It’s a cold hard fact (pun intended) that some of the best hunting opportunities occur during the most miserable weather conditions. It’s also generally agreed that the more time spent in the field the higher the success rate. That all sounds good until that freezing ache grabs you by the toes, then its game over for many outdoorsmen and women. Admittedly, I am one of those cold natured people that wears a sweater in an air-conditioned restaurant during the summer, yet I can spend hours outside during a blizzard.
Thanks to my years of hunting in every climate, I’ve learned a thing or two about surviving the cold, which allows me to hunt longer and ultimately be a lot more successful than I’d be back at camp. I’ve also come to realize that cold sensitivity is not just a gal thing; many men have problems tolerating dropping temps.
Let’s begin with the skin. I don’t take hot baths or showers that open pores and dry skin right before going outdoors in frigid weather. Instead, I bathe the night before, then coat my face and hands with Vaseline or a thick barrier-type protection prior to going outside. A soft, warm, wicking base layer is important. I prefer merino wool or polypropylene — always avoid cotton.
Feet need extra attention to stay comfortable and avoid frostbite. I start with a thin silk or polypropylene liner sock to which I sometimes sprinkle a tiny amount of cayenne pepper or a product containing capsicum. Over the liner, I wear a thick wool diabetic sock. Although I’m not diabetic, I prefer the socks designed with less elastic in the tops that allows better blood circulation to my feet.
Now let’s talk about footwear. I’m not discussing fashion here; I’m talking toe survival, particularly for inactive times like sitting in a deerstand or ice fishing. Give those toes room to wiggle surrounded by a pocket of warm air, and they’ll stay much happier. This can be as simple as buying a larger size of boots, or, if you are a woman, you may want to switch to men’s boots, which have a wider toe box. A flat chemical toe warmer will fit better in these larger boots; however, they require oxygen to do their warming, so expose them to air a few minutes before sticking them in your boots. Insulated boots are the warmest, but I think more important than gram numbers is sole thickness. The thicker the sole, the harder for numbing cold to seep in from the bottom.
Loose layers trap warm body heat, so I wear a lofty insulating layer over the base. I also chose a size larger than normal and gravitate toward fleece, down, pile, wool or something warm that doesn’t restrict circulation. Next is the protective layer to keep wind and water out while holding warmth inside. Learning to read and interpret clothing tags is so important. Outerwear labeled “windproof” generally has a thin barrier film incorporated usually made from Teflon or a similar material. This works great for blocking wind and cold air from penetrating the outer layer of clothing. Items labeled “waterproof” have this same laminated membrane, but they have also undergone a process called seam sealing where every seam is more than sewn together, it also is covered in the membrane making it airtight and waterproof. This applies to footwear as well.
More tips: Cover your noggin and ears with a thick layer of insulation. Thin gloves have more dexterity but are cold, so I use a hand muff with a couple of heat packs inside. I even have one with a clear window so I can see my phone screen without taking it out. In situations where a muff isn’t practical, I depend on glove mitts with a flip up finger covering for warmth. Fingers keep each other warm, so don’t separate them with thick bulky gloves that also make it impossible to grip, text or pull a trigger. My favorite hand warmer is two freshly boiled eggs placed in my coat pockets before I head out the door on cold mornings. They stay warm a long time, then I have a good snack for later.
A quilted body suit is another option for hours of comfortable sitting, as is a simple lap blanket. A small propane heater designed for such can make a snow covered pop-up blind or shooting house downright cozy on a blustery day.
It helps to have healthy food and a thermos of something warm in your pack. For extended stays, a distraction in the form of a book or electronic device will take your mind off the cold during those inevitable slow times. Perhaps the most important things to ensure you stick with your cold weather outdoor plan is patience, determination and a positive attitude. Happy hunting.