Two weeks ago, I experienced my first true taste of winter when some friends, and I went right to the northern border in Good Grief, Idaho for some late season black bear hunting. Being a good old boy from Alabama -where I will be wearing flip-flops well into December- I was worried that I wouldn’t be prepared for the cold conditions.
In some areas I had over-prepared; in others I found myself shivering the cold away. With a little forethought and some high-quality equipment, anyone can be prepared for all that nature is sure to throw at them. Take a look at these tips to see how you can keep warm on a backcountry hunt.
Staying dry should be your number one concern. Good luck retaining any body heat with wet pants. Nothing can ruin your day worse than fighting off the shakes because your clothes are heavy, damp, and freezing. Any clothing you purchase should be water-resistant and fast drying. For those purposes, Polyester and Nylon are a must.
Say no to cotton and cotton blends as they hold way too much moisture and will leave you wet, cold, and miserable. So many people are going to say that their dads used to run up, and down the mountains with little more than jeans and an old flannel shirt. That might be true, but if their dads had the option, they’d buy the good stuff.
The best quick-drying materials for hunting clothes:
Merino wool is well known for fast drying as well as comfort, but it’s going to hurt your budget for sure. For hunters that are just getting started in the backcountry hunting lifestyle I highly recommend synthetic materials because they are super affordable. Look for polyester, nylon, and spandex on the labels of clothing before you buy.
Clothes made from these materials will still get wet, but they will dry much faster. Bring two or three pairs of pants (counting the pair you have on) and rotate them through the days of the hunt so they can air dry. A night on a line under a tarp or tree should dry these clothes out completely. Good luck drying jeans that quickly.
Sometimes Less is Best
When we work, move, and walk we generate heat; some of us more so than others. Sweating in cold conditions is a good way to catch hypothermia. Despite the fact that it is cold enough for a coat, the work you’re doing might negate that. Do your best to keep the sweat down, and your clothes will stay dry for much longer.
When you find yourself working up a good sweat on a pack-out or pack-in, layering down will help keep you cool and your clothes dry. If you’re not sweating on a backcountry hunt in the Rockies, you’re doing it wrong. Airing out will keep your outer layer dry and will allow sweat to wick away.
When you’re on the move, layer down. When you’re static, layer up. This will help you stay comfortable and keep you from having to dry clothes all of the time. You’ll have to find that sweet spot that works for you. It’s all trial and error.
Take Care of Your Feet
Change your socks daily. The undies are up to you, but I never go too long without a change. In the Army, I saw plenty of highly-motivated guys get broken off simply from poor foot care. Don’t be one of them. It’s too easy to take your socks off before bed and let your feet breathe. This will help keep your feet dry and knock off the cold.
Once they’ve had a breath, put on a fresh pair and rack out. Your feet will thank you, and you will feel like a new man. During the day, your feet are sure to sweat. Layering down isn’t really an option when it comes to socks and boots. You could try this when you are at your glassing spot but I wouldn’t recommend it. Always be ready to move.
It’s a recurring theme, but it is worth mentioning again, try to limit the amount of sweat you produce and in the event that you do get sweaty, allow your clothes the time to dry. This is true for every layer of your clothing on a backcountry hunt.
Wear Layers When You Sleep
Nighttime in the backcountry on a late-season hunt was always a concern to me. I had run out of room in my budget for a quality cold-weather sleep system and was forced to improvise. What I came up with worked well but definitely would have been made better by investing in my gear a little more.
In the bottom of my tent I placed green spruce boughs, then a sleeping pad, space blanket, sleeping bag, and poncho liner in that order. Creating layers between me and the ground was the goal, and it definitely helped but not as much as what I wore in the bag while I slept.
Cotton is ok here in my opinion as long as you keep it dry. Make sure you’re wearing fresh socks and undies, thermal pants and shirt, and a boggin or fleece cap. I had an awesome polyester pullover I wore under my coat that was soft enough to sleep in that also made it on my backcountry pajama list.
On my first night, I only wore my thermal pants and shirt and, as a result, I fought chills until sunrise. The next night I made sure to bundle up and had a way better experience. I highly recommend that you invest in quality sleeping systems but if you find yourself making hard decisions with just a few days out you’d better layer up at bedtime.
Take these tips into consideration when you plan a late-season backcountry hunt. They can be the difference between a great experience and a terrible one. With a little forethought and the proper gear, anyone can keep warm on a backcountry hunt.
What are your tips for keeping dry and warm? Let us know in the comments!