No matter where you are throughout the US or around the world, staying warm and dry is no doubt a key ingredient to a more enjoyable time in the field. I’m sure most of you have noticed more and more companies moving away from “one in all” type jackets and pants to complete layering systems. Layering systems are designed to achieve temperature regulation quickly and easily by shedding or adding layers. When talking clothing and layering systems with people I often get questions regarding how light and thin the layers feel compared to a larger heavy jacket, so my goal for this article is to take you through how layering systems work and show you how I like to layer up.
Most layering systems have 4 parts to them, the base layer, insulation layer, outer layer and a rain layer. The base layer piece is next to your skin and is designed to wick moisture from sweat away from your body in order to keep your skin dry. These will be your synthetic materials like Under Armour and Nike made of polyester, nylon, spandex, etc. These are also wool products, most commonly Merino Wool for next to skin applications. These materials are designed to pull in moisture from your skin but also dry very quickly and retain some warmth when wet. You’ll want to stay away from cotton, as when it gets wet it gets very heavy, doesn’t dry quickly, and doesn’t retain much warmth value when wet. I personally stick to the merino wool for my top and bottom base layers.. it’s comfortable, retains great warmth, and doesn’t get quite as “sweat smelling” after a few days in the backcountry.
The next layering part is the insulation layer. This is your main temperature regulation layer that will be key for warmth. These are your fleece and wool sweatshirts as well as your down vests and jackets. My insulation layers consist of a lighter fleece quarter zip shirt, down vest and a lighter down jacket, which I mix and match accordingly with the weather conditions. A lot of times even when it’s cold I’ll go down to my lightest insulation layer or my base layer to hike into an area, then once I dry off a bit I’ll throw on my insulation layers and be warm and good to go. Any of you that haven’t tried a down jacket yet, or at least a down vest, go pick one up… basically a sleeping bag in jacket form. They even have down pants that slip on over your main pant for extra insulation when stationary.
Next up is your outer layer, which basically applies for your top and bottom. For a jacket this is mostly a soft outer shell with thin fleece lining, designed to protect your insulation layers from most elements like wind and rain to a degree. Some of my favorite features for an outer layer jacket are arm pit zippers that open up airflow, a good adjustable hood and all zippered pockets versus button pockets. Most higher end manufacturers have integrated the “4 way” type stretch so mobility is enhanced and binding is no longer such a problem. For the bottom I’ve found that I can get through most situations in a season with a pair of uninsulated medium weight fabric pants combined with a merino wool base layer without any comfort problems. For the colder late season conditions I move up to a fleece lined heavier weight pant with the same merino bottoms underneath. Another good tip for bottoms is a pair of leg gaiters, they keep your pant legs warmer as well as keep them dry when in snow and your shoe laces from being frozen together.
Lastly but definitely one of the more important, is your rain gear. There are tons of rain gear systems out there and my advice is get the best you can afford. Staying dry is the key to being warm and comfortable, which will in turn make your hunt more enjoyable mentally and physically.
With layering systems you can achieve superior warmth and mobility while keeping down the weight and bulk of traditional hunting clothes. If you have any questions on your layering system or anything western hunting related, please don’t hesitate to contact me via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.