Gear Reviews,

Hunting in Layers

April 24, 2019

FirstLite Catalyst and Fuse 200.

In Michigan we mostly hunt deer by ambush. It includes long hours and a spectrum of changing weather. For obvious reasons, you need to be comfortable but also, your clothing must allow you ready for action when it comes running. Early season hunts can be mid-70’s and muggy, but later in the season freezing temps and snow are sure to become part of the coinciding story.

20 years ago, our clothing options were limited to a few choices. For the first couple weeks in October we’d wear long-sleeve t-shirts (in camo if lucky). Winter options were the big brown canvas zip up’s or a mishmash whatever thermals and sweatshirts one could find. The huge gap between these two options left me either shivering uncontrollably or sweating in my stand like a wrestler cutting weight. This isn’t the case anymore, we have so many fantastic options with hunting gear, but there are some basic principals you must understand if you want to consistently get it right, this means clothing yourself in layers. Here’s how to do it.

Start next-to-skin with a thin-wicking material, which pulls sweat and moisture away from the skin. Over that goes a mid-layer (I prefer two), then an insulating layer and finally an external shell to block wind and precipitation (Gore-tex or similar). This concept works splendidly for other outdoor sports too, and so applies to climbing, backpacking, skiing, etc.

Outdoor brands use polyester almost exclusively for their garments. Poly’s proven to be lightweight, insulating and wicking, ideal properties for outside activity, and is often sourced from repurposed materials like plastic bottles – a huge positive for the environment. Any drawbacks tend to go unnoticed, until a few unlaundered wears when it begins stinking like a dirty gym locker. For most applications, the positives far outweigh the mild inconvenience of not smelling like a spring Lily. So your climbing partner stinks? No big deal. Sweat drenched clothes from your day on the trail making the tent ripe? Air it out. But in certain circumstances it matters greatly, making it especially no bueno for hunters chasing after critters posessing incredibly sensitive noses.

In the past several years we’ve seen high-performance merino wool clothing come to market, lauding the merits of wool as nature’s most effective material for wicking and insulating, even when wet. Merino wool is all this, plus incredibly soft and comfortable. What’s more, it doesn’t attract the same microbial activity  as poly does when sweaty. Translation: no stink, (especially in those areas prone to maximum funk). FirstLight does a bang up job of making clothing systems for the most demanding hunter, and focuses on using the right materials for each application.

Their merino base and mid layers serve as some of the most comfortable and functional hunting apparel I’ve yet owned. They start by sourcing the best raw wool available. Through rigorous research and development they’ve developed a line for nearly any hunting condition. During the 2018 season I sought several pieces that would provide the most value and versatility for the dollar. Here’s what I bought:

FirstLite Fuse AeroWool 200 merino top.

FirstLite Catalyst Top – 4 way stretch soft-shell with DWR treated material

FirstLite Catalyst Pant – 4 way stretch soft-shell pant with DWR.

FirstLite 3-D Balaclava



Opening day of bow season was 40 degrees and raining, so right out of the gate I was layered up.

On top I wore the Fuse (merino) next-to-skin, then the Chama (merino) zip, and covered every thing with the Catalyst (soft shell) jacket. I had on long john’s under the Catalyst pants, and a wool hat to keep my head warm. This system kept me wonderfully dry and comfortable. Additionally, I appreciated these features about the Fuse jacket:

-Stretch fabric and articulated cut (on the pants too). It made maneuvering noticeably easier and quiet too.

-Chest pocket with welded zipper entry. Kept my phone dry.

-Rimmed hood. Kept the rain out of my eyes, away from my face.

-DWR coating on the Catalyst soft-shell sheds water in beads. I stayed completely dry.

As the season progressed, temperatures dropped into the 30’s. It was brown zip up coverall weather, so I added layers like a Russian nestling doll in order to stay warm. It worked, but only because I resorted to using a handful of previously owned mid-layers. So if you’re focused on late-season hunts in freezing temps, I might recommend looking at their bulkier stuff like their Sanctuary line.

For a primary heart-of-the-season setup with plenty of versatility down to 35 degrees, check out FirstLite’s Catalyst – you’ll like it.

Drew De Vries is a FirstLite ambassador, writer, and founder of Adventure Deficit Co.

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