Clothes matter. Let me rephrase that, the performance of our clothing is important when engaging in high-performance outdoor pursuits. If you’re hunting whitetail deer from a treestand in 60-degree dry weather, you could probably get by with jeans and a t-shirt. There would still be advantages to technical apparel, but you could do without it. However, when you start spending time outdoors in less than ideal weather conditions, the clothing you wear is a critical piece of your hunting gear that can directly affect your safety and enjoyment. If you’re fishing in July, and it’s 90 degrees, a UV wick dry shirt could keep you comfortable and avoid sunburn. When backcountry hunting in the mountains of Alaska, wearing the right gear can keep you dry and alive. Modern performance-based technical apparel is designed to function together as a system. This article will be a brief guide to building a system. Whether you want to drop top dollar on Sitka or Kuiu, wear non-hunting specific gear like Mountain Hardwear, or even pick up stuff at Goodwill, you need to know how to put together the right pieces of clothing to fit the environment.
Any clothing system will only be as good as the layer that is right next to your skin. Whether that is just boxers or briefs in summer, a lightweight base layer in fall, or the thickest insulating base layer in winter, your comfort starts there. There are two schools of thought with baselayers: Synthetic and Merino. They will both wick moisture away from your core and help keep you warm. Merino is generally softer and more comfortable. Synthetics tend to wick moisture quicker and dry faster. Merino will stay odor-free longer and has the benefit of continuing to insulate you even when wet. Synthetics lose their insulation quickly when wet, but their quick-drying means they don’t stay wet for long. For underwear and a baselayer, I generally only use Merino Wool. In the summer the lightest weight merino boxers and socks work well to keep me comfortable, and as winter comes around heavy 250 and 350 merino baselayers add a lot of warmth to your core.
The next piece of your system is the mid-layer. This can consist of anything from lightweight pants and breathable shirts, to puffy pants and jackets. The mid-layer is where your primary insulation will come from so you want to tailor it to the conditions you will be in. If it’s warm out and dry, the mid-layer may also be your outermost layer. If it’s warm out and wet, you may skip the mid-layer on your upper half and just go with an outer shell and a base layer. I do typically lean towards synthetic materials like Primaloft, Windstopper, and breathable nylon and polyester for the mid-layer. I want this layer to stay dry, and I believe the synthetic here can help pass moisture through from my base layer. The exception to my synthetic mid-layer rule is down. Down is an amazing mid-layer because of its ability to insulate and remain extremely lightweight. On extended trips outdoors, this allows you to pack it down very small and throw it in your backpack for when you need it. A pair of down pants and a down jacket are probably the ultimate mid-layer for cold weather, but they are expensive and subject to tears in rough terrain.
So far we’ve covered how the baselayer wicks and provides comfort and how the mid-layer insulates. It is your outerwear though, that ties the whole system together—especially in rough weather. Outerwear will generally consist of a shell. Whether it is a windproof softshell, a breathable polyester shell, or a Gore-Tex hard shell will depend on the exact conditions you will be in. The goal of your outerwear should typically be to provide protection from the elements and still breathe. This allows the rest of the system to function properly. If you have on merino baselayers, a synthetic puffy, and then an impermeable PVC rain jacket, the system won’t work. This is why you need a breathable outer layer. Whether or not it also needs to be waterproof will change.
Technical apparel while hunting, can be an important factor in your comfort and the amount of time you can spend outside. We know that the longer you are out, the greater your chances of seeing game. By building a system of clothing, you can greatly increase your comfort and safety in the elements.