Every now and again we get a phone call from a customer who is a little confused about why they are getting damp and cold when hunting, when it's not raining.
As we dig into their predicament it becomes clear that the layering message that has been touted for years is still not completely understood. We are a nation that was brought up on the Swanny, the one garment to rule them all. We wore these day in and day out, rain, hail, sun and just put up with the scratchy wool, bulk and weight of the one piece of hunting clothing we had sunk a months wages into.
Move forward several decades and we are still in this mindset. We buy a jacket, we wear it hunting, even if its not raining.
Layering is a simple concept, but one that can be easily misunderstood. Layering in our world means exactly that, layering up items of clothing depending on the individual and the activity. But it's also more than that, having the right layers in the right order can make or in some cases break the concept.
Sweat is what makes us wet most of the time, although most people don't really understand this. It is extremely common for hunters to go out on a cold, rainy, winter day in their modern rain jacket and end up wet. The natural assumption is that the jacket has leaked. 95% of the time hunter is actually just perspiring and the cold air isn't allowing this sweat to dry quickly. Therefore the sweat continues to compile throughout the day and the end result looks like a jacket full of holes has been worn. Combine this with rain that sneaks its way down your sleeves, or through the neck of your jacket and the result isn't pretty.
This is where proper layering comes in to save the day!
Avoid cotton at all costs, the old saying “cotton kills” rings very true in our outdoor playground. Cotton absorbs vast amounts of moisture and has little to no thermal properties. So when your cotton T shirt is wet, and it's getting late in the day and you sit down to glass that last light, you are likely to get cold and in some cases even hypothermic. Any garment with any amount of cotton in it is never going to be as good as one that is completely synthetic. Leave the cotton t shirts for the BBQ or on the boat fishing in the summer.
Wool can be OK, it will absorb up to 3 times its own weight in water and sweat, but it will still keep you warm when it's wet, just don’t expect it to dry very quickly or stay warm forever. Wet wool when exposed to the elements will cool down very quickly.
Lets get into the nitty gritty of layering:
We always start with a base layer. This is here to create a low level of insulation, but also more importantlyits main role is to wick the moisture off our bodies. Leaving our skin dry and comfortable. Simple as that.
From here we move into the mid layers.These are here for insulation purposes, from a single layer of microfleece through to a 300gram fill down jacket, this is where you gain or lose heat. It's up to the individual to decide what they need here based on how much exercise they will be doing and whether they are a hot or cold kind of person. You want to stay comfortable and sweat as little as possible. If you're sweating, you're too hot, it's your body trying to cool you down, so help it out and take a layer off.Look for high wicking mid layers, that can draw moisture from your base layer and then through the mid layer, where it can be evaporated through your barrier layer, or in most cases straight from the mid layer to the atmosphere.
On top of our mid layers we tend to run wind block layers, if we require them. On cold and windy days this is what we use to block the wind andkeep our hard earned warmth insidethe rest of our clothing system. These will usually be able to withstand light showers of also. Wind block layers are not always necessary but can be very beneficial. They kind of fit into a category between mid and outer layers, often crossing between the two depending on the weather.
Outer layers, Shell layers, Rain jackets, Barrier layers etc, they might have different marketing terms but at the end of the day they all do the same thing,stop the real nasty weather from getting at you. These are our primary defense against the elements. This is what keeps out the rain and the snow, keeping our layers underneath dry and comfortable.
Here's a tip for free –if its not raining or blowing its backside off, you probably don’t need to have your rain coat on.It would be beneficial for you and your rain coat if it was rolled up in the bottom of your pack, waiting for the next downpour. Wearing them all the time will just make you sweat and increase the wear and tear on your jacket, reducing its usable lifespan. A waterproof breathable rain jacket is a good thing, but bear in mind thatno fabric on the face of the earth can breath as much as our bodies sweat. There will always be a build up of sweat on the inside of the jacket if you are working hard. The way the waterproof breathable membranes work best is when we have a warm damp environment inside the jacket and cold dry environment outside the jacket. If it's summer and raining the 2 environments are pretty much the same, reducing the breathability even more.
We can however reduce the felt effects of this sweat build up by using the right mid layers and base layers that don’t hold onto moisture, keeping our body dry and warm.
So there we have it, get a good base layer, layer up on top with as much or as little fleece or synthetic fill or down fill insulation as you need, be prepared tochange these layers regularly throughout your huntto stay comfortable. Chuck a wind block layer on if its cold and windy. It pays to carry a rain coat in your pack, get something you can depend on and most importantly if you want it to last and want to remain comfortable put it on when it rains, take it off when its not raining.
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