Cold Weather Hunting Clothes

Between November whitetails and late season mallards along Montana spring creeks, I spend a lot of time giving cold weather clothing its sternest test: holding still in sub-zero temperatures. Here are some points my experience has taught me.

A friend recently returned early to our kitchen after “freezing out” in a stand near our house. As usual, his feet were the problem. He couldn’t understand it because he was wearing high quality insulated boots–made of leather.

Leather boots just won’t make it in these conditions. Go with high quality rubber pacs instead. Even the good ones are usually cheaper than leather, and rubber boots will leave less ground scent. I like Muck Boots for this purpose, but be sure to get the Arctic model. Not only are they better insulated than the others, they also provide far better traction when hunting steep, snowy terrain.

The newer synthetic insulating materials certainly have their place, but they seldom work well for bowhunters, mostly because they come housed in nylon shells that are just too noisy. I’ve always been a fan of wool, but one disadvantage is that it’s bulky. A wool coat heavy enough to keep you warm at 20-below can make it hard to draw your bow.

Here’s a simple solution to a heavy wool coat—a heavy wool vest. Most heat loss occurs through the trunk, and a vest will cover about 50% of your body surface area while leaving your arms free to draw unhindered.

2017-11-06T06:55:36+00:00

About the Author:

Co-editor Don Thomas and his wife Lori divide their time between homes in rural Montana and Arizona. He has been writing for the magazine since 1990. His books can be found at www.donthomasbooks.com

16 Comments

  1. Zachary Larsen November 8, 2017 at 8:40 am - Reply

    These are great tips! I’m an Arizona desert rat trying to figure things out in Canada… are there any tips for glove set ups, or keeping your hands warm and still being able to use a tab or shooting glove??

  2. Ted Smith November 8, 2017 at 8:57 am - Reply

    In the cold feet department, I have found over the years that no boot is as good as its temperature rating when I’m sitting still in a stand in wintry weather. But the boots that have worked best for me in that setting over the years continue to be U.S. Army “Mickey Mouse” cold weather boots. While my feet have never been toasty warm sitting in a stand in the winter, they have never been painfully cold or numb wearing Mickey Mouse boots. I’ve never tried the so-called “Minnie Mouse” boots, which are white to blend with snow and are intended for even more extreme cold than the black ones. But, then again, I never wanted to wear white while hunting deer. Mickey Mouse boots are a bit heavy and are definitely clunky, so they’re not ideal for still hunting or really long hikes in to a stand. But they are rubber and scent free, and I’ve never found anything better for sitting in a stand all day in the cold.

  3. Don Thomas November 8, 2017 at 10:02 am - Reply

    Zach’s questions about hands are great, because it’s a real issue in cold weather. I’m planning on addressing that in an upcoming issue of the print magazine. Quick answer is that for my bowstring hand I use my regular leather shooting gloves with the fingers pushed through the holes in a woolen fingerless glove. Works like a charm. I agree with Ted about the Mickey Mouse boots in terms of insulating ability. My problem with them is that I find them bulky and clumsy. I’m not as agile as I once was, and that bothers me both on the ground and when climbing into a tree stand. Still, for pure insulation they are hard to beat. Cheers, Don

  4. David Sherwin November 8, 2017 at 11:15 am - Reply

    I agree Don about wool and its warmth factor, next to down it’s the best and it provides an additional zero noise factor. Another tip is a wool scarf. I find a lot of heat escapes through my collar/neck area so to reduce substantially I always carry a wool scarf which when wrapped around my neck noticeably raises my core temperature.

  5. Roy Trahan November 8, 2017 at 5:28 pm - Reply

    If I were to Arctic Muck Boots my feet would freeze solid. I’m a Type 1 diabetic with neuropathy in my feet. My feet sweat terrible in any plastic boot. This causes my foot to get wet and, well, you know what wet does in the winter. I’ve found to use a synthetic sock liner then a thin pair of Marino wool socks and then another slightly thicker pair over that. Oh, and always gaiters. Moisture is the enemy. My foot stays warm with this as long as I’m walking or even still hunting. When I sit, my Overboots go on, right away right over my boots. I’ve been hunting with them for years and they work. Put your foot right in them, boot and all, zip them up th back. When hiking into my stand I simply stuff one boot in another and use the belt clip. Try them, Overboots, they’re great!

  6. Jason Crawford November 8, 2017 at 7:48 pm - Reply

    I’m kind of like Roy except I don’t have diabetes, however any type of rubber or non breathable boot, no matter how thick and warm always makes my feet colder to the moisture that is trapped within. Most of my hunting occurs from stands that only require a few hundred yards walk from the truck, but that is usually more than enough for my feet to sweat and if I’m wearing airtight rubber boots, it doesn’t matter how many sock liners and wool socks I wear or how thickly insulated the boots are, my feet will be “freezing” after setting for an hour or so. My feet seem to stay warmer with quality, insulated, leather and composite type boots that have some breath-ability to let some of the moisture out. If its really cold out, I put on “Boot Blankets” (Overboots) like Roy mentioned after reaching my stand.

  7. Zach Larsen November 8, 2017 at 8:43 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the reply Don! I look forward to the next article on cold weather hunting in print! Cheers

  8. Buck50 November 9, 2017 at 5:46 am - Reply

    Good subject matter. Lets face it…bowhunting in cold weather is a bitch! I’ve known guys who’ve put hot hands in their artic mucks on stand and swear by that. I’ll be 60 years old end of this November and hunt whitetails in MN and IA. A quality vest is key in preserving core temperature for me. My go-to is a light-weight polar fleece which I have worn for years. As the temps dip, I go w/polar fleece gaiter or balaclava and double-knit stocking cap atop. All my coats have hoods and are self-designated 40 degree or 30 degree. When it gets below freezing I hunt on the ground. My go-to there is MT050 Whitetail Extreme insulated coveralls. I wear 40 gram thinsulate fleece gloves (fingers cut off on draw hand) and use my pockets (or muff) w/hothands. I wear white silk socks under wool. In descending temp order, I wear Lacrosse Alphaburly rubber boots, Cabelas Inferno 2000 pac boots and Baffin Impact boots. When hunting Iowa’s late season, Dec.21-Jan.10 (which simply means I didn’t get the buck worthy of my efforts in the fall) many times it is in single-digit or sub-zero temps and I’m in a commercial ground blind not 10 minutes walk from my rig with a good supply of hot hands and polar booties over my Baffins for a 1 1/2-2 hr. sit. I’d much rather be ice fishing with the Little Buddy blazing away but at that point it’s about having venison under wrap.

  9. don thomas November 9, 2017 at 10:08 am - Reply

    I appreciate all the constructive feedback. Please keep in mind that this started out as a brief “Tip of the Week” and not a definitive discussion of the subject, so I couldn’t address all the points mentioned here. David’s comments about a scarf are spot on. Because of its high blood flow, the head and neck are responsible for a disproportionate amount of heat loss (15-20%), and a well insulated torso doesn’t help if all that warmth is going up an open chimney around your neck. As a physician (now retired) with 40 years of experience including five years spent running a diabetes clinic on a Montana Indian reservation, I certainly appreciate Roy’s concerns about his feet. The problem is that, much as with rain gear, any boot that is really built to keep cold out is inevitably going to keep moisture in. The solution is indeed proper layering of socks, including an inner layer of one of the newer synthetics (or silk) that can wick moisture away from the skin and into the outer layer of sock where it’s less uncomfortable and less likely to damage at-risk skin. I’ve worn overboots and agree that they are effective for keeping feet warm when you’re stationary. Trouble is, I’m always hiking around checking sign or still hunting and don’t like lugging them around when I do. Bottom line is that if what you are doing is working for you, by all means keep doing it. Best to all who responded, Don

  10. Michael Cornett November 9, 2017 at 1:20 pm - Reply

    King of the My. User for 25 yrs. Wool with a wool vest plus Muck Woody Elite can’t be beat when the temps drop to single digits.

  11. Hank Smith November 11, 2017 at 10:57 am - Reply

    Exotic boots are not the best way to keep your feet warm. In New England we say: “to keep your feet warm wear a good hat.”

    I’ve often hunted in February or March with the longbow, for caribou and ptarmigan, in northern Quebec, where minus 35F is common and -25F at midday is considered mild if there’s no wind. I’ve kept warm by following instructions of the Inuit guide. In the order of importance: (1) a warm hat, preferably Russian style with real animal fur; (2) a scarf to insulate the blood vessel running up the neck to the brain, preferably one that can be pulled up over the mouth if needed; (3) for the upper torso, 3 fairly light layers so as not to burden the arms, a down vest and a wind-breaking coat or shell that extends below the butt; (4) for the lower body, either an insulated bib or 2 to 3 layers, plus an outer windbreaker; (5) for the feet, wool socks and felt-lined boots. Why? The brain and heart must be kept at body temperature (98.6 F) or you’ll pass out. Fingers and feet can function well at much lower temperatures; hence the emphasis on the head and chest. Feet and fingers will be warm if you take care of the head, the chest and the large muscles of the legs. In my old age (80), while sitting on winter deer stand, I supplement the above with hand warmers. Don’t worry, the exothermic oxidation of iron powder is odorless.

    (Unfortunately, all sport hunting of caribou in Quebec is terminated after 2017.)

  12. don thomas November 11, 2017 at 5:31 pm - Reply

    Hank is entirely correct when it comes to preventing hypothermia, because so much heat loss occurs through the head and torso. However, cold as a matter of simple discomfort is another matter. Most of us don’t stop hunting and head indoors because we’re getting hypothermic. (Matter of fact, inability to feel cold is a hallmark of hypothermia.) When it comes to cold induced discomfort, hands and feet are first to go. This is because the body is “smart” enough to re-direct warm blood toward the body core where it counts. If you want to keep alive, insult the head and torso. If you want to keep hunting, pay attention to hands and feet. Don

  13. ASCA 051 Paul de Foucaud November 12, 2017 at 2:03 pm - Reply

    As Special Forces use to say :
    there is no bad weather, just poor équipement…
    Thank’s for that.
    TJ I am using yours since a long time from now.
    Regards.

  14. Bernie Clancey November 15, 2017 at 8:59 am - Reply

    Zach, an easy method that I found to keep my hands warm is to purchase one of those muff things that straps around your waist. I have a fleece one that came in camo color. You can slip your hands in and out of it quite easily. I then throw one of those hand warmers in the muff and use a light wool glove, or go bare handed with my tab on my shooting hand. If you slide your bow hand into the muff you will have to hang your bow, which might cause trouble when a deer approaches unexpectedly, due to the extra movement, but I have found this method works very well for keeping my shooting hand warm.

  15. Charlie Ek November 16, 2017 at 7:14 pm - Reply

    One thing this native of Minnesota, sometime resident of Alaska, Washington and New Hampshire and lifelong winter camper has learned is to fanatically keep snow off your clothing where possible. Melted snow is Mother Nature’s way of sucking heat out of your body while your attention is elsewhere. That’s because water can absorb an ENORMOUS amount of heat, and when it’s in your clothing it’s trying to kill you during any month with an “r” in it. (Or a “u” or “u” as well if you’re in Alaska.) Brush it off, especially after a faceplant while you’re trying to emulate Don Thomas’s past exploits by hunting on skis. 🙂

  16. don thomas November 17, 2017 at 10:14 am - Reply

    Good point, Charlie. Snow is just water in crystalline form. The other night I went to a good ground blind I\’d constructed in a hawthorn tangle. We\’d had a lot of snow the night before, and when I reached up to clip one last twig from a shooting lane, the brush dumped its entire snow burden on top of me. I brushed most of it off but got a load down my neck despite hat and scarf, and that drove me out of the blind an hour earlier than planned. Don

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