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Multi-Editor Mid-Layer Review
The Klamath Quarter Zip Hoodie is another First Lite piece that I absolutely love. In fact, over the last two years, I have hardly left home on a hunt without it. I consistently pair this piece with my Kiln hoody, and, in colder weather, will add my puffy jacket over top.
In general those two layering pieces are my absolute go to for most AZ hunts. Whether I am hunting in the early season or late December/January chasing rutting deer and Javelina, the Klamath is either on my person, or in my pack.
I hike a lot, and sweat is a factor when it comes to thermal regulation. In the early season, our temps can range from the high 40’s to high 50’s in the mornings, then leveling out to the 80’s during the day. At this time of the year, I will often hike in just my baselayer. While I do try to control my pace and limit perspiration, sometimes that’s easier said than done. This is where the Klamath comes in handy. When I get to my glassing point and am sweaty, I will immediately put that Klamath on and start glassing. The grid fleece is heavy enough to keep me warm but it also helps to dry my baselayer up quickly.
During the late season hunts whenI start hiking in below freezing temps, it’s nice to have both layers on. I have employed this system in temps ranging from 15 to 40 degrees and have been comfortable every time.
The Klamath has a hood and a deep quarter zip for temperature regulation and I use both all the time. If I move too fast or start to sweat too much, the hood comes off and I can dump heat by unzipping that collar.
As far as fit is concerned, the Klamath is sized perfectly in my opinion. I like my hoodies to fit a little larger so that they layer well. I am 6’1”, and my weight fluctuates from 240 down to 220 depending on the time of year, (gotta love the holiday and trade-show season diet). I bought that Klamath in an XL and it has fit regardless of how many burgers and pints of ice cream I’ve crushed while on the road.
As stated above, I absolutely love the Klamath. Its only drawback is that it doesn’t have belly pockets. I do find this to be a major oversight, but have been able to live with it over the years. I have also noticed that it looks as though First Lite does not offer this piece with a hood anymore. I would assume that the Origin Hoody has taken up that role.
Western Hunter Magazine Field Editor
Regarding mid-layers or active insulation, fleece has been king for the last 20-plus years. Before fleece, it was wool. Now, manufacturers and hunters are being introduced to different forms of mid-layers in the way of “hybrid” jackets. These jackets usually have a DWR-coated nylon outer shell, 60-90 grams of synthetic insulation, and a nylon backer. They tend to shed light precipitation much better than traditional fleece because of their DWR-coated outer shell. They also tend to be more durable than traditional fleece and don’t pill after a few runs through heavy brush. The biggest difference to me is their ability to be used in high and low-exertion situations and remain dry and comfortable.
The new Cirque Lite from Stone Glacier is an excellent example of a hybrid-style jacket. It has 60 grams of insulation through the arms, chest, and back, and uses their grid fleece material for the side panels up through the armpits. It has an articulated hood and the classic high zip that every Stone Glacier jacket has.
I’ve used this jacket for the past several months, from high alpine basins in Utah to windswept ridges in Colorado, to Arizona's saguaro-riddled flats. The best example of where this jacket shined for me was during my 2nd season mule deer hunt in Colorado. The mornings would start out in the single digits and rise into the mid-30s by noon. I was able to hike to my glassing knob in the dark with the Cirque Lite, then cook the moisture off of it with my puffy jacket while I glassed, then hike comfortably to my next spot or on a stalk. The jacket performed exactly how I wanted it to – it kept me warm in slow or static situations and it didn’t make me overheat during high exertion situations.
The jacket is treated with Polygiene but after a few days of sweat and dry, sweat and dry. It can become fairly rank. I’ve yet to put a rip in it, but there is a substantial amount of pilling where my binocular harness sits. Neither of these makes me shy away from the jacket, but they are things to consider.
The Cirque Lite has become a staple in my layering system, and I don’t foresee that changing anytime soon. If you are looking for a mid-layer that does what it is designed to do, check out the Cirque Lite from Stone Glacier.
Western Hunter Magazine Field Editor
“Yikes!” was my gut reaction just a few days ago, stepping out of my pickup in the parking lot at work. It was raining hard, and some wise coworkers had gotten the spots closest to the door of our office. The next few minutes made me love my favorite piece of gear even more than I already did. I walked in the door, my Ambient hoody fairly well soaked, planning to hang it up to dry.
I got distracted by a conversation with an unnamed party (whose review is also on this page) for about 10 minutes. When I made it up to my office, I sat down only to realize that my jacket was already bone dry. I had forgotten that I was wearing one of the few truly innovative pieces of outdoor clothing ever created by man.
Sitka’s Ambient mid-layer line is, admittedly, not as cheap or nostalgic as a wool sweater or waffle-weave top. That’s because it’s filled with Primaloft Active Evolve® insulation – a remarkably efficient new material from the most qualified minds on the subject.
Active Evolve® was created to be lighter, warmer, more breathable, and quicker-drying than any other mid-layer material… ever. Once the folks at Sitka got a whiff of this, they grabbed this futuristic material and ran with it. I won’t pretend to have a clue how it works, but trust me, it does. It genuinely feels like magic, and I’ll tell you why.
Key Word: Thermoregulation
The Ambient Hoody is a great all-around piece, and I never want to hunt, hike, or do anything else without it. I wore it as my only layer here in the desert when it was 35 degrees in the morning and 80 degrees by nap time, and I was comfortable the whole time. I also wore it next-to-skin on Kodiak Island (nod if you’re sick of a few of us saying that) with only a soft-shell jacket on top. It was freezing cold and windy, and we hiked our tails off. I was warm when I needed to be, but never hot when moving around.
Water-repellent is not new, and neither is warm. What is new is ONE piece that does both and does not require a wardrobe change at the top of the hill. The Ambient breathes so well that I found I could hike full-steam for an hour and get to the top of a ridge, only to stare longingly at my favorite puffy jacket. The Ambient refused to overheat like a down jacket when I was on the move, and it would gently cool me down and keep me from getting that cold sweat feeling after glassing for a few minutes.
It’s shockingly lightweight, Sunday-morning comfortable, fairly packable, and has worked so hard to keep me comfortable that I can’t even believe it’s real.
You can still grab this (discontinued) version on BlackOvis at a discount, and there is a new full-zip version that hasn’t hit retailers quite yet. The Ambient line also includes a non-hooded jacket, a women’s version, a vest, and a UL (ultralight) version that I look forward to checking out.
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There is almost nothing worse than being underdressed on a late-season hunt. I experienced this on the Arizona Strip while helping on a Mule Deer hunt one November. I was cold to the bone almost the entire week, and I fell ill because of it. I chalked this out to the fact that I did not have an adequate insulation system. I immediately upgraded my clothing systems and landed on the Sitka Heavyweight Hoody for an active insulation mid-layer. Since then, It's been one of my favorite pieces of gear.
In milder, early-season weather, I use the Heavyweight Hoody as an outer layer. It’s impressively durable and has held up very nicely to the sharp thorns in Arizona and thick scrub oaks in Colorado and Utah. In colder, late-season conditions, I use it as an outer layer to hike to glassing points and then throw a puffy jacket over top for the long sit. The waffled synthetic insulation spreads out moisture and provides excellent layering when moving minimally. Since purchasing this piece, I have yet to be uncomfortably cold on any outing.
As much as I like the Heavyweight Hoody, there are a couple of things that I wish were different. Firstly, there are no front pockets. Even in the early season, mornings are brisk and I find myself constantly reaching for front pockets to warm my hands and find a comfortable position. I also use front pockets a lot for my frequently used items such as Elk or Turkey calls. Trying to find another safe, easy-to-access pocket for those items can sometimes be annoying. Secondly, the Heavyweight Hoody does not dry quickly and can easily get wet and heavy in light rain and snow. For how often I use it as an outer layer, a little bit of weatherproofing would be extremely beneficial.
Overall, the Sitka Heavyweight Hoody is an excellent insulated mid-layer choice for cold weather and a good outer layer for milder conditions.
Western Hunter Field Editor
The Stone Glacier Helio Hoodie is a piece that gets thrown into my bag on every hunt - hot spring hunts, frigid late season hunts and everything in between. As you know, layering your clothing properly makes a huge difference with “all-day comfort”. I’ve found the Helio Hoody to be light and breathable enough to wear next to skin for a spring hunt and need almost nothing else except a jacket in the morning, and low profile enough to be added as a true mid layer in late season hunts without restricting mobility.
The Helio Hoodie caught my attention with its appropriately sized hood, grid/waffle knitted synthetic material, and the deep ¾ chest zipper. It’s in the details that the Helio Hoodie continually earns its keep. For starters, The sleeves are the perfect length for a guy like me (I’m 6’1” with reasonably long arms). When using the built in thumb loops, the sleeves fit like a half glove which helps create warmth when conditions are on the edge of cold and just right. The overall midsection length is ideal as well - hanging snugly below your beltline so it’s not continually riding up your back. The versatile hood fits more like a skull cap on your head and acts like a plush neck gaiter when you have it down. Another key reason this piece is so versatile is because of the deep ¾ zipper allowing you to dump a lot of heat quickly when you want to increase airflow and cool down.
Aside from all of these thoughtful design features that make this piece my favorite mid-layer, the quality I keep coming back to is that it flat out fits like a glove. From the first time I put it on, and everytime after, its comfort and weight makes me feel set in all conditions.
But of course, everything has its drawbacks and the Helio Hoody comes with more of a consideration than I’d call it a drawback. The sleeves are snug, bordering tight. By no means do they feel too tight - the 93/7 poly/spandex blend and micro-grid construction helps them contour and hug your body well. However, putting on this piece over a merino long sleeve base layer can be a little awkward when the materials bind up on eachother. Sizing is true, but if you don’t like a snug athletic fit, consider sizing up so you have more wiggle room. For reference, I am 6’1” and 210 lbs and the large is an ideal size for me - perfect in length and a tapered fit.
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I’ve always been a big fan of insulated vests, and think they’re one of the most underrated mid-layer pieces that a hunter can own. My body temperature runs pretty cold, and although I’m an active hunter I typically get cold very quickly… yes, even in Arizona. However, once I get moving my core also heats up very quickly, so I personally like to have mid-layer pieces that can help keep my core warm yet that I can quickly dissipate heat in. By removing my outer layer and unzipping my Payette Down Vest, my core and arms are able to cool down within seconds. By using a vest instead of a full length sleeve I’m also able to retain ease of movement in my arms, because as we all know the more long sleeve layers we have on the more we start to feel like the Michelin man.
The Payette Down Vest has 600+ fill with hydrophobic down insulation giving it an extremely lightweight yet impressive warmth to weight ratio. I always have this on me, and if I decide to throw it in my pack it neatly stows away in its own right hand pocket (pro tip - it also doubles nicely as a camp pillow). The Payette Down Vest has a bunch of zippered pockets for all of your gear, it’s DWR-treated with a quilted ripstop, and although I wouldn’t bust through thick brush with this vest it’s still held up great for me, especially with how much I wear it. In fact, if you’ve ever run into me at a hunting trade show (I’m the guy with the mustache), chances are I was wearing this exact Payette Down Vest, and for good reason! This thing is highly comfortable, durable, and effective making it my go to mid-layer.
It’s also offered in 3 different solid color options (solids rule), and while I personally have the gunmetal color, I’d be happy with the black or the coyote brown as well. The nice part is that you can wear this on your hunts and still wear it to dinner with the wife. I’m a firm believer in getting the most use cases out of my gear, and this Payette Down Vest by Eberlestock absolutely adheres to that. Don’t just take my word for it, try it out for yourself and let us know what you think!
Western Hunter Magazine Field Editor
First Lite Furnace Henley
I have always been a big fan of the First Lite Merino Wool products, I have two pieces that make it in my pack on every hunting trip. One of those pieces is the Furnace Henley, a 350gm mostly merino blend mid-layer. If I had to describe it I would call it a thick “sweatshirt” like feel with a tough Merino outer face and a brushed fleece-like finish on the inside. I wear a Large and the fit is just right to have a thinner long sleeve underneath. What I like most is the longer fit in the torso to keep my lower back from being exposed while glassing.
My favorite thing about the Furnace henley is its simplicity. It has one purpose, warmth. It doesn’t need a DWR, that's what my rain jacket is for. If I get cold, I'll put my puffy on. I have worn it while being active in temps in the 20s - 30s and layered over it in a lot colder. It does what I need it to do, and that's why it makes it in my pack every trip.
They named this piece appropriately. It doesn’t take me too much hiking to feel like I’m inside a furnace. It's not the most wind-resistant fabric, but that is another reason I like this piece. I run really hot, so a little A/C blowing through isn’t the worst thing. I was pretty bummed not to see the henley style on the First Lite website, but they still carry it in a hoodie and a ¼ zip. The Furnace fabric is also carried in a few different styles, like a beanie and long johns which would be good additions to a gear list as well.
First Lite Quarter Zip Hunting Shirt $160 Buy now on Amazon
Western Hunter Magazine Field Editor