by Marc Peruzzi and Dave Cox
Sitka Apex Pant and Apex Hoody
This kit was designed for mid-season elk hunting where temperatures spike from the low 30s on the predawn approach, to the 60s on the hike out in late afternoon. You might think that they’re not much different than your everyday hiking kit, but you’d be wrong. Backcountry hunters need rugged but light apparel that moves with them without making noise or stinking like so many synthetic fabrics do. Here, a polyester face backed by a grid of lightweight fleece is treated with Polygiene—an antimicrobial that eliminates odor. The Apex Pant is the least restrictive pair of hiking pants of any kind that I own. And the breathability is also unmatched. I wore them with a baselayer on colder days and as is on warmer afternoon hunts. Over 14 miles a day and many thousands of vertical feet, they let me move through the subalpine (which is also the name of the camo pattern shown here) more freely. The merino and nylon Apex Hoody features a built-in neck tube-like swath of material that you can pull over your head for better concealment and a touch more warmth. I wish my winter midweight hoodies had that feature. Pant: $209; Hoody: $220 —M.P.
First Lite Seak Stormtight Rain Jacket and Pant
The company was founded by some former outdoor industry folks from Smith Sport Optics. Their first products in hunting were merino wool knicker-length baselayer bottoms that any skier would dig. Now, First Lite has expanded its line to include the type of 3.5-layer waterproof breathable rain (and snow) wear we’d never head into the mountains without after Labor Day. Fully featured with cinchable hoods, cuffs, and waterproof zippers, the Seak kit is rugged enough for moving through the snags of standing dead lodgepole forests. Pit zips let you ventilate on the climbs. So how does it differ from top-of-the-line waterproof breathable layering we’d wear backcountry skiing or backpacking? First Lite knows camo: their Cipher pattern is designed for western big game and is shown here. The sleeves, too, are cut in such a way as to not interfere with bow strings. Built-in stretch allows for a full draw. Jacket: $350; Pant: $335 —M.P.
Mystery Ranch Sawtooth 45 Pack
I’ve tested backpacks on and off for much of the past 20 years, and I can honestly say that the Sawtooth 45 is the best carrying pack of any size that I’ve ever owned, and that includes many lighter weight ski packs. The no-bullshit fit system—you adjust the yoke to your shoulders and back in seconds—delivers a custom fit that makes any heat-moldable or more complicated takes on customization irrelevant. In 10 days of backcountry hiking carrying about 30 pounds of gear, I all but stopped thinking about the pack after the first hour in the woods. That’s great, but Mystery Ranch—which was founded by outdoor industry legend Dana Gleason and is based in Bozeman—offers similar packs in its backpacking line. The truly remarkable feature of the Sawtooth is what the company calls its Guide Light MT Frame. Unclip the pack from the frame and you can haul quarters or just slip the pack farther back to haul game bags. Variations of that design are now available in Mystery Ranch’s other lines. The upside should be obvious: Think about slipping your sleeping bag and bivvy into the space between the frame and the pack. It obviates the need for a 65 liter pack. $450 —M.P.
First Lite X Nemo Collection: Stalker 0 Sleeping Bag
Those of us who prefer to err on the side of camping with a warmer bag often find ourselves overheated on warmer nights. Enter the Stalker: This zero-rated, 800-fill down bag has zippered gills running vertically above your chest. Rather than unzipping the bag in the traditional manner and being hot on one side and cold on the other, you open and close the gills to regulate heat. The drawstring hood, with its additional down baffle around the neck, and the added waterproof synthetic insulation in the footbox, were great on cold nights. Side sleepers will love the way the bag stretches at the knees. $520 —D.C.
First Lite X Nemo Collection: Nemo Recurve 2P Tent
Several years ago NEMO Equipment founder Cam Brensinger started hunting with his dad, which led to trading gear and ideas with the hunting apparel maker First Lite. A co-lab grew out of this friendship and the Field Collection was born. On my recent mule deer hunt, I set up a spike camp on a point to glass and pattern the animals as they transitioned from grazing to bedding locations. The Recurve weighs less than two pounds and pitches via a two pole system that forms a “T” where one pole runs along the tent ceiling, and the other drops down into a hole in the tent’s floor. You can access the canopy from both vestibuled sides. Carbon fiber struts in the tent shift to upright when guyed out, creating vertical walls where your head and feet end up when sleeping. No more sloping tent wall in your face as you lie down. $460 —D.C.