FirstLite Catalyst and Fuse 200.
In Michigan we hunt deer by ambush. This includes long hours on stand, 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 story.
Twenty 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, and our winter options were the big brown canvas zip up’s or a mishmash of thermals and sweatshirts. The huge gap between these options would leave you either shivering uncontrollably or sweating in the stand like a wrestler cutting weight.
This isn’t the case anymore because we have so many fantastic options in hunting gear. There are some basic principals you must understand if you want to consistently get it right, and 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 this 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 applies to climbing, backpacking, skiing, etc.
Outdoor brands use polyester almost exclusively for their garments because its proven to be lightweight, insulating and wicking, all suited to aerobic activity outdoors. Poly is also sourced from repurposed materials like plastic bottles – a huge positive for the environment. Any drawbacks tend to go unnoticed until a few unlaundered wears, the point at which it begins stinking like a dirty gym locker. The positives usually far outweigh not smelling like a spring Lily. So what if your climbing partner stinks? No big deal. Sweat drenched clothes from your day on the trail making the tent ripe? Air it out. In certain applications, scent matters greatly, making it no bueno for hunters chasing after critters that possess incredibly sensitive noses.
Over 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 it’s 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 is a company doing a bang-up job manufacturing clothes for the demanding hunter.
Their merino base and mid layers serve as some of the most comfortable and functional hunting apparel I’ve owned. This starts from sourcing the best raw wool available. Through rigorous research and development, they’ve developed a line for nearly any hunting condition. For the 2018 season, I bought several pieces that would provide the most value and versatility for the dollar. Here’s where I landed:
The FirstLite Fuse AeroWool 200 merino top.
The FL Catalyst Top – 4 way stretch soft-shell with DWR treated material
The FL Catalyst Pant – 4 way stretch soft-shell pant with DWR.
FL 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 their Chama (merino) zip, and covered every thing with the Catalyst (soft shell) jacket. I had my long underwear under the Catalyst pants, and a wool hat to keep my head warm. This system kept me wonderfully dry and comfortable for a 4 hour sit. What I loved about the Catalyst:
-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 sheds water in beads. I stayed completely dry.
As the season progressed, temperatures dropped into the thirty’s, 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. Word to the wise…if you’re focused on late-season hunts in freezing temps, I recommend looking at their bulkier stuff like their Sanctuary line.
In summary, for your primary, heart-of-the-season setup with plenty of versatility down to 35 degrees, check out FirstLite’s Catalyst – you’ll like it!