An Old-Timer’s Secret Has Been Reinvented

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Something as simple as longer sleeves and a thumb strap can help keep your hands toasty warm. (Photo by Steve Sorensen)
Contributing Writer

Steve Sorensen

It’s 1955. A guy with a week’s worth of grizzled whiskers rolls out of the bunk in his cabin to get dressed for an all-day hunt. He puts on his waffle-weave long-johns (or maybe a Christmas-red union suit) made from cotton or wool. If it’s a woolen fabric, it gets scratchier by the hour. If it’s cotton, a little sweat makes it cold and clammy.

Next, our old friend puts on a heavy flannel shirt, probably wool. It’s a nice shirt for sure, but not a great choice. It’s another layer that locks in heat, but dampness and discomfort take over. Topping that is an old patched-up sweatshirt with the name of the school he played fullback for, and his number on the front, #32. The sweatshirt’s problem? No way to loosen its hug around his throat, so no way to let off some steam during the long hike in. He just stews in his own sweat. Like his old football days.

On top of the sweatshirt goes another wool shirt. It’s a heavy one for frigid December. If the weather is especially cold, he’ll add a heavy jacket—like British Redcoats wore in a futile battle against revolutionary Americans, but not very suitable for the deer woods.

In many ways the old-timers were experts to be emulated. They knew the secret to comfort and warmth for cold-weather hunting was to trap air between layers of clothing. That’s why, for decades, I followed that grizzled guy’s advice. I’m a slow learner, but I finally learned modern hunters have it much better. We don’t need to waddle through the woods like the Pillsbury Doughboy, bundled up so tightly we can barely move.

Among the new brands are Huntworth, Kuiu, First Lite, Sitka, and several more, and they’ve taken the layering principle to new levels. With what I’m wearing this season it’s easier to stay warm, and I’ve never been more comfortable even when the wind chill has been in the low teens.

Modern hunting garments are lighter, which helps you conserve your energy. And they let you move and keep you from becoming so overstuffed that if you trip and fall, you won’t roll back down the hill you just climbed. What good is keeping warm if you sacrifice stamina, mobility, and flexibility?

Layering is not simply a matter of trapping air between garments. Layering is also a matter of the right garments—garments made from modern high-tech synthetics and designed to end cold air infiltration that robs you of heat.

The undergarment I’m wearing has a nappy inner surface that’s very comfortable next to my skin, and it keeps my hands warm so I no longer wear two or three pairs of gloves. “What?” you say! “How can your undershirt magically keep your hands warm?”

It’s simple. The sleeves are a good two inches longer than normal. They extend to the palms of my hands and keep the insides of my wrists covered. The arteries in our wrists are closer to the skin than anywhere else in the body, so you lose a lot of heat there. By insulating those arteries, your blood stays warm all the way to your fingers instead of radiating heat into the cold ambient air. A thumb strap is sewn in to keep the sleeves where they do their magic. Gloves with longer wrists double the coverage.

Along with many other features, today’s garments have pockets strategically placed. Pockets don’t substitute for a pack, but they do keep us from behaving like that grizzled old guy, unbuttoning, stretching, yanking, pulling up and pulling down to finally reach that apple stowed somewhere underneath his old football sweatshirt.

For decades I’ve stubbornly worn my granddad’s famous wool-plaid pants and other dated attire, while modern synthetic fabrics and garment designs came a long way. Don’t get me wrong. Our elders were experts in their day who had to be tough, or they wouldn’t have survived back when ships were wood and men were steel. But even they would have appreciated the technology we have in today’s hunting clothing.

When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He is a field contributor to Deer and Deer Hunting magazine, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.

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Steve Sorensen of Russell, PA is an award-winning writer whose column, The Everyday Hunter®, offers hunting tips, strategies, insights and occasional humor. His byline has appeared in the nation's top hunting magazines and he is a field contributor to "Deer and Deer Hunting" magazine. Steve is also in demand as an event speaker, presenting programs on do-it-yourself Alaska moose hunting, whitetail deer, wild turkeys, and eastern coyotes, with new programs coming. E-mail him at EverydayHunter@gmail.com to invite him to speak at your next sportsman's dinner (or to tell him where your best hunting spot is).