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December 2023
Author: Forest Pike

Undeniably, western hunting (and hunting in general for that matter) often involves unpredictable weather patterns and cold climates that require our sustained endurement. The challenge of the pursuit at-hand demands that we remain firm under discomfort, without yielding, until either a successful harvest or the end-of-season. Fortunately, we as a breed of outdoorsmen are not easily discouraged. We’re also not inclined to venture outward without first becoming adequately prepared, rather here “equipped,” if you will. There, arguably, has never been an easier time to equip for the elements than the present, due largely in part to the innovation and technology associated with modern gear. With concern to the “modern” layering system used by many of us, the down insulation layer specifically is known to be both critical for the provision of warmth and delicate in its handling. Here are three common mistakes people make with the handling of their down insulation, all of which can easily lead to a hunting experience cut short due to discomfort.


The warmth-to-weight ratio of down insulation is possibly as unmatched today as it was when it took its place in the world of garment manufacturing. It achieves its favorable ratio by means of its natural loft or “fluffiness,” briefly described here as the volume of space within the outer face fabrics of a garment where the down feathers reside. Without adequate loft, the warming performance of down insulation rapidly deteriorates, and it is here that many become unknowingly misled in their overall approach to layering in cold climates.

When exposed to the elements in the pursuit of our game, it’s easy to think that simply wearing more layers will result in greater warmth. This thought becomes increasingly convincing when faced with varying forms of precipitation or a relentless wind. The truth is, at times, we must choose between the lesser of two discomforts – being cold or being wet. The mistake most commonly made is choosing to layer a rain or softshell jacket over down insulation with the expectation of retaining the same warmth already provided as doing so may result in the compression of the loft at-hand and consequently, degraded performance thereof. If retaining warmth is of the utmost importance for a given climate and situation, then perhaps seeking shelter from the precipitation or wind by other means would be better suited, such as by tarp or terrain feature when available. If these assets are unavailable, then pivoting one’s field strategy to include a warming fire or greater mobility may be in order.


Another common mistake people make with their down insulation concerns “wet feathers,” yet another means in which loft can be lost. Even DWR-treated down (or other proprietary means of similar, water-repellant treatment) can have its warming performance negatively affected when exposed to moisture and significantly so. It’s easy to consider the wear and removal of rain gear as an inconvenience, especially when the weather at-hand is perceived as momentary, but it’s here that one should remain disciplined and mindful in its use. It doesn’t take long before that momentary rain shower effectively penetrates the outer shell of a down garment. After all, if you have rain gear available, then why not use it? Being proactive with our rain gear can have a direct effect on the longevity of our stay in cold, wet climates. Again, down insulation is delicate in that it doesn’t dry easily once saturated with moisture. What’s the key point here with “wet feathers,” you may ask? Stay diligent in your efforts to keep your down insulation dry so that the loft necessary to achieve warmth is available to support you when you need it.


I mentioned earlier the possibly unmatched warmth-to-weight ratio of down insulation. A common mistake people make with their down insulation is their selection thereof – counting the wrong ounces. With an early season, a down insulation garment weighing 9 ounces and its late season counterpart weighing in at 13 ounces, the mistake made here is choosing to equip with the early season variant to save a mere 4 ounces in weight. The warming performance of these two down insulation garments differs greatly and could easily result in one’s decision to “throw in the towel” when temperatures drop unexpectedly. Ultimately, given the unpredictable nature of mountainous weather patterns (or other type landscapes), having the added warming performance that those additional 4 ounces provides not only increases comfort but also increases survivability. It doesn’t hurt that the difference in their packability is likely minimal at best.


As you prepare and embark on the hunting adventures that lie ahead, consider a proactive approach to the management of your down insulation. Be mindful of the natural loft that’s required of the down in order for it to provide the warmth you’ll need to endure cold climates. Remain diligent in your carry and employment of rain gear (both tops and bottoms) to avoid the uncertainty of drying down insulation once saturated with moisture. And finally, choose to bring down insulation garments that permit you to capitalize on their warmth-to-weight ratio to the fullest. Who knows, your next hunting adventure may only result in a successful harvest so long as you can remain firm and unyielding against the elements for another day, if not a mere matter of hours!

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