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Dressing for Any Hunt: Tips for Layering

No matter what season or what state you hunt, you’ll likely encounter changing temperatures and weather conditions. Cool mornings may give way to hot afternoons. Sunshine may turn to rain or snow. Either way, you need to be prepared with the right clothes to ensure not only comfort but also safety in the field.

In my own personal experience, I’ve hunted Kentucky’s rifle deer season with 12 degree mornings and 70 degree afternoons. I’ve elk hunted in Idaho where the sky was clear and the temperatures were reasonable, and suddenly we were in the middle of what felt like a blizzard—then clear skies again. And in Idaho, we can have temperature swings of 40-50 degrees from morning to afternoon. (I've learned never to leave home without a hoodie!)

The picture below illustrates how drastic things can change. The picture on top was taken at 6:51pm October 15, 2016. The bottom picture was taken at 9:13am October 16, 2016. Just 15 hours later and we had to hike in 12+ inches of snow to retrieve my elk. Luckily, I packed a variety of clothes for this hunt so I could be be prepared for any weather we encountered.

Layering is a major key to comfort when hunting or doing other outdoor activities, but that doesn’t mean just put on a bunch of clothes and head out. The layers should actually be working together to help remove moisture, maintain an optimal temperature and defend against the elements.

There are 3 main layers, each serving its own purpose. And there are a wide variety of brands offering women-specific layering clothes.

Base Layer: Moisture Management

The base layer includes the clothing that fits right against your body. The key function is to wick moisture away, keeping your body dry. This doesn’t just include pants and shirts—your socks and undergarments are base layers too!

Available in lightweight, mid-weight and heavyweight. Generally, the thicker the fabric, the more insulation it will provide. But keep in mind, the base layer is meant for moisture management, not insulation.

  • Merino wool has become the go-to for many hunters because of its comfort, moisture-wicking abilities and odor-resistant properties.

  • Synthetic fabrics are mostly comprised of polyester and are lightweight and quick drying.

Tip: Steer clear of cotton as a base layer. While we all love cotton, it absorbs and retains moisture instead of wicking it away from the body. This is not only uncomfortable, but can be dangerous due to a higher risk of hypothermia (even in slightly cool temperatures). You can still wear cotton, but you should definitely consider your expected activity level first.

Many popular hunting clothes brands that offer women’s-specific clothes also offer women’s base layers such—as Prois and Girls With Guns—but there are many brands that provide the same moisture-wicking and comfort features that aren’t specific to hunting. And remember, your base layer doesn’t have to be camouflage!

Mid Layer: Insulation

The mid-layer is your insulating layer that helps retain your body’s heat. This is the most flexible layer and can be doubled up in cooler conditions or removed in warmer conditions. Oftentimes, mid-layers can be used as the outer layer, especially in warmer climates or early-season hunts.

Mid-layers might include features such as zippers in the underarm area for ventilation or zip-up collars that help retain heat in cooler conditions but release heat in warmer conditions. And sometimes, the mid-layer can be the inner layer of the outer layer!

  • Polyester fleece is popular because it’s available in a variety of weights, stays warm even if it gets damp, and dries relatively quickly.

  • Waterproof down is a lightweight option that has basically replaced traditional down that became useless when wet.

Outer Layer: Protection

The outer layer is your protection. This layer is designed to guard against wind, rain and snow and other elements Mother Nature might throw at you while hunting. They should be built tough so they can withstand going through thick trees, heavy brush and thorns.

Depending on where and how you’re hunting, weight and packability should be considered when selecting an outer layer because conditions change throughout the hunt.

  • Rain gear

  • Waterproof shells will provide protection against full-on downpours; these are usually the most durable.

  • Water-resistant shells are more suited for light rain/drizzle and higher activity levels; these are usually tightly woven nylon or polyester fabrics.

  • Non-breathable shells are good for rainy days with low activity (sitting in a blind/stand instead of hiking), and are typically coated nylon. If you increase your activity level, you’ll likely end up saturating your base or mid layers with perspiration.

  • Pants – Look for pants that are versatile and built for a range of temperatures and allow you to easily move

The Extras

In addition to your standard shirts, pants and jackets, there are a lot of other pieces that can be added to your layering system.

  • Leg gaiters – Help keep moisture out of your boots and socks when walking through wet grass, snow or crossing creeks; protect your legs from thorns and burrs.

  • Gloves – Invest in both layering gloves and thicker, insulated gloves (I have several of each). Layering gloves are perfect for early season, or when you will need to use your hands a lot. Thicker gloves provide warmth needed for late season or cold-weather hunts. Features such as hand-warmer pockets are nice too.

  • Neck gaiters – Not only good for face concealment, but these can provide warmth around the neck to help hold heat in and can protect skin from the sun. Choose a versatile design that can be worn multiple ways—around the neck, on the head, as a bandana, etc.

  • Hats – Beanies provide more warmth because they fit closer to the skin. Standard ball cap styles help block the sun; chose a net-back hat for warmer weather hunts to help release heat.

  • Socks – Crucial for foot comfort, choose merino wool socks. They will keep your feet warm and dry, without overheating.

Buying Options

When it comes to selecting your layers, there are many, many options and brands and it may come down to your personal preferences and budget. You don’t have to choose the most expensive brands to get the best quality, and you may have to look past your go-to brand to get a wider range of options.

Below are several brands that offer a full range of women’s hunting clothes, including all of the layers and extras:

Other brands offering limited women’s offerings:

  • First Lite

  • Sitka

  • SheOutdoor (BassPro)

In the end, you should choose quality items that fit and are comfortable, consider the fabric and look for items that may perform multiple purposes, such as layered parkas. And don’t ignore stores like Wal-Mart—you can find great base layer clothing, socks, gloves, t-shirts and lighter-weight options. You don’t have to break the budget to layer properly.

And since these layers are an investment, so be sure to read all care instructions to get the most from them and ensure they last season after season.

Sarah Honadel is an avid outdoorswoman from Kentucky, now living in Idaho, who enjoys hunting elk, deer and turkey. She is a team member at Huntress View, Pro Staff for Browning Trail Cameras and Brand Ambassador for the GoWild app.Follow her on Instagram @waddysarah and @arrowridgecreations.

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