What to Wear in the Field
© copyright 2004, by Gary Benton
Most of us who hunt, fish, hike, or camp, rarely give much real serious consideration to what we wear. Usually, we don whatever clothing is available and meander off on our trip. No, I am not suggesting we worry about the latest fashions, or that we only buy brand name clothing. What I am suggesting is that we spent some time making sure we not only have clothing that is comfortable, but clothing that is made for our sport. Just like those who participate in other sports and have a uniform, so do we in a matter of speaking.
Lets take a look at your hat. It should have a wide enough brim to shield your eyes from the sun and rain. Also, during cold or cool weather it should be of a solid construction and not any part of it mesh. During cold weather most of our body heat is lost though the head. Just adding a hat during low temperatures can make a person warmer. Of course in the summer or during hot weather, a hat may not be needed or a mixed mesh construction can be worn. I like a hat when I am outdoors because it shields my eyes and I like the feeling. Make sure the hat you have fits your type of hunting. For me, I can never use a real wide brim when I bow hunt because it causes me problems when I release the arrow. At any rate, always try using your weapon with a new hat, just to see if it interferes with your technique.
A good outer garment is needed most of the time. Even in the summer I often have at least a light nylon windbreaker in my fanny pack. It the weather turns cool, I have it available. In extremely cold weather you will need a heavier garment. I suggest a coat constructed of Gortex ® which is excellent protection for wet or cold weather. This material is lightweight and is every bit as good or better than wool for cold weather. I also prefer a coat that has adjustable wrists, a flap (that folds over the zipper) that buttons, and a hood with a drawstring. All of these features add to the warmth of the wearer. It keeps your body heat inside where it does the most good.
If you are hunting, hiking, or moving around a lot, a parka is not usually a very good choice. I have found them to be cumbersome to wear hunting and slows my reaction time. Also, if I move much in a parka I will start to sweat. And, sweating in cold weather can kill. The sweat may freeze, once you stop moving, and that can lead to hypothermia and other related injuries. A parka is great for general camp use and chores but not, in my opinion, a good choice for moving any great distances. I know the coat can be removed when you get over heated, but it is difficult to hunt or hike with a coat you cannot wear. My feelings on a coat is, if I can't wear it most of the time, then I should consider replacing it with something else I can wear.
Another layer of clothing to consider is your shirt and pants. I know many of you prefer jeans and flannel shirt, but that is not adequate for extremely cold weather. When the weather turns really cold, you should dress in layers to retain body heat. Tight jeans will not allow the undergarments to be worn and, while durable enough, jeans just don't have the exterior pockets for storage of gear. Jeans, however, are suitable for warm weather; if you have a backpack, butt pack, or other type of bag for gear storage.
In my opinion, the best clothing for the outdoor wear is military surplus, or new, Battle Dress Uniforms (BDU's). BDU's come in different camouflage (woodland camouflage and desert camouflage) designs and have six pockets. Also, the BDU is constructed in both a lightweight or heavy weight style (summer and winter), so you can use them during summer or winter. Both designs have reinforced knees and elbows for longer wear. Additionally, the BDU is a comfortable uniform to wear and has a proven success record in combat. Of course other surplus military clothing will work as well and the best part is the uniform has been tested by thousands of men and women. Usually you can find surplus uniforms from other countries that work pretty good too. The Europeans usually have a long line of wool and wool is an excellent insulator during cold or wet weather. At any rate, military surplus clothing is not very expensive, easy to obtain, and does the job very well.
There are hundreds of undergarments available on the commercial market. The key here is one of comfort. Most do an excellent job of keeping you warm, so you need to select underwear that allows you freedom of movement, insulates, and is comfortable. I usually wear cotton "Long Johns" and they do a very good job of keeping me warm if I dress in layers over the undies. In cool weather, you can wear boxers or briefs if you wish. Just make sure they are not too tight or chaffing may result as you walk and sweat. Many older Vets I know do not wear underwear in hot weather because it causes heat to build up at the crotch (and the chaffing issue is eliminated). Your decision on undergarments is an individual choice, but in cold weather you will need long underwear.
During winter or cold weather I suggest you wear two pairs of socks. I usually wear a pain of nylon socks and then cotton or wool socks over them. I like the feel and comfort of the nylon on my skin and the second pair of socks are the ones that really keep my feet warm. Also, the nylon will reduce friction with the boot as you walk. During the warmer months I usually just wear one pair of cotton socks. I have found cotton to be comfortable and durable enough for most of my summer needs outdoors. There are many commercial types of socks on the market, from Gortex ® to electric socks heated by a battery. The choice is once again an individual choice, but choose well because problems with your feet can greatly influence the success or failure of your trip. Also, make sure your feet are always dry and in good condition. Change your socks daily or whenever they become wet. It makes good sense to look for blisters or injury to your feet each time you change socks. Nothing stops a great trip like bad feet.
You choice of boots is very important, because good quality boots will keep your feet in dry, warm and in excellent condition. On the other hand, poor quality boots can cut a trip short due to injury to your feet. During cold or wet weather I prefer to wear a high top, lace up boot, constructed of Thinsolite ®. Thinsolite ® will keep your feet dry and warm, even in very poor weather. I have worn boots made of this product in Alaska when the ambient air temperature was way below freezing and my feet remained as warm as toast. I also suggest you avoid the "Bunny Boots" if you plan to do much hiking. I have found this rubber-insulated boot to cause my feet to sweat excessively and that can lead to freezing. Nonetheless, "Bunny Boots" are fine to set in hunting blinds, in tree stands, or for around a campsite. In the warmer months a leather boot will work just fine, as long as the boots are not brand new.
Any boots your take to the woods should be well broken in. New boots will almost always rub, pinch, or chaff the skin causing blisters. A good way to break in leather boots in a hurry is to get the boots wet and then wear them until they are dry. Now, use some common sense here. Obviously you cannot walk around the house in dripping wet boots, so take a short walk and remain outside as much as possible (This suggestion may reduce the amount of verbal abuse you are exposed to by your spouse). But, this procedure does work. Of course it is not to be used in cold weather, but in a few hours your new stiff boots will fit much better. Make sure after the boot is dry you take steps to preserved the leather, or the boot will dry stiff and hard. I usually rub the leather down with saddle soap and then apply a thin layer of polish.
Hiking boots are ok for most folks,but I prefer a high top boot. I want protection for my ankles and the extra support a high top boot provides. Once again, this is an individual choice. Often during the summer months I will use a pair of Vietnam Jungle Boots as I trek through the woods. I have found them to be comfortable, they add ankle support, and they have two holes on each boot that allows water to drain from the inside of the boot. But, the biggest reason I prefer this type of boot is because they are lightweight and comfortable.
Other cold weather accessories you should consider are scarves, mittens, gloves, ear protection, and perhaps face coverings. Once again, I suggest Thinsolite ®, Goretex ®, or wool construction of your accessories. All three will keep you warm even if you get wet.
Make sure your scarf selection is long and wide. This will allow the scarf to be tucked into your shirt or coat. I prefer a long wool scarf that can serve as a head wrapping if needed. Also, I usually purchase a bight orange or red scarf that can be used for signaling if I am forced to survive. Try to buy your outdoors gear with double uses in mind at all times. This will cut down on the number of items you have to carry as well as weight.
Also, mittens are warmer than gloves (body heat from the fingers is shared in mittens), but if you are a hunter, you want mittens that have been designed so you can extend your shooting fingers. Keep in mind; however, in cold weather exposed flesh can stick to metal. Gloves, on the other hand, may be a better choice for folks who hunt, ice fish, or want to be able to grasp objects. Each finger in a glove is covered and while there is some loss of dexterity, they will suffice in most cases.
When it comes to ear protection you should consider what you are doing outdoors. If you are hunting, and need to be able to hear well, then you may not want to cover your ears. Or, perhaps, you would prefer to use the hood on your coat or maybe a very light headband that you can slide off quickly. Hikers, campers, and others may want to wear earmuffs or maybe a wool watch cap (stocking cap). Once again I suggest a bright color that aids in your being seen. Since hunters all are required to wear some international orange (with the exception of those hunting turkey's or fowl) a stocking cap will just assist you in being seen better. Check your state's hunting laws to determine the legalities of various types of clothing colors in certain hunting situations.
Face and head protection often comes as one. Facemasks, or hoods, are sold in most sporting goods departments of large stores. Again, I suggest you consider Thinsolite ®, Goretex ®, or wool because they provide protection against the cold and work well even when wet. A facemask has an advantage in because the design allows the wearer to roll it up and wear it like a stocking cap. Then, it extremely cold weather the needed face protection feature can be rolled down to cover the face. Usually this design has openings for the eyes and mouth only, though some do have a nose opening as well. Hoods on the other hand, usually cover most of the face and nose, leaving a large circle open for the eyes. Hoods are a better choice for those of us who wear glasses.
If you decide to get a full-face semi-rigid mask, usually military surplus, keep in mind they are known to cause itching to some wearers. This design is similar to the face protection some hockey players use and is worn with straps that go around the head. Normally the outer material is water resistant and the lining material is of wool or blend. I have found them to be too hot, they cause me to itch, and my vision is greatly limited while wearing it. Also, this design does not remain very flexible during very cold weather. Another problem I had, when using this piece of individual gear, was with my glasses. But, as with most outdoor wear, it is an individual choice.
During the warm months, always carry sunscreen and keep your legs and arms covered by your clothing. Ticks, chiggers, and other insects are motivation to do so, as well as sunburn prevention. While shorts and a t-shirt may be cooler and even look better, you should be aware of the risk you are taking by wearing them. Outer wear should be worn for protection, not looks.
Outdoor wear is very important when it comes to enjoying our time spent with nature. A good selection will keep you comfortable, cool or warm, and protect you from the elements, insects, and minor cuts and scrapes. A poor selection often makes the trip shorter or very unpleasant at least. Take the time to evaluate your clothing and boots closely, looking for protection as well as comfort. Buy the best outdoor wear you can afford and keep your gear in good condition. Remember to try to buy your equipment so it serves more than one function. But, most importantly, get gear that will allow you to enjoy your time outdoors and to do so safely. What you wear is important.
Take care and I will see you on America 's trails.
Proper Survival Clothing