The first time I heard the phrase, “Put your hood up or you’re going to get wet,” I realized that I had never used a hood in my life. The borrowed rain gear I wore on my first duck hunt was two sizes too large and associated with the nearby salmon fishery. I should have known that a trip requiring waterproof chest waders was not just an eccentric fashion choice. Looking back, I realize that was the day I stopped seeking comfort and instead sought adventure.
Having the best sportswear extends my time outdoors and never gets in the way. The best clothing products share qualities of design and purpose. Choosing the best products gives me the best chance at success and, in some cases, can be life-saving. Enduring a crisis caused by making critical mistakes in gear or clothing make for the end to the adventure too often mistaken for adventure itself. Although the skill level of many hunters does not demand the precision apparel offered by most sportswear today, every skill level can use an edge.
Here are the five questions I ask when making a decision to purchase outdoor apparel:
What is the Purpose? In other words, what do I need this product to do? Is this outer jacket needed for cold wet, or cold dry, weather? Do the base and mid-layers need to pull double duty as outer layers; is a scent proof or camouflage fabric necessary? Is the range of movement required possible in this particular shirt, vest, jacket, boot, or wader; does it allow for shooting, hiking, rock climbing, or traversing water? Is there a requirement for the item to be packed, washed, or worn over long periods; is it packable, washable, or fast-drying? What kind of pockets, zippers, snaps, or magnetic clasps does it have; does it need to be quiet, easily removed, or able to store other items?
Can it be Used for More than One Purpose? This is the “Can this item become my little black dress of the outdoors” question. It takes a long time to acquire the basic gear for every scenario, but versatile products save money and exemplify the practicality of the true outdoorsman. This is one of the reasons so much of my fishing gear is camouflage. Fishing doesn’t require camo, but if the same outer jacket, waders, hats, and gloves work for fishing or target shooting as hunting, I’m saving money and room in my closet. Fly-fishing is often thought of as requiring very specific products; however, I’ll never forget a girlfriend who discovered how much could be stored in a fly-fishing vest. She nearly gave up carrying a purse!
How will it be used? The best products are field-tested and proven. But, they are only as good as the weakest zipper or seam. Knowing how I will use an item helps me to determine what is likely to fail so I consider all potential weak points. Are the zippers waterproof or reinforced? Is there a repair kit or extra parts? Is there any part that will chafe, itch, or wear out? If I can try something on, I perform a re-enactment from the field: shooting postures, hands above head, bending down, jumping, waxon, waxoff, and so forth. I do this in a dressing room, if possible.
Does it go above and beyond? Every purchase supports the manufacturer and retailer behind it. Companies that give back to the hunting traditions, support conservation, or represent what is best in the outdoors make purchases pull double duty. I like to support outfitters whose products are made in the U.S.A., who offer smart choices for women, and who are responsible for the environment.
Do I Already Have it? One of the most difficult things about the sporting life is storage and inventory of all of the items required for particular pursuits. There are totes and closets and storage sheds full of outdoor products. Because there are always innovations in gear, old gear can quickly become forgotten. There may be a way to avoid the purchase of things that I already own. There may be an app or a simple process I just haven’t learned. If I ever get so organized that I can find everything I own, it just might be the day stop seeking adventure. So for now, I’m okay with having an extra jacket or two to spare a new hunter who might want to come along for the first time and learn why good gear is important.