All photo credits: Josh Kirchner
Do you remember what you used to wear when you were a kid on hunting trips? For most folks, I picture camo pants and some type of checkered flannel shirt. When I was a kid my hunting getup was something in the realm of army fatigue pants, long johns, two pairs of socks and more layers on top than I care to remember or describe at the moment. I basically looked like a walking blueberry with a sprinkle of camo. Sweat would come no sooner than when we'd start walking. After shedding my countless layers, I can remember how bummed I would get having to then carry them under my arm. There was no fitting this stuff in a pack. This was well before the surge of high-quality hunting clothing. Due to my habitual nature (thanks, Dad), it took quite some time for me to get up the gall to try some of this new stuff out. Once I did, a question begged to answer: Was this stuff worth it? Would I ever again pick up my blueberry outfit? In time, all were answered.
I tried out my very first pair of high-quality pants during the month of June in Arizona. June is no cakewalk here in terms of temperature, so I saw it as a perfect opportunity to test them out. The company touted that these would keep you dry and manage the moisture coming off of your body. Did I believe what I was reading on their website? I will admit that I was a skeptic. Just because of that though, I was incredibly excited to try them out. After a full morning of hiking and glassing for bears, I was sold. This is coming from someone who was trying to find something wrong with these pants and was looking for a reason to send them back. In the end, I just couldn't find one. The stuff really did work and I couldn't have been happier. Instead of an email asking for my money back, I put in another order for more of the same.
Moisture management on hunts is something that I never paid too much attention to until recently. Plain and simple: if you are wet, you stand a much better chance of getting cold. Nowadays, many companies make what they call layering systems. This means that all of the clothing in said system is going to work as one unit. This is crucial to managing sweat and keeping you warm or even cool. An example of a layering system might be a lightweight merino top, a medium weight merino top, followed by an insulation layer (puffy jacket). The two base layers are going to keep you dry by moving moisture away from your skin outwards while the puffy jacket is going to insulate your body heat to keep you warm.
With this new technology is going to come efficiency and let's face it, the more efficient we can be as hunters, the more time we can spend hunting. Remember when I told you earlier about how I had more layers up top than I cared to remember? That is now a thing of the past. Because of the advancements in high-quality hunting clothing, I can now run on average 50% less clothing than before. It was mind-boggling at first to think that less was more in this equation, but it is the honest truth. As an avid backpack hunter, I can appreciate this. More clothing equals more weight to carry and I'd rather reserve that space in my pack for hard-earned game meat rather than a plethora of inefficient jackets.
Speaking of space in my pack, here is another area where this stuff shines. Not only do I have less clothing than before, but the clothing I do have packs down to a very manageable level and is also much more lightweight than my previous blueberry costume. Less weight on your back means more time behind the glass and off the beaten path. Nowadays, one jacket will do what two or three used to do. The puffy jacket that I wear is not only an insulation layer but also a windbreaker as well as protection from light rain due to the durable water repellent coating that has been applied. Having items that are multi-functional like this is key to being more efficient. Why carry three pieces of clothing when you can carry one?
In general, a comfortable hunter is a happy hunter. The more comfortable we are, the more time we will spend in the field. This is going to transfer into more animal sightings, which means more opportunity to fill that tag burning a hole in your pocket. It can be very hard to maintain concentration on a hunt when your body is telling you to go home. For a great read on this subject, you can check out a great article by Nathan French here. I have been there many times and, sometimes, have even thrown in the towel and left. Since I have upped my game with my clothing, I've never been more comfortable. I even find myself wearing this stuff around the house when I'm not hunting. Often, I don't even think about what I am wearing because there is just nothing to think about. From the cuts and articulation of these pieces of gear to the actual material, it is just downright pleasant to wear. Being content like this gives me more brainpower for hunting rather than trying to get warm or dry. Hunting is already a hard enough endeavor as it is; that part we cannot change. What we can change, though, is what we are wearing. If that is going to give me the ability to hunt even harder than before, then I am game.
So, is it worth it? That answer is going to vary from person to person. Here is my opinion. The number one gripe that folks are going to have with buying these new pieces of gear is just that...buying them. The price tags on a lot of these items are north of where we would like them to be, but it is for good reason. We are not talking about some old flannel that has been stuffed in your closet for years on end. This stuff is more than just clothing. It’s gear, just like your backpack, weapon, and binoculars. We will go out and spend more than $1,000 on our bows and rifles—items that we will use once, maybe twice, on a hunt. Our clothing though? We are going to use those items every minute of a hunt. It almost doesn't make sense to invest so much in one and not the other. If you ask me, this stuff is 100% worth it. Ultimately, though, you are the judge.