Layering First Lite Merino Wool
So, what’s all the hype about “layering systems” and merino wool? After all, plenty of animals have been killed by guys wearing blue jeans and a flannel shirt. It wasn’t until I finally had the chance to experience quality technical hunting gear that I became a believer. Growing up hunting the mountains of Idaho, my norm was army BDU pants, cotton long johns, a down vest, and an army coat. Looking back, many, many hunts were cut short and/or, the enjoy-ability was diminished by being cold and or wet. When the only thing you can think of is getting back to camp to get warm and dry, it may be time to consider the benefits of layering and quality gear.
As I began to gather my First Lite layering gear, it was a bit overwhelming trying figure out what pieces I would need for what situation. So, I hope this will help you determine what you will need if you decide to give First Lite a try, or, help you know what pieces to add to your existing collection.
All of these pieces are built with First Lite’s “Shooters Cut”. They’ve designed the arms to be tapered toward the wrist so you don’t have a bunch of extra material to get in the way of your bow string. Primarily as a bow hunter, this was a welcomed feature. All First Lite gear feature an athletic fit and all the pieces were cut amazingly well for me. I’m an average built guy at 5’11”, 175lbs. The benefits of merino wool is well documented….wide temperature comfort range, no stink, and unbelievable comfort….among others. The downside to merino is that it is not as durable as synthetic fabrics.
Here are the First Lite layering pieces I put through the ringer last year (I’m going stick to just tops). I spent 25 days in the Idaho mountings last fall, hunting deer and elk in conditions ranging from 85 and sunny, to -4 degrees in the snow. In every condition, this gear outperformed my expectations. For reference a typical day in the field included hiking between 6-14 miles.
Llano/Llano QZ – this is one of First Lite’s original base layers. It’s 170gr weight and is designed to be the foundation of their layering kit. As such, it should keep you comfortable in temperatures ranging from about 50 degree and up in light to moderate activity. This is the piece I reach for as my base layer when the temps will be cooler and some layering is needed. It’s a bit warmer than the Minaret/Wilkin. Both sleeves come with a thumb hole, which I found useful when putting additional layers on. A second layer of merino(Chama) won’t slide on easily like synthetics, so these thumb loops became very helpful.
Minaret/Wilkin Half Zip – These are in the Aerowool line and are designed to be the lightweight, quick drying, more durable. With a blend of 65% merino wool and 35% polyester, this piece is the best of the line for warm weather active hunts. The Aerowool pieces are just slightly lighter weight than the Llano, dry more quickly, are more durable, and seem to help you run cooler on those warm days. They also help wick moisture away from your body in high activity cold weather hunts when you are layered down, but still need to get up the hill. Due to the merino/poly blend, these aren’t quite as soft as the Llano, but it was hardly noticeable to me. Both the Minaret and Wilkin also come with the thumb holes to assist keeping the sleeves in place when layering.
Chama/Chama Hoody – The Chama is one of my favorite pieces in the layering system. It’s the mid-weight piece in the line at 230gr 100% merino wool. This piece is always with me…from warm September days to late season elk or deer hunts, the Chama doesn’t get left behind. Both the Chama and Chama Hoody come with the thumb holes to assist keeping the sleeves in place when layering. My favorite thing about the Chama is it’s temperature regulating ability. I typically wear the Chama Hoody while glassing in the morning to stay warm, and to keep the sun off the back of my neck. And if i get stuck wearing it later into the morning i don’t get overheated when it warms up, it’s truly regulating my temperature.
Halstead – The Halstead is First Lite’s “Tech Fleece” quarter zip shirt, and, admittedly, I wasn’t very excited about it initially. After all, it’s not merino wool, and I had used pieces like this in the past….or so I thought. The stretch material First Lite used in making the Halstead made it fit so well, I instantly became a fan. It doesn’t inhibit movement at all and is crazy comfortable. As I used the Halstead while hiking, I noticed that it was warmer than I expected, but being synthetic, it didn’t regulate as well as Merino wool. I began to feel a bit of that “clammy” feeling synthetics tend to give you when hiking hard. For this reason, I’ll be choosing the Chama instead for moderate to high exertion times. But, when sitting or during light to moderate exertion, the Halstead is warmer, lighter, and the better option. This First Lite layering piece is one I’ll be using for calling setups, or as a third layer over the Llano and Chama on those days when there is an extra chill in the air.
Labrador/Sawtooth Hybrid Jacket – The Labrador Sweater is First Lite’s Heavyweight 400 gram merino wool layer. This piece has now been replaced with the Sawtooth Jacket, coming later this summer, but one could use the new Sawtooth in the same manner as the Labrador. I found the Labrador useful when I needed that dead silent layer doing calling setups or when sitting and glassing, as long as there was no wind. The Labrador was also the piece I pulled out the temps dropped below zero and I needed that extra layer over the Llano ,Chama, and Halstead. The Labrador is 100% merino, and, thus does not cut wind. It’s fairly warm, but if you are glassing on a ridge when there is a cool breeze, it doesn’t offer much protection. The Sawtooth Hybrid Jacket will do a better job in this area.
Uncompahgre Jacket – The Uncompahgre Jacket is one of First Lite’s outerwear insulation layers. It is made of the Patented Cocona 37.5 Active Particle Technology designed to pull moisture away from your body. It’s also wind and water resistant with its DWR treated outer shell. It is filled with 100gr of Cocona 37.5 insulation. Coming in at only 19 ounces, it is ideal for that insulation piece that you have to have with you, but don’t want to weigh down your pack. My only complaint about this jacket is that it’s a bit noisy for the archery hunter. I found myself concerned with the noise while doing calling setups. None the less, this piece is always in my pack as my insulating layer for those days when the weather turns cold.
Below are the temperatures I found each peace to best fit. These ratings are for static to light activity. Each person’s temperature tolerance is going to run a bit different, but this is a good starting point.
|Minaret/Wilkin||7.2oz, 8.6oz||60 + Degrees|
|Llano, Llano QZ||7.8oz, 8.0oz||55 + Degrees|
|Chama QZ/Chama hoodie||10.2oz, 11.2oz||40 + Degrees(when second layer)|
|Halstead||13oz||30 + Degrees(when layered with Llano and Chama)|
|Labrador/ Sawtooth||20oz||20 + Degrees(when layered with the Llano, Chama and Halstead|
|Uncompahgre||17oz||-5 + Degrees (when layered with the Llano, Chama, Halstead, and Labrador|
Of course, there are many, many possibilities in how you layer depending on your specific hunt. Find what works best for your needs and keep experimenting until you dial in what helps you perform at your maximum efficiency in the field.
Here are the First Lite layering pieces I found myself using during each of the seasons (excluding rain gear). Again, this is going be a bit different for each person depending on your comfort levels.
|Early Season(Aug-Sept)||Mid-Season (Oct – Nov)||Late Season (Nov -Dec)|
Halstead or Labrador
(for setups when I need silence)
Halstead or Labrador
First Lite Customer Service: These guys are nothing short of awesome when it comes to customer service. They stand behind their products and work to earn your business. They support hunters and our rights to access public land. You can feel good knowing you are supporting a company that supports sportsman.