Must-Have Gear for Sub-Zero Hunting
Hunting in colder weather was just not an option for me back in the day, or at least I thought it wasn't. I always thought paying outrageous amounts of money for a hunting coat was dumb and money I never had. So time and time again, I bought gear and repeated the same cycle over and over. I was constantly freezing and, in the end, wouldn't go out if the temperatures dropped much below 30 degrees. My fiance Eric, however, is ALWAYS hunting in temperatures well below zero and has the time of his life chasing deer during the rut. He always chalked it up to his gear.
So just like everyone else, I had to invest and focus on getting one thing at a time to build up my gear. Many items I had were good but not good enough for the conditions or added too much bulk.
The Gear that Works
So let's get to the good part and skip all the gear in between! Keep in mind that I am still upgrading my base layers and some mid-layer items.
My journey began with Girls With Guns (I wouldn't recommend it for cold-weather hunting, and it holds stink), Habitat (hard pass), KINGS Camo (good for the price, but pants aren't 100% on point with fit), Prois (good but can hold stink with certain pieces), to a mix of Sitka and KUIU.
Merino wool is a must-have for me. I currently wear the Sitka Women's Core Lightweight top over a Prois Olann Merino ¼ zip, along with the Prois Olann bottoms and Darn Tough Wool Hiking Mid-Cushion Socks.
I plan to upgrade to FirstLite base layers in the future. Based on my research by talking with other hunters and through product reviews, these work great to keep you warm, are quality products, and are the products that made FirstLite a leader in the hunting camo market. My other top contenders are Sitka and KUIU; I've tried their gear in the past and have been impressed. Lastly, I always have a neck gaiter to keep the wind off my face.
I currently wear the Prois Olann Merino Lightweight Jacket and Sitka Timberline pants. However, I am working on upgrading my mid-layers and will likely go to all Sitka gear. I plan to check out the KUIU options as well.
I currently wear the KUIU Super Down Hooded Jacket. This jacket is lightweight, compactable, and down. While it can be too much to wear while hiking, it is a must in extremely cold temperatures. I still struggle with sweating and am careful not to overdo it since the jacket is down. Unfortunately, it only offers a little wind protection but is an excellent insulator. When I initially got it, I was disappointed it wasn't as big of a jacket as I had hoped. That said, it's been a great layer, and I've been very impressed with it as my outer layer if needed during archery season.
Additionally, I wear the Stone Glacier Rain Pants when glassing to keep the wind and snow off my legs.
My go-to gloves are the Sitka Traverse Gloves, and I always have my Sitka Down Mittens on or in my pack. For those of us with poor circulation, the down mittens are the best investment I've made in my gear! The Sitka Mountain gloves are also great; I keep those in my pack during late fall hunts in case a storm blows through.
Most of the time, all I need are the Traverse gloves, which have been one of the most durable, comfortable, and warm gloves I've used. Anytime the temperatures are forecast to be 20 or below, I wear the down mittens over the gloves. The mittens are my go-to when it comes to glassing for any extended period of time, and the only thing I've found that truly keeps out the cold and wind.
The Extreme Winter Coat
When the conditions are so cold that only crazy people would be outside, I wear the Sitka Kelvin Down Jacket. If you want to be warm, DO NOT SETTLE FOR ANYTHING LESS! This jacket has Sitka's wind-stopper material that does not disappoint when hunting in windy conditions. It has not only kept me warm when hunting in conditions I've never dreamed of being in, but it has also saved my butt on more than one occasion where I've been in a situation far from the truck in dangerously cold temperatures. This jacket is extremely warm, so I would not recommend wearing it right out of the truck or while hiking; you will sweat profusely and can create more issues.
If you've read my blog "Solo, Here I Go," you'll know that I typically do not check the weather ahead of time. But, I do always try to be prepared for changing conditions. You can never predict what will happen on the mountain; sometimes, the weather quickly changes.
Clothes are just part cold-weather gear setup. I also carry the following:
Firestarter - This is always in my pack. I carry cotton balls covered in vaseline and pitch wood as a backup.
Water - We carry an extra bottle of water plus an extra Hydrapak reservoir in the truck. Fluids are still crucial in cold weather. Plus, our other water sources are usually frozen, so we can't use the water pump.
Extra socks - This is important if your feet get wet from the weather or sweat.
Don't Break the Bank
Quality comes at a cost, but you don't have to break the bank by buying new gear. There are several sources for getting quality gear at very affordable prices.
CamoFire.com - This AMAZING site is excellent for many brands, including Sitka. They have different products daily, so you have to be ready to buy. Sign up for their daily email to see the deals in your inbox. Discounts are usually from 20 to 70 percent off.
BlackOvis.com - Their prices are relatively standard compared to other retailers, but you can find good sales.
Mountain-archery.com - This site usually has excellent deals on Sitka gear, where you can get 50 percent or more off.
Hunting shows are fun to attend, and most companies have show deals.
Sign up for KUIU or Sitka emails and follow their social media; they will run sales throughout the year with steep discounts.
Amazon also sells Sitka and Prois, among other brands. You can add it to your cart, and if the price goes down, it will let you know.
With the right gear, you can successfully hunt and be outdoors in frigid temperatures and stay warm. Furthermore, you can get warm, quality gear at an affordable price if you do some research, stay patient, and keep an eye on things. By doing this, I purchased my Sitka Kelvin Down Jacket for $199, when it usually retails for $359.
I never imagined it would be possible, yet over the past year, I've comfortably hunted in 19-degree weather with 50 mph wind gusts and in at least a foot of snow. And have been able to build up my gear closet without going broke!
Want some insight on the KUIU women's line? Check out our product review.
Shaylin is part of Team Idaho. Follow her on Instagram at @huntress208 to see all of her outdoor adventures.