By Billy Kennington
Over the past few years, my hunting adventures have become more and more specific to the high country. It has become apparent that in order to fulfill my goals, I need to be out on the mountain for longer periods of time, no matter the circumstances. I have always had good gear, but many times in the high country even good gear just doesn’t cut it. With this is mind, I knew that it was time for an upgrade when it came to my outdoor wardrobe. I needed clothing that would be better able to regulate and temper the elements no matter the situation, be durable enough to withstand multiple years of abuse, be multifunctional, and be as lightweight as possible. I began to research various outdoor clothing product retailers and narrowed it down to two primary companies that I figured would fit the bill. Although the cost was greater, I ultimately decided on Sitka due to their industry leading quality, higher level of functionality/durability, and proven performance in the high country. The price for this gear was a lot higher than I wanted to pay, but based on feedback from others that I respect as high country hunters, I decided to take the plunge.
The basis behind Sitka was as an “idea spawned by necessity.” In 2005, the founders of Sitka bridged the gap between the climbing and mountaineering industry and made performance clothing a reality for the modern day outdoorsman. Sitka’s driving goal is to “not only bridge the technology gaps that exist from a fabric, construction, and product form perspective, but to be fully [immersed] in driving new technologies and solutions.” With goals like this it is no wonder that Sitka has not only revolutionized the outdoor clothing industry, but truly has turned “Clothing into Gear!”
Due to having a limited budget, I knew that I was not going to be able to purchase my clothing arsenal all at once. I knew that if I started with the basics, I would be able to build from there. I divided my needs into three categories: base layers, outer layers, and insulation layers. I tried to select pieces based on functionality for various situations, weather that I would encounter, level of adaptability, ability to be used in multiple ways, and each piece needed to be as lightweight as possible. I chose to utilize the GORE™ OPTIFADE™ Concealment pattern due to this being the pattern that is ideal for big game hunting. “One of the scientific principles behind the GORE™ OPTIFADE™ Open Country pattern is emphasis of the larger neutral areas of the pattern (macro-pattern) which are more critical to concealment at the greater engagement ranges imperative to hunting in the backcountry.”
I ultimately decided to go with the Core Lightweight Hoody and Core Heavyweight Bottoms as base layers, the Mountain Pant and Jetstream Jacket as outer layers, and the Kelvin Lite Hoody as my insulation layer for the 2016 season.
Core Lightweight Hoody:
The Core Lightweight Hoody “is the next-to-skin foundation for high-exertion system, breathing and actively moving moisture away from the skin with its polyester bi-component polyester spandex blend construction.” The Core Lightweight Hoody is comprised of “long sleeves, a form-fitting hood, and thumb loops to ensure the proper fit.” It incorporates “permanent polygiene® odor control technology.”It features a micro-grid backer, brushed inner face, and flat lock seam construction.” This piece weighs in at a mere 6 oz. .
Of all of the pieces of Sitka that I own, this is by far my favorite. The Core Lightweight Hoodie was with me on EVERY trip into the high country. I wore it as a base layer during the early archery season and as a base layer/insulation layer during mid and later fall. This material wicks moisture better than any other piece of clothing that I have ever worn including merino. The odor control technology worked perfectly. I never was able to tell a difference between the first time I put it on and after a multiple day excursion. At first, I wasn’t so sure in regards to the hood, but loved it after my first trip out. I used it to keep from getting sunburned in early August, to cover my face during early archery while on multiple stalks, as an extra layer for warmth throughout the day and night, and was able to wrap it around my neck like a neck warmer during late season. For as thin as the material is, it is amazing at the high heat retention provided. I also really liked the fact that I could hear just as well with the hood on as I could with it off. The hood also dropped away from my face when anchoring my bow release and I never had a problem with it getting in my way. I anticipated that I would really like the thumb loops; however, never really used them. The thumb loops on one of the arms did begin to fray shortly after I obtained the piece. This was a little annoying with being a high end product, but this was remedied quickly with a lighter, a needle and some thread.
Core Heavy Weight Bottom:
The Core Heavyweight Bottoms were designed as “the next-to-skin foundation for static hunts in cold weather.” The Core Heavyweight Bottoms have “a lofted grid fleece backer that retains warmth while actively moving moisture away from the skin.” The Core Heavyweight Bottom also incorporates a “permanent polygiene® odor control technology that neutralizes odor by stopping the growth of odor-causing bacteria and fungi.“ This base layer weighs: 8.85 oz.
I knew that with my body type and from past experience, I would need as much insulation in a base layer as I could get. The heavyweight material was perfect and kept me extremely warm in the later seasons. I was a little nervous at first with going with the heavyweight material due to the possibility that I would overheat throughout the day. I didn’t want to be constantly removing this layer and putting it back on again. This was not the case and I never once removed it during the day after putting it on. I believe that this was due to this garment’s ability to wick away moisture and regulate my body temperature. I was also surprised at how well the odor was controlled. I wore this piece for five days straight several different times and could tell no difference from the beginning of the hunt to the end. I did find that I put it on backwards several times in the dark due to not having a prominent tag to orient it with. This made for some interesting situations later on in the day. 🙂 However, I quickly learned to double check and make sure that it was oriented right.
The Mountain Pant is Sitka’s “most versatile pant” and for 2016 has been “redesigned with a new 4 way stretch textile fabric and refined fit”. The pant features “a low profile waist [that] minimizes bulk to prevent pressure points when carrying a pack, a contoured fit in the seat and legs that allows for athletic movement, and legs that are tapered to limit friction and noise.” The Mountain Pant is “suspender capable and [incorporates] streamlined belt loops that accommodate a 13/4 inch belt.” The Mountain Pant has “articulated knees with removable knee pads [that] offer added protection when climbing and crawling. This pant features “two zippered hand pockets, zippered hip pockets, and two cargo pockets that close with quiet snaps.” These pockets “keep small essentials accessible and secure.” My pants weighed in at: 21.4 oz.
I spent over 20 days in the field in these pants. I quickly realized that I could rely on these pants and did not need to pack anything else. I wore the Mountain Pant in conditions ranging from hot summer days, to cool fall mornings and nights, downpours, and even almost a week of blizzard conditions. I am extremely hard on pants and usually have significant wear on the seat, knees, and cuffs of the legs. Other than a little staining (darkening) in the fabric they are virtually the same as the day that I opened them new in the package. I really liked the new design and athletic fit as compared to my hunting buddies’ older version of the Mountain Pant. I felt that the pants fit true to size and I could move freely in any position that I put them in. I really liked the versatility and function of the pockets and enjoyed having pockets that zipped shut ensuring that no item would be lost. The pockets could accommodate anything that I put in them and formed around my contour while never limiting my movement. The biggest surprise to me was how much I loved the lightweight removable knee pads. They were a huge benefit when glassing as I changed various positions, added another barrier for moisture when the ground was wet, and protected my knees from all mountain surfaces. I did remove the knee pads during the early season due to increased perspiration; however, it was extremely simple to replace them after I returned to the truck. I did not like the suspenders that came with the Mountain Pant and never used them. I do wish that Sitka would have included a built in belt like the last version of the pant; however, I did purchase the Stealth Belt that fit and worked perfectly. I found the Mountain Pant to be the perfect blend of not too hot on summer trips; yet gave me the protection that I needed as the temperature dropped in mid-September. I hunted in temperatures down in the mid-teens and in combination with the Core Heavyweight Bottoms were comfortable in both strenuous and sedentary levels of activity. The Mountain Pant does have a DWR finish that repelled water well and dried quickly. They also wicked moisture extremely well as long as the knee pads were not present. It should be noted that I did wear a rain pant over the Mountain Pant in times of extreme moisture, but soon realized that for slight moisture I could rely on the mountain pant to keep me dry.
The Jetstream Jacket was designed as the “mountain hunter’s workhorse.” It is comprised of “GORE® WINDSTOPPER® softshell fabric that is 100% windproof and expels perspiration through light insulated moisture wicking micro grid fleece.” This jacket incorporates “a DWR outer finish that keeps you dry and warm during times of light precipitation.” The Jetstream is “athletically cut to fit form and eliminate bulk and features two zippered hand pockets, two zippered check pockets, a single breast pocket, a strategically placed forearm pocket for a wind checker or diaphragm calls” and pit zips. My Jetstream weighed in at 26 oz.
The decision of which jacket to utilize was a tough one. I ultimately decided that the Jetstream would be the best choice based on durability and function. (Since I have purchased the Jetstream other jacket options have become available. If I could do it over again I would most likely choose the Timberline Jacket due to having the same features in a lighter package). The Jetstream Jacket fit true to form and is well thought out and totally functional. This jacket has also been with me on every adventure.It has been utilized on cold mornings and evenings during glassing sessions, throughout the day in colder conditions, and I even slept in it one night. To this day, it continues to look brand new. The Jetstream is extremely warm as a soft shell and did in fact provide a significant ability to stop any wind. This jacket also does a great job in regulating body temperature due to the microfleece backer and built in pit zips. The pit zips were extremely handy due to not having to remove my pack on long ascents/descents in order to accommodate a rise in body temperature or vice versa. The pockets are extremely well placed and functional and were able to accommodate all items placed therein. I was also pleasantly surprised at how well the DWR repelled water. Before my hunts, I shot my bow in a moderate rain for over an hour in order to test its effectiveness. The Jetstream did not get wet on the inside during that test. I found the material to dry extremely fast and wick moisture extremely well all throughout the season. The only downside to the Jetstream Jacket is it’s weight; however, this is worth it to me because of this jacket’s bombproof nature and ability to handle all situations that I threw at it with ease.
Kelvin Lite Hoody:
The Kelvin Lite Hoody “is built for lightweight, all-over warmth.” This insulation layer is “filled with 80 g/m2 of PrimaLoft® Hi Loft Silver Insulation.” PrimaLoft® is a fabric that uses “ultra-fine fibers engineered to retain maximum warmth even when wet, and creates a product that is quiet and less bulky, allowing greater freedom of movement.” The hoody is “constructed with four-way stretch side panels [that] provide unsurpassed mobility and breathability.” This hoody features“hand pockets, zippered chest pockets and 4-way stretch side panels.” This piece of my system weighed in at:18.6 oz.
I ultimately chose the Kelvin Lite Hoody over other insulation layers due to the hood. I wanted the hood in order to provide more warmth as needed during the day, but mainly to sleep in as the temperature dropped at night. I have spent multiple nights in this insulation layer and have found that in conjunction with a 30 degree sleeping bag, I have been comfortable in temperatures down to the mid-teens. This was surprising to me secondary to the fact that I usually sleep extremely cold. This insulation piece has allowed me to save significant weight in my pack due to not having to carry a heavier 0 degree sleeping bag later in the season. The Kelvin Lite Hoody fits true to form and functions exceptionally well as both an outer layer and under the Jetstream Jacket. I have also found that it insulates even when wet and dries extremely quick. Due to the fact that I used this layer as an insulation layer, I did not use the pockets much. Again just as the other Sitka garments the Kelvin Lite Hoody does not show any wear after a full season of use. After purchasing this garment, I discovered that when not deployed the hood does sometimes get in the way when used in combination of the Jetstream Jacket. However, I have found that if I pull both of the hoods up and then removed them as one piece, the Kelvin Lite Hood does stay inside the Jetstream hood better. At first this bugged me significantly, but as the season progressed I got used to pulling both of the hoods up and down in this way. I also have found that I can’t hear at all when this hood is deployed. For this reason, I just utilize the hood during times when I don’t need to hear that well.
Overall Sitka Review and Level of Satisfaction
I was impressed at how well the GORE™ OPTIFADE™ Concealment pattern worked. Throughout the fall I had multiple encounters with various animals at 50 yards or less including: mule deer, elk, black bear and coyotes. All of these animals seemed to “look right through me”. I have never experienced this before in all of my years of hunting. I am a firm believer that this pattern works and functions as it is marketed.
As I have reflected on this past season, I have been more comfortable and more effective than I ever have been before while hunting in the back country. I believe this has to do a great deal with utilizing Sitka Gear. At first, I worried about the cost, but have realized that you do get what you pay for. Sitka Gear is worth the cost! I have loved the multiple uses and durability of each piece of Sitka that I own. I have also enjoyed the reduction in my overall pack weight as a result of using Sitka products. I would trust my life to these performance fabrics and know that if used correctly they could be the difference between life and death in the high country. I look forward to adding the Kelvin Lite Vest, Traverse Zip-T, Dewpoint Pant and Jacket to my arsenal for next year. In my opinion, Sitka continues to lead the outdoor performance clothing market with products that truly do “turn clothing into Gear!” I look forward to wearing the BEST products available for many years to come.
*All information provided in quotations within this article was taken from Sitka’s website. Please refer to www.sitkagear.com for more information.