Gear selection on expedition-style hunts is make or break and a clothing system is a critical component. My list is under constant scrutiny and dynamic, informed by cumulative lessons learned, sandwiched between the rarely occurring mountainside epiphany.
Lightweight, packable, durable and multi-functionality are mandatory attributes in order to make the cut. I’m looking for items to dry quickly. I prefer clothing that moves with me; all items must function together as a cohesive system. My gear needs to be capable of layering on and off easily in a myriad of temperature ranges, weather conditions, and exertion levels.
In the early 2000s, technical apparel was non-existent in mainstream hunting. During that same time period, I was working hard to keep up with my dad and brother, wearing fleece two sizes too big and foaming at the mouth to spend every moment I could in bighorn sheep country. Around the same time, Sitka created a solution with pieces like the 90% Jacket and Celcius Rain Gear. Mountain hunters quickly adopted this higher-performing gear.
Fast forward to today, and almost 20 years later, I would describe my pack list with two words: constant evolution. I’m always trying to learn from the natural world around me, the challenge of a hunt, the animals we pursue and those who I pursue them with. Like most, I aim to grow as a hunter — and as a person.
Here’s a snapshot of my 2022 early season sheep hunting system:
Core Lightweight Hoody: The foundation of my clothing system is a lightweight, breathable base layer to move moisture away from my skin. I prefer a synthetic option for the speed at which it dries. The hood and integrated facemask offer sun protection and concealment which, as a bowhunter, is a feature I didn’t know I needed until I had it.
Ascent Pant: This pant is stretchable, breathable and comfortable — critical when clicking off miles in the mountains. I haven’t found a pant that moves with me nearly as well as the Ascent does. I prefer a lighter-weight pant to stay as cool as possible while hiking. My thought is, I can always throw on my rain pants at the top to cut the wind. Also, the removable knee pads come in handy on a stalk, while pitching a tent or cooking over a stove.
Ambient Hoody: The Ambient is a new addition for me in 2022 and, after testing it last year, it made the cut. It’s so comfortable to the touch, breathable and quiet that it serves as a super versatile midweight insulation piece for early season mountain hunting. The Ambient can be used both as a mid-layer, allowing me to leave the Core Heavyweight at home, and as my go-to puffy, providing just enough warmth. This might not seem like a big deal but this cuts weight, bulk and drives a lot of simplicity in my clothing system by finding dual end uses.
Dew Point Rain Jacket and Pant: The Dew Point remains my staple in lightweight, packable, waterproof rain gear. It’s mind-boggling that this combination of pant and jacket weighs in at 23oz. — that’s less than a pound and a half. In 2020, I was excited to see the update to GORE C-KNIT backer for a more comfortable wear. For features, I prefer rain gear to have no extra bells or whistles. The jacket’s hand pockets, pit zips and full-length side zip in the pants are everything I need and nothing I don't.
Ascent Glove: This lightweight glove still packs enough durability to wear up rock scrambles and keeps the bugs at bay. It’s form-fitting and has no noisy velcro to get caught up while changing layers or on a stalk.
Blizzard Mitt: This may come as a surprise for an early-season sheep kit, especially based on my above gear selections, but these diverse mitts have proved valuable on more than one occasion. Once you lose functionality in your hands it becomes difficult to glass and shoot a bow accurately. These mitts are comprised of a Gore-Tex outer and removable Primaloft liner. They can be used as a stand-alone shell with alternative glove options. A mitt keeps me glassing in rain or snow, increasing the likelihood of finding animals.
Merino Core Lightweight Boxer: After a couple weeks in the backcountry, schlepping around a heavy pack, having the anti-stink property of Merino where you need it most is invaluable (need I say more?).
Core Lightweight Bottom: I don’t wear this base layer every day, but they are a useful item to have and carry a minor weight consequence. I’ll wear these to sleep in to avoid that damp, clammy feeling in my sleeping bag or, once I’m up in the alpine, they can add a bit of warmth under my Ascent Pants. If I know I’m going to be hiking all day in the rain or through wet willows, I’ll start the day off wearing them under my Dewpoint Pant and skip the Ascent Pants altogether.
Mountain Optics Harness: I’ll admit I was skeptical of this style of bino harness until I used it, but once I had access to key essentials in a quiet opening, low profile package, there was no going back. The ability to remove side pockets is great for when I want a smaller, sleeker harness. I’ll keep my rangefinder, phone, release and even a couple snacks in the side pockets and the main body of the harness fits my go-to mountain hunting binos (12x Swarovski NL Pure).
Bow Sling: Mountain hunting takes place a long way from an archery shop so this Bow Sling is a no-brainer to protect my strings, cams and sight from sharp rocks and thrashing willows.
Stormfront Gaiter: Waterproof gaiters help keep my boots dry on creek crossings or when hiking through wet vegetation. Dry feet are more comfortable but also a lot less likely to blister. The adjustable stirrups give this gaiter an improved fit and can be adapted to various boot options throughout the year.
SITKA Cap: I like a baseball-style cap to keep the sun out of my eyes. This hat is soft, stretchy, comfortable and sweat absorbing. I can dunk it in a creek before a blazing hot ascent and it won’t warp or change shape as it dries.
Merino Beanie: Provides an additional bit of warmth to wear around camp, while sleeping or up on a ridge. I prefer a toque — er, beanie — that’s not super bulky so I can stash it in my pants pocket without noticing it.
Where this system excels in its simplicity and versatility. Of course, this list can be beefed up or stripped down for unique hunts. For example, I’d swap out a few things to be ready for a later season mountain hunt. I’ll select a warmer insulation package, and, if in particular wet coastal environments, rain gear that has a richer feature set.
The point of a gear list is to test, adapt and make it personal. So get out there and burn some boot leather and find what works best for you.