By Chad LaChance
As a professional outdoorsman who travels to film TV for a living, you’d think I’d be ready for any kind of trip. I mean, geez, I spend half my time packing for various destinations and have all the gear to be prepared for nearly any wild destination, be it woods or water. Planning and packing has become second nature for just about anywhere I may travel. But notice I said “nearly any” and “just about anywhere”? Yea, that’s because some places are just plain different.
Enter Kodiak Island Alaska; in November; hunting giant brown bears. Yea, hadn’t planned for that before. In fact, never even seen the place and likely would not be visiting if it wasn’t for some very good fortune. You see, I had the foresight to enter the Pro Member Sweepstakes hosted by this very magazine and won the trip. Got lucky, but now the work starts.
So here I go, putting together a plan and packing for a once in a (normal) lifetime hunt to a very inhospitable place, at least at that time of year. And since many of you have probably never experienced this type of planning, I figured I’d share my experience. Consider this part one of a two-piece column; background information and the clothing. The next column will detail the gear itself.
First off, traveling to a remote outpost on a largely uninhabited island in the Gulf of Alaska is different than most destinations. For my trip, it’ll require four plane rides each way, with one of them being in an old school Beaver float plane. If you’re not aware, they aren’t exactly huge and your luggage is somewhat limited. Add to that the area climate in late fall which is known to be very, very soggy, boggy, and cold. So now I’m planning for a 10 day remote hunt in extreme conditions, and it all has to fit in a small, light weight package. Much of the hunting will be done in a 14’ aluminum boat putting around lake shorelines spotting bears. Then we’ll beach and exit the boat and stalk the bear. I’d like to point out that by “beach the boat”, I mean pull up to the bog and step out into the water. We may be crossing streams as well. See what I mean about different?!
A little more back story; I’m originally from Florida and weigh 145 pounds. Cold ain’t exactly my thing, therefore I went right to the experts for advice and settled on Sitka clothing after an almost unanimous opinion on it’s quality, versatility, and layer-ability. Given that I haven’t experienced this type of climate, I wasn’t about to take chances on clothing.
Base layers first; I selected the Core Heavyweight series of both tops and bottoms. One of the tops is the Zip Neck T style featuring a mock turtle neck collar and the other has a hood for really cold days because I’ve found that it is the warmest possible scenario. In a serious cold situation, I could layer these if needed; the synthetic material is stretchy enough to allow it. The Core series has Polygiene Stay Fresh technology that helps keep them antibacterial; you know, less stinky when not washed for days on end.
Mid layers consist of the Kelvin Down series; the Lite Vest and the Hoody. These compress down to almost no space or weight, yet are extremely warm thanks to the Primaloft filling. Here again, I can layer the hoody/vest combo for maximum warmth in the boat and strip down all or part thereof when it’s time to hike. They have Gore Windstopper technology so on the off chance it isn’t raining or snowing and is reasonably warm, I can wear them as outer layers. The hoody has a beefy hood and rigid visor, which is a nice touch.
Top layers are where things get really serious because they have to be completely water and wind proof with no margin for error. Getting wet when it’s 30 degrees, sleeting and breezy and you’re in an open boat is not an option. Can you say life or death? Yea, it’s that serious.
For the top I chose the new Stormfront Jacket. It’s an uninsulated (I’ll rely on the above mentioned layers for their copious insulation) rain jacket built with GoreTex water/wind proofing. It’s a full zip front and has an ample hood large enough to go over the Kelvin’s insulated hood, and that rolls up and stows in the collar to stay out of the way when not in use. The cut is longer than normal overall and it has an extended tail to keep the “plumber’s crack” dry regardless of body position. There are a couple of high chest waterproof pockets and all zippers are sealed. Here again the shell can roll up into a tiny space and is very light weight.
Pants are a more complicated story mostly because of the terrain. In some cases I’ll be forced to wear full waders (more on that shortly) and in others I’ll be able to wear pants. I chose to bring two different pants, the Timberline Pant and the Mountain Pant. The Timberline Pant is the beefier of the two and features double reinforced nylon waterproof seat and knee areas. The knees have a removable articulated pad for comfort while stalking. They also have shoulder suspender straps to keep them up when loaded. They’re stretchy to some degree for ease of hiking while layered up, and are really designed for sheep-style mountain hunting. Since we may also hunt blacktail deer, these will be perfect. The Mountain Pant is lighter in overall construction and without the suspenders, yet still having knee pads. These are a mild season pant; my plan is to wear them under waders so that I can quickly strip out of the waders to stalk. Both pants are designed for brushy stuff for durability.
Because of the possibility of deeper water wading and pure rain, waders are a prerequisite. I chose a pair of Hodgman Aesis stocking foot chest waders with full front zip for easy in/out. Plus, they are designed to be rolled down and worn as a pant style wader. I’ll pair them with a Hodgman cleat foot boot; I know from fishing experience that this combo is easy to move around in and warm when layered correctly. I may remove the waders and hunt in one of the Sitka pants in which case I’ll wear a muck style boot. Of course, I’ll spend a bunch of time breaking in boots prior to flying north.
The head and hands are not to be taken lightly so here again I turned to Sitka Gear. Given my disdain for cold, I selected three pairs of handwear: Merino Gloves, Coldfront GTX Glove, and the Blizzard GTX Mitten. The Merino glove provides plenty of dexterity and warmth if it’s mild but is designed to be worn under the others. Under normal conditions, I think the GTX glove will do the heavy lifting; warm yet still allowing some dexterity. When it gets ugly out or just motoring around in the boat, the GTX Mitten will come into it’s own. Both GTX models feature Primaloft and GoreTex; two of my favorite things. The merino gloves will stay on most of the trip I figure.
The head is probably the most important of all and even though I have a couple of hooded layers, I still didn’t skimp on headwear. Back to Sitka I went for their Merino Beanie, Jetstream Beanie, Kamchatka, and Stormfront GTX ball cap. Like the Merino glove, the beanie is designed to layer under a hood or hat. The Jetstream Beanie is more robust with its lofted micro fiber, Windstopper layer, and an air permeable band to warm the ears and back of neck, perfect for charging up hills, allowing sweat to escape yet keeping cold wind out. When it gets real cold and windy, the Kamchatka hat will shine with its Windstopper layer combined with Primaloft insulation and lofted micro fiber liner, all under a water repellent outer layer. It features a chin strap to cover my ears too; picture the classic Elmer Fudd hat, gone high tech. Lastly, I chose a GTX ball cap for when its drizzling or damp, yet not too cold. It’ll keep my dome dry yet comfy.
The only thing I haven’t mentioned is socks and they are equally important. I’ll wear a mix of socks, mostly merino wool in various weights. I’ll also bring a couple of pairs of alpaca wool socks in case it gets real cold. If you haven’t tried alpaca wool, do it; they’re expensive and hard to find, but worth it if you can source them. I’ll mix and match weights to fit the daily temps. I basically always wear wool socks of some sort, even in summer, for their breathability.
For the record, I went to Sportsman’s Warehouse and spent more than two hours trying on various layers because the base layers need to fit tighter while the outer layers need to have room. Each piece was evaluated for fit, ability to move, and ability to layer together. Sounds simple, but takes time to try it all on. The easy part was choosing the pattern; I chose all of it in Optifade Subalpine camo which will work on Kodiak Island but also back home in my normal hunting adventures. This level of clothing is a serious investment deserving of some serious shopping time.
So there you have it, a full on clothing plan for 10 days on Kodiak Island in very late fall. Regardless of what Mother Nature throws our way – and I hear she likes to throw the gamut in November – I’ll be prepared. Next month I’ll detail the rest of the gear I’ve got planned, from guns to glass to comfort items. Join me on a world-class adventure!