Thoughts on Technical Hunting Clothing
I’ve recently been working on a review of all of my Sitka Gear clothing. I figure before posting the review, I would post my thoughts on technical hunting clothing. I often refer to technical hunting clothing as just technical hunting ‘gear’ as I believe it is as important as your pack, boots, or weapon of choice. Technical hunting clothing won’t make you a better hunter, but it can allow you to hunt longer, more comfortably, and safer.
I’ve hunted, backpacked, and dabbled a little in rock climbing and ice climbing. It has always amazed me how much more advanced backpacking and mountaineering clothing has been over hunting clothing. It has seemed like for years the biggest advancement in hunting clothing was what new pattern of camouflage was coming out printed on the same old cotton shirt and cotton six pocket pants. Granted, it is sometimes a challenge to take hiking or mountaineering technical clothing and make it work for hunting specific applications, mainly due to the noise level of some technical fabrics, or the color of some technical clothing. Non-hunting clothing manufacturers may have either realized the potential market from hunters for subdued colors, or enough non-hunters have requested not to look like neon signs as they take to the trails because there are often choices of grays, greens, or browns for shirts and pants instead of the bright oranges, greens, and reds.
|My 1999 Technical Hunting Clothing - TNF synthetic pants, fleece shirt, and Windstopper fleece vest|
|Fleece shirt and TNF synthetic pants|
|TNF Mountain Light jacket and pants|
In the last 5-10 years, hunting clothing has improved some by coming out with synthetic pants, shirts, and technical jackets, but the form, fit, and construction has not been as good as the top hiking and mountaineering companies, such as The North Face, Arc’Teryx, Marmot, and Mountain Hardware, just to name a few. As an example, Cabela’s has tried to fill the hunting technical clothing nitch with products such as Microtex, and more recently the Cabela’s Hunt Tech clothing (both of which I own and use). While these are great improvements over cotton, there is room for improvement. Around 2005, one of the leading hunting technical clothing companies was formed, Sitka Gear. They have revolutionized what hunters look for in technical clothing. The prices aren’t cheap, and that keeps a lot of hunters from purchasing Sitka clothing. When hunters are used to paying $30 for a pair of pants from Bass Pro or Cabela’s it is hard to justify paying $150 for a pair of hunting pants. However, Sitka’s prices are on par with similar clothing from other top name mountaineering companies.
Why Technical Hunting Clothing?
Most everyone has heard the phrase, “Cotton kills!” While cotton can be the fabric of choice on a warm, dry day of hunting, wear that same cotton clothing in September through November when the potential is there for chilling temperatures, long hikes, and extreme weather (wind, rain, snow, or a combination of all three) and a person could be setting themselves up for at best a miserable day, and at worst their last day of hunting. This could be even truer on extended backcountry hunts, miles away from the truck.
Does everyone who wears cotton clothing die? Of course not! People have killed lots of animals in blue jeans and flannel shirts throughout the years (and lived to tell their story). The question is, have they been comfortable in that clothing when the weather turned sour and been able to continue hunting un-distracted, or did they seek shelter or quit for the day?
Hunting is very important to me. When I only have a few days I may be able to hunt during a season, I don’t want to waste any precious time sitting in the truck or at camp because I’ll be miserable while out in the horrible conditions. Granted, there are plenty of other reasons that hunting in nasty weather can be miserable, but being cold, wet, and shivering shouldn’t be one of them, in my opinion.
Several of the reasons that I prefer technical hunting clothing over traditional cotton clothing are:
- Moisture Transport: Synthetics and (Merino) wool wick moisture from your skin and ‘transport’ it away from you allowing you to stay more comfortable in colder and warmer weather.
- Better cut/fit: Technical hunting clothing often has a better fit than traditional hunting clothing, such as athletic fit, well designed hoods, and stretch material providing more comfortable clothes.
- Better features: Technical hunting clothing often has (technical) features such as well designed pockets, articulated knees, and pit zips in jackets.
- More technical fabrics: Better fabric choices that are stretchy, water repellent, and lighter than traditional fabrics (cotton). Synthetics also don’t fade like cotton clothing does.
Who is Technical Hunting Clothing for?
Technical hunting clothing was more designed for the backcountry hunter, but just about any hunter can benefit from many of the advantages that technical hunting clothing provides. Sitka, who started out marketing towards the backcountry western hunter, now has a strong and growing whitetail following with many of their products geared towards the tree stand hunter. KUIU, a new technical gear manufacturer, is marketing their gear towards the mountain hunter, but it will be interesting to see if this company continues on this course, or moves in a different direction as well.
I have gotten to the point that I normally wear technical hunting clothing on most of my hunts, both day hunts and backcountry hunts. I sometimes feel a little weird wearing technical clothing when hunting not too far from home for half a day or so, but figure if I enjoy the benefits of the clothing on a backcountry hunt, I could certainly benefit from it on any length hunt, where ever it might be.
I still break out my traditional cotton hunting clothes, but it is less and less often anymore and mainly when going through a lot of catclaw or other destructive vegetation where I don’t want to destroy my more expensive technical clothing.
Cost vs Performance
The biggest downfall in regards to technical hunting clothing is the cost. The clothing, regardless of the brand, always seems to cost more than traditional cotton clothing. There are many different brands out there that produce technical hunting clothing, and a price point that will please almost everyone. Companies such as Whitewater Outdoors, Team Realtree, Cabelas, Redhead/Bass Pro, Russel Athletic, Under Armor, Sitka, and KUIU all produce technical hunting clothing. Sitka, and more recently, KUIU, cost much more than many of the other brands, and are definitely more expensive than the traditional cotton clothing.
Obviously, cost is an individual decision. Many people I know refuse to pay $150 for a pair of pants out of sheer principle due to the fact they can find a pair of pants that will work for $50. It is up to the individual to determine if the fit, functionality, and features of the technical hunting garment are worth a certain amount of money. To invest in a full outfit of Sitka or KUIU, you could easily drop $1000-$2000. That is something a lot of people would not want to do even if they could afford it. If people are willing to wait for end of the season sales, Sitka clothing can usually be found for up to half off.
I often read discussions on hunting forums about whether people NEED hi tech clothing to be successful. Of course not! People have been successful hunters for years with wearing blue jeans, flannel shirt, and cotton duck jacket. People will continue to be successful in years to come wearing the exact same thing. However, I’ve decided I’m much more comfortable in clothes that work with me to hike, stay warm and dry, and overall be more comfortable than not.
Another popular topic of discussion on internet message boards is what pattern camouflage is the most effective for a certain area. While everyone has their favorite camouflage pattern, me included, I think that a specific camouflage pattern isn’t near as important as the functionality of the clothing. I pick out my camouflage based off of its performance, and then what pattern I can get it in.
As was discussed above, technical hunting clothing is not inexpensive. Technical clothing is always more expensive than similar cotton camouflage clothing. When Sitka debuted on the market, I was excited to see a new line of technical hunting clothing. However, I had to research it and only after finding some of it on end of year clearance for about 50% did I buy and try some. After using it and comparing it to what I had, it became my favorite for hunting clothing. Since then, I’ve added quite a bit of Sitka Gear to my collection, and probably have more than I actually ‘need’ now. I’ll chalk that up to me being a gear hound. After using the clothing it becomes much easier to spend the money on good gear I know will work.
I think many people have a certain acceptable amount they are willing to spend on a piece of equipment, clothing included. It may or may not depend on their financial situation. For me, it was hard investing $80-$100 into a pair of hunting pants that probably wouldn’t get worn more than 30 times a year. Once I looked at clothing as a piece of gear similar to my bow, my binoculars, or my pack, I felt justified spending more on technical clothing. As probably the most expensive hunting clothing out there, Sitka Gear and KUIU are comparable cost wise with non hunting mountaineering clothing. Construction, materials, and features are very similar as well. Often times the biggest difference is the clothing coming in camouflage pattern.
Take for instance a week long back country pack in hunt. As I said before, I am a gear nut, so I have a lot of money invested in lightweight equipment, good optics, a good weapon, a good backpack, and good boots. What piece of gear am I in most of the time during that hunt? Besides my boots, I probably use my clothing the most. The clothing needs to be durable to withstand a week’s worth of wear, scent free so I don’t stink too bad, lightweight, and stretch to move with me and allowing me to hike with less effort and conserve energy for a heavy pack on the way out. If I look at clothing as gear, I don’t feel as bad spending top dollar on equipment that works for me and allows me to focus on the task at hand.
With technical hunting clothing becoming ever so more popular, more and more companies are competing for a hunter’s dollar. Competition is always good for the consumer and hopefully prices will come down over time.
In a future post I will post a review of my Sitka Gear clothing (and I will do a full review on KUIU as well in the future), so I figured the best way to do that was put together a technical hunting clothing matrix, similar to the pack matrix I put together in previous posts. I will include the item, the camo pattern I have it in, the size, weight, pros and cons, and any specific comments I have on that piece of equipment. In all, I have been very satisfied with the Sitka Gear I own, and thought this matrix might help others in either buying a new piece of gear they have been wanting, or doing research on used Sitka Gear which someone might be buying. Technical hunting clothing alone won’t make you a better hunter, but it can allow you to hunt longer, more comfortably, and safer, all of which in the end might help you become more successful.