Outside of the serious mental issues we must have, what allows us, the waterfowl hunter, such freedom that we could even think of staying outside in those conditions? Enter the world of waterfowl clothing. Canvas waders and wool socks used to be the most technical items a waterfowl hunter would have. Not anymore.
Fleece. Neoprene. GORE-TEX®. Dry-Plus®. WindShear™. Thinsulate™ Insulation. Hollofil™ Insulation. All different materials with different properties. All allow the waterfowler to brave the elements that have most people – even deer hunters – heading inside for a warm drink and a fire.
Pick up a Cabela’s Waterfowl catalog and you’ll find 80 pages dedicated to waterfowl hunting clothing, including waders. While waders are covered elsewhere, there’s a complete line of hunting gear designed to go under your waders for comfort. So where does a new waterfowler begin? First, he needs to decide what type of waterfowl hunting he’ll be doing.
Field hunting for big Canada geese and hunting flooded timber for mallards are going to demand different types of gear. Hunting from a blind or pit is going to be different than hunting from lay-out blinds on the ground. Once you know what type of hunting you’ll be doing, then you can start your search with the coat.
Probably the most versatile design for a waterfowl coat is the 4-in-1 parka, followed closely behind by a 3-in-1 jacket. Both use a two-coat system that zip together to provide an insulating layer and a protective shell. They’re the ultimate choice in versatility because a hunter can use either one on its own during the early and midseason or he can use them together for late-season arctic blasts.
When picking outerwear, it’s especially helpful to know the difference between a parka and a jacket. A parka is going to hit below the seat, usually with a drawstring waist to keep tight. A jacket stops right at the waist. For the waterfowler, a parka is a better choice for field hunting, while a jacket works better under waders where the extra coverage of a parka would hinder your freedom of movement.
No matter which cut you choose, the technical features you’ll be hit with could be a little overwhelming. So first, you want to tackle the big stuff: waterproofing and insulation. The biggest name on the market for waterproofing is GORE-TEX. It’s a waterproof, breathable membrane that’s lightweight. Manufacturer’s can easily add it to garments or boots. GORE-TEX coats can be some of the more expensive choices. In the same vein is Cabela’s-exclusive Dry-Plus, a similar material that also provides a waterproof, breathable barrier. Besides GORE-TEX and Dry-Plus, many other companies also provide a waterproof membrane. It’s definitely a feature worth looking for.
If the coat you’re considering doesn’t have a waterproof membrane, then you want to make sure it has some type of waterproofing. Some coats might use a urethane coating, like Weather-BLOCK™, to block both water and wind. If you’re not as concerned about moisture, WindShear, or a similar laminate, is the best choice for blocking the wind. Wind is the second-largest robber of body heat, after moisture, so keeping the wind at bay is crucial. WindShear also lets perspiration vapor escape so you stay dry and comfortable.
For insulation, many of the parkas and wading jackets carry with them Thinsulate Insulation in varying weights. Over the last few seasons especially, coat makers have started insulating jackets in zones for the maximum amount of effectiveness. Zone insulating is simple: the main body of the jacket that warms the internal organs carries a heavier insulation while the arms and sleeves will carry a lighter insulation. The lighter insulation cuts down on the overall weight of the coat and increases the mobility in the arms, shoulders and elbows.
If your choice in a coat isn’t lined with Thinsulate, then it’s likely lined with a polyfill or Hollofil insulation. Both are similar to Thinsulate in their insulating properties. One other choice on the market is goose down. Many waterfowlers will still turn to goose down, although it’s increasingly harder to find coats insulated with goose down in the systems style.
You can still find many single jackets or parkas insulated with goose down, but that’s a choice you’re going to have to make for your hunting situation. If a single layering piece will do, and you don’t need the versatility a systems garment offers, then you can choose an insulator like goose down without losing a lot of other features. In fact, you might find a better solution for your waterfowling needs in a single layer.
If you’re going to go with a single outer layer, over the more versatile systems style, then you’ve probably noticed an increase in "hybrid" tops. A hybrid top has an upper layer of waterproof, windproof material like microfleece with a layer of fleece below the chest, which normally is the part under the waders. The layer of fleece below the waders offers maximum breathability and moisture management without the unnecessary waterproofing your waders already provide.
Since many waterfowlers like myself spend endless days in waders, the hybrid idea has really caught on the past couple years. Hybrid tops go from typical shirt styles like a turtleneck or mock T-neck to more of a jacket style with a full-zip, ¼-zip and hooded ¼-zip. The cut on garments like these is generous, allowing waterfowlers to layer under them for changing conditions.
Besides being one of the more convenient styles, the jacket-style hybrid top has caught on because of a number of features – especially cuffs and pockets – specifically for waterfowling. Neoprene cuffs on most models keep water from running back up your arms when setting or picking up decoys. Magnetic call pockets and call separators keep you from fumbling between your favorite call and your back-up call. Zippered security pockets even keep important things – like car keys – from getting lost. The latest innovation from Drake is probably one of the best ideas for waterfowlers in years: deep-water handwarmer pockets.
For a number of reasons (mainly trigger feel and calling) waterfowl hunters don’t like gloves. But keeping your hands warm is crucial when in the field. The deep-water handwarmer pockets sit above the waders, covered by waterproof, windproof microfleece and take advantage of your body heat to keep your hands warm.
When moving down the body, the waterfowler has to know what the day’s hunt calls for. If you’re going to spend the day in a field in layout blinds, then a good pair of insulated bibs are in order. If you’re going to spend the day in the water, then you need to layer under your waders. First, let’s go field hunting.
Quite frankly, nothing beats a good pair of bibs for warmth and durability. When looking at bibs, you’ll see many of the same components as those in the jackets or parkas. First, you want a good waterproofing agent. Keeping your legs dry is the key to keeping them warm. GORE-TEX or Dry-Plus is a must when hunting in layout blinds. Along with that, you want to make sure you have a good insulation around your legs to trap your natural body heat and make the most of it. Lastly, you want to look for bibs that offer knee-length zippers or higher. That makes them easy to get on and off when needed, especially if they’re muddy and it’s time to go home.
If you’re hunting in a pit or field blind, then you want to layer accordingly down your legs. Many times, your legs will be protected from the wind and rain or snow and receive the bulk of the heat (if you have a heater going), so you might want to fall back on your regular cotton or waterproof uninsulated pants. That’s really going to depend on the weather, so if you’re hunting a new blind make sure to ask before packing.
If the day calls for waders, you have some options for layering. With heavier waders, like a 5mm neoprene, you want to gauge your layering on the weather. Overheating can be a problem from time to time. The best place to start is a good base layer. It will keep a lot of heat next to the skin. If you need a second layer, then use a fleece wader liner.
You might be tempted to use an old pair of sweatpants or jeans under your waders as your second layer. After all, that worked for grandpa, right? Grandpa also had sore spots on his legs where his sweats would ride up and holes in his waders where the brass rivets of his jeans would wear through. Wader liners use a stirrup strap to keep them in place when walking and putting your waders on along with eliminating any rough edges that wear through from the inside out. That means more life from your current waders along with a more comfortable hunt for you.
Now that you’ve waded through all the fabrics and types of garments, you have a good idea of what you need for your next waterfowl hunting trip. All you have left to pick is a camo pattern. Boy, does that open a whole new can of worms …
See Cabela’s Camo Pattern Buyer’s Guide here: Camo Pattern Buyer’s Guide