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Garments designed to keep you toasty on wintry days.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

Two generations ago hunters had to know two things about fabrics: Waxed cotton keeps you dry, wool keeps you warm. The waxed cotton was noisy and heavy, the wool was heavy and itchy, and both stank enough to alert a buck standing 100 yards upwind. But it was all they had.

Today, hunting apparel not only keeps you warm and dry but also weighs next to nothing and feels as soft as a baby's sleeper. Most of it has no odor of its own and some of it even kills or captures body odor. The only drawback to these miracle garments is that you practically need advanced degrees in chemistry and fiber technology to understand them. For example, during our research we uncovered 53 trade names for polyester fibers alone.

Dressing for cold can be broken into three layers. First, the base layer should be wool or a moisture-wicking synthetic fabric. Next, the middle layer should be one of a variety of natural or synthetic insulations that creates dead-air space. Finally, the outer layer should protect the middle layer by blocking wind and rain with a breathable, waterproof shell. The layering system eliminates a lot of cold-weather clothing confusion because only a few fabrics work for each layer. Let's consider them in that order.

**Layer 1 **
**Moisture Control **
When your muscles generate chemical heat in excess of what your body needs to remain comfortable, you sweat. This creates evaporative cooling, which is good when you're half-naked at the beach but troublesome when you're wearing a parka on a snowy deer stand. In addition to sucking heat from your body at a rate 25 times faster than air, water (perspiration in this case) fills the dead-air spaces in your clothing, drastically reducing the fabric's ability to insulate. To avoid sweat soaking into and freezing in your base layer, you have two options. You can wear wool, which retains body warmth even when wet, or you can wear one of the synthetic fabrics that don't absorb water, such as polyester, olefin (polypropylene) or nylon. While each of these man-made fibers repels water, wicking rates vary slightly depending on how the fabrics are woven, brushed or treated. Patagonia's Capilene, for instance, is polyester treated with a chemical that increases moisture transfer away from the skin. Similarly, Cabela's MTP Tech-Silk is a polyester treated with a chemical trade-named Visa, which reportedly increases wicking.

The weave of synthetics can improve insulation and wicking by creating additional air spaces between threads. Some polyesters, such as Thermastat, are made of fibers with hollow centers that trap additional dead air.

The hottest next-to-skin fabrics, however, are the micro-fleeces. These are essentially the same brushed polyesters used in traditional fleece jackets, except the fibers are thinner and the nap or loft is shorter. I wore a Cabela's MTP micro-fleece Polar Weight undershirt last winter and it was extremely warm, soft and comfortable. The legs of the matching drawers, however, were too narrow to fit over my calves. The material had almost no stretch. I found out later that all other weights in MTP underwear have Lycra Spandex blended with the polyester fleece to provide stretch. The easiest way to test for stretch is simply to grab the garment and pull it in various directions.

One thing to keep in mind is that some fibers-olefins in particular-seem to carry body odor like a badge of honor. Thankfully, several new antimicrobial treatments promise relief. Marmot and North Face are selling garments treated with Microban, a pesticide that kills odor-causing bacteria. Cabela's uses Microban in its Scent Eliminator line, as do many other underwear makers. For the pesticide-wary, Cabela's offers X-Static next-to-skin garments with anti-bacterial silver.

One other innovation in scent-control involves aluminum silicates called zeolites, which are supposed to hinder bacteri growth. Mountain Hardware is impregnating a polyester-knit underwear with zeolites, and backpackers who've tried it claim it works.

Most underwear can be purchased in various thicknesses. The light weights are best for temperatures from 50 to 20 degrees, the medium weights should be used in temperatures from 20 to 0 degrees and the heavy weights should be used when the temperature falls below zero. Some manufacturers add a fourth weight often called Polar or Expedition, which should carry you through the longest wait in a duck blind.

Layer 2 **
**Insulation

The human body is a furnace, generating enough BTUs to protect it in even the coldest climates, as long as you keep that heat around you. This is what the insulating layer is for. Regardless of the material-down, cotton, wool or synthetic-it is dead-air space that insulates. Heat the air and lock it in place to prevent convection loss, and you're a self-contained, highly efficient heater.

Fur was mankind's first clothing insulator but it's rather pricey these days. Wool came next, and it remains a great insulator but it's heavier than modern synthetics. Wool doesn't burn or melt easily, making it safer around campfires, but it also holds water and is notoriously slow to dry. However, it does retain 60 percent of its insulating qualities when wet.

Down is the most effective natural insulator per unit of weight, but it's bulky and worthless when wet. However, modern waterproof/breathable shells have made it a lot easier to keep down dry and effective.

Most modern insulating garments are filled with synthetics because they're inexpensive, water-repellent and lightweight. Because of the manner in which they are woven, synthetics rarely settle the way down can. Thinsulate is now 20 years old; this was the original "minimum bulk" insulation and it still provides 11/2 times more warmth than an equal thickness of down.

You'll want to stick with polyester or acrylic fleece for warmth while wet. Most of the warp-knit varieties stop wind like a screen door, but some of the new circular knits, like Browning's line of Genesis Fleece garments, are wind-resistant. Among insulations used in hunting garments, Thinsulate rules the roost because it's so well known and proven. It is, however, by no means universal. DuPont Thermolite and Thermoloft are also widely used. Many entry-level garments are insulated with non-branded polyester insulations, which do a good job but are slightly heavier and bulkier. Browning sticks with high-quality goose down in its top-of-the-line garments. (Gore-Tex makes this possible.)

Insulation options can be confusing. The good news is you can hardly go wrong with any of them. First, decide whether you want natural or synthetic. The latter has the advantage in moisture management. If you choose natural, go with down for minimum weight and wool for versatility and durability. If you choose synthetic, lean toward thin-loft insulations for more active hunting and the bulkier lofts for stand-hunting. Add a breathable laminate layer for hunting in rain or moderate temperatures.

Layer 3 **
**The Shell

Turtles are smart enough to pull into their shells when danger threatens. You should do the same when cold, precipitation or wind endanger your comfort. A garment shell is the roof over your insulated house, protecting your insulating layers so they can do their job. Secondarily, this outer layer should enable you to move quietly. And finally, your external layer should be as all-encompassing as possible. This means a hood to cover your neck and head and enough length to prevent wind from blowing up your back. A three-quarter-length parka is your best bet. Wind can rob you of 60 percent of your body heat. To combat heat loss, use a lightweight, micro-fiber polyester shell. Any of the breathable laminates like Gore-Tex offer excellent wind resistance. Gore-Tex's Windstopper does the same thing but is not waterproof.

Despite what old-school doubters may believe, most of these high-tech "fabrics" work as advertised. I've found that good old Gore-Tex is the most effective but I haven't tested them all.

Most hunting garments are built from some sort of unbrushed, low-nap, polyester micro-fiber with a name like Micro-Suede, Micro-Tex or Silent Suede. No matter what they're called, all offer several distinct advantages. One, they are almost as quiet as fleeced polyester. Two, they are almost as rugged and durable as canvas or denim. Three, they pick up very little debris. Four, they take and hold a camouflaged print beautifully. Five, what are you waiting for? Buy one! Advanced designs like Weatherby's Lightweight Packable Shell include waterproof zippers, articulated elbows for easier movement with bulky mid-layers, armpit vents for maximum vapor transfer and interior pockets for additional storage. Cabela's MT050 Whitetail Extreme parka features articulated elbows and lots of pockets with storm flaps and adds 200 grams of Lite Loft insulation over the torso and 150 grams in the arms. I wore the Weatherby coat with matching pants during a snowy, wet Alaska bear hunt and never even got chilled. During North Dakota icefishing in below-zero weather, I was opening zippers on my Cabela's parka and matching bibs in order to vent excess heat while my guide was shivering. I have never felt so warm and comfortable under brutal conditions.

Now you're ready to make sense of the jargon and assemble an outfit that will keep you warm and dry during long waits in wintry weather.nt wind resistance. Gore-Tex's Windstopper does the same thing but is not waterproof.

Despite what old-school doubters may believe, most of these high-tech "fabrics" work as advertised. I've found that good old Gore-Tex is the most effective but I haven't tested them all.

Most hunting garments are built from some sort of unbrushed, low-nap, polyester micro-fiber with a name like Micro-Suede, Micro-Tex or Silent Suede. No matter what they're called, all offer several distinct advantages. One, they are almost as quiet as fleeced polyester. Two, they are almost as rugged and durable as canvas or denim. Three, they pick up very little debris. Four, they take and hold a camouflaged print beautifully. Five, what are you waiting for? Buy one! Advanced designs like Weatherby's Lightweight Packable Shell include waterproof zippers, articulated elbows for easier movement with bulky mid-layers, armpit vents for maximum vapor transfer and interior pockets for additional storage. Cabela's MT050 Whitetail Extreme parka features articulated elbows and lots of pockets with storm flaps and adds 200 grams of Lite Loft insulation over the torso and 150 grams in the arms. I wore the Weatherby coat with matching pants during a snowy, wet Alaska bear hunt and never even got chilled. During North Dakota icefishing in below-zero weather, I was opening zippers on my Cabela's parka and matching bibs in order to vent excess heat while my guide was shivering. I have never felt so warm and comfortable under brutal conditions.

Now you're ready to make sense of the jargon and assemble an outfit that will keep you warm and dry during long waits in wintry weather.