October 31, 2012
As one of my friends recently remarked, Sitka is kind of like the Apple of hunting clothing — stylishly designed, amazingly branded, and unrelentingly cool. And just as Apple went after a certain type of person, Sitka has done the same, in this case targeting the image-conscious hardcore hunter.
Like the guy who grew up with a PC — the one who looks on as his Mac-fearing buddies swoon over the latest, greatest product and wonders if all the hype is worth it — it'd be easy to wonder if Sitka gear was overhyped, too. That is, until you actually put it to the test.
Livin' Up to the Hype
The first thing I noticed when I pulled my Stratus jacket, bib and beanie out of the box was the quality of material set before me. Sitka calls it their Windstopper fabric, which somehow combines a dense, super tough, yet amazingly soft-to-the-touch material that is great for blocking wind and keeping you warm in October. It's kind of like the NASA-grade version of polar fleece.
What amazed me was how warm and dense the material was without being bulky. The Stratus jacket has a very athletic fit that allows for an unbelievable range of motion, which is absolutely essential when you're perched in a stand or trekking through the woods. You need superior insulation because you're often standing still, yet you also need to move quickly and quietly with relative ease as deer loiter 10 yards away. The Stratus jacket gives you exactly that.
The other nice feature about the Stratus line is that it allows you to endure a pretty wide range of temperatures, which is what October often throws at you. On Friday, I was in a treestand for sunrise with a stiff breeze and temperatures in the 40s, and on Sunday it was 75 and sunny. With adjustments in layering, the Stratus gear covers that entire spectrum of weather while keeping you comfortable.
Turning Clothing Into Gear
What I really wanted to put to the test as I took the Stratus line to Kentucky for a weekend of whitetail hunting with Matt and Kellen from Outdoor Instincts was Sitka's motto, "Turning clothing into gear." Sure, it features top-of-the-line material and draws "oohs and ahs" from fellow hunters, but is it really a hunter's best piece of gear in the field?
In a word, yes. I don't know that you could design apparel in a more amazingly functional and stylish way. It really is all the little things that make the difference, like the sleeves on the jacket that are cut at an angle, not straight across, to fit the contour of your wrist. Or the chest pocket on the bibs that is made of a different, stretchier material that allows for air circulation and neatly cradles your iPhone or rangefinder without fogging up the lenses.
The other cool feature is the rigid but rubbery material Sitka puts around pockets and zippers to resist abrasion. They even put a similar material in the lower crease of the bib pockets where you normally clip your knife to keep the fabric from wearing out. And although I'm not usually a fan of hoods on jackets — I tend to feel like they limit my range of motion — I was pleased with the cut of the hood, which is designed for turning and looking directly behind you with ease.
The Stratus beanie features the same Windstopper material as the jacket and bib, but around the rear utilizes another fabric that stretches and gives contour to your skull. It's incredibly warm without being bulky, which is great for the bowhunter who's got his face up against a string or if you want to pull your hood on over top.
Finally, Sitka rounds out the package with a few options on gloves. Great for the hunter to whom tactility matters, they make a shooting glove that is lightweight, phenomenally ergonomic, and lets you feel every bit of your release and bow setup. I was worried that the gloves would add unwanted bulk and limit my feel on the release or a trigger — as I'm generally pretty leery putting anything on my hands if I don't have to — but that wasn't a factor at all. Mesh backings make them breathable, while extra padding on the palms give you support where you need it.
A Bit of Rain
The one downside to Sitka's system is that you really do have to buy most of the package in order to get all you need. On the one hand that means you have options; on the other hand, it means you're spending more on your outfit. The Stratus jacket retails for $289 but isn't waterproof, which means you've got to add the Downpour jacket — another $300 — if you want that feature. The same goes for the bibs, and since it does rain in October, I think you definitely have to look into the waterproof shells, which means you're gonna fork over quite a bit of extra dinero. A lot of people, though, will be fine spending the extra money as long as they know they're getting the best, which is definitely the case with Sitka.
- Extremely ergonomic, form fitting apparel
- Durable, quality materials that are made to take a beating
- Clothing that doubles as your best gear in the field
- Incredible warmth without bulkiness