There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. It’s an edict we live by in the northern hemisphere. And thankfully, outdoor clothing has come a long way in helping us stay warm and dry while we pursue our passions.
Choosing the right pieces can mean the difference between a comfortable day afield and a miserable outing that you’d rather forget. Making those choices isn’t easy these days as our climate makes a significant shift. If anything, it’s unpredictable. That means an early June morning on the water in search of lakers can feel just as chilly as an end-of-season deer hunt. Or that caribou trip up north at the end of September can be as smoking hot as a July afternoon on the Prairies.
The key is layering. It’s a three-step process (base, mid and shell layer) that’s adaptable to any season and all conditions. Learn how it works, invest in the right pieces and you’ll never worry about the weather again.
There’s something nostalgic about sporting those cotton thermal long underwear pieces that our grandfathers wore. And nostalgia will lead us directly to a miserably damp and cold experience. Cotton is likely the worse thing you can wear in an attempt to stay warm outdoors, especially if any kind of physical exertion is part of the plan. We sweat. Cotton sucks up all that moisture and holds it against our skin. We get cold. We get miserable. It’s time to ditch the cotton in favour of fabrics that offer a little more performance.
Base layers—both tops and bottoms—come in two varieties. There are the synthetics (usually polyester) and then there are natural fabrics including merino wool and silk. Base layers made of these fabrics will wick away moisture, eliminating the sweat that can stick to your skin and make you feel cold. It makes a huge difference in your comfort level. Wear your base layer tight against your skin.
Base layers run from about $40 to over $100 per piece, but they’re usually one-time investments. Don’t be scared off by the fact that you’ll have wool next to your skin. Merino wool is soft, comfortable and ridiculously warm. Plus merino wool has a magical property of smelling fresh even after many sweaty outings These pieces will run about twice the price of the synthetics (polyester). Silk feels super thin but packs a big warmth punch.
Synthetics are also extremely thin and do a great job of keeping you warm and dry. The downside is that that don’t have that cozy feeling when you first slide them on. Get over it. These are functional pieces, not jammies for a night by the fire. The other downside to synthetics is that they suck up body odour and have to be washed after every wear.
It’s all about insulation with the mid layer. In spring and summer, a heavy fleece usually does the trick. But come late fall and winter, we usually need a little more as the final minutes of daylight tick away at the end of November, while we’re perched in a treestand, waiting, waiting.
Just like base layers, mid layers come in a variety of materials. Wool is always a good choice, but it’s sometimes difficult to get enough warmth out of a single layer. Fleece is also good, but just like wool, it might not be warm enough for the colder seasons. Down is a superstar in the warmth department, but it’s also super expensive. Most outdoor clothing is made from a synthetic fill that imitates down and has the same properties when it comes to weight and warmth. Thinsulate and PrimaLoft are common brand names, but many manufacturers are now creating their own brands.
Wear your mid layer with a little bit of breathing room. It shouldn’t be too loose or too tight. Mid layers are often combined with the shell layer in outdoor clothing to create a piece that’s warm, waterproof and windproof.
The last layer keeps out the wind and water. It’s especially handy during hard-driving rain in the boat and misty mornings of waterfowl hunting. Many hunting jackets have some degree of wind resistance built in, which can be a big plus during extended periods of time outdoors.
Keep in mind that there’s a big difference between water resistance and water proofing. Water resistant pieces will keep you mostly dry in a drizzle, but eventually the moisture will seep in. On the plus side, they’re lighter, more breathable and less expensive than fully waterproof pants and jackets.
When you need a waterproof piece, be sure to choose one that’s also breathable. These fabrics have been treated with a coating that stops water from coming in but lets water vapour (sweat) escape. Vents in the back and under the arms also help.