November 10, 2020
By Alex Comstock
“Back in the day” is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot in the hunting community. It’s not a mantra used to describe my generation of hunters, but instead refers to graduates of the old school who came before me. Even though I can’t pass as an old-timer, I can appreciate some of the methods and gear that usually are the topic of such discussions. Vintage hunting clothing is a subject of particular interest. And let me tell you, more recent advancements in that category are phenomenal.
When my granddad and dad started hunting, it wasn’t even all that common for hunters to wear camouflage. Plenty of bowhunters headed to the stand wearing a flannel jacket and blue jeans. Heavy wool trousers and blaze orange parkas were the norm for gun hunters. It took decades to reach the point we’re at now, with purpose-built ergonomic hunting clothing being made from the lightest, warmest fabrics and cloaked in super-advanced camouflage patterns. Thankfully for us, there now are multiple manufacturers making superb hunting clothing.
While I wasn’t hunting back in the ‘80s, I get a vibe that the demand to improve camouflage came before the movement to make it more comfortable. I love looking through vintage camouflage patterns designed to conceal hunters throughout the changing seasons, from leafy green early-season duds to orange and brown fall patterns.
If you’ve followed many of hunting apparel’s biggest players over the years, I’ll bet you can picture many of these iconic patterns in your mind. From a 10,000-foot view, it’s been interesting to see simple, blocky patterns give way to newer photo-realistic designs. And now, modern digital camouflages are both popular and effective.
Advancements in clothing materials are just as astounding. When manufacturers started to realize that people not only care about how well their camouflage keeps them hidden but also how ergonomic the clothing is, hunting apparel improved by leaps and bounds. The most hardcore cold-weather deer hunters want to be able to sit for hours in bone-chilling temps without getting cold enough to leave. Likewise, others want clothing that wicks away moisture and keeps them dry while it’s 90 degrees on an early-season hunt. Still, others want gear that will keep them dry in torrential downpours.
Not that long ago, the list of manufacturers offering clothing that scratched all those itches was very short. Now it seems it’s getting longer every year. Before it was common for savvy hunters to pick through the best garments from multiple manufacturers until they built a clothing kit best suited to their needs. However, manufacturers now offer clothing systems with garments for nearly every niche.
Of the many clothing systems I’ve tried, all have actually made me a more efficient hunter. Well-designed pockets (sometimes stacked, double pockets) placed exactly where they need to be, quiet fabrics, no-snag zippers, safety harness cut-outs, built-in facemasks and full-length leg zippers are just some of the trendy new clothing features you should keep an eye out for when shopping for new hunting garb.
To touch more on the effectiveness of the total clothing systems so many manufacturers are touting, I’ll walk you through my layering process and how I put it to use in the field.
If I’m heading back a mile deep into public land on a cold November morning, odds are my body is going to sweat a bit, especially if I’m walking at a pretty good clip. That creates the age-old dilemma of not wanting to wear too much but still bringing enough gear that I don’t freeze to death if I want to hunt all day. Wearing the right base layer with sweat-wicking properties has been the solution for me.
Merino wool has been the savior many clothing brands have turned to in solving this problem. It’s a lightweight, breathable fabric that insulates well yet wicks and dries extremely quickly. I’ll strip to my merino base layers and a light- to mid-weight pant for the walk in, then break out my outer layers once I’m safe in the stand.
Packability makes or breaks the effectiveness of outer garments. A lot of jackets now can be folded up or rolled into a compressed version, allowing you to stuff them into your pack or strap them to its exterior. Today outer garments take up far less room than their equally warm but far bulkier predecessors. Think sleeping bag size reduced to fanny pack size.
For stand-hunting whitetails, one of my favorite garments is a good set of bibs that can be zipped both ways along the entire leg. These allow you to ventilate your legs while walking in and let you slide them on with ease in the stand.
Typically I’ll take a few minutes to cool down once I reach my stand and let any moisture created wick away. Then I’ll slide on my bibs, or simply zip them up if already on. The outfit is complete once my jacket is zipped on, and I’m ready for an all-day sit.
If you’re like me, the typical deer hunt leaves you with a lot of necessary gear items strapped to your chest. This can become a tangled mess that clanks with your every turn. But if you’re wearing the right garments, your optics, grunt tubes, hand warmers, snacks, etc. can be stored in numerous pockets and kept organized. Trust me, it makes a difference.
In this day and age, the last thing that should keep you from being successful in the field is your hunting clothing. There are simply too many good companies and garments out there. Your clothing actually should enhance your ability to hunt by helping you face any weather condition with ease.
Likewise, the right threads will be functional, keep you organized and cut down on fumbling around and noise from movement. Hey, maybe they’ll keep you from sweating too much as you’re dragging out that bruiser buck, too.