How to Layer for All Weather Conditions

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No matter what season or what state you hunt, you’ll likely encounter changing temperatures and weather conditions. Cool mornings may give way to hot afternoons. Sunshine may turn to rain or snow. Either way, you need to be prepared with the right clothes to ensure not only comfort but also safety in the field.

In my own personal experience, I’ve hunted Kentucky’s rifle deer season with 12-degree mornings and 70-degree afternoons. I’ve elk hunted in Idaho where the sky was clear and the temperatures were reasonable, and suddenly we were in the middle of what felt like a blizzard—then clear skies again.

Layering is a major key to comfort when hunting or doing other outdoor activities, but that doesn’t mean just put on a bunch of clothes and head out. The layers should work together to help remove moisture, maintain an optimal temperature and defend against the elements.

There are 3 main layers, each serving its own purpose.

Base Layer: Moisture Management

The base layer is the clothing that fits right against your body. The key function is to wick moisture away to keep you dry. This doesn’t just include pants and shirts—your socks and undergarments are base layers too.

Available in lightweight, midweight and heavyweight, generally, the thicker the fabric, the more insulation it will provide. Keep in mind, the base layer is meant for moisture management, not insulation.

  • Merino wool has become the go-to for many hunters because of its comfort, moisture-wicking abilities and odor-resistant properties.
  • Synthetic fabrics are mostly comprised of polyester and are lightweight and quick drying.

Stay away from cotton as a base layer since it absorbs and retains moisture instead of wicking it away. This is not only uncomfortable but can be dangerous due to a higher risk of hypothermia (even in slightly cool temperatures).

Mid Layer: Insulation

The mid-layer is the insulating layer that helps retain your body’s heat. This is the most flexible layer and can be doubled up in cooler conditions or removed in warmer conditions. Oftentimes, mid-layers can be used as the outer layer, especially in warmer climates or early-season hunts.

Mid-layers might include features such as zippers or mesh fabric in the underarm or thigh area for ventilation or zip-up collars that help retain heat in cooler conditions but release heat in warmer conditions. And sometimes, the mid-layer can be the inner layer of the outer layer!

• Polyester fleece is popular because it’s available in a variety of weights, stays warm even if it gets damp, and dries relatively quickly.
• Waterproof down is a lightweight option that has basically replaced traditional down that becomes useless when wet.

Outer Layer: Protection

The outer layer is for protection. This layer is designed to guard against wind, rain, snow and other elements Mother Nature might throw at you while outdoors. They should be built tough so they can withstand going through thick trees, heavy brush and thorns.

Depending on where and how you’re hunting, weight and packability should be considered when selecting an outer layer.

• Rain gear
• Waterproof shells will provide protection against full-on downpours; these are usually the most durable.
• Water-resistant shells are more suited for light rain/drizzle and higher activity levels; these are usually tightly woven nylon or polyester fabrics.
• Non-breathable shells are good for rainy days with low activity (sitting in a blind/stand instead of hiking) and are typically coated nylon. If you increase your activity level, you’ll likely end up saturating your base or mid layers with perspiration.
• Pants – Look for pants that are versatile and built for a range of temperatures and allow you to easily move.

The Extras

In addition to your standard shirts, pants and jackets, there are a lot of other pieces that can be added to your layering system.

• Leg gaiters – Help keep moisture out of your boots and socks when walking through wet grass, snow or crossing creeks; protect your legs from thorns and burrs.
• Gloves – Invest in both layering gloves and thicker, insulated gloves. Layering gloves are perfect for early season, or when you will need to use your hands a lot. Thicker gloves provide warmth needed for late season or cold-weather hunts. Features such as hand-warmer pockets are nice too.
• Neck gaiters – Not only good for face concealment, but these can provide warmth around the neck to help hold heat in and can protect skin from the sun. Choose a versatile design that can be worn multiple ways—around the neck, on the head, as a bandana, etc.
• Hats – Beanies provide more warmth because they fit closer to the skin. Standard ball cap styles help block the sun; chose a net-back hat for warmer weather hunts to help release heat.
• Socks – Crucial for foot comfort, choose merino wool socks for their moisture wicking ability. They will keep your feet warm and dry, without overheating.

Buying Options

When it comes to selecting your layers, there are many, many options and brands and it may come down to your personal preference and budget. You don’t have to choose the most expensive brands to get the best quality, and you may have to look past your go-to brand to get a wider range of options. Don’t ignore big-box stores for lower priced items—you can find great base-layer clothing, socks, gloves, neck gaiters and more.

Remember to choose quality items that fit and are comfortable, consider the fabric, and look for items that may perform multiple purposes, such as layered parkas. And since these layers are an investment, be sure to read all care instructions to get the most from them and ensure they last season after season.

Before you head out, be sure to check the weather on BaseMap for a complete 7-day forecast to help you plan ahead.

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