December 04, 2023
My winter whitetail learning curve was a long one. I skimped on top-tier cold-weather hunt gear for years, and this mindset cost me meat in the freezer and antlers on the wall.
Part of the reason I went with lesser clothing was money. The sticker shock of the top-end base and outer layers caused my jaw to drop. My poor choice-making resulted in less time in the field and two cases of frostbite. Don’t be me!
Now, I get the opportunity each year to test the best cold-weather gear made for hunters, and I can promise you it's worth spending your hard-earned money on if you chase cold-weather whitetails. Nothing is worse than being cold and uncomfortable in the field. You can comfortably withstand Mother Nature’s worst with proper clothing and a next-level layering system.
As a hunter, time in the woods is your best recipe for success. When cold weather rattles your bones and sends you scurrying for the truck, you miss opportunities.
Here’s what you need to stay in the field and keep hunting when winter takes a firm grasp on your hunting grounds.
You can have the best outer layer system on the planet, but you need to layer correctly to avoid getting cold. Base layers are an essential piece of the cold-weather hunt gear puzzle.
Sporting Sitka’s heaviest-weight merino wool blend, these innovative bottoms move sweat and moisture away from your skin and promote heat retention. Naturally odor-resistant, Merino wool fits right into your fly-under-his-nose program, and the build is slim and sleek. Sitka added ArmorSpun Merino wool for durability and topped these bottoms with a recycled synthetic lining. Side leg zips allow you to remove these leg warmers without removing your boots.
The 330 Hoody also features Sitka’s warmest Merino wool blend, and the contoured hood with the built-in facemask keeps body heat from escaping through your head and face. This dynamic duo is the perfect base layer system for any late-season whitetail venture.
Outer Layers have always been a struggle for me, especially when bowhunting whitetails. Why you ask?
Mainly because of the bulk and noise, but I’ve also worn garments that made me feel like I was trapped inside a cocoon. When hunting late-season whitetails, you must be on the top of your game. You want an outer layer that’s warm, comfortable, non-bulky, quiet and promotes maneuverability. Enter KUIU.
Designed to provide late-season hunters with maximum warmth and silence, KUIU’s Proximity Line includes the Proximity Hooded Insulated Jacket, Proximity Insulated Pant, and Proximity Insulated Vest.
Weighing just two pounds, the streamlined jacket showcases a 100-percent polyester knit brushed face, a SynthaCell Foam Coating, and 3DeFX+ Insulation. The lining feels excellent on the body, too. The 100 percent polyester knit is exceptionally comfortable, and a DWR coating makes the jacket water-resistant.
The pants are more of a bib, which I love. A pair of suspenders keep them up and help add insulation above the waist. KUIU built up the area where the jacket overlaps the pants, which means biting wind can’t get in. The pants feature the same exterior and interior goodies as the jacket.
If mid-day temps are warm and you must shed the jacket, the 18-ounce vest is an excellent choice. All garments feature Synthacell Wind-Resistant Technology, Anti-Odor Technology, and Dwr Water Resistance.
I noted my love affair with bib-style pants, and Browning has a good one in its Dutton Hybrid Pant. Hybrid makes the name because this build blends pants and bibs. Engineered for hunting in the extreme cold, the Dutton Hybrid Pant features ultra-warm 3L Berber Fleece, which not only insulates but provides maximum comfort and ensures stealth. Browning stacked the back of the Dutton for added protection against late-season wind, and the outer fabric is added armor that prevents wind and water from creeping in.
Roomy, this pant/bib hybrid makes layering a breeze, and the Dutton comes in multiple sizes in Ovix camo and Major Brown solid. Pair the Dutton Hybrid Pant with the Dutton Jacket or Browning’s Packable Puffer Jacket, and you have a winning combo that will keep you in the field no matter the conditions.
A dynamic duo created for those who love late-season whitetail ventures, Zone7 Dialed In is made with Berber-Wool, a Windseal TC3 barrier, and Code Of Silence’s exclusive Windsulation insulation barrier. This trio promises undeniable warmth and comfort without compromising in-the-stand maneuverability. The Berber-Wool is super tranquil, and during the late season when post-rut bucks are back to packing on pounds for winter survival, any noise can be game-spooking. These garments keep you quiet.
The Parka has plenty of features, but some must-mentions include the adjustable fleece-wool lined hood, safety harness vent in the upper back, articulated sleeves and fleece hand pockets. The bib showcases adjustable suspenders, an elastic waist and side stretch knit panels to prevent torso-sag, and full-length side leg zippers for easy on/off.
Saddle hunting took the whitetail world by storm. This style of hunting appeals to many, especially public-land hunters who roam the woods looking to take advantage of fresh buck sign.
Always a trendsetter and there to provide hunters with what they need, ScentLok’s Saddle Hunter Jacket & Pant combo is a must-have. Crafted for late-season hunts, the jacket and pants blend 30-plus years of Scent-Lok garment-making knowledge with 40-plus years from saddle-hunting guru John Eberhart. Both showcase a quiet fleece, WindBrake windproof membrane and thermal-mapped Thinsulate insulation. Of course, ScentLok wouldn’t leave out its tried-and-true Carbon Alloy technology, which has proven effective at keeping human stink under control for years.
The Saddle Hunter Jacket features one chest and two waist pockets, a drop-tail design that allows the saddle to overlap the jacket, and a rear access opening. This opening is handy for those who prefer a traditional tree stand harness. The Saddle Hunter Pants deserve an entire field test review. They are phenomenal. Scent-Lok added built-in, removable EVA foam knee pads to increase comfort and resist abrasion from slithering up a tree trunk. Four front-facing pockets ensure effortless access when in the saddle, and the internal webbed belt with ladder lock buckle provides a secure fit.
Other Cold-Weather Must-Haves
We can't stop with base layers and outer layers. Keeping the hands warm is a must, and while there are many options on the market, the to-come items are some of our winter whitetail hunting favorites.
Hunt Monkey knows gloves, and an excellent late-season go-to are The Heater Gloves. Sits in the stand and blind during the late season are hard on the hands, and it seems no matter how many HotHands Hand Warmers you use, the digits still tend to get icy. Hunt Monkey knows this, so they added a Polar Fleece and Sherpa Fleece lining to these gloves. This lining hugs the hands like your favorite winter blanket and keeps heat trapped inside. The lining blocks the wind, and the flip-top mitten design means you can shoot with the gloves on your hands with some practice to develop a solid fit and feel.
ALPS makes excellent gear. I love their packs — the Impulse is my all-season whitetail pack — and I've used countless other models out West. ALPS also makes great accessory items. I'm not a fan of gloves; no matter how much I practice, I can't shoot my bow with gloves on my hands. I'm jealous of those that can!
Even when the Mercury plummets, I must have my hands out of gloves the entire time I'm hunting with my bow. I've been busted trying to get gloves off too many times. Today, I lash ALPS' Ember Hand Warmer around my outer layer, add a few Hot Hands to the external magnetic pocket, and I can hunt gloves-free no matter how cold it gets.
Made of DeadQuiet layered fabric with a fleece exterior, the Ember is fitted with an internal waterproof inner membrane. The outer fabric has been soaked from wet snow several times, but hands always remain dry on the inside. The DeadQuiet fabric ensures total stealth, and the hidden-cuff design and top-tier fleece interior trap warmth.
Before Old Man winter arrives and you find yourself scrambling for gear, I encourage you to research further each of the late-season items mentioned above. It’s essential to understand how to layer appropriately, and most of the clothing manufacturers listed in this article have a build-a-late-season system tab (or something to that effect) on their website. Click on the tab, and the website will walk you through an excellent layering system for the late season.
For years, I assumed I would tag my buck in October or November. Often, I did. However, I've learned that no matter how hard I try, my multi-state whitetail quests often drag me into the fourth quarter when snow flies and temperatures plummet. I've learned that being prepared to handle the cold and remain comfortable is possible, and the late season has proven an excellent time to take advantage of a big buck’s need to return to an established food-to-bed pattern.