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Dressing for the hunt with Neil Pendleton: why wool makes for the best hunting gear

One of Hal's favorite motto's is, "Iit ain't broke, don't fix it!". Well, many of us may think Hal was born wearing his wool plaid jacket and green wool pants, and honestly, I can't picture him hunting in any type of clothing other than wool

I, on the other hand, wasn’t born in wool like Hal, and I had to fix what I was wearing. I have worn numerous types of camo and hunting clothing made from all sorts of different natural and synthetic fibers over the years. It wasn't until recently that I started to adopt wool as a primary part of my hunting clothing. The first jacket I wore hunting was an old beat up red and black checkered plaid wool coat. Over the years I collected different wool jackets and pants, wearing them occasionally. I now almost exclusively wear wool when hunting in the big woods with a gun in my hands, especially once the snow flies! 

 The only time I seem to deviate from wearing wool in the big woods is when it's raining hard or bow hunting. Believe it or not, wool can both absorb and repel water! Simultaneously adsorbing sweat while resisting snow and rain! 

Why wool

For the tree-hugging environmentalist... You can “Go Green” with wool (insert Vermont hunter joke here). No seriously though, not only are most wool hunting clothes patterns colored in some sort of green, but by wearing wool you literally “Go Green”, because wearing wool is environmentally friendly, too. Wearing wool not only helps you blend in with nature, but heck, wool literally comes from nature. It originates from an animal, usually a sheep, and you can’t get more natural than that!

However, sheep aren’t the only animals that produce wool, so do goats, rabbits, muskoxen, bison, lamas, yaks, and alpaca’s make it an easily renewable resource! Plus, wool has a long lifespan and doesn’t wear out as fast as many other materials. If you’re one of the guys who can’t or won’t do his own laundry, luckily wool doesn’t need washing as often, which is great for long trips “upta” camp!


Okay, let's also address another elephant in the room…yes, wool has reputation for being itchy, irritating, heavy and hot. However modern wool, especially merino wool, breaks these stereotypes and like many old perceptions, it’s now time to update your old and outdated way of thinking! 

Okay, back to why and how I wear wool. When hunting in big woods especially while tracking, I move fast covering lots of ground so rarely does my core get cold. Wool keeps you drier, wool wicks away moisture from your skin and can absorb 30% of its weight before your skin feels it as being wet. Wool dries faster because of its ability to release moisture quickly and easily through evaporation. Thus, my core stays warm even when wearing minimal layers, however my hands are the first thing to get cold and the area of my body I concern myself the most with when planning on being in the elements for an entire day. 


For my hands, I wear wool gloves, typically bringing an extra pair. If the first pair gets wet, which happens often, my hands will start to freeze when I stop moving and I put on a fresh pair of dry gloves. My real secret weapon for combating cold hands is a muff. What's a muff you ask? Ever seen a quarterback stick his hands in a hand warmer pouch wrapped around his waist while in the huddle between plays? That's the same thing as a hunting muff, and probably my favorite piece of hunting clothing. You can’t beat the hunting muff in combination with a HotHands style Body & Hand Super Warmer. I prefer the Body & Hand size much more than the smaller size warmers as they stay warmer longer. Do yourself a favor and don't accidentally buy get the adhesive ones! I recently started using a USB rechargeable hand warmer that seems to work well, but still bring a package of Hot Hands style air-activated hand warmer pouches. Whether I'm walking or sitting in a tree stand keeping my hands warm and maintaining finger dexterity is huge priority! 


Socks are the next most important piece of clothing I wear to endure hundreds of rugged miles during a long hunting season. Invest in quality wool socks. I've found many good brands over the years, but none seem to beat them Vermont made, Darn Tough SocksI double up, wearing two pairs. I started this trend back in younger days playing basketball. The theory was that wearing two pairs of socks would create less friction and provide more cushion in the heel area, an area I would often get blisters. Another trick iwearing breathable waterproof socks for the second layer over a pair of wool socks. Pulling my socks up and over the bottom leg of my base layers seems to help prevent my socks from sliding down and getting bunched up in my boots. 

Base layers

Next is my merino wool base layers. Wool wins over synthetic base layers because it's breathable and the natural fibers allow air to flow and prevent me from overheating. Plus, wool is highly odor resistant due to natural, anti-microbial properties that don't allow bacteria to grow which cause odor. A few years ago, I switched from synthetic base-layers to wool and quickly noticed two major benefits. One, I didn't smell as bad immediately after a long sweaty day and second, the following day my shirt would smell even less or not all compared to synthetic compression cold gear style base-layers. 


Wool pants, they are comfy and paired with a good pair of gaiters they are perfect for those long snowy days. I found the only drawback to wearing wool pants in snow was the ice clumps that formed at the bottom of my pant leg and the snowball ornaments on my boot laces. Gaiters solved both potential problems when I wore hiking style hunting boots. Up until last season, I relied on rubber boots but recently switched to a combination of leather hunting boots and waterproof Gore-Tex style hunting boots due to foot pain. I found switching my boots gave me extra traction and less foot pain on those high mileage days compared to rubber. 


On my top half I usually just wear a wool hunting shirt over my wool base-layer. Moving fast, covering lots of ground makes me sweat with warmer layers. As a result, my wool jackets rarely get much use these days. I occasionally wear them when I find that magical spot to hang a stand and sit on a snowy day. A wool button up hunting shirt, typically with the collar popped, gives just enough warmth but allows for quick cool down. A wool shirt is much warmer than most synthetic fabric of the same weight.  


Lastly, I like to top it all off with a merino wool beanie hat. I often wear the wool beanie over a short, brimmed style hat. I find a trucker style or baseball cap bumps up against my scope and iwhy I prefer the short, brimmed style hat. 

 I can't wait for the 2022 Big Woods Bucks wool lineup