Every hunt has its unique challenges, conditions and terrain. You should carefully consider exactly what types of conditions you will encounter when packing for your next hunt and pack accordingly. You don’t want a bunch of extraneous gear and you also don’t want to be caught unprepared without the things you need.
That being said, there are 5 pieces of hunting clothing that I pretty much have in my pack every single time I head for the backcountry. Weather conditions in the far North in late summer, the Rocky Mountains or the high desert in the spring and fall can vary greatly and be unpredictable. For that reason, you want to make sure you are prepared for whatever you encounter with versatile gear that won’t weigh you down or let you down.
Here are 5 apparel items that are essential to my backcountry hunting load-out.
1. Quality Socks
Starting from the ground up, if you’re going to enjoy your time and be as effective as possible on extended hunts, you must take care of your feet, period. Boots usually get all the love in the discussion of hunting gear for your feet, but a couple pairs of quality hunting socks are just as crucial.
Merino wool socks, like SKRE gear’s Accelerator Merino Wool Sock will not only provide great cushioning and protection from blisters, but they will also thermoregulate your feet. This means that your feet will stay warm when it’s cold but also stay relatively cool in the heat. I wear merino wool socks all year round and they perform well in heat and cold conditions.
Also, because of their natural qualities they will regulate moisture very well, dry quickly, and not get saturated with foot odor, even after a few tough hikes. Simply put, they just outperform any other cotton or synthetic sock I have ever tried, by a long shot.
As a flatlander, this is a piece of hunting clothing that I was not familiar with until my first trip to Alaska. As I began piecing together my kit for the trip, I wondered if they were something I really needed. I learned very fast, that they are in fact critical, especially in wetter climates.
Gaiters make it easier to move through thick underbrush and will keep moisture from building up and soaking the bottoms of your legs as you move through soggy vegetation. Also, they will keep that moisture, snow, or debris from making its way into your boots from the top.
Lastly, they will actually give you a little bit of added protection if you happen to step in a puddle that’s deeper than maybe you thought. Perfect example, just yesterday I was shooting some video while scouting near my home in Chesapeake, Virginia; an extremely wet and swampy area. While walking down a trail, I stepped into a puddle that I thought was 3-4 inches deep only to find myself going in about 3-4 inches over the tops of my boots.
Thankfully, I was wearing my Hardscrabble gaiters at the time, quickly got out of the deep spot, and I stayed dry. I wouldn’t recommended intentionally walking through deep water, but if you find yourself in that situation unexpectedly, they might just be what keeps you dry and comfortable.
3. Zip-Off Bottoms/Merino Base Layers
Moving on up, the benefits of merino wool as a base layer have been discussed in the sock section and I always wear merino wool base layers on top and bottom. But I absolutely love zip-off merino “long john” bottoms. I really don’t like wearing thick pants, except in the coldest of circumstances. However, sometimes a light hunting, hiking, or mountaineering pant just isn’t enough on those cold morning or afternoon sits or in times of less activity.
So, when it’s cold I really like having a base layer on my bottom half. A lot of guys focus so much on jackets and coats when it comes to their hunting clothing - they don’t realize how much heat you can lose off your legs. Think about it; that is a lot of surface area below the waist!
That being said, we all know that as the day wears on or the activity ramps up you often times want to peel off those bottoms. But who wants the hassle of taking off their gaiters, boots and pants just to take off that extra layer? Maybe this is why for so long guys didn’t really layer on their bottom half.
But now, with the SKRE gear Kaibab Merino bottoms (in the new Solace pattern), with fully zippered sides, you have the option to easily remove your merino bottoms while keeping your boots and pants on; an extremely handy feature that will ensure this item stays in my pack on virtually all future hunts.
Here’s another item, that is just so versatile that they pretty much live in my pack. A good puffy jacket, like the Ptarmigan jacket from SKRE as well as some quality puffy pants pack a big punch when it comes to warmth/weight ratio. Even on “warmer” hunts when you think you might not need a down insulation layer, I still bring them for those cold mornings/evenings and when a cold front may roll through.
I considered not bringing my puffies to Alaska last August, I mean goose down? In August? But, man, I am so glad I did! A good set of puffies will even stay in my day pack while hunting. Because they are so packable and light and give me the peace of mind that no matter what happens, even if I had to spend a night outside my shelter, I have my puffies as a backup to keep me warm.
Not only are they lightweight and very warm, a quality down insulation layer will keep you warm when it’s cold but because of its natural breathability, you won’t get you too hot when the temps are milder. I always keep my puffies with me for their versatility, comfort and the peace of mind they offer.
5. Rain Gear
There may be some hunts and situations where rain gear is really not essential. However, for me, where I choose to spend most of my time hunting, high quality rain gear is an absolute must in my hunting clothing lineup. When it comes to rain gear, some products, though durable are just way too big and heavy for a backcountry hunt.
I have found that the Nebo rain jacket and pants from SKRE are in that perfect sweet spot of light weight and durability. They aren’t heavy and they pack down very nicely into their included stuff sacks, but they are made to keep you dry even in nasty prolonged downpours and aren’t so flimsy that you’re worried about them falling apart or getting torn.
Also, the material is pretty quiet and breathable, so you can wear them on a stalk without alerting every critter in the woods. I like my rain gear a little bit on the larger side so I can throw it on over my puffy layer if I need to and I have found that the Nebo rain gear is sized in such a way to facilitate this.
Like I said, maybe some guys in certain areas forgo rain gear and maybe on some hunts you can do that, but for me, I always want to have a reliable set of quality rain gear in my pack, and the Nebo jacket and pants fit the bill. Not only that, but they also have all the features you need in good rain gear, fully adjustable hood that doesn’t block our field of vision, adjustable waist band, fully zippered bottoms, and plenty of pockets, to name a few.
Hunter McWaters, Host of The Hunter’s Quest Podcast
@TheHuntersQuest | www.thisishuntersquest.com
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