Moving on to clothing systems…an incredible amount of info and research is out there on this subject. I will stick to some basics and then list some other sources for your references. For me, I like a really thin baselayer (Patagonia Capilene or Merino ONE’s or just an Under Armor T-shirt) up top and usually no baselayer bottoms unless it is really cold and I am moving slow. Over the baselayer goes a thin UNINSULATED shell, top and bottoms. Usually when I am putting out, this combination is all that is required. I keep a puffy type coat (down or Primaloft) or a fleece at the top of the pack and throw it on as soon as I stop moving. As a rule, start your trek on the cold side. Otherwise, you will be stopping in 20 minutes to peel layers, which is a pain when humping a heavy pack and gun. I seem to have a hard time convincing people to start COLD, not cool, until they are gassed in a half mile. Then the learning takes place.
I keep a good medium weight warmie hat on for moving and a heavy weight hat for in camp or static positions. You will be surprised at how well you can regulate your temp, even in really cold, with just your choice in hat. Also, make sure your hat does, in fact, breathe and wick moisture. Wet = cold. Again, this layer and hat combo works for me, but I prefer to be slightly cool when really putting out in winter conditions.
As the temperatures plummet, add mid-weight layers (like the waffle types—Patagonia R1, Under Armor, REI, and Mountain Hardware variants) as needed. Remember, a little goes a long way if you are huffing and puffing up the mountain. If you are going slow, glassing a lot, and not working up a sweat, you will need more warmies. Check out the book Extreme Alpinism by Mark Twight as a good source of info on lightweight cold weather clothing methods. He helped develop the military cold weather system and it works very well. Patagonia and Mountain Hardware have good gear combo recommendations under the Alpine Climbing or hiking/ trekking sections on their websites. Under Armor is decent too, but I only use the “Heat Gear” baselayers. The “Cold Gear” seems to be more for a winter football game, not hiking for a week. Their waffle top mid layer gets good marks from some guys I work with so check out their website too. In all of them, watch out for garments designed for snow skiing/ boarding. Often they are made to block high speed wind and won’t breathe as well when hiking.
You will have to find out your own body needs. Get out in the cold, do some work, and see how your temp is regulating. Too hot/ sweaty is no bueno because it leads into being wet and cold. Shivering, cold fingers or ears are equally bad. Again, if you are thinking about your cold toes, your awareness of the environment suffers. When you stop to set up your ambush spot or to glass, remember to put on your puffy or other insulating layers and sit on a closed cell foam ground pad. The added insulation will push sweat off your skin and keep your temp at more of a steady state. When it is time to move, put them back at the top of your pack in easy reach for the next break. One thing to keep in mind, you will be surprised at how LITTLE you really need when you are moving with a pack. Static positions for long duration require more warmies, of course, but that is why you have the puffy top and bottoms.
A quick work example regarding starting cold: One of our winter routines involves the starting time of the day, or “pull pole,” as in tent pole. I know it is a silly term– I didn’t create it. Typically the tactical leader of the patrol sets the pull pole time as 10-15 minutes prior to stepping off. In that time, you break down your tent or any remaining gear, stow it, along with your puffy coat and warmies, and get your pack on and situated. Since you are down to minimal layers (remember, you will warm up as you move), you don’t want to be standing around waiting on the last guy. When everyone is disciplined and has their system down, it works great and you don’t have to stop in 20 minutes to shed layers. When someone is a total mess and can’t get their gear stowed in time, you end up waiting in the cold with no warmies on, shivering. I have seen a few guys get punished for this infraction back at the lodge. Usually it involved snow, bare feet and chest, water, and the rest of us heckling the offender as he shivered for a set time period. Anyways, start off cold.
Another consideration: Precipitation. Snow or rain or wet vegetation will make you wet. Wet = cold. Actually, I think 33 degrees and pouring rain is much worse than -10 degrees and dry. You are either going to get wet from the rain or from your own sweat. No doubt about it. A lot of rain gear out there does not breathe, which eventually will make you sweat out. Even good rain gear makes you sweat. I like shells that dry quickly over completely water PROOF garments. Sometimes you have no choice due to the amount of rain coming down, or how wet all the vegetation is that you are walking through. Again, the manufacturers already mentioned have some decent rain gear. Sometimes you cannot avoid a little misery, but then again, why are you elk/ sheep/ deer hunting on the mountain if you don’t like a little test in misery?
Key points to remember: 1. Good boots with solid shanks and good socks. 2. Manage your layers so you can control your sweat and moisture. Good baselayers are the foundation. 3. START YOUR HIKE COLD. 4. Try out various combinations before the hunt and keep a log on atmospheric conditions and what you liked, didn’t like, or wish you had or left home. Always write down lessons learned, whether it is your backpacking method or your rifle data book. Lessons learned every time! Thanks for listening and look for the next chapter soon!