 MPH winds on top of bitter cold. It is hard to hunt when your teeth are chattering and you can not hold still. The Wind and cold will cut right through any clothing you wear eventually. It is not uncommon to get frost bite on any exposed skin in a matter of seconds in weather like that.

Tom the Troll

Jim in Mo

I'm with you, my feet are the first to go. I've invested well in good socks. Layered properly. When I get in my truck to leave home/camp I'm wearing cheap socks and tennis shoes till I arrive so I don't sweat.
But I want to tell you of something I read in either F&S or Outdoor Life some time ago about staying warm on stand. He stated that once you arrive pull bread bags over your boots and secure them to your calfs with rubber bands. It may keep the heat in, never tried it.
And before anyone asks, yes remove bread first.

Blue Ox


Whereabouts around Chi-town are youse at?


Helleva subject as I’m sweating in this June heat wave…..BUT:

I have a good pair of -20 boots w/wool socks. Anything more in insulation are too hot in this Lower 48. I like silk long underwear under a pair of military surplus Swedish wool army pants. I usually wear turtleneck sweaters under a chamois shirt, and have a good Filson coat. I have a wool vest, but I prefer a very old insulated coat insert that’s very warm and thin. My gloves are USAF pilot issue. This combination isn’t too bulky and I have good freedom of movement.

Cold weather hats are a problem. I’ve not found one that will stay on my noodle and the wind won’t come through. Balaclava’s and Mad Bomber’s are so-so as are the Montana cold weather Fudd caps with that furry ball on top [Use to call them North Dakota Cowboy hats].


Jim in Mo
I have been looking at those over-boots which go on your feet after you've schlepped into your stand. They will take a bit of walking around, such as to stretch the stiff knees, you loosen your regular boots up and then zip these babies over 'em.

Some of the above over-boots have pockets for warmer packs those might even keep my feet warm! I would not use a lighter-fluid hand warmer as the smell is likely to spook every whitetail in the county.

Jack Ryan

Hunting,fishing, walking, running, dressing game, getting wet, all in the cold and rain.

The quickest way to figure out how to deal with all that is to go to the nearest construction site nearest to the area you want to hunt and see what the guys who are out in it all day long trying to do their job wear. It's not that different from the needs for hunting. They work, they sweat. They can't quit and run home every time they step in a puddle, get sweaty or it rains a little.

Around here in the cold of winter you see a lot of bib Carharts over long johns and heavy shirts and an insulated hooded Carhart jacket for the worst of the weather.

Removing the jacket, unzipping legs or bibs, layer after layer I think you'll find it's easy to accomodate the day from starting in the dark through the day and finishing in the dark.

Bill (NOT Maher!)

Drill Sgt. Dave,

I think you covered it all and I totally agree. I have frozen for over 50 years too and wonder every year what a sane man is doing freezing to death, yet I still do it!

Good comments!

Old Bull

It's all worth the suffering once that furry critter walks out though. You ever notice however many layers we have on, when it's time to dress one out, the layers come off?
I would not trade a moment of it.


We have found the answer to staying warm in Mi. winters while deer hunting! Go out in August and build yourself a nice blind W/ plexiglas sliding windows and a propane Mr. Heater, a shelf to sit your Readers Digest on. A 4" pipe thru the roof to get the scent up and away, a place to lean your gun, and don't forget the carpet on the floor. After 40yrs. of freezing this works great, at least on private land. Oh and don't forget that roll of TP!

Clay Cooper

Don't have time to comment, going to give some serious tips how to stay warm like ATV and snowmobiling at 30 below or a 110 above, rain sleet or snow you can do it! Stay tuned Sportsfans :)

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