Those who love fieldsports care little for inclement weather but why be cold with all the clothing options available, asks Graham Downing
There’s something exciting about packing for a special hunting trip. Whether it’s a couple of days on the hill in Scotland or a woodland stalking adventure abroad, there are guns, clothing, boots and accessories to be prepared, cleaned and checked. All of this adds to the sense of anticipation. (Read our advice on choosing the best hunting lamp.)
Hunting thermals clothing
But when planning a winter hunting trip to some cold and distant clime, special considerations must be borne in mind. There will almost certainly be kit and clothing to be packed that is different to what you would usually expect to use when hunting in the UK.
Perhaps the first thing to be done when preparing for such a trip is to confirm the likely weather conditions. Google will always advise on average temperature and rain or snowfall, but it is much better if you have a local host, agent or outfitter to consult. He will also be familiar with the type of hunt you will be undertaking and how strenuous it will be: an energetic week’s mountain hunting will require a considerably lower level of insulation than three days in a draughty high seat waiting for that mighty buck to emerge.
Likewise, waterproof clothing is almost pointless if your destination is actually cold and dry; it’s therefore essential that you do your research to understand the local climate. Another variable to take into account is your mode of transport. When driving to your destination, you have the luxury of being able to throw everything into the car. No need to decide between the heavier and the lighter jacket — chuck them both in. And if you want an entire spare set of clothes in case one gets soaking wet, no problem.
But if you’re flying, you’ll need to be much more selective to keep both weight and volume within acceptable bounds. One tip I learned when flying to distant hunting venues was to stop packing my bulky hunting jacket — it’s much easier to wear it on the plane. But always check each pocket thoroughly for spare rounds, magazines or empty cases. It genuinely is no fun becoming the centre of a security alert, especially in a foreign airport where the police don’t speak English.
The golden rule about hunting thermals clothing is to think in layers. So, starting with the base layer, let’s consider underwear. Long thermal underwear is essential, and my favourite is a set of Musto underwear in merino wool. (See above.) Some years ago I tested merino wool against polyester underwear and, though both kept me warm, after three days in each set, wool was the option that passed the sniff test. I have worn it for an entire week, day and night, in northern British Columbia when sleeping under canvas in sub-zero temperatures, without offence either to me or my hunting buddies.
Over my top half I usually wear a shirt. For average winter conditions when a degree of activity is required, my hunting thermals clothing includes a heavy cotton Spartan Outdoors shirt, though any decent heavyweight cotton or wool/cotton mix would do. If there is a lot of waiting and watching to be done, however, I use a Bonart fleece-lined shirt, which, combined with the Musto underwear, is guaranteed to keep me toasty. When it’s cold I will wear that combination when standing on a peg in the UK with my Chrysalis shooting coat over the top.
For extreme conditions, I have a padded Helly Hansen shirt that I bought in Whitehorse, Yukon. I’ve never seen anything like it in the UK, but then our average January temperature is not -25°C.
There are plenty of fleeces you can use as a mid-layer. (Read our list of the best fleece gilets for shooters.) I tend to wear Musto, but Schöffel is equally as good. I have a selection in medium weight for usual winter conditions and heavy weight for colder days. I usually opt for olive green, which can be worn as an outer layer when it’s mild. Zip pockets are essential, as I keep a loaded magazine in my right fleece pocket and a spare bullet pouch in my left; these are not items you’d want to lose during an energetic hike or climb.
For my lower half, I have found nothing that beats my Härkila Pro Hunter trousers. It was a bit of a pain getting the correct size sent from Denmark, but the trousers are superbly made, tough, waterproof and incredibly comfortable to wear. Though it is outside the scope of this article, I also have a pair of lightweight unlined Härkila stalking trousers for summer and early autumn wear.
The Pro Hunters are suitable for most degrees of cold, but if I am sitting out in a high seat for long periods in seriously sub-zero temperatures, I wear a pair of Deerhunter Muflon bib trousers. They are equally good for any situation with significant wind chill, such as on a quad or snowmobile.
So we come to the outer shell. An old favourite was a Laksen jacket with a brushed polyester, dark camouflage finish and a Gore-Tex interlining. I wore it when hunting across eastern Europe, from Lithuania and Poland to northern Sweden. I shall never forget, after a trip hunting black grouse and capercaillie, opening my suitcase on my return home to smell the gorgeous scent of Scandinavian pinewoods on that jacket. I still use it years later, but only for walking the dogs.
On one occasion when I needed a really high-performance jacket for hunting ptarmigan on skis on the border between Sweden and Norway in February, I took the Remington four-way parka I originally bought for wildfowling, and it performed superbly. These days, however, I take a Deerhunter Muflon jacket if it’s likely to be really cold; the Deerhunter has served me well, even in the harshest conditions of northern Canada.
Sometimes, though, sport can be slightly more formal. If this is the case, I have a Härkila Stornoway Active jacket in a brushed polyester outer fabric printed with a tweed pattern. It is warm, and it looks the part. Indeed, it is equally at home on a smart driven day as it is on top of a mountain in the Austrian Alps.
For the active hunter, whether with shotgun or rifle, a good pair of boots is fundamental. It’s not an easy choice, especially when flying, as a decent pair of boots simply chews up both space and weight in your suitcase. If you can get your hands on them, I would firmly recommend Le Chameau’s Mouflon boots, especially the 10in-high version with plenty of ankle support. (Read our list of the best boots for shooting.)
Sadly, I believe these have been discontinued, so I have been using a Lowa hunting boot, which is equally as good. I wear them with Bridgedale calf-length socks with looped linings. This combination keeps my feet warm in virtually any conditions, and the boots are light enough to avoid extra airline baggage charges.
From the feet to the head because you should not forget to pack a warm hat. For general wear I now use my Härkila Lynx peaked cap, though Musto offers a similar product with slightly more insulation and with an additional collar and ear flap.
For really cold conditions I now use a Canadian-style Deerhunter Muflon winter hat with heavy insulation and with ear-and-collar flaps that tie under the chin, rather in the manner of a traditional deerstalker. An essential part of hunting thermals clothing.
There are a couple of final touches to hunting thermals clothing that need consideration. When snowy conditions are expected, it’s best to take a light coverall suit to wear over your winter kit. This avoids the expense of heavy white winter hunting wear that you will probably never use in the UK. I have a Spartan Outdoors lightweight snow jacket and trousers that will fit into an inside pocket if necessary.
And don’t forget a white snow hat — I find a white ski hat works perfectly, if you can find one.
Finally, if you’re driven hunting for moose or boar, don’t forget a blaze-orange vest, which is required in most European countries, and preferably an orange band to wear around your hat, too.