What to Wear Fishing in Cold Weather [All 3 Layers]

Out on the water, cold days can feel even colder thanks to the wind. Still, the afternoon sun might have you sweating under a heavy coat. Knowing how to prepare and what to wear for your fishing trip can help ensure that you stay comfortable whether you’re on a boat or on land. 

For fishing in cold weather, layering is essential. Layering properly will allow you to adjust your insulation throughout the day and efficiently retain body heat. The right outer jacket will help keep you dry. You’ll also need to protect your extremities, so a good quality hat and gloves are a must. 

Layering for Fishing in Cold Weather

‘Layering’ refers to wearing multiple layers of clothing in varying thicknesses. People layer clothes to help regulate their body temperature, especially during outdoor activities. The temperature and conditions outside can change drastically over just a few hours. Plus, your body temperature can fluctuate drastically depending on what you’re doing and your activity level. The ability to add or remove layers of insulation can be the difference between being comfortable and being miserable. 

How you go about layering depends on the local conditions. For example, if there’s a chance of rain, you’ll need to plan for that when selecting your pieces of clothing. No matter what items you use, however, you’ll still follow a basic guideline for your layers:

Base layer: This is your first layer, so it’s the first item that you’ll put on. This layer is meant to keep you dry by wicking away perspiration from your skin while providing an extra bit of insulation. 

Middle layer: This is the second item you’ll put on, over the base layer. The middle layer is for insulation. It helps keep your body heat trapped inside and protects you from the cold outside. 

Outer layer: This is your shell layer. The outer layer is typically the thickest piece you’ll wear and it gives you an outer layer of protection from cold, wind, and rain. 

Using multiple layers for fishing in cold weather will keep you warm and help protect you from getting wet on the water. Getting your clothes wet when you’re outside in the cold can be disastrous. If you have a waterproof shell layer on, it won’t be a concern. Even if it’s not waterproof, you’ll be wearing enough clothes that the water (hopefully) won’t soak through to your skin. Or, you can remove the wet item and you’ll still have the remaining layers on (depending on how cold the temperatures are). 

Base Layer: What to Wear

Your base layer is what keeps your skin dry as it should absorb moisture to pull it away from your skin. If you’re outside in cold temperatures, keeping dry is extremely important. Being wet or damp may increase your chances of catching a chill, or at the very least, make you uncomfortable. 

Considerations for Choosing a Base Layer

Material Synthetic or natural fabrics. Should be “moisture wicking.” 
Weight Lightweight, midweight, or heavyweight – indicates warmth.
Fit Should fit snugly so that it’s in contact with your skin. 

Making sure that you choose an item that’s intended to be a base layer will help ensure that the material is moisture wicking. Synthetic fabrics like polyester, rayon, or nylon do a great job wicking moisture and getting perspiration away from your body (think: ‘Dry Fit’). They also hold up better than most natural fabrics. 

Natural materials like Merino wool, silk, and cotton are typically not quite as effective at wicking moisture away from your skin. Merino wool is a good choice if you’re worried about body odor, because it has a natural resistance to odor-causing bacteria. 

Many base layer items are made from silk because they’re super thin and you can wear them easily under your other clothes. However, it’s only good for moisture wicking if you’re not sweating heavily underneath your layers. 

Base layers aren’t just for your top half, either. For example, these Columbia Omni-Heat tights are an excellent midweight polyester option for moisture wicking and thermal insulation. They’re thin enough to wear under any pants and the snug fit will stay in place. 

Middle Layer: What to Wear

Remember, your middle layer is the insulation layer. Choosing the right items for this layer is essential for helping your body retain heat efficiently. There are many options for insulation, but you should consider the materials and thickness. In general, your middle layer should be thicker than your base layer. 

Usually, the thicker and puffier the item is, the warmer it will be. However, the materials inside that provide the insulation will ultimately be the deciding factor for how good of a job it will do keeping you warm out on the water. 

Down: Jackets insulated with down do a great job trapping body heat and providing warmth. You’ll get the most bang for your buck in terms of warmth to weight ratio. Down fill ranges from 450 to 900, with the higher numbers being more efficient for warmth. Down jackets do a decent job of blocking the wind, but if the filling gets wet or damp, it will be much less effective. 

Polyester Fleece: Fleece is a great choice if you’re fishing in the cold, but not too cold. Fleece jackets are great for versatility as they come in lightweight, midweight, and heavyweight options. However, fleece on its own doesn’t provide protection from the wind. So, you’ll need to wear an outer shell layer for cold and windy days. 

Synthetic: Sometimes branded as “down alternative,” these jackets are filled with synthetic materials meant to act and feel like goose down, but cruelty-free (and at a lower price point). A good quality synthetic will be very close to a true down jacket. Plus, they perform better than down if they happen to get damp. 

What to Wear: Outer Layer

Your outer (“shell”) layer is what will ultimately protect you from the elements. This layer will keep the rest of your layers dry and shield you from rain, snow, and wind. The biggest consideration here is whether you need an outer layer that’s waterproof or water-resistant, and breathable or non-breathable. 

There are truly endless options when it comes to materials, style, design, and features like hoods, pockets, and vents. So, start with your needs and work backwards from there. For example, how cold will it be? Do you need protection from getting wet? Once you can narrow down what you’re looking for, you’ll be able to make the best choice for your situation. 

Accessories to Wear Fishing in Cold Weather

Once you have your layers worked out, you’ll need to make a few more preparations before you head out with your tackle box. Your head, hands, and feet have the potential to lose a lot of body heat if you don’t insulate them properly. 

Choose the Right Hat

A warm cap can do wonders to help your whole body feel warmer while you’re out in the cold. A winter cap or snow cap is made to insulate your head and protect you from the elements. We recommend a cap made of wool (or another insulated alternative) that covers your ears. 

For example, this Timberland beanie balaclava for women covers the whole head and neck, and is made from thick, insulated fabric. 

Protect Your Hands

Keeping your hands warm while fishing in cold weather can be challenging. You need to be able to use your hands and fingers, but they’re also out and exposed. Everyone is different when it comes to the kind of gloves they prefer. There are gloves without fingers or they’re convertible into fingerless gloves. It’s a good idea to look for something that will protect from water and offer some insulation. 

These gloves from Palmyth are water resistant and the first two fingers and thumb can be exposed without taking the gloves off. 

Another option is something like these convertible mittens from KastKing. To use your fingers, you just unzip and fold back the mitten. They’re made of insulated leather, so they’re waterproof and windproof – perfect for a cold day on the water. 

Don’t Forget Your Feet

Use the same layering techniques for your feet as you did with the rest of your clothes. Start with a thin base layer sock that will wick moisture away from your feet. Then, put on a thicker middle layer of insulated, wool socks

Your outer layer will be your boots or shoes. It’s best to wear something that will keep the water out completely. There’s nothing worse than soaking wet feet on a cold day. 

Final Thoughts 

Fishing in cold weather can be a great way to get some time outdoors and brave the great unknown. However, cold weather comes with its own challenges. To ensure that you stay safe and comfortable, it’s a good idea to take the time to plan what you will wear to protect your body from the elements. 

A good rule of thumb is to remember that “you get what you pay for,” so keep this in mind when selecting your layers. It’s usually a better idea to invest in higher quality items that will do their job and last for many years.

Finally, keep in mind that added layers will add extra weight to your body. If you happen to fall into the water, the layers will absorb water and make it harder for you to swim. If you’re on a boat, be sure to wear a life vest for safety, especially if you’re going out on your own. 

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