Hunting gear is a big investment. Today there are so many selections, but one thing remains the same—your summer and fall gear must perform when you need it to.
There are so many different brands out there today. A new hunter or someone who is looking to upgrade some of the items they have used for 15 years, can get lost in the names Kuiu, Sitka, Sixsite, First Lite, King’s Camo, Pnuma Outdoors (and the list goes on). All of these companies make great gear, but they all have the same outcome when you get them home. Your gear has to keep you warm, dry and alive. When all you have is a backpack full of stuff and are four mountains from anything, you need to have the right items with you for any situation. In the Yukon we can see rain, sleet and snow, all on the same day, and that’s in August.
I’m sure you have heard, over and over, that you need to layer up. When I was a kid my dad would tell me this all the time. Long johns, T-shirt, wool sweater, etc. Today it is the same, but we can get warmer items into a smaller package. Advancements in Merino wool and synthetic materials let you layer up with less bulk and are designed to keep you warm and to pull moisture away from your body.
When choosing base layers, Merino wool and synthetics are mostly a personal preference. They both keep you warm and wick moisture away. I use Merino wool items because of personal preference. Kuiu, First Lite and Icebreaker make amazing under layers. I am sure there are tonnes of others, but I found Icebreaker to do its job the best, and even after a five-day sheep hunt it still doesn’t stink. That’s a huge feat if you have ever been around me after hockey (the folks at Sports Experts were very happy to get my skates out of their store).
Modern mid layers are composed of the same materials as base layers, with Merino and synthetics and sometimes a combination of both. Down is another popular mid layer, and advancements in this area are pretty amazing. Once upon a time, when your down jacket got wet, it held no insulation value. Today, with items such as Quixdown, they have made it so the down is water repellent, which allows for moisture to wick away and allows for very quick drying. When you wash these items, be sure to read the label. Merino should not be put in the dryer and should be laid out flat to dry. It only takes a few hours to dry after you wash it. Synthetic and down items have different washing instructions, as well, so be sure to read the label or go to the manufacturer’s website for recommended washing procedures. There are special cleaners you can buy from hunting and sporting goods stores that work well and are unscented. Keeping your gear clean helps it do its job, like your skin: if the porous material gets clogged, it can’t do its job correctly.
Rain gear needs to keep you dry when it is raining and to release heat and moisture from inside while hiking. On a cool rainy day, when wearing one or two Merino layers and a mid layer topped with a rain jacket and pants, while carrying a sixty-pound backpack, you are going to be wet no matter what. But when you stop, all of these layers will start to work together by drying you from the inside out.
In my opinion, boots are the most important piece of gear you need. Without proper-fitting boots, designed for the hunt or activity you are on, things can get uncomfortable and even dangerous. Again, there are so many options—Crispi, Hanwag, Scarpa, Mammut, North Face, Zamberlan, Kenetrek—and the list just keeps going, but fit is the most important thing to consider, to ensure they do not rip your feet apart after five, ten or even twenty days in the field. Try on as many as you can, walk around the store for a while and, once you decide which ones you want, take them home and wear them around the house for a few days to ensure that they still feel good. If you are buying boots for mountain hunting, they will normally be stiffer and not really nice to walk around in on your hardwood floor … but how your foot feels in them is the important part. If your foot slides around when you walk, you either need to tighten them up or get a new pair. This is a recipe for blisters, early on, making the trip less enjoyable. If they are tight, same thing, find a wider pair that fits right. When you first receive your boots, they are not ready for most outdoor activities, and if you take them out and walk around in dry, dusty climates you will need to clean them before you can waterproof them. This is a crucial step in order to keep your feet dry. Most boots are designed the same as gear: they will wick moisture out to a certain extent, but when water can get in, it takes a lot longer. Treat them with the recommended method from their company’s website. Leather boots need a different treatment than Gore-Tex.
Take your time, do your research and try not to be overwhelmed by the vast options out there.