I made a whole lot less money when I started bowhunting and I’ve always been just plain cheap. Back then there was little organization to my cold weather bowhunting clothing. Whatever I had in the house left over from my pre-adult hunting days was drafted into service including cotton long underwear, 1/2″ thick cotton/wool socks with the flexibility of rawhide and the ugliest pull-over polar fleece hoodie (not camouflaged) you’ve ever seen. I had one camouflage top, a thin cotton, XL or XXL turkey hunting shirt/jacket with elastic shotgun loops in the left front flap pocket that just went over everything. I’d put everything on, drive to the hunting area with limited mobility, waddle to my favorite tree and put up my stand the best I could like some kind of camo Michelin Man. I don’t remember killing anything in that get up, but I sure remember good bowhuntin’ times, cold or no.
Dressed for success, Wisconsin winter style.
As I’ve gained a few gray hairs and lost many more I’m a little less tolerant of the cold. I’m also a little more dedicated and possess the mental fortitude (that comes with age?) necessary to stay on stand longer. Over the past three-to-five years or so I’ve collected and experimented with clothing and equipment that’ll allow me to do just that in sub-zero temperatures. A very old article by Bowsite’s Pat Lefemine is the basis of this system. An inquiry to locate the article for credit and reference went unanswered. Additionally, ideas came from Bowsite users and from my own hunting partners. You’ll see through-out that there is no adherence to particular, heavily-marketed, brand-named clothing and gear – I buy a combination of what fits, what is on sale and what I believe will do the job. While specific brands and pieces are mentioned so that readers can have an example of the garments, this is a concept not an advertisement or endorsement.
Testing the System
It’s a tradition in our deer camp to hunt closing weekend – the first weekend in January in central Wisconsin. It can be cooolllldddd…. Upon returning to camp one morning this year it was still -6 degrees F outside. The guys said it was -14 degrees F when I left for my stand. I’d not gotten cold on stand and assumed it was in the mid-20′s. I just didn’t feel like sitting in the tree any longer.
Chemical warmers sold under many brand names are a key component of this system. Before leaving the cabin I’ll have already opened them so they’re ready for application by the time I reach my tree. They won’t be needed until then. With my toes being a major weak spot I’ll use a pair of toe-warmers in my boots. I used to use hand-warmers for this application until my hunting partners proved to me that the toe-warmers actually work better in the low-oxygen application. One to two (depending on just how cold it is) hand-warmers go into my hand-muff and then either one large adhesive warmer or one hand-warmer applied with duct tape will be applied to my kidneys.
The Base Layer
First is a set of odor-inhibiting, moisture-wicking underwear. Those pictured are Champion C9′s from Target. Next, my feet get sprayed with scent-free antiperspirant such as Sure and Cabela’s Thermax sock liners go on. Over the socks and underwear go a compression-fit, moisture-wicking, odor-inhibiting layer of thermal underwear. These have a “nap” inside and are marketed by some companies as “cold”. Those garments without a “nap” make me feel cool and clammy so I prefer the nap. Pictured is a Champion C9 mock top (I really like the mock tops) while the bottoms are no-names from Cabela’s.
The base layer.
Sock liners and wool socks.
The Second Layer
Heavier, but not crazy heavy, wool socks go on next. Then a heavier layer of mid-to-heavy weight long underwear. Traditionally I’ve used military surplus and Medalist brand polypropylene for this layer. However, both are a little on the stiff side and don’t always play well with the first layer. So, I’m currently experimenting with the ASAT Elite Extreme zip-top and the Lava-Wool bottoms pictured below. The ASAT top is smoooooth and comfy inside, but has really pilled up after only a short amount of use. It performed well on my 2009 Dog-Sledding trip. Also, the handwarmer pouch on the front drives me crazy. I’m considering cutting it off.
The ASAT Elite Extreme zip top and Lavawool bottoms.
The Third Layer
The second long underwear layer is followed by wind-proof polar-fleece trousers. I have two pairs; one Cabela’s Legacy Fleece with Windshear and one Cabela’s Windshear Fleece, pictured below. Both work great although pocket design/execution is poor on either. Red Ball pack boots handed down from my father provide the last layer on the feet. Depending on just how cold it is a Cabela’s wind-proof, camouflage, polar fleece hat; very light Manzella fleece bowhunter gloves and a Liberty camouflage, cotton sweatshirt (I haven’t found a synthetic version that fits my scrawny carcass yet) may go on for transiting to the stand. Everything else is in my pack or cargo pockets. This prevents me from sweating up my clothing – which I want to avoid for scent-control and for staying warm on stand.
Cotton sweatshirt and windproof fleece pants.
Hand-me-down pack boots (those kooky turkeys…).
The Final Layers
When I put my final layers on depends on whether I’m using a climbing stand, permanent stand or affixing a hang-on stand. For climbing stands and permanent stands I’ll put all my clothes on at the base of the tree and climb up. Neither method is physically taxing enough to work up a sweat. For affixing a hang-on stand I’ll put up the stand, pull up my pack with clothing and then get dressed. Either way, now is the time at which the chemical warmers go in my boots, on the small of my back and in my hand-muff.
This final layer consists of the cotton sweatshirt if I haven’t already put it on, a pair of Bass Pro Shop Mountain Stalker Elite insulated bibs, a light fleece jacket (optional, depending on just how cold it is), a Cabela’s 650 Goose Down vest (a critical component), a safety harness and then a Cabela’s Outfitter’s Wooltimate Windshear jacket. While the safety harness doesn’t have anything to do with staying warm a lesson learned from this year is that it is far more convenient under one layer of clothing than on the outside. When worn on the outside it allowed my rangefinder to clank on a buckle and prevented me from using hand-warmer pockets on my jacket.
Down vest and optional light polar fleece jacket.
Odds and Ends
Once settled into my tree a Cabela’s wind-proof neck-gaiter goes on along with a Bass Pro Shop’s Enduraskin camouflage balaclava, a cheap, no-name fleece beanie, the Cabela’s polar fleece hat and the hand-muff. The Enduraskin balaclava is one of my favorite items. I’m very, very particular about my anchor point. The BPS balaclava is thin enough that I can still feel my jaw-line against my hand, but it has enough wind-breaking, moisture-wicking, insulating and odor-resistant properties that it is all the warmth on need on what would normally be exposed skin. Keeping that anchor point in mind, I don’t wear a glove on my right (release) hand while in the stand. It stays in my hand-muff with one or two chemical warmers and my left hand that does have a glove on – the bow’s riser can be cooolllllldddd. I’ve also cut and inserted an extra piece of thick polar fleece material to take up dead air space in my hand-muff.
Final jacket layer, neck gaiter, polar fleece cap, polar fleece beenie, balaclava, light gloves and hand-muff (with extra polar fleece).
So that’s it, my pot-luck method of keeping warm on stand in cold temperatures. I’m warm, it’s packable, it allows me to stay on stand and I can shoot from it.
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