By Michael Deming
In 2005, Sitka went from absolutely nothing to a major name amongst the hard core hunting world. Every outdoor magazine had a Sitka ad in it and the cover of many of the trophy hunting publications had pictures of guys with huge trophies, while dressed from head to toe with this Mothwing patterned camo called Sitka Gear.
So, who and what is this Sitka Gear? Is it a pattern, clothing or some sort of cult? I had so many questions and so few answers.
Sportsman’s News Magazine was in its’ second full year of production at this time and I had a good amount of experience with some of the major camo companies at the time. My perception was that they were all big corporate conglomerates which had lots of people, but I felt like I was breaking down the Berlin wall trying to get information and products from them to test and write about. So, I figured that Sitka Gear would be a similar type of experience when I reached out to them to find out who they were.
My first interaction with this new company was unlike anything I had experienced in my short history in the outdoor industry. Not only did I get to speak to people, but I was given phone numbers to the top people in the company. They were the new kids on the block with a very innovative product line, but they believed that their customer base could absolutely make their product better. This was a concept which would definitely work, but is not often seen in this industry.
By the time the Shooting Hunting Outdoor Trade (S.H.O.T.) Show rolled around in 2006, I had spoken with Jonathan Hart (Sitka Gear Founder) over the phone so many times that we had become really good friends. So, it was a pleasure to meet with him and some of the other folks at the company face-to-face. I was starting to truly understand the vision that this team had put together for what was becoming the most dominant and best outdoor clothing company for the hard core hunter.
Mountaineering companies had been implementing hard core clothing and layering for years to endure the punishment climbers put on their gear as well as their bodies. The team at Sitka realized there was an untapped market of hunters and outdoorsmen who were willing to push the limits for that trophy of a lifetime too, but were doing so with substandard equipment. If they could make products which would breathe better, wick moisture away from the sweaty skin, keep people warm and dry, they would be able to go further and hunt harder. This is exactly what Sitka Gear was developing during these early years. They were turning clothing into GEAR!
Jonathan and I embarked on a black bear hunt in the great state of Alaska the following spring. During this seven day excursion, I not only got to know Jonathan even better, but I got to see some of the planning and concerns that go into developing a piece of gear for the following year or even possibly the year after. Jonathan Hart is a perfectionist and he doesn’t just put together a new product to have something new for the upcoming year. The new products have a specific purpose and if that purpose can’t be accomplished, the product won’t be released until it solves that specific defined problem.
During our bear hunt, we wore their newest gear and Jonathan was truly interested in the feedback of how it performed and if there was something that could be improved upon. He spent countless hours taking notes as well as photos of the product in use. His constant question was “how can we make it better”? By the time we had completed the week long bear hunt/fishing trip, I had a good understanding of why Sitka had made its’ way to the top so quickly – They made themselves accessible to their biggest critics and acted on the complaints to make the product better.
As each and every year passed, Sitka refined to make their finished product even better. I would hit the field each year with these newer products and observe the little changes that made a good piece even better. Sometimes, it is as simple as having a zipper go the opposite direction or making a chest pocket a little larger to accommodate your GPS or phone. Of course, the big changes in types of materials, coatings and breathability were huge. I’ve gotten to the point eight years later that I quit asking, “What else can they do to make this better”? I know that their team works tirelessly in the pursuit of perfection and they don’t feel like they will ever get there.
I’ve had the pleasure of hitting the field with a good majority the think tank of Sitka Gear over the past eight years. Each and every one of these gentlemen are hard-core outdoorsmen, who live and breathe our passion. They not only design the gear, they also use it to its’ fullest potential which is why they constantly strive to make it better.
A quick look at their Pro Staff or what they call ‘Athletes’ will tell you that Sitka is a different type of company. Unlike many companies who pay a celebrity with a following to say how great their gear is, Sitka searches out to the best in their field to deploy their high tech products. These are guys who spend countless days in the field who can not only tell them how their product performs, but are willing to tell them how to make it better. These guys get it done in the field year in and year out and are truly professional athletes and deserve the name. They might not be a household name like some of the television celebrities, but they are the guys these celebrities count on most of the time to make them look good and get that all to famous kill shot.
As they refined the line for the western hunter, they also realized from their customer base that there was a need for the whitetail and tree stand hunter as well. These guys had unsolved needs as well and the biggest was staying warm while having little or no movement for multiple hours at a time. Being still and staying warm, yet still being able to draw a bow is one of the reason I don’t like sitting in a tree stand. Sitka attacked this problem for the whitetail hunter and solved it. They have since moved into the waterfowl market to meet the demanding needs of this sport as well. They continue to evolve each of these lines with the feedback of the athletes to make it better. With this philosophy, the evolution of this company will continue.
I personally spend over 180 days a year in the field and many of these days are in some of the most extreme climates a person can imagine. These are places where a mistake can cost you your life. Staying dry is essential to staying alive in many of these locations. This many times is not the place or time to be testing new gear from unproven companies. When my life depends on my gear, I trust my life to Sitka Gear each and every outing. There have been several new companies that have popped up over the past few years and we do get a chance to test most of the gear they produce, however, we always compare the specific product to one designed for the same climate as Sitka Gear. They are the absolute leader in the industry with a very proven history.
The line of Sitka products is a bit on the expensive side, but I can guarantee it is worth every penny, especially when your life depends on it. I’ve been on the back of a horse in the middle of a twenty mile ride with a person who told me that he would never pay that much for a set of rain gear. Well as you guessed it, a major downpour occurred. His substandard gear was supposed to do just what my Sitka Gear could do, but for a fraction of the price. He was willing to pay double what I paid to swap me out before we got back to the cabin.
When your life depends on your gear, stick with the best – Sitka Gear. The website they have developed will allow you to input the type of hunting you do and the system builder will develop a full layering system with each and every article you need to make sure your trip is comfortable, warm and dry. Even though Sitka has grown to a much larger company than it was in the beginning, their team is still committed to the same outcome and they still listen to their customers, so if you can’t find the answer you’re looking for online, give them a call.