Layering System – How To Dress For Hunting And Survival In 2020

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Enjoying the outdoors is greatly enhanced if you are comfortable. This is almost always related to feeling cool or warm enough. While hunting whitetail, turkey, moose, or any other game, a modern layering system can really benefit you in that domain.

What is a layering system? It is a way to dress that permits your body to regulate its temperature more efficiently by using multiple layers of clothes one on top of the others. In general, the system will include a total of three layers named: the base layer, the mid-layer (or insulation layer), and the outer layer.

3-layer system

The classic 3-layer system was launched in 1987 by the clothing brand Odlo under the name Athletic Clothing System. It was based on three layers, where an under layer keeps your skin dry and comfortable, an intermediate layer insulates and wicks away perspiration, and finally the outer layer that protects you from wind and rain.

The base layer

The base layer has one primary purpose and that is to keep your skin dry. In winter as well as in summer. In summer, sweat can suffocate, your body temperature rises and it quickly becomes uncomfortable to have extra layers of clothing on, while this may be desirable for camouflage, for example. From pure merino wool clothing, via hybrid fabrics where merino and polyester are used, to completely artificial fabrics such as nylon and polyester. This layer is worn tight on the skin.

In winter, sweat has a cooling effect. So if you have to walk in your winter clothing it can become dangerous. First, you warm up, you start sweating and then you cool down wet. The recipe for a big cold and it can even be life-threatening.
So the base layer has to transport the sweat from the skin to the outside. This keeps you dry, cooler in summer and warmer in winter.

You can read an article here about what we think are the 10 Best Base Layers for the 2020 Hunting Season.

The middle layer

The middle layer is for insulation. This is the layer that keeps you warm in cold conditions. Wool and fleece are excellent materials for a middle layer. It specifically does not need a membrane for wind and water tightness.

The outer layer

The main task of the outer layer is to protect you from wind and water. Both ensure that you cool down quickly, with all its consequences. Because you are already kept warm by the inner two layers, a relatively thin pair of trousers or jackets can be enough.

Also look at the durability of the waterproof layer. In other words, how long will it stay waterproof in the pouring rain? If you are on post all day and the water starts to seep through after an hour, the outlook for the rest of the day is not too good. However, do pay attention to noise, often used membranes make too much noise when you move. It doesn’t cause any unwanted disturbance during the hunt.

A good test is to scratch the clothing with a nail while keeping the garment at arm’s length. The audibility is an indication of disturbance. Remember that the coarse game usually has better ears, but also that you will rarely get that close. Consider your circumstances by comparing different pieces of clothing.

Baselayer: sweat drain

The base layer is the layer closest to your skin. Its role is simple: wick away the moisture from your skin and keeps you dry. It is no secret that your body will get colder faster if wet, especially when exposed to wind. Combine that with the long hours of sitting in one place and you get a dangerous situation. Those clothes are most of the time form-fitting. The closer fit to your body adds effectiveness to the moisture-wicking quality of the garment.

For hunting, purposes try to keep them a neutral color but you don’t need to get camo design since you will rarely get down to that level.

Materials

They could be made of synthetic or natural fibers. I would highly suggest you buy yourself set-in merino wool. When buying merino wool, you will get a rating in gram per square meter or g/m2. The highest the rating, the warmer it will keep you. For general purpose get something in the 260g/m2 range.

Here is a shortlist of merino wool pros:

  • Extremely light
  • Keep its insulation value when wet
  • Naturally, get rid of the bacterial odors
  • Silent
  • Doesn’t shine the light

Cons to merino wool:

  • Cons to merino wool:
  • Expensive
  • Durability
  • Can be itchy

Note: I would like to note that, you can expect a couple of seasons out of your merino as far as durability goes, and you really get used to the itchy feeling after a couple of wear. Overall, the pros far outweigh the cons.

Merino wool compared to synthetic fibers

Natural fibers (wool and especially Merino wool):

  • Good insulating properties. Warm but ventilating.
  • Good moisture transport from the skin (less strong than synthetic).
  • Preserve its insulating value when wet
  • Natural anti-bacterial – so anti-odor

Synthetic fibers (polyester and polyester blends):

  • Fast drying
  • Low weight
  • Good fluid transport away from your body.
  • Less expensive
  • Less warm than wool

Synthetic fibres (polyester and polyester blends):

  • Fast drying
  • Low weight
  • Good fluid transport away from your body.
  • Less expensive
  • Less warm than wool

Examples of Base Layers

Below are in my opinion some of the best base layers in 2020.

Long sleeve: Smartwool Men’s Base Layer Top – Merino 250 Wool Active 1/4 Zip Outerwear

Long Sleeve

This baselayer top is incredibly comfortable to wear. It is made with an interlock knit for enhanced thermoregulation and odor resistance. The Merino-covered shoulder panels and zipper design are well designed. The flatlock seam construction of this top is specially designed to minimize chafing, making this 1/4 zip perfect to wear. You can wear this baselayer top all day long without any discomfort.

This heavier, soft, 100% Merino wool fabric offers breathable warmth, moves sweat away from the body, odor control, thermoregulation, and provides next-to-skin comfort in colder weather conditions.

The flatlock seam construction of this top is specially designed to minimize chafing, making this 1/4 zip perfect to wear as a baselayer during outdoor activities.

Short sleeve: Men’s Merino 150 Base Layer Short Sleeve

Mens Merino 150 shirt

This is an excellent base layer top for hunting/survival activities during any season of the year. Moisture management properties are impressive. It will keep you cool in the summer and warm in the winter. After wearing the base layer for four days straight out on the trail during warm weather, it handled sweat and body odor very well. Highly recommended.

The short sleeve features a flatlock seam construction that is specially designed to minimize chafing and provide maximum comfort. The raglan sleeves on this shirt eliminate the need for uncomfortable shoulder seams. The Men’s Merino 150 Baselayer Short Sleeve features Smartwool’s lightest weight Merino jersey fabric, increasing durability while keeping 100% Merino wool next to skin.

Whether you are on a hunting trip, hiking on a cold winter day, the Merino 150 Baselayer Short Sleeve is the perfect choice for all of your outdoor activities.

Bottoms: Smartwool Merino 150 Baselayer Bottom

Smartwool Merino 150 Baselayer Bottom

Smartwool makes quality items these are no exception. Yes, they are more expensive, but you get what you pay for in quality and comfort. Think of these as more of a geared investment if you are serious about staying warm during the chillier months.

The thermal underwear sits tight against your skin and ensures that when you sweat, it is well-drained. Thermo underwear (made of wool, such as merino wool) doesn’t get wet and feels nice and soft at the same time. This heavier, soft, 100% Merino wool fabric offers breathable warmth, moves sweat away from the body, odor control, thermoregulation, and provides next-to-skin comfort in colder weather conditions.

These bottoms are made with an interlock knit for thermoregulation, and odor resistance with a Merino-covered waistband and fly design, allowing you to wear them all day long without any discomfort.

The flatlock seam construction of these bottoms is specially designed to minimize chafing, making these pants perfect to wear underneath snow pants during a long day of hunting!

Boxer

Boxer Shorts

Mid-layer: insulation

The mid-layer, also called the insulation layer, soles the purpose is to provide the insulation required between your base and outer layer. While the base layer keeps you dry, the mid-layer provides loft and airspace to insulate your body.

This layer needs to allow air to travel through it and permit the drying of your base layer. Most often than not, those garments will be made out of synthetic material such as polyester. Sometimes if the weather permits it, you could get down to this layer so think about neutral colors or camouflage for hunting purposes.

Note: Something to note about synthetic is that they can retain odors so those need to be washed more often.

A fleece vest or sweater. In contrast to the tight-fitting thermal underwear, this has to be somewhat looser around your body. This can create a warm layer of air around your body, as it were. While this layer is critical to keep you warm, this is probably the piece of clothing that might cost you the least amount of money.

You can get some great pieces of clothing at a reasonable price in this category. No need to shell out some big money, when a traditional fleece will serve you as well as and other high dollar pieces. Better save in this category and get yourself something a little nicer in the other two categories.

Examples of Mid Layers

Below are some excellent mid layers.

Fleece/Hoodie: Arc’teryx Dallen Fleece Hoody Men’s

Sweate/hoodie Arc'teryx Dallen Fleece Hoody Men's

I own at least one or two of every hoodie that Arcteryx makes. This hoodie fits very well and is super comfortable to wear. Dallen hoodies are now my go-to light jacket/ hoodie layer.

This everyday fleece hooded jacket with a classic look, the Dallen Fleece Hoody is great as a standalone or for layering. Engineered to provide versatility, Polartec Thermal Pro fleece with Tencel gives warmth and comfort. Two handwarmer pockets and the simple, relaxed hood add some warmth.

Vest: Marmot Zeus Vest

Mid layer vest

This Marmot vest is great when it is cold out there. Made with water-resistant ripstop fabric and featuring Down Defender treatment on 800 fill power down, the ultra-lightweight Men’s Zeus Vest provides great weather protection that won’t weigh down your carry-on bag or pack. I found the vest particularly useful on long hunting trips. It is very light. The vest is a very versatile piece of clothing and it looks great.

This vest has a fill power rating of 700, which means its down displaces 700 cubic inches per ounce. This translates to high “loft” (the quality and softness of the down) with minimal weight. Traditional down loses its warmth when wet. But Down Defender adds a moisture-resistant treatment that prevents clumping, preserves loft, and maximizes your comfort.

The zippered hand warmer pockets provide storage for accessories and extra comfort for cold fingers if you are not wearing gloves.

Outer layer: wind- and waterproof

The outer layer that you will want to wear is entirely dependent on the weather condition. For example, during the early season, you might only need a softshell to cut the wind out. Later in the season, you will need to step your game up and bring more of a winter jacket type of garment. The outer layer is just that, the last piece of clothing between you and the outside environment.

Of course the more you pay for the garment, the more technological features you will have. Something that is worth considering is a type of fabric that “breathe”, meaning that it lets moisture out but not in. The better-known product in this category is… This will help your system overall as the moisture wicked by your base layer needs to go somewhere.

To keep your legs warm, it is advisable to wear a thermo-layer. As unsexy as they are, that’s how warm they are.

hard shell soft shell

Coats come in different kinds. A hard shell is 100% wind- and waterproof, a softshell on the other hand (a combination of interlayer and outer layer) is only water-repellent and only 90% windproof. Maintain your clothing regularly with special maintenance products. Preferably re-treat your raincoat every three washes to keep it water and windproof.

Jacket: SITKA Gear Kelvin Down WS Hoody

SITKA Gear Kelvin Down

This to me is perfect as an outer layer, hence the larger fit, overall your other base layers. Sitting and glassing in 15-degree weather, this is what you want on. I am generally cold, but this thing keeps you warm. Hiking around when it is 20 or so in this and you will start to get warm fast!

Engineered with GORE-TEX durable fabrics are waterproof, windproof, and very breathable allowing them to provide reliable weather protection and maximized comfort in all weather conditions!

Shelters hunters from the adverse effects of bone-chilling winds. The membrane works with our base layers to prevent overheating and perspiration build-up by allowing moisture vapor to easily escape. The unique fabrics offer soft, lightweight weather protection in one versatile and durable garment.

PrimaLoft products are the ultimate in insulation technology for hunters. Ultra-fine fibers are engineered to retain maximum warmth even when wet, and create a product that is quiet and less bulky, allowing for greater freedom of movement.

When sweat mixes with odor-causing bacteria on fabrics, odor results. Polygiene technology safely and permanently neutralizes odors using naturally antimicrobial silver salt. Build the foundation of your system with a specialized base layer designed to suit your environmental conditions.

Pants: ScentLok Morphic Waterproof Pant

Waterproof Pant

This is an advanced piece of clothing, and not expensive. Perfect for the cooler weather, it has a windproof membrane, which is designed to keep you warm. The laminate system blocks the wind while allowing moisture and perspiration to escape from inside, keeping you warm and dry.

ScentLok Technologies is a leading worldwide designer of performance, hunting, and casual odor-controlling apparel, footwear, and equipment. ScentLok is the only company with access to all scent-controlling technologies including their patented carbon technology, which is consistently proven to outperform other technologies tested.

Wader: RedZone Elite Breathable Insulated Wader

Breathable Insulated Wader

This is by far the most comfortable wader I have worn, from boot to shoulder. Built with waterfowlers in mind, MAX5 camo is filled with cattails, reeds, cane, and grasses to blend into flooded marshes. It also has branches, twigs, and leaves that work in flooded timber. And with open areas that mimic mud, water, bark, and shadows, MAX5 literally adds another layer of invisibility to camo – no matter where or how you use it.

The perfect pure grass camouflage pattern with a realistic 3D appearance to break up a hunter’s outline. Each grass blade was selected for its unique coloration and position to duplicate the grass edges found all over the country.

Accessories

When it comes to accessories, you want to select to right ones to wear corresponding to the time of the year. For example, I would not layer my socks but have different pairs that are adapted to different temperatures. Remember that the only way to stay hunting a long time is to be comfortable, so think about headwear, footwear, gloves, etc…

Gloves: Scentlok Men’s Full Season Release Gloves

Full Season Release Gloves

Bowhunters need unrestricted movement and clearance to make a clean shot. This midweight glove keeps the release neatly stowed beneath the large cuff while the inner wrist opening allows the release to stay put and ready at all times.

The touch tech fingertips let hunters use touchscreen devices, which is fantastic. Wicking technology draws sweat away from the body toward the outer surface of the fabric for quick evaporation. Using hydrophilic and hydrophobic fibers, pathways are constructed within the fabric that helps the moisture move.

ScentLok Technologies is a leading worldwide designer of performance, hunting, and casual odor-controlling apparel, footwear, and equipment. ScentLok is the only company with access to all scent-controlling technologies including their patented activated carbon technology, which is consistently proven to outperform other technologies tested.

Socks: Smartwool PhD Outdoor Heavy Crew Sock – Heavy Cushioned Merino Wool Performance Sock

Merino Wool Performance Sock

Experience durability at its peak with the Smartwool PhD Outdoor Heavy Crew Socks. These socks are built for performance in the highest degree, making them ready for any adventure on your list while keeping your feet toasty warm and dry even in the harshest conditions.

The heavily cushioned bottom on the Ph.D. Outdoor Heavy Crew Socks will provide you with impact absorption and warmth. Specially designed for extended excursions, these socks will help push through even the most intense workouts.

Comprised of 68% Merino Wool, 30% Nylon, and 2% Elastane, the Ph.D. Outdoor Heavy Crew Socks should be machine washed inside out in warm water and tumble dried on low. These socks should not be bleached, ironed, or dry cleaned.

Boots: Rocky Men’s Bearclaw 3D Mobu Hunting Boot

Bearclaw 3D Mobu Hunting Boot

The temperature dropping won’t prevent you from getting outdoors in these rugged Rocky Boots 10″ BearClaw 3D. Regardless if you wear them for hunting, as snow boots, or even work in them, you’ll appreciate how much warmth, comfort, and dryness protection these durable boots provide. To create the look of this BearClaw upper, Rocky utilized soft, brown full-grain leather, durable nylon.

The combination of materials allows this men’s boot to be durable and hardy during even the more treacherous weather conditions. To keep your feet warm, even in the most frigid temperatures, this BearClaw boot has 1,400 grams of 3M Thinsulate Ultra Insulation. When the temperature is below freezing, getting wet feet isn’t an option. The GORE-TEX membrane will not let any external moisture enter your boots; this allows the inside of your footwear to be durably waterproof and highly breathable.

To be comfortable on your feet, these boots have the Air-Port cushion footbed Not only do you get cushioning and support from this footbed, but it also causes air to continuously circulate within your boots. This feature helps eliminate achy feet and odor. The BearClaw 3D outsole and the exclusive Rocky 3D welt construction allow this boot to have grip, strength, and durability. You’ll wish the rest of your wardrobe was this warm, comfortable and dry.

Headwear:

Caps: SITKA Gear Pantanal GTX Cap

Pantanal GTX Cap

The GTX cap form SITKA is a nice well made cap, stitching is perfect with no issues. Needed a new Gore-Tex hat since my girlfriend seems to have confiscated my older Gore-Tex hat for hiking in wet weather.

I really like the fit and feel of this hat compared to the hat I was using from Outdoor Research, admittedly the Outdoor Research hat was not Gore-Tex but is designed and sold as a lightweight rain cap.

The SITKA hat did keep my head dryer (less sweaty) than the OR hat due to better breathable fabric. Pricing on the SITKA hat is reasonable based on the quality build and competition offerings.

Hats: SITKA Gear Men’s Dark Underbrim Hunting Sun Hat

Dark Underbrim Hunting Sun Hat

Nothing feels worse than the sun beating on your face all day. Sitka resolved the issue while taking it a step further with their Sun Hat. The thing that makes this had different than every other Boonie style hat out there is that Sitka included some mesh panels on the sides that help allow the camouflage hunting hat to breathe and then under the brim they also utilize a Dark Fabric that helps refract the light out of your eyes.

What REALLY makes this hat stand out of the crowd though is Sitka’s Polygiene Scent Control technology that keeps you fresh all throughout the week!

Some things to consider for buying hunter clothing

The saying “Bad weather doesn’t exist, only bad clothes” aptly illustrates it: you need the right clothes for the right task. Below are several facets that influence your choice of clothing.

Where do you hunt?

The terrain can be an important factor in your choice of clothing. Both for color, water and wind tightness, camouflage, insulation, etc. There is often more wind on flat fields and steppes, so a good windproofness is quickly important.

Also, environments that are often light in color so lighter colored (camouflage) hunting gear can be important. In a forest, dark clothing is often more important, especially when the deciduous trees and thickets are green.

What do you hunt?

Most hoofed animals only see black and white and wild boars have relatively bad eyes anyway. This is the reason why you can use hunting gear in safety colors without any problems during rough game hunting.

Note: if you’re on a post you still don’t want the clothing to reflect, for floats this is recommended.

For ungulates, it is much more important than the human form is unrecognizable. Birds, on the other hand, see sharply and in color. You don’t just want to disguise the human form, you also want to blend in with your surroundings.

How do you hunt?

Do you mainly sit quietly in a closed pulpit? Then camouflage and color make little difference. Your shape merges into the pulpit behind you. No excessive movement, smell, and sound are much more important here. With an open pulpit, it will be different, especially if you stand out from the air. If you sit still continuously, you will cool down faster than good insulation is important. If you go as a hunter or float on a coarse game pressure hunt or in an area with a lot of blackberries, then a cut-resistant hunting pants and possibly a suit is important.

When do you hunt?

Not only the time of year but also the time of day and the position of the moon is important. If there is a lot of moonlight, you can be more conspicuous in dark clothing, especially if you have no shelter behind you while being or sitting in an open pulpit. The other way around, you can still stand out against a dark background when there is little light in light hunting clothing.

Dressing according to the level of activity

The temperature and intensity of the activity together determine which baselayer is best to wear. Baselayers are suitable for specific temperatures and intensities during hunting trips.

What to wear in different weather conditions

Hunting gear has to respond more than ever to changing weather conditions. In every season there are more fluctuations than ever before. It is therefore very pleasant and functional if you can wear hunting gear in different weather conditions. Ideal hunting wear should, therefore, be light but still be wind and waterproof, if you combine this with breathability then you can go forward in 9 out of 10 situations!

In recent years there have of course also been many developments in the field of luxury, such as heated clothing. During a long ride, hands and feet can sometimes feel almost numb, almost every hunter can remember a situation from the past.

Conclusion

A good layering system includes many different pieces and this can get quite expensive if you buy one of everything. Think ahead of time and plan your hunt and get what you really need first. Remember that each piece of purpose can be extended by changing something else in the system. For example, your early season jacket could get you way into the mid-season if you increase the warmth of your mid-layer, which again is a piece that can get upgraded at a smaller cost. The strength of such a system is its adaptability to almost any situation possible.

You can combine, remove, and add layers to your system depending on the current state of the weather. Always keep in mind that being wet will be the number one cause of being cold. You want to limit perspiration to a minimum. A great way of doing that is to be a little bit chilly when starting your walk to your stand. Transporting your backpack, bow, maybe even your tree stand can quickly warm you up, and if you have all of your layers on you and are fully zipped up, you will start sweating.

When you get situated in your stand and stop moving, you will quickly get chilly, then cold. This can ruin a hunt in a hurry. If your jacket and bibs have ventilation capability, use them to regulate your temperature.

If you have any questions about hunting gear for a specific situation please feel free to contact us!

Remember to stay dry and dress according to the weather!

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