When it comes to backpack hunters and their gear, two extremes can be seen. On one end is the hunter who stubbornly refuses to part with his tried and true equipment, proven over many adventures despite solid advances in technology and/or weight savings. On the other is the hunter whose equipment is like a revolving door, foolishly parting with hard earned money on every latest whiz bang gadget and camo pattern.
We like to think we’re somewhere in the middle. We’re admittedly tight fisted and value gear that has proven itself over several years. But we also try to keep an open mind and are always on the look-out for ways to lighten our load with a modest investment.
So we research (that’s guy speak for internet shopping). Researching gear can be almost as fun as sleuthing out a new secret sheep honey hole. There's lots of time in the winter to figure it out at home and then spring/summer allows for testing to see if new stuff is worthy of the pack come August 10.
Here’s the skinny on how I came up with a new layering system that shaves weight and adds warmth compared to my old set-up. Since 2006 I have been using the Revolution Fleece Pullover from Cabela’s as my all-in-one outer and insulating layer, ie my old tried and true coat I was reluctant to give up for so many years.
It was my one piece of camo and was barely warm enough for a nap in the rocks, glassing, sitting around camp or holding tight on a long stalk. “I’m freezing to death,” was a common phrase on a windy ridge top.
It’s been a great piece of gear in regards to durability. It still has a ton of life left with no signs of wear sans a couple burn holes from campfire sparks. Cabela’s touts it as raingear, with its Dry-Plus layer, but I wouldn’t consider it a waterproof garment since the fleece material becomes saturated and very heavy after even modest bouts of precipitation. But even though it is marginal for warmth, it is a quiet outer layer that cuts the wind, blends well in sheep country and has been rock solid durable.
Steve and I have always said when sheep hunting just plan to be cold, wet, tired and hungry. But lately we’ve just been too darn cold. Plus we’re planning a late season hunt for 2013, so we know we need to do something to stay warmer in the field. With new innovations out on the market, I knew I could do much better, than my Cabelas not quite warm enough, too warm when hiking, brick of a jacket .
I started by picking up a heavy “shirt” to add an extra layer. It’s a Sentry Krause Hoody from The North Face I found during one of those crazy sales at REI.
http://www.thenorthface.com/catalog/sc-gear/mens-sentry-krause-hood.html. The weimaraner brown color could also be called “sheep rocks” and this quickly became my go to outer layer for stalking. It does a great job of managing my temperature on a stalk; from sitting still to hustling over scree slopes to crawling through sheep meadows. All while doing a great job of concealing me from wary eyes.
With this garment in the pack, the Cabelas Fleece coat became a bench-warmer, only emerging from the pack for occasional stints when sitting for longer periods of time on windy ridges while glassing or at the end of the day as we set up camp and enjoyed a mountain House supper. There had to be a lighter weight alternative as an insulating layer.
So this winter Steve and I decided to join the masses of “puffy” coat wearing sheep hunters. I wanted to ditch my 34 oz Cabelas coat and replace it with a puffy insulating coat and lightweight softshell outer layer. Saving weight and adding versatility at the same time. I started looking at various synthetic insulating and soft-shell jacket models from Arcteryx, Mont-Bell, Patagonia, Outdoor Research, KUIU, and the like hoping for something in a muted solid color (in our attempt to get away from camo altogether).
For a softshell outer layer I landed on the Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hoody.
This is a lightweight softshell with a hood. If we get into cold situation that still requires some crawling around, the soft shell material is invaluable for protecting the fragile nylon of my new insulation layer, plus is an effective wind blocker.
I’m liking the move away from camo even though I do enjoy Brad Paisley’s song of the same name; it cracks me up. The mushroom/walnut color is muy bueno for blending in with the wilderness environment. Plus I can wear it around town or on non-hunting trips without screaming “Hey I’m a hunter.” This OR coat with my North Face Sentry shirt and rain coat (Marmot Pre-cip) give me three hoods. That’s hoods-a-plenty in my kit so I figured I could go hoodless on the insulation layer.
Eliminating the hood requirement form my insulating layer helped me narrow my search to the Spindrift coat from KUIU, in coffee brown. For the amount of insulation and weight this coat looked like a winner on paper. Much to my dismay, they were sold out of the brown color and were discontinuing the coat altogether. Nuts. They did however suggest I look into their new Super Down line up. Thanks everyone that’s posted reviews on line regarding the new Super Down insulating technology .
I typically don’t like to jump on the bandwagon of such a radically different idea but this new hydrophobic Super Down coat from KUIU seemed to be the real deal. The Zip-T model in steel grey looked like something that would work for me. With the claim that it’s “as warm as the Spindrift but at half the weight” I decided to give it whirl. Plus, nano technology just sounds cool.
I used this coat on a recent spring black bear hunt and the results were super impressive. I give this 7 oz coat a double booya! The trifecta layering system of NF shirt, Kuiu Super Down and OR softshell was extremely versatile and kept me comfortable throughout the day from frosty mornings glassing the hillsides with coffee in hand to blazing hot afternoons.
There are strong proponents on either side of the debate regarding down being appropriate for Alaska. This new hydrophobic down technology has taken away any of that mental worry for me.
Of the three layers in this system, this is KUIU coat the most impressive and key piece in weight savings and warmth. Compared to the other Primaloft coats I looked for similar warmth, they were all going to be an average of twice as heavy and potentially not as warm. The other two (NF shirt and OR shell) layers I’m using can be easily substituted for other items of similar style or color/brand preference, but this KUIU Zip-T is definitely a standalone item on the market.
It looks like Steve and I are moving away from looking like twins out there. He has gone a similar route as this but will still be using his “homemade from mom” fleece pullover with a Primaloft Switzer from Cabelas. My choice in a warm puffy coat is 4 oz lighter than his. I’ll remind him of that when I’m leading the climb up a steep ridge. I’m sure he’ll remind me of the $50 Cabeals gift card he had to spend and how many new videos I had to sell in order to finance my new system.
Overall it looks like the climb into sheep country is going to be a couple pounds lighter this year. Steve’s been doing some renovations to his “tried and true” 30.06 and we have a couple other gear projects in the works we’ll reveal a little later but for now here’s the weight savings I’m going to see with my new layering system:
Ditching the Cabelas fleece coat: -34 oz
Adding KUIU Zip-T Super Down: +7 oz
Adding Outdoor Research Ferrosi: +15oz
Total weight savings is 12 ounces. Just as much of a benefit is the added versatility of two layers instead of one and I’ll be warmer too!
For anyone interested, the sizing on these garments is crazy. I’m 6’ 1” and 170 soaking wet. surprisingly the North Face shirt is size medium, the OR Shell is size large and the KUIU Super Down is size X-Large. I guess I’m a little bit of everything.
Sheep Hunting Gear List
All the gear and food used in the Lace'em Up video listed in a free download.
The Keys to Success
What it takes to be successful as a dedicated backpack sheep hunter.
7 Rams, 7 Mountains
Steve completed the first ever walk-in Alaska sheep slam this past August 2012. Read about his journey here.
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