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Comfort Control

By Keith McCafferty

Dressing in layers is the best way to ensure comfort in Texas' unpredictable winter weather.

Texas game and fish do not live in climate-controlled environments. In few places in the lower 48 states does a hunter roam such a diversity of countryside or experience such dramatic shifts in weather, often during a single day. To meet the challenge of staying both comfortable and safe, learn to dress in layers.

The system most experts recommend for strenuous outdoor activity has three components: an inner layer next to the skin that efficiently transfers perspiration to outer garments, an insulating outer layer that provides dead air space for warmth and a shell that defeats wind and keeps rain out while allowing water vapor created by body heat to pass through and evaporate.

The Inner Layer

The inner clothing layer or base garment works in one of two ways: by wicking sweat to outer layers of clothing or by absorbing the moisture deep into fibers, so that the fabric closest to the skin remains dry. Polypropylene and polyester are wicking fabrics. Wool and silk are absorbing fabrics. The latter have a place during autumn and winter hunting seasons. In Texas, however, midday temperatures can be uncomfortably warm even in December.

Polypropylene was the first synthetic touted for its superior wicking properties. Never before had outdoorsmen been offered a flyweight garment that sucked sweat away from the body as quickly as it was produced. On the other hand, never before had they smelled so bad, which isn't what you want when rattling in a whitetail buck. Today's polypro doesn't retain odors to the same degree, but pure polyester weaves, such as CoolMax and Thermax, may be better choices. Buy the lightweight versions; medium and expedition weights are overkill.

The Outer Layer

In hot weather, clothes worn next to the skin also serve as the outer layer. Cotton is much maligned for its eagerness to soak up sweat, but as an outer layer in dry climates it's OK, especially when blended with nylon, which adds a measure of wind-resistance and hastens the drying process. A cotton/nylon-blend long-sleeve shirt worn over a CoolMax undershirt and coupled with pants that have zip-off legs is a versatile combination for early fall hunting.

In cool weather, the two-fold purpose of the outer layer is to create dead air space for trapping body warmth and to wick water vapor to the outside fibers, where it can evaporate. No fabric does this more efficiently than fleece, which is composed of spun polyester or nylon fibers. In addition, fleece is hard-wearing and extremely lightweight. However, fleece is porous, reducing its insulative value if you don't have a shell to wear over the top. Many makers sew wind-resistant linings into their jackets, but I question the wisdom of this so-called "improvement." One of the great properties of fleece is its breathability, which allows it to be worn comfortably across a broad range of temperatures. It's a relatively simple matter to slip your arms into the sleeves of a shell during rest stops to prevent chill.

Two other drawbacks to fleece are that it picks up burrs and offers minimal protection against thorns. If this is a concern, you might want to leaf through the pages of a Cabela's catalog. Some of the micro fibers advertised in the traditional camo patterns for pants and jackets have a dense, smooth nap to keep the prickers at bay.

The Shell

In inclement weather, a shell or parka incorporating a breathable, rainproof fabric such as Gore-Tex is worth the money you pay for it; in drier environs, it's unnecessarily hard on the pocketbook. An inexpensive windshirt, worn between a wicking undershirt and a fleece jacket, will add a surprising degree of warmth on breezy days. Pack along a generously cut poncho that can be stretched between shrubs or tree trunks to make a wind and rainproof shelter and, short of a tornado, you ought to be able to comfortably withstand most weather the Lone Star State can throw your way.

A final word: If you're the kind of hunter who wears out boot leather, consider extending the layering principle to your feet. An inner sock of thin polypropylene coupled with an outer sock of wool or synthetic blend reduces blistering.

Clothing Checklist for Hot Weather

  • synthetic undershorts and T-shirt
  • cotton or nylon shorts or zip-off pants
  • cotton, polyester or polyester/nylon-blend shirt
  • broad-brimmed hat
  • bandanna to dip in water for evaporative cooling
  • synthetic sports-blend socks

Clothing Checklist For Cold Weather

  • synthetic undershorts
  • lightweight, synthetic undershirt and long johns
  • wool, saddle cloth or fleece pants
  • chamois, micro-fleece or wool shirt
  • fleece or light wool jacket
  • waterproof/breathable rain gear or poncho
  • leather gloves for protection against thorns
  • fleece or wool hat
  • silk scarf
  • synthetic sports-blend socks or polypropylene liner socks with wool blend outer sock

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