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Why I Chose First Lite Merino and Outerwear

First Lite Merino Wool Layering System, Review and Pics

First-Lite-Pocket-north-branch

For years after I first started hunting, my “hunting wardrobe”  consisted of bulky coveralls and whatever was on sale at Wal-Mart. The system worked, I guess, but I always felt like there was a better option. The search for a solution began.

Over the last few years, technical hunting clothing has gained a lot of ground. Hunting clothes are just as much a part of our gear as our rifles or bows these days. But why? Why not just wear that cotton/poly blend bargain bin stuff that fill scent free totes across America? Is it really worth the investment? Do the advantages really add up?

Let me be honest. I get it. We all hear about that guy who’s been killing deer for years wearing blue jeans and a red flannel shirt. Quality clothing is not necessary to be a successful hunter. But can clothing help hunters become more successful? I think so.

First-Lite-North-Branch-Chama-Hoody

Long days in the field and demanding terrain made me appreciate having quality clothing ten times over. If we plan on hunting, and I mean hunting, we need a strong barrier between us and the elements. I think about it like this…

The War of Hunting: The minute my boots hit the dirt, the war begins. I am on their turf now. Everything is against me and for the prey. The thorns, cactus, burrs, spider webs, insects, muck, heat, cold, wind, wet, freezing, sweating, damp, and sun are fighting my efforts. It’s just me verses nature. My only allies are the gear I carry, the clothes I wear. If my clothes fail, I fail. If my gear can’t stand the elements, I’ll have to leave.

We need barriers to the elements so we can focus on the hunt, not distractions. If the clothing is fighting for us, instead of teaming up with the elements against us, the odds tip in our favor. We can hunt longer, with a clear mind, pushing through situations that would desire to send us packing.

So who did I choose as my ally? Which clothing do I trust to protect my body and mind from the elements? After lots of homework, and comparison, I decided to use the layering system from First Lite … and I’m so glad I did.

First-Lite-Sleeve

First Lite Merino Wool.

I discovered First Lite through my research on base layers. They were the first to bring camo printed merino wool to the market. Add  attention to design and quality with hunters in mind, and you have a real game changer.  Warm even when wet, no shine, ultra quiet, natural fibers, no itch, thermal regulation, odor control, what’s not to love about Merino?

The merino wool was fantastic during the early season heat. That’s right. I was up a tree in 80+ degree weather wearing wool, and loving it. The fine micron merino from First Lite doesn’t itch, and does a fantastic job of regulating my body temp while wicking moisture. I almost couldn’t believe it.

When I was hunting out west this year, in freezing temps and high winds, I was wearing merino as a base layer. It did an excellent job of insulating and regulating then too. Not to mention, I also wore those clothes for 5 days straight with no funk! First Lite’s merino blew me away. You really have to see and smell, or not smell, this stuff to believe it.

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First Lite Cocona Outerwear.

In 2013, First Lite introduced new outerwear that uses Cocona technology. It’s a natural particle technology that carries many of the same benefits of merino, but with more adaptability. A perfect compliment to the merino base layers, Cocona fabrics allowed First Lite to develop new insulating and weather proof layers to complete a great layering system.

In Nebraska, I wore the North Branch pants and Uncomphagre puffy jacket everyday over my merino layers. It kept the wind out, warmth in, and moisture at bay. After sliding down hills on my belly, kneeling in sand burrs, and rolling around yucca bushes, the gear held up great. I couldn’t be happier with the quality.

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My First Lite System.

For most of my early season hunting here in GA, the weather is warm. Early mornings may bring a good chill, but within a couple hours I’m usually sweating. Developing a clothing system can be tough. Here’s a list of the gear I used and what I liked about it.

First-Lite-LlanoEarly Season Layering System:

Base layer top: Llano Crew
Mid layer top: Chama Hoody
Base layer bottom: Red Desert Boxers
Bottoms: Kanab Pant
Headwear: Brimmed Beanie
Gloves: Merino Glove
Socks: Mountain Athlete Compression
Face: Merino Neck Gator
Layers: Springer Vest

Early season in Georgia can shift from chilly to sweaty in just a few hours. My First Lite did great.

I can’t say enough good things about these Kanab pants. They fit great, have water resistant areas around the seat and knees, and a rip-stop fabric to resist brush and briers. They breath very well when it’s warm out, but make for good warmth with the Allegheny bottoms underneath. They are very lightweight, and the perfect all-around hunting pant.

The merino Brimmed Beanie and Neck Gator are another great combo. It’s amazing how warm this thin little hat is. The brim on the beanie is great for shading and concealing the eye. I loved the Mountain Athlete Compression socks, I even bought a couple extra pairs to just wear throughout the week at home. Best socks I’ve ever worn. The lightweight Merino gloves offer enough warmth to knock off a slight morning chill, but are still light enough to wear for hand concealment when things are hot later in the day.

Once the temps rise, and I don’t need the warmth of the vest or it’s pockets for my hands, I shed the Springer into my pack. Some chilly mornings, I wished that whole vest had the same warm backing as the pockets. The Llano and Chama Hoody are generally a good mid-morning set until the temps really rise and I shed the Chama Hoody also.

First-Lite-Springer-Pocket

If I was going to change something about my top layers, it would be to swap the Chama Hoody for the Chama EXP. I think a little extra thickness would serve me better than the hood (which I rarely use). When it comes time to layer up, the hood gets aggrivating under the Springer Vest and Uncomphagre Puffy, which has it’s own hood. The Hoody is a nice feature, but I would get more layering versatility out of the thicker, non-hooded Chama EXP.

First-Lite-Layering-SystemLate Season Layering System:

Base layer top: Llano Crew
Mid layer top: Chama Hoody
Insulation: Springer Vest
Outerwear top: Uncomphagre Puffy
Base layer bottom: Allegheny Exp
Bottoms: North Branch Pant
Headwear: Brimmed Beanie
Gloves: Softshell Glove
Socks: Mountain Athlete Cold Weather
Face: Merino Neck Gator

When morning temps were in the 20′s and winds were steady, I really came to appreciate the new outerwear from First Lite.

The North Branch pant has a fleece backing and a softshell exterior that protects from the elements and keeps things toasty. Coupled with the heavy Allegheny EXP bottoms, I was at home in the cold Nebraska canyons. They have a single zipper that runs the full length of the legs and up over the seat. This zipper allowed me to vent the legs when temps rose in the afternoons, a feature I very much enjoyed.

The pants did have a bit of a “swoosh” when the legs brushed together. I was nervous about this at first, but it didn’t prove to be an issue bowhunting from the ground. When the legs were opened to vent, it did increase the swooshing. At times the pants made sounds when I grazed stiff brush crawling into range on a muley. However, I don’t think I could expect a weather resistant, wind proof, insulated pant to perform any better. While the swoosh aggravated me a little, it didn’t hinder the hunt!

First-Lite-Uncomphagre-stuffed

The Uncomphagre Puffy is possibly my favorite jacket of all time, hunting or otherwise. It stuffs down into it’s own pocket to fit nicely into any pack – even my small one. The weight-to-warmth ratio of this thing is unbelievable! The Cocona technology does a great job of keeping things dry inside, while repelling water outside. The jacket just preforms. It quickly became the workhorse of my cold weather hunting system. The design and fit was great for bowhunting. Inside, the Uncomphagre is trimmed with soft panels at important contact points to increase comfort. Did I mention that I love this jacket?

It feels thin to the touch, but held up surprisingly well to rocks and brush as I slid through some nasty terrain in NE, and seemed right at home in thick woods here in GA. Noise is minimal, something kin to the gentle rustling of leaves blowing in the wind. Warmth is exceptional, really – you just have to try it out to see what I mean.

First-Lite-Uncomphagre-hood

A Note About Sizing.

I ordered my tops to match my T-shirt size, Large. First Lite’s shooter’s cut seems very true to size and movement needs. The only thing I would possibly note is that if ordering the Springer Vest again, I may order a medium for a more snug fit, but that’s more of a preference.

For the bottoms, First Lite’s sizing chart runs true. I normally wear a 33-34″ waist pant. I ordered mediums and am glad I didn’t order the large. The base layers were snug, and fit well. The North Branch and Kanabs’ both accommodate a heavy base layer without having to order a size larger in the waist. It’s a very well thought out system.

First-Lite-Chama-Hoody

Overall?

I’m never looking back.

I couldn’t be happier. My First Lite system fights for me in the field instead of against me. It performs incredibly well, is lightweight, and does just what it claims. What more could you want?

Make sure to check out the First Lite website and campfire for more information. They have a great team of guys over there and are always very helpful with customer support. Check them out, you’ll be glad you did.

QUESTIONS? Good, I’d love to answer. Fire away in the comments section below this post…

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  • Aznealz

    I certainly am impressed with the merino wool year I have. I also wondered about the wisdom and practicality of wool on early AZ hunts where it’s not just warm but HOT. The stuff performs as advertised. Great wicking and zero funk factor. Don’t own any First Lite products yet, but I’ll look into them. And you could be the next, or first, Redneck Abercrombie model too! Thanks.

    • Aaron Farley

      HA! I really hate those pics…My wife is the photographer, and she has me do that stuff for pics. Kind of like hearing your voice on recording.

      The First Lite gear is great. Quality stitching, great cut, well thought out for sure. If you look at anything specific and have questions just let me know.

  • luis cohen

    What boot are you using?

    • Aaron Farley

      Luis, That’s the Muck Bood Woody Sport in the pictures above. I use them for early season/wet days. For the more heavy duty hunting I use the Cabelas Perfekt Hunter boot by Meindl, I am very pleased with them. They are comfortable and broke in quickly. They held up to Nebraska terrain very well and they’ve performed great climbing the hills here in North GA. You can see more in my 2013 hunting kit from the link at the top of the page.

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  • Mike Dwyer

    I’ve been considering upgrading some of my hunting clothing but I’m wondering if this would be right for the stationary type of hunting that we waterfowlers are doing most of the time. There is a lot of hard work at the start and end of a hunt putting out decoy spreads and bringing them in but during a hunt we are pretty much just sitting (or laying on the ground) and trying to stay warm. Single-digit temps are common. In the last 10 years I have moved almost completely to microfleece but it can still be bulky. The biggest challenge is shouldering a shotgun properly for a quick shot when you have a couple of inches of layers on. More than once I have fired only to realize my gun was actually on my upper arm and not in the pocket of my shoulder. Frustrating!

    How does this stuff perform when you aren’t moving and in seriously frigid temps?

    • Aaron Farley

      Mike, Thanks for the great question!

      If I was in your situation, I would probably give the Uncompagre puffy a try. I don’t think the wool itself is thick enough to handle sitting still in those types of temps, but the puffy has an incredible warmth to weight ration. Its not bulky at all, and retains heat well. For me (in a treestand) the puffy with the wool system underneath, including the EXP pants and top, I’m right on the line of needing more insulation from the Uncompagre puffy.

      First Lite just launched a NEW FOR 2014 Sanctuary Insulated Jacket at the ATA Show. You can see our article and video about it here: http://www.rusticman.com/inside-ata-2014-firstlite/

      I’d say with the wool system and the new insulated jacket, you’d be comfy. The wool is amazing at moisture and odor management. It’s uncanny really. I can’t believe it’s not more popular. And, First Lite makes a quality product.

      Let me know if you have any more questions.