The saying in the Midwest goes that people who can’t stand the cold just don’t know how to dress for it properly. Michigan and other Northern states present a unique challenge to hunters in that we can experience 30-degree mornings and 60-degree afternoons during the fall. With 30-degree temperature swings some days, it can be difficult to regulate your temperature properly. I have found that keeping your feet warm, hands warm, and layering with the proper fabrics can make a world of difference when sitting in a treestand in November.
Footwear For Cold Weather
The best piece of advice I can offer for keeping your feet warm is to buy boots that fit properly. They need to have some extra room by the toe box or you are going to end up with cold feet. If your toe is touching the end of the boot, you are going to have cold feet. Going a half to a full size bigger for your boots is a must in the winter. Also, when trying on a pair of boots you need to wear the same socks you will be hunting in. If you try on boots with thin cotton socks and then wear thick wool socks to hunt, you are going to lose that extra space around your feet. That extra air in the boot is going to help insulate you. Much like a sealed double pane window, the air will be a buffer between your feet and the cold.
As for socks, do not ever wear cotton while hunting. Cotton socks do not breathe well. If your feet sweat they are going to get extremely cold. Especially when hiking into your hunting spot, the increased activity can really warm up your feet. When cotton gets wet, it takes a long time to dry and loses all of its ability to insulate. Wool is the ideal choice for socks. It breathes well and will still insulate when wet. It is also naturally odor-free which is a big plus when hunting deer. If your feet really sweat a lot, then consider going with a synthetic material or a wool/synthetic blend. The synthetic material will do the best job of wicking away moisture and will dry faster than wool. Avoid wearing multiple layers of socks as this will actually make you colder by restricting your circulation and the air in your boot. Instead, opt for one thick pair on those really cold days.
Finally, buy waterproof boots. Goretex is phenomenal in that it breathes, but rubber boots with neoprene or Thinsulate insulation also work well for whitetail hunting. Both options will keep your feet dry which is crucial to staying warm.
Gloves, Muffs, And Cold Fingers
A close second to cold feet, cold fingers can also ruin your hunt. Due to the distance from your heart, extremities tend to get cold quicker than the rest of your body. I find that keeping my fingers comfortable in cold weather can be a bigger challenge than my toes because you will be using them more. Every time you grab your bow, adjust a zipper on your jacket, or use your phone you are potentially exposing your hands to the elements. The trade-off between warmth and dexterity is a fine line to walk. While very thin gloves allow you to execute fine motor skills, they do not insulate like thicker gloves or mittens. On the subject of mittens, they keep your hands warmer by allowing them to warm each other. There’s really two schools of thought for keeping your hands warm as a bowhunter:
- The Muff – Using a muff allows you to wear very thin gloves or none at all. When in the muff your hands stay warm by all being together like one big mitten. The downside to a muff is that you have to strap it to your waist or get a jacket with one built-in. Also, your hands will get cold every time you take them out of it. However, you can throw several hand warmers in the muff to get nice and toasty.
- Thick insulated gloves or mittens. Look for gloves built with either Windstopper or Goretex and that feature PrimaLoft insulation to keep you warm and dry. If you choose mittens, you will probably need a very thin liner glove to keep on when you have to take them off to use your fingers (such as when shooting).
I have gone back and forth between gloves and a muff for the past several seasons. With poor circulation, I suffer more from cold fingers during winter than any other part of my body. I like the idea of gloves staying on the whole time, but inevitably I always have to take them off for some tasks and then it can be difficult to rewarm my hands when they’re back on. While the muff sounds great, I find it to be a bit bulky and get in the way of the bridge on my saddle and my binocular harness which sits on my chest. This winter I am going to be testing out some Outdoor Research heated gloves and I will definitely be sharing my thoughts on them once we get some cold weather.
Check out Part 2 of our guide to ‘Staying Warm in The Michigan Whitetail Woods’ for tips on layering and keeping the rest of your body warm this winter.