I have continually been on the search for the perfect gear, probably helps I am a self proclaimed gear nerd. I love gear, not nearly as much as being in the woods or the mountains but I love gear none the less. Hopefully you can use this backcountry mid-layer review in your gear selections.
Actually, when my wife saw all these laid out she said “Houston, we have a problem” but my addiction to the outdoors and hunting in particular can be the topic of another post.
Backcountry Mid-Layer Review – Options
Disclaimer: The Sitka Fanatic’s intended purpose was not backcountry hunting from what I understand, but I used it last year and there is nothing precluding you from using it.
Bugle, Bark, and Chuckle this to your buddies!
Let’s look at the data table below to compare the stat’s on these mid-layers.
At first glance, you can see there are multiple variations of mid-layer in this review. Removing the new Stone Glacier Helio, I have worn all of these at different points during hunts and there are aspects I like about them and aspects I don’t like.
One thing to keep in mind, as you zero in on weight, is what features are you giving up to save those ounces? I have learned over the years that I prefer a hood, and thumb loops are a must have. I like pockets, but I don’t utilize pockets on my mid-layer as it seems to be on and off during a mountain adventure.
|Mid-Layer||Hood||Material||Thumb Loops||Zipper Depth||Pockets||Size||Weight oz|
|Stone Glacier Helio||Y||Fleece||Y||1/2||Chest||XL||13.2|
|First Lite – Halstead||N||Fleece||N||1/4||Arm||XL||14.8|
|KUIU – Peloton 200||Y||Fleece||Y||1/2||N/A||XL||12.9|
|Sitka – Fanatic||Y||Fleece||Y||1/4||Chest||XL||16.1|
|First Lite – Chama||Y||Wool||Y||1/2||Arm||XL||13.5|
I will update the blog after this September when I can fully put this through the ringer, but I will give you overall impressions now. The material is a soft fleece on the inside. The fit is athletic, I am broader in the shoulders and hips (and a little extra in the belly area if I am honest right now). I like the athletic fit, especially when considering hauling a pack around. The hood is sim fit as well, fits nicely over a hat but there isn’t a ton of extra material. For the Stone Glacier Helio, buy the size you would normally wear.
What I love is the 1/2 zip, that is really the reason I made this purchase, and that 1/2 zip will help with heat regulation. I am honestly excited to give this one a try. In all reality, this is very similar in cut and construction to the Patagonia R1 Pullover Hoody. The two biggest differences between this and the Patagonia R1 is the Stone Glacier is not a grid fleece and Stone Glacier is a hunting company.
This was one of my first purchases from a company who specializes in ultralight backcountry hunting apparel and gear. BTW – I am still a big fan of ASAT camouflauge, for whatever reason it speaks to me. From a fit standpoint, it is not quite as athletic cut as the Stone Glacier. For this, if you wear an XL normally, this will work for you. I really like the grid fleece, in my mind, a grid fleece seems like the most durable option in mid layers.
A couple of dislikes, since I didn’t know then what I know now, are I wish this had a hood and thumbholes. Those are the two biggest drawbacks in my mind both of which have been corrected on new First Lite products. It has been durable and warm on multiple hunts and from the looks of it will stand up to years more abuse. The other good part about this particular piece of gear is if you are looking for one, it is a few years old and you can find them on eBay for a good deal.
This is a relatively new addition to my stable and was with me last year on a couple of hunts both western and whitetail. It is a soft fleece on the inside, but the outside is not as soft in comparison and slightly louder compared to any of the other mid-layers in this review. I love the 1/2 zip, hood and thumb holes. Not that it is a downside to me, but there are no pockets on the Kuiu Peloton 200. I don’t use pockets on my mid layer as it is on and off in the mountains and it stays under an outer layer when I whitetail hunt in colder weather. The fit is athletic and comparable to the Stone Glacier or Patagonia R1. The biggest down side is it is rougher and louder on the outside, but outside of that this is a solid option. I am curious to see overtime if it becomes quieter with wear and will update accordingly.
While it is slightly louder than the other options, it is ultra light and warm so the noise shouldn’t sway your decision.
As I said above, backcountry hunting is not the intended purpose of this mid layer, but it excelled at it last year. The Sitka Fanatic is made of soft grid fleece that is quiet on the outside. It has my must haves of a hood and thumbholes, and the almost half zip are great features. Three features this has that the others do not, it had a facemark (note had, I cut it out as I didn’t see a use for it and it is a little goofy), it has a hand warmer pocket similar to your favorite hoody, and the sleeves are long enough after the thumb loops to keep your hands covered. All three of these features are not useful on a backcountry hunt in my opinion but could be useful in a tree stand. The fit is not athletic and would be in the normal hoody range. I am not a huge sitka fanboy, and I purchased this last minute at Cabela’s, but I did find it useful as my insulation layer on a September elk hunt. It will work both in the mountains and in the whitetail stand if you are looking for a garment to pull double duty.
While western hunting may not have been the intended purpose, it will perform very well in that environment.
This is another of my first purchases from a specialized ultralight backcountry hunting company. Let me say this, I love wool. Growing up a midwestern whitetail hunter can have that effect on you. It is great for warmth, odor resistance and maintains insulation when wet. However, wool takes forever to dry if it gets wet, so that is a major draw back for me now (don’t ask how I know).
I still use this for whitetail hunting but would not take it back out west. The other major drawback is it doesn’t block the wind well in my opinion. If you are looking to buy, there are better options on the market than wool. If you want an insulating layer for a tree stand, this would make a solid base layer. It is warm as an insulation layer and quiet. It also has 3 of my must haves, a hood, a half zip, and thumb holes.
This was Under Armour’s foray into technical hunting apparel. I really wanted to like this piece based on price and I like the camo pattern. However when comparing it to the others that I own, it doesn’t stack up. I like the material, it is soft and quiet. The fit is on the athletic side but looser than the Stone Glacier/Kuiu/Patagonia style which can be good or bad based on personal preference. It is a solid choice for layering for whitetail hunting.
A down side for me is it has the shortest zipper of any, and that is very important when it comes to regulating heat. It doesn’t have thumbholes or pockets if that is important to you. If this is what you own, roll with it and go hunting but there are better options if you are looking for an upgrade.
Clearly there are a ton of options out there vying for your hard earned dollars. It is difficult to get access to all of the options as big box stores such as Cabela’s don’t carry all of these brands. For that matter, KUIU is a direct to consumer so unless you are close to company headquarters good luck. I will say, I have ordered and returned to KUIU with ease so you can always buy and try it.
For my money, the Stone Glacier is really nice and I am excited to see how it stands up. Removing the Under Armour 1/4 zip from the table above, all of the options are within 3+ ounces of one another, so not much difference in the grand scheme of things. I really like the KUIU, but it is just a bit louder than the other options.
For this year, I am going to pack both the Stone Glacier and the Sitka for my western hunts. The Stone Glacier will go with me on backpack hunts and the Sitka will be my truck camping option. The others will be relegated to whitetail, turkey etc. hunting for the time being. There is still a fair amount of time between now and September so I may change my mind again. This backcountry mid-layer review will grow as I add new options to the stable so check back soon.