Growing up in the Midwest, I always thought of hunting as a lazy man’s sport, one where you were confined to a tree stand or a blind and didn’t move much. But after taking up bowhunting for elk, deer, and antelope over the past two years where I now live, in New Mexico, I realize I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Western big-game hunting is one of the most physically challenging activities I’ve ever done. Nearly all your time is spent off-trail, and you’re sometimes required to sprint up hillsides and traverse ridgelines while carrying a ton of gear, often in nasty weather.
In all my days of mountain biking, backcountry skiing, backpacking, and sport climbing, I’ve never done anything that’s so tough on clothing and equipment, and by the same token, I’ve never been as impressed with a gear company as I am with Sitka, a hunting brand that makes high-end apparel and implements. Its slogan is “Turning clothing into gear,” and its products live up to that better than anything I’ve worn from a traditional outdoor brand.
As someone who comes from a nonhunting background, it got me thinking about the gear I use on a regular basis to hike, ski, and bike. The Sitka pieces I wear hunting have been some of the best-performing clothes I’ve ever used in the outdoors, full stop. And now I wear them to do more than just hunt. I bring my Cloudburst Jacket on every hike and live in the Mountain Pant whether I’m camping or just working in the yard. I’ve found the fabrics Sitka uses to be incredibly durable, and I love that the company sweats the small details, like how loud a fabric is, so you can be as quiet as possible while stalking game. If you’re not into its standard camo look, a lot of the jackets and pants are now available in earth-tone solids that are a welcome departure from the overly bright colors so commonplace in the outdoor industry.
Even if you aren’t a hunter, there’s a lot to be gained by using equipment and clothing designed to thrive in some of the harshest conditions you’re likely to find yourself in outdoors. Here are three of my favorites.
Mountain Pant ($199)
This is one of the best pairs of pants I’ve ever owned. I’m six feet three inches tall, with long legs, so finding pants that fit has always been tricky, but these fit perfectly. That’s partly thanks to the multiple sizing options (I wear a size 33 tall) and their design: the performance fit is a bit slimmer than traditional hiking pants in order to minimize sound, ideal for walking through the woods. I’ve worn them in temperatures ranging from 25 to 75 degrees, and aside from being wind- and water-resistant, the standout feature is their durability. These pants come with removable knee pads (incredibly useful for hunting), but the four-way-stretch woven polyester fabric itself resists tears and handles abuse very well. I’ve worn them for many different hunts in New Mexico over the past two seasons, and they still look brand-new. It’s rare to find such a fitted, versatile pair of pants that can withstand a ton of off-trail hiking in the Rockies, not to mention crawling on your hands and knees. For this reason, they’ll work for just about any outdoor pursuit, including hiking or climbing.
Mountain Hauler 4000 Pack ($495)
I got lucky this year and filled my first elk tag. It was an experience I’ll never forget, and one that was made immensely better by having this piece of gear. My friends and I had to pack out the meat over two and a half rough, trailless miles back to the truck, and the Mountain Hauler 4000 handled nearly 100 pounds of meat and antlers with ease. I’ve used countless different backpacks designed for heavy loads, but none of them could handle weight like that. This one is expandable from 3,700 to 4,500 cubic inches and chock-full of hunting-specific features like antler straps and an internal load-hauling shelf for a rear quarter. But the comfort is what really sold me: I didn’t know you could carry that much weight and not be in pain. Anytime I need to bring a lot of gear along on a backpacking or ski-hut trip, I know which pack I’ll be grabbing.
Kelvin Active Jacket ($289)
Hunting, like backcountry skiing, is one of those sports where having the right layers is crucial. Ideally, you want a midlayer that insulates when you’re standing still and that breathes when you’re trucking uphill. This jacket does both really well. It’s filled with 80-gram Polartec Alpha insulation, which is used by many of the best brands in the outdoor industry because of its thermoregulating abilities. I own similar jackets from other brands, but details like brushed-fleece-lined hand-warmer pockets and the Polygiene odor-control treatment make this one of my favorites. It serves as a great layer for ski tours, fitness laps at the resort, or even cold mornings on the mountain bike.