By Bill Miller

At this point in the season and beyond, the temptation is great to wear too much gear from the moment we leave the vehicles or the cabin. I succumbed to the temptation just recently on a late season duck hunt on a small, flowing river deep in the bottom of a forested, brush-choked valley. The air temp was single digits, so I geared up in the heaviest waders and warmest parka. By the time I set foot in the flowing creek the first time, I was sweating my own river. We ended up making the hunt a 100% jump shoot because if we paused long enough to wait for ducks to come back to a hole, I’d have been so cold I’d have gone to chattering…my teeth, not just the feeding chuckle on the call.

Far better, I would have heeded the mantra carried down from the earliest days of hunting as we know it. If you’re going to be comfortable in varying weather conditions and at all levels of exertion, chant with me…“Layer, ooohm, layer, ooohm, layer, oohm …”

Multiple light-weight to medium-weight layers of clothing allow you to quickly adapt what you’re wearing…in the field…to the conditions you’re facing minute by minute. The in-the-field part of that is so important because you can’t add or subtract layers you don’t have with you.

So the concept of “layering” doesn’t simply cover what you’re wearing when you set off into the woods. Of equal importance are the layers you are carrying with you to put on in the woods…if and when you need them.

The basics of layering include:

1) Layer next to your skin that absorbs, but does not hold moisture. It should wick it through the fabric quickly, away from your skin. Exposed to air, this layer dries very quickly.

2) The next layer is a soft, light to medium weight layer of insulation. Synthetic fleece or soft, natural wool is great.

3) The next layer is a protective layer like a canvas or wool shirt, or something soft like a sweatshirt. A wicking synthetic is great. Remember, all these layers are made to come on or off as needed in the immediate conditions. This layer should also be tightly woven enough it can serve as a windbreak, too.

4) The next layer option for me is an insulated vest. I like down because of its light weight and insulating qualities, but synthetics have an advantage too as they continue to perform even when wet.

5) An essential layering option to have any time you’re in the field is a waterproof/windproof outer layer in case of rain, sleet, snow or any nasty combination of such precipitation. It must be of materials and construction you can count on because when you need it, you’ll really need it! It will not only keep you comfortable in the stand or blind, but might possibly be called on to keep you safe, even alive.

To make it convenient to carry this critical layer with you on every hunt, it should be light and packable. It should take up nearly no room in your pack. I don’t believe there’s much need to worry about insulation in this layer, because that’s what your carefully chosen under layers do for you—insulate and keep you dry.

Put the vest and your waterproof layers in your day pack or blind bag, then it will be there when you need it…and you’ll forget about it when you don’t.

We’re just past the anniversary of the 1940 Armistice Day Blizzard that killed many duck hunters out on the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers in Minnesota and Wisconsin. (In fact, that’s right where the duck hunt with which I opened this story took place.) Temperatures that fateful day dropped from the 50s and 60s when the hunters went out to the single digits by that night, and nearly two feet of snow fell during the storm.

There were many reasons dozens of hunters perished, but chief among them was they didn’t have gear to stay warm along with them, and even if they had, the clothing choices were basically cotton and wool. Thankfully, we are much better equipped these days.

Layering for hunting is so easy because companies like Under Armour have created and tested entire clothing systems that provide optimal warmth and versatility from the skin out. Simply go to their website, review the recommendations of gear for the types of hunting you pursue, and make your choices—layer by layer. There are even systems that incorporate scent control into all the layers.

You can also check out a short, quick video from “down under” takes you through Under Armour’s layering concepts.