Your Guide to Layering Bowhunting Clothes

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Daylight will filter through the branches any minute. Sitting in the darkness, you keep picturing that big buck from your trail camera photos. As morning’s shade grows lighter, you’re that much closer to finding him.

It’s opening day. You spent all summer scouting and dialing in your bow, and you’re now sitting in a treestand hung in the perfect pinch point. You did everything right, except one thing: You forgot to check the weather forecast.

If you had glanced at a weather app before dressing, you would’ve learned the season’s first snowstorm was blowing in. That oversight explains why you threw on some light clothing and headed out into the dark. The excitement of the season’s first sit spurred your brisk hike to your treestand, soaking your base layers in sweat. It’s still dark and you’re already freezing.

Too many bowhunters learn that lesson the hard way. Understanding what to wear makes you a better bowhunter. How you dress and layer your clothing is as vital to your success as scouting and practice-shooting.

“I pack my outer layers when I walk to the treestand during late season,” said Alex Templeton, a Missouri rancher, hunter and Sitka gear ambassador. “Once I start sweating, there’s a better chance I’ll get cold, so I put on my layers once I’m in the tree.”

When bowhunters talk about “layering” they mean their clothing layers and the order they’re worn. You might dress to impress at your workplace, but a hunter’s wardrobe is more about function. It must regulate scents and temperatures while blocking out the wind, rain and snow.

How Layering Looks

Avoid wearing cotton as your base layer. Photo credit: Alex Templeton

Layering systems should be easy to add or shed to handle activity levels and changing temperatures. Here’s what many bowhunters use for layering:

  • Base layers (top and bottom long johns)
  • Fleece hoody
  • Pants (quiet and weather-proof)
  • Vest (fleece or puffy)
  • Jacket, insulated (down or synthetics)
  • Jacket, shell (no insulation, water-resistant and windproof)
  • Bibs (heavy insulation for sitting)
  • Neck gaiter
  • Stocking cap
  • Gloves
  • Rain pants and jacket

Choose the Right Fabric

Hunters ask much of their clothing. It must be quiet, comfortable and functional. That’s why each clothing item in your system might be made of different fabric. What you wear next to your skin isn’t the same material as found in your jacket.

“Cotton kills” is a popular saying among hunters. Cotton absorbs sweat, so it stays wet. It’s uncomfortable in warm weather, but it can cause hypothermia when worn wet in cold weather. Most hunters use quick-dry fabrics for base layers, such as merino wool and polypropylene fabrics, both of which regulate temperature and absorb moisture.

When shopping for outer layers like jackets and pants, hunters prefer fabrics that resist or block wind and water. Many hunters carry an insulated jacket and external shell. Insulated jackets usually feature down or synthetic fibers. These “puffy coats” are warm, but they don’t usually perform well in rain, which is why many hunters also carry a shell. A jacket shell doesn’t have insulation so it can be worn with or without the puffy jacket. Shells typically use fabrics built to handle wind and rain.

“Waterproof” doesn’t mean “water-resistant.” Most hunting jackets resist wind and water to keep hunters warm in bad weather. In a downpour, you’ll want waterproof pants and a raincoat to stay dry. Waterproof fabrics, however, are usually noisier and less breathable.

Dress for the Weather

Even if it’s cold in the morning, that will likely change throughout the day. Carry your outer layers in your backpack. Photo credit: ATA

Why must bowhunters put so much thought into clothing? Being comfortable keeps you afield longer, increasing your odds. Plus, if you’re shivering or sweating you’ll struggle to hold steady for a shot. Most bowhunts occur in fall, when temperatures can rise from subfreezing before dawn to mid-80s in the afternoon. Such swings make layers mandatory.

“Having the correct base layer, midlayer and outer layer creates a system that will adapt to temperature and precipitation changes throughout the day,” Templeton said.

Late-season hunts bring different challenges, like extreme wet and cold weather.

“An effective layering system is most important when hunting in cold temperatures,” Templeton said. “Here in Missouri, late-season temperatures can be brutal. Rain, snow, dampness, wind … We see it all.”

Use Your Layering System

Layering systems let you add and subtract clothing as temperatures/weather conditions change. How you hunt is also a big factor.

“Sitting in a treestand waiting on a whitetail to walk by, and stalking a bull elk are completely opposite,” Templeton said. “For treestand hunting I focus on wearing baselayers that let me stay warm while sitting still. I’m not creating excess body heat by moving around, so I need my layering system to provide as much warmth as possible.”

Spot-and-stalk hunting, however, can seem like a constant cycle of putting on clothes and taking them off. It’s tempting to dress warm on cold mornings, but you’ll shed that heavy layer or two quickly if you do any hiking, especially uphill. As soon as you sit to glass, you’ll add layers, especially if you worked up a sweat during the ascent.

Bowhunting is often a balancing act. You’ll want to carry a light backpack while preparing for anything. It’s always smart to pack extra layers. Even if precipitation is unlikely, always carry rainwear. Gloves and a stocking cap should also be staples in your pack.

Proper layering is yet another skill that boosts success. With the right clothing on your body and in your pack, you’ll be ready for anything.


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