How to Layer For Warmth


You can take a girl out of the south, but you can’t take the south out of her blood. So when I was sent to Alaska to cover the Iditarod Sled Dog race for several years in a row, it was the running joke with all my friends that I was camping in sub-zero temperatures. I hate being cold. Obviously, cold is synonymous with sled dog races, it can also be synonymous with plenty of duck hunts, football games, campouts, and more.


This article is out of the archives — but since the temperature dropped below freezing last night for the first time here this year, and we’re all headed for plenty more, this post needed to come up to the forefront again. This post was written when I was on a freezing Minnesota duck hunt…and I mean FREEZING cold.



I’m in Minnesota on a shoot right now, and it was a whole 7 degrees when I woke up this morning.  The ducks are happy and warm – they’re wearing waterproof down jackets. It’s us idiots who choose to break ice to get out onto a pond to stand still in a blind or hip-deep in water to shoot ducks who often end up cold – and when we’re not dressed correctly, it’s miserable.


Since it’s duck season and a little chilly right now, here’s a primer on layering to stay warm. You’re only as good as your equipment, they say, and they’re right. A number of manufacturers make great gear; the key is to understand the process of layering it to make it work best for you.


First and foremost, say goodbye to cotton when you’re trying to keep warm. It holds moisture and when you sweat as you pull on your waders or ride in the overly-warmed truck to the pond, your sweat sets you up to get cold. Really cold. Instead, keep polypropylene or capilene against your skin.


1.  Start with polypropylene sock liners — they poly wicks away the moisture from your feet and keeps them warm. You’ll want a warm layer over those thin little socks, but that first layer will make a tremendous difference when it comes to staying warm.


fleece, alligator Hall, Sarah Sanford, dressing for warmth


2.  Now add your “long undies” — capilene or polypropylene as your base base layer.


#2. polypro long underwear


Both come in long underwear pants and shirts and in various levels of thickness from lightweight to “expedition”. I often use the lightest — it feels thin enough to make you wonder what in the world it could do to help. Don’t worry, it helps.


3.  Next, put on fleece – top and bottom. The weight of the fleece should be determined by how cold it is outside. (100 weight is the lightest, 200 is the most versatile and common, 300 is for serious cold, especially for fairly stationary outdoor activity like camping or ice fishing — without the hut.)


fleece, alligator Hall, Sarah Sanford, dressing for warmth

fleece, alligator Hall, Sarah Sanford, dressing for warmth


Notice I’ve tucked the pants into the socks. To ensure warmth, you want to make sure there are no gaps in your warm base layer. The great thing is these are flexible fabrics so I’ve haven’t had any issues with “untucking” which can drive anyone crazy.


4.  Then layer on the wind-breaking or waterproof exterior – make sure it’s fabric that “breathes” like Goretex® or Windwall® or WindStopper®– or you’ll sweat.



fleece, alligator Hall, Sarah Sanford, dressing for warmth


The hands can be some real problems. The pros swear by polypropylene glove liners.


5. Trust the pros: wear the little glove liners!  They look like little silk gloves,  but they make a MASSIVE difference. (I did an experiment one time in Alaska where I wore a glove liner on one hand and not on the other. Boy, was I convinced – your hands and feet sweat far more than you know, and that little layer of wicking fabric makes all the difference.)



fleece, alligator Hall, Sarah Sanford, dressing for warmth


Never wear tight gloves or boots! Circulation is key to staying warm. (Any knucklehead who ever wore several pairs of socks in an effort to keep the feet warm and then pulled on boots which, of course, end up being tight knows this is the perfect setup for frozen feet. I can say this because I was one of them.)


6.  Put on a gaiter or scarf – if your neck gets cold, you’ll feel cold all over.


7.  Wear a fleece hat that covers your ears. And ladies, be aware that earrings pull the cold in – so if you wear them on your duck hunt, cover those ears!



fleece, alligator Hall, Sarah Sanford, dressing for warmth


Now you’re set to go – 7 degrees never felt so cozy.


NOTE: No animal was harmed in the production of this post. My child, however, was tortured. Imagine dressing for 7 below zero in a nice warm house while your mother fiddles around with a camera and takes pictures of you…I wonder when he’ll start speaking to me again.