By Trent Swanson
Yes, it’s been a while since my elk hunt, but since I had a few other hunts planned, I wanted to wait until they were complete to give a full report on the FirstLite clothing system. I had used much of the system last year and was surprised that it could keep me warm when it was cool and cool when it was warm. When describing it, I often refer to it as “The Thermos of the hunting clothing world.” It also has the added benefit of being naturally scent-free.
Merino wool, which is the foundation of the entire line, provides awesome cooling and insulating properties. The guys who envisioned using merino wool in hunting clothing, Kenton Carruth and Scott Robinson, developed the idea after using it extensively in the skiing industry. They wore merino wool when they weren’t skiing, but it was always in mountain climber colors. They wanted quality merino base layers in camouflage patterns.
Printing the intricate details of camouflage patterns on merino was the first hurdle they had to jump. They overcame that problem marvelously and now offer their clothing in Realtree MAX-1, Realtree XTRA, Mossy Oak Infinity, and ASAT, as well as drab color choices of black and tan (green will be available in 2014). I chose different pieces in black, tan, and MAX-1 and have been impressed with the colors of each. The intricate MAX-1 pattern has not faded or bled. I can’t wait to get a couple new pieces in green this year.
The base layers are literally and figuratively the foundation of their line and continue to sell the best. However, 2013 saw the introduction of outerwear. While not made of merino, the hard shell, soft shell, and insulating pieces complete their system. They partnered with Cocona for their superior waterproofness and breathability. In 2014, the outerwear line will expand to include hard shell pants, and even heavier insulating pieces for treestand hunters or anyone needing a little extra warmth.
I have now worn FirstLite while scouting for elk in July in temperatures over 80 degrees all the way down to hunting in January for Midwest whitetails in wind chills down to 32 below. Without a doubt, in that cold weather I needed every piece of FirstLite I own (plus a couple extra layers), but if not for my inexperience hunting whitetails, and the last-morning buck that moved off just before legal shooting light, I would have a nice Ohio buck to my credit. My clothing kept me out in the cold and gave me the opportunity to be successful. Success came for me in 2013 on a day that started out rainy, turned hot, and ended up rainy again. My biggest elk fell to my muzzleloader after I stalked in to 32 yards clothed head-to-toe in FirstLite.
I have personally experienced a swing of over 110 degrees over my different hunting trips this year. I hunted in sunshine, rain, and snow. The versatility of the FirstLite line still surprises me. My Thermos still works! For standard western hunting situations, my basic layering system consists of the following:
Light Weight Base Layer: Llano Crew
Mid Weight Layer: Chama QZ
Heavy Weight Layer: Springer Vest and/or Labrador Full Zip Sweater
Outerwear: Uncompahgre Puffy and/or Boundary Stormtight Jacket
Light Weight Base Layer (short): Red Desert Boxers
Light Weight Base Layer (long): Allegheny and/or Allegheny EXP Bottoms
Pants: Kanab Lightweight Pant or North Branch Soft Shell Pant
Socks: Mountain Athlete Compression or Cold Weather Socks
Gloves: Lightweight Merino and/or Soft Shell Shooting Gloves
Headwear: Beanie and/or Wind River Balaclava
New products for 2014 that I am excited for:
Tops: North Branch Soft Shell Jacket, Sanctuary Insulated Jacket (in case I go back to Ohio in January), Halstead Tech Fleece (their first non-merino layering top), multiple merino options in green
Bottoms: Boundary Stormtight Pants
In recent years, the other primary players in the hunting clothing industry have copied FirstLite and are now offering base layers in merino wool. I am happy to have been using a system that focused on providing the best next-to-skin layer first, and then expanded to awesome outerwear layers. I feel that by wearing FirstLite, I will be prepared for any hunting situation, and will be able to easily add and subtract layers so I stay comfortable in every temperature or precipitation condition I am faced with. As they continue to focus on outerwear in the future, I know FirstLite’s merino wool base layer foundation will provide me the best chance at success out in the woods.
Trent Swanson, a Colorado native, is the Mountain Territory Sales Rep for SWAROVSKI OPTIK. You might recognize his name since he used to work with us here at Western Hunter. He is a self-professed “optics nerd” who has been chasing big game critters for nearly 30 years. You can find the rest of the blog posts about his Colorado elk hunt here.