Nowadays, it is no secret that every serious backcountry hunter’s clothing should be based on a system of layers. With that being said, amazingly enough, almost 10 years ago there was not a single hunting clothing company that manufactured a complete line of clothing based on layering. If you wanted a good system back then, you simply had to create your own from the myriad of quality mountaineering clothing that was available.
Then it happened. In 2006, a small startup company named Sitka was launched that would literally change the future of hunting clothing. For the first time, a company had taken the highest quality technical fabrics available with advanced design and construction techniques and applied them to a complete hunting clothing system.
Sitka’s original line consisted of nine articles of clothing and utilized the Mountain Mimicry camo pattern. Today, Sitka offers over 160 specific end user pieces which are available in numerous camo patterns, as well as various solid colors. To say they have come a long ways would be a gross understatement.
I still remember when Sitka first hit the market. I saw their ad in a magazine and immediately saw the value in the system they offered. Before long, I was on the phone and was talking with the two founders, Jonathan Hart and Jason Hairston, and within a few days, I had their complete line sitting on my doorstep.
Since that time, I have had the opportunity to try numerous brands of hunting clothing over the years. While several of the brands make quality clothing, I always find myself returning to Sitka. The combination of their great technical fabrics and the unbelievable amount of end user pieces available, allows me to adjust my layering system for any time of year. The options are unlimited. Simply put, Sitka is my number one “go to” clothing system for my backcountry mule deer hunts.
Recently, I had the opportunity to ask Sitka’s co-founder Jonathan Hart a few questions in order to gain a little insight into Sitka’s past, as well as their future.
David Long: “Jonathan, Sitka essentially went from a small startup business in 2006, to one of the industry’s leaders in layered clothing systems for hunters today……obviously there are a lot of contributing factors to the company’s success, but with that being said, what are a couple of the major contributing factors that you feel have led to the company’s amazing success?
Jonathan Hart: “Great product, great brand, and great distribution partners. Did I mention great product? Even today, Sitka stands as the product leader in our core market…Western. Our focused process on developing solutions for a specific end-use has kept us in that position from the beginning. It has also allowed us to slowly expand that core expertise to other market categories, building teams with expertise specific to those end-uses. For example, we have a team that is 100% focused on Whitetail. We plan to make the same impact in each category that we enter using that same design and development focus.
David Long: Nowadays, with the recent startup of several other clothing companies, there is a lot more competition in the hunting clothing market. Without giving away any secrets, where do you see Sitka heading over the course of the next few years and what will you do to ensure you remain as one of the industry’s leaders?”
Jonathan Hart: “I think it will be very interesting to see how the competition develops. We went through some of the exercises that I’m seeing them go through. But, it was a very different space for Sitka when we started. As we developed the technical space, we were also given more latitude, as the fruit was hanging pretty low. That window has passed, and where I see competition struggling is in true R&D investment. They can’t afford to do it, as they don’t have the business to afford it. Making marketing claims on having the best is easy to do, but actually doing R&D is another game. Sitka’s success has put it in a place where we are making those investments in developing very specific solutions that are fit for the end use. Then we invest in validating them so that we aren’t experimenting on our customers to see if a product is great. Investing in Sitka Gear, as a consumer, is investing in this continued development cycle that will continue to lead the industry in delivering solutions that set the new bar. It’s a great time to be a consumer.”
David Long: “Is there any one single “flagship” item in Sitka’s line you are the most proud of and why?
Jonathan Hart: “My current love affair is with the Dewpoint. I love the fit, I love the simplicity and functionality of the design, and the incredible durability that such a lightweight packable piece can have that’s bombproof in the worst of weather conditions. But…you should see the next generation of it :)”
As Jonathan Hart stated…..”It’s a great time to be a consumer”. Products keep improving and there are more and more choices each year. So what will Sitka be focusing on going forward? According to Jonathan there will be a strong focus on clothing that is comfortable, lightweight and still delivers long term durability. In addition, according to Sitka’s Marketing Director David Brinker, Sitka will be adding even more personnel whose sole focus will be working on/designing items for the hardcore western hunter.
Top Pick for 2014 – Sitka 90% Jacket
The Sitka 90% jacket has long been part of my mid to late season layering system. In 2014, the new 4th generation version of the 90% jacket has been unleashed…….and it didn’t disappoint! We are not just talking about making a couple of small modifications and calling it new; we are talking about a complete overhaul of this signature jacket. Sitka actually created an all new fabric for this jacket. Because of the new fabrics superior wind blocking capabilities, Sitka was able to reduce the amount of insulation needed resulting in a lean 18 oz jacket that will fast become one of your favorite pieces of hunting clothing. I just received mine and have been thoroughly impressed with the newer version. If you are in the market for a lightweight jacket to add to your system…..do yourself a favor and be sure to check out the new 90%!
David Long’s Sitka System for Early Season Mule Deer Hunts
With hunting season just around the corner, I wanted to be sure to cover what I will have in my pack come opening day of archery season. As you already know, planning your clothing for early season hunts can be very challenging. In order to stay comfortable, you will need to have a system that can cover a wide range of temperatures, as well as rain and snow. I have seen just about every type of weather over the years during early September hunts. Following is the Sitka system that will be in my pack this year:
Although my upper body system varies, typically it includes 4-5 layers. Because of the huge temperature swings and adverse conditions that can be encountered during the early season, I like to give myself lots of layering options so that I can be comfortable at all times. The most common items in my early season upper body system are the following:
Core Zip-T – I love this base layer. The stretch and comfort are simply unmatched. I prefer the Zip T version because it allows me to better control heat release on those warmer days.
Traverse Hoody – The Traverse Hoody is the perfect companion to the Core Zip-T. On those slightly cooler days, I throw the hoody on over the Zip-T and am good to go. Often times this layer will be applied or taken off several times a day.
Kelvin Lite Vest – The Kelvin Lite vest is the perfect compromise between weight/warmth for early season. I prefer the vest over the jacket so that my arms have more freedom. The main purpose is simply to keep my core warm.
Jetstream Lite Jacket – The Jetstream Lite is an absolutely critical component of my layering system. The Windstopper fabric does an excellent job of blocking the wind when I am perched on top of my early morning vantage point. The first time I used the Jetstream was on my Alaska bear hunt a couple of years ago. The weather conditions were unbelievably cold and windy and the jacket performed so well at stopping the wind that it has become a regular piece in my layering system ever since.
Dewpoint Jacket – I would have to agree with Jonathan’s earlier statement, I would have to say the Dewpoint is my favorite piece of Sitka clothing as well. I have sat out many toad strangling storms in the high country with this bullet-proof, lightweight rain gear. At a mere 12.7 ounces, I honestly think the Dewpoint is the perfect compromise when it comes to protection, breathability and weight making it an ideal choice for the western mountain hunter.
It usually doesn’t matter what time of year I am hunting, my lower body system almost always contains three layers: base layer, pants and rain pants. For my early season backcountry hunts, I prefer the following:
Core Bottom – I use this layer for the same reason as I use the Core Zip-T, I love the stretch and comfort. A good fabric that stretches is essential whether you are climbing or sitting on a vantage point glassing.
Mountain Pant – The Mountain pant is extremely durable which is absolutely critical considering the amount of time I spend sitting in rock piles glassing for bucks. The bottom line, I abuse the crap out of them and they seem to hold up season after season. They seem to have just the right amount of stretch and when wet, the polyester fabric dries out extremely quick. Great pant!
Dewpoint Rain Pant – Simply put….the best rain gear I have ever used for western big game hunting, period! Lightweight, packable, comfortable and durable. I have always been a fan of Gore-Tex fabric and the full length zippers make it a breeze to take them on and off. At 10.4 ounces, the Dewpoint pant fits the bill even for the guy who is worried about shaving every ounce off his pack weight.
I have used Sitka in just about every western state chasing mule deer as well as on the Alaska Peninsula hunting brown bears. In that time, I have faced just about every type adverse weather condition imaginable. I can honestly say that during this time Sitka has never let me down…..which is why I will be wearing it once again this year.