You curse yourself for not bringing one when you need it...
But mid-layers can be useless if you pick the wrong solution...
Layering isn't just about adding more clothing.
You need to understand the details of how layers work together.
And how different fabrics are suited for different situations.
At best, it's your success as a hunter that's at stake.
But ultimately, in the backcountry, it could be your life that's on the line.
In this post, I'd like to give you five tips for using mid-layers to help you stay warm and safe when hunting.
The challenge with mid-layers.
But is it such a big deal if I don't get it right, you might ask?
Using a mid-layer that doesn't insulate or ventilate properly will trap sweat.
And sweat will cool you down.
Your body reacts to cold in a sequence.
Long before you start to shiver, your brain begins to look for options to get warmer. Images of cosy fireplaces or hot meals might materialise in your head.
Once your focus goes, your chances of a successful hunting trip drop like a brick.
I don't know about you, but I don't depend on hunting to survive.
However, I still don't like it when the tray in the back of my truck is empty when I return.
And I feel better when I can tell my buddies a story with a good ending (for me, not the deer).
Lessons learned in Scotland...
Let me tell you about the first time I hunted red deer hinds in the Scottish highlands.
I was young and hadn't had my license for that long.
Going on a trip like that was a big deal for me.
We stayed in a small bothy at the foot of the hills, by the edge of a loch. It was January and cold when I stepped outside to gauge the temperature in the morning.
I would put a fleece wind-stopper on top of my base-layer. And top it off with my hardshell jacket to guard against rain and snow.
When walking, I quickly felt the heat building up. Even in the sub-zero temperatures, and on the flatter ground on top of the hills.
It didn't take long before I started sweating.
I was thinking about when to call our group for a halt to remove the wind-stopper. I didn't want to come across as unorganised. And I didn't want to miss an opportunity to shoot.
It wasn't a thick wind-stopper. But because it was built to stop the wind, it also prevented my clothing system from breathing properly…
I'll explain how I improved my setup on my latest hunting trip to Scotland, but let's first look at how you can avoid getting in the same situation…
5 tips for using mid-layers
Here are five tips that will help you use mid-layers correctly. So you can stay comfortable and focussed when out hunting.
1. A great mid-layer transports sweat and traps air
Most folks think about mid-layers as insulation. But that's only half the equation.
A good mid-layer must allow sweat to move from your body to the outer layer. So it can escape your clothing system.
Think about my wind-stopper.
Although it was breathable, it wasn't designed to transport moisture at the rate a great mid-layer does.
And that's why I got warm, then sweaty and ultimately cold.
2. A great mid-layer relies on the base layer to keep you dry and warm
Your layers operate as a system.
If your base-layer traps sweat, even the best mid-layer in the world will be useless.
In cold or temperate climates cotton is a big no-no as a base layer.
Because cotton fibres absorb water that will cool you down. Other fibres are better.
Synthetics are great, but they can start to smell if not washed often.
Personally, I have used a merino/polyester terry knit for a long time now. It's a little heavier and not as fitted as I'd like, but it performs well.
3. A great mid-layer is a bad shell
The ideal mid-layer relies on the shell to stop wind and rain.
Some people want their mid-layers to double as soft shells. But there's a good chance your mid-layer won't perform well if you can't feel the air blowing right through it on a windy day (when worn without a shell).
It's the role of the outer layer to stop wind and rain.
The mid-layer will trap the still air to create an insulating layer around your body.
4. The best choice depends on the conditions
A race car is terrible for getting groceries.
A benchrest barrel is too heavy for hunting on foot.
Same thing with clothing.
Synthetics, such as pile fabrics, work well in humid environments and are light. But you don't get the comfort of natural fibres.
Wool and wool blends are comfortable. They do trap moisture, but inside the fibres (as opposed to cotton) so you won't feel wet, and you won't get cooled down.
Wool weighs more than other options, especially when it has absorbed water. In my view, wool is better for base-layers than for mid-layers, because of the weight.
Down gives you best of class insulation ratio, but it will fail if it gets wet.
And, down layers use densely woven ripstop fabrics as outer and lining. That means your sweat won't easily travel through the clothing system.
So, down mid-layers are best for sub-zero conditions or when you don't move around much.
5. Know when not to use a mid-layer
As a rule, if you're hunting on the move, you need to feel cold before you set off.
Generally speaking, that means not wearing a mid-layer. Unless it's exceptionally light or temperatures are well below freezing.
Save it for when you go static. Whether that's lunch or glassing for extended periods, you'll be pleased you brought it.
Remember my story from Scotland?
Fast forward to when I was testing our hardshell in Scotland, I wore merino wool layers with an open weave. And I made sure I felt a little cold before setting off.
As we climbed the hills air could circulate and move perspiration out to my shell where it escaped through the membrane.
I felt a lot more comfortable, and I was thinking about hunting. Not about when to sort out overheating.
Understanding the principles behind mid-layers will help you pick the option that's best for a given situation.
Stay focussed and stack the odds in your favour when out hunting.
I hope this email gave you a few new perspectives and some food for thought.
Good hunting gear and proper layering won't shoot the deer for you.
But it will help set you up for success.
THE NAVY SEAL OF MID-LAYER FABRICS.
Wold you like to know why fibre pile is the Navy SEAL of mid-layer fabrics?
Click the image to read why...
The RedKettle Fibre pile jacket M19.
Built to keep you warm in the worst conditions.
Click the image to see the jacket.