Knowledge from Storms: Wheel Book August 2022 Entry

Training: Pre Trip Planning

Training with your systems this summer allows you to troubleshoot and make modifications or purchase new with enough time to pivot. In another month, most of us will rely on the kit we’ve selected for our safety and success.

I’ve learned that a pre-trip planning checklist helps me not overlook any critical details. Like a pilot before a flight, I want to ensure I check off all the essential things before committing to the wilderness.

Here are a few things I’ve missed over the years because I didn’t have a checklist. Each one brings back a funny or miserable experience that could have been easily avoided during pre-trip planning.

– Burn test stoves to ensure proper function and calculate adequate fuel consumption so you don’t run short\
– Eat dehydrated meals to ensure they’re palatable, and you’ll eat them when nauseous and run-down
– Train your nutrition and hydration plan to ensure it agrees with you, and you don’t have any adverse reactions
– Test your clothing and sleep system in the conditions expected for the best performance
– Cycle the hydration, filtration, or purification devices with water checking for operability
– Review medical kits for expired contents and replace them as required
– Check the inflatable ground pad for leaks, and make sure you have a patch kit

You can download a detailed pre-trip planning checklist at to assure you and your partners don’t overlook any of these or other critical details.

We wait all year for the autumn hunting season, and the last thing we want to do is make the trip more difficult because we overlooked the details.


The Closet: The 8-Piece Clothing

Endless technical clothing options exist with lots of confusing messaging. Knowing what you need and where to start building a solid, technical clothing system can be a little overwhelming and challenging. 

The good news is it’s not as complicated as it may appear. My experience has shown that a solid clothing system for the backcountry only requires eight pieces, excluding hats and gloves.


This 8-piece system will get most of us through wilderness adventures in North America, regardless of season or activity. The system allows for endless customization to suit the individual and personal style. Adding a piece or two during winter will increase warmth, but eight pieces are the cornerstone for most backcountry pursuits.

The three critical performance metrics we’re trying to solve when building a technical clothing system are:

– Manage moisture to better regulate body temperature

– Insulate ourselves to govern the body heat radiating away 

– Protect from the wind and precipitation, keeping us dry and war

The 8-Piece Clothing System consists of the following items.

1&2 – Base Layer top & bottom

3 – Softshell pants

4 – Active Insulated top

5 – Windstopper top

6 – Static Insulated “Puffy” jacket

7&8 – Rain Gear top & bottom

It’s imperative to look at this system holistically and understand what each piece provides to the collective. This understanding offers the ultimate freedom to pick and choose what’s required for a given activity or time of year. 

Let’s review the 8 pieces that make up a modern technical clothing system for the backcountry traveler.

1 & 2: Base Layer Top & Bottom

The base layer is the foundation of any technical clothing system, with its primary purpose being to manage moisture on the skin for good thermoregulation. When the skin is dry, we are comfortable, and our bodies are efficient at keeping us warm or cool as environmental conditions fluctuate. 

Two common choices for base layers are wool and synthetic.


  • Excellent at managing body odor over numerous days afield 
  • Dries slower than synthetic “steaming” itself dry
  • More expensive and not as durable as synthetic


  • Dries quickly, moving moisture off the skin efficiently
  • Does not manage odor as efficiently as wool
  • Generally more durable and costs less than wool 

I’m not anti-wool, but I am pro-synthetic. I like the quick-drying efficiency of synthetic base layers and don’t mind a little funk. 

Here’s a video I did with Black Ovis comparing merino vs synthetic baselayers


Sitka Core Lightweight Crew

Ice Breaker – Body Fit Zone Merino 150 Long Sleeve Crew

3: Softshell Pants

Softshell pants are your armor from the elements, protecting you from weather and abrasion. These pants should fit well and provide a good range of motion for hiking and climbing. 

The best softshell pants are made of Nylon or Polyester. 

  • Choose Nylon for lightweight early-season pursuits and durability
  • Choose Polyester for mid to late-season objectives as it absorbs slightly less water than Nylon 

Softshell pants should be capable of drying out efficiently, and my expectation is that they can dry overnight while wearing them inside my sleeping bag.

Here’s a video describing the big game hunting pants from Sitka Gear

Softshell Pants:

Sitka Ascent Pants

Gamma AR Pants

4: Active Insulated Jacket

Active insulation provides both warmth and breathability during movement. Heavyweight fleece is a basic form of active insulation. While adequate, fleece does not layer well within a system and lacks durability and protection from light precipitation. 

Active hybrid insulations provide many advantages over traditional fleece. 

– These insulated tops feature durable and lightweight face fabrics to shed light precipitation, block wind, and act as a low friction layer for unincumbered layering 

– Polartec Alpha and Primaloft Active insulations are the two most prominent in the market

For these reasons, active hybrid insulations have replaced fleece in my clothing systems.

Note: Adding a heavyweight fleece bottom for winter trips will extend your system’s capabilities.

Here’s a video explaining active hybrid insulation in more detail

Active Insulation:

Sitka Ambient Hoody & Jacket

OR Vigor Plus Fleece Hoody

5: Windstopper Jacket 

Wind in the mountains is a constant companion no matter the season. If damp from sweat, the wind quickly strips away body heat, setting the stage for hypothermia. The ability to block the wind to combat convective heat loss is critical to staying warm. 

  • A simple wind shirt integrated into your clothing system can often make the difference in staying warm and focused 
  • Windstopper jackets breathe better than any rain jacket and are generally less expensive and quieter
  • Windstopper sheds light precipitation allowing you to wear them until rain or snow overwhelms the layer 

No matter the time of year, I always carry some type of windstopper top in my pack.

Here’s a video explaining the importance of Windstopper in your system



Black Diamond Equipment Deploy Wind Shell

Windstopper Jacket

Gorewear Spirit Jacket

Fleece Lined Windstopper Jacket

Sitka Gear Jetstream Jacket

6: Static “Puffy” Insulated Jacket

The puffy jacket is a critical clothing layer for safety. I consider this part of my survival gear, and I always have one in my pack. 

The lofted insulation in a puffy jacket captures our bodies’ heat as it radiates away. Layer it over the top during rest breaks, take it to the glassing knob, and wear it to bed to supplement your sleeping bag or when caught out overnight. 

Down or synthetic insulations are the two main options for puffy jacket insulation. 


I don’t spend mental energy worrying about keeping a synthetic insulated puffy jacket dry. If it gets wet from snow, a leaky water bladder, or an unintentional swim from a flipped raft, a synthetic insulated jacket will continue to perform and keep you warm. 

– Synthetic insulation is the workhorse of lofted insulations
– Synthetic insulation is uncompromised by moisture, durable, and less expensive than down insulation


Down has a great warmth to weight ratio and requires more experience to manage, but it certainly has its place. Drier climates like the desert southwest and colder trips in the late season are suitable for treated down jackets.

– Treated down features a water repellent coating to limit the down clumping in wet conditions 

– Treated down performs better in wet conditions than traditional down but is not as good as synthetic

– When either type of down insulation gets wet, it takes time and effort to dry in the wilderness

The next time you wash your puffy jacket, no matter the insulation,  take note of how long it takes to dry in the dryer and contemplate how long it would take in the backcountry.

Note: When temperatures plummet below zero during winter trips, adding a pair of puffy pants will increase the warmth in your system. 

Puffy Jacket Insulation:

Synthetic Insulation

Sitka Kelvin Aerolite Jacket

Down Insulation

Sitka Kelvin Lite Down Jacket

7 & 8: Rain Jacket & Pants

Rain gear’s like car insurance; nobody wants to use it, but you’re glad you bought the best you could afford when needed. I’ve never departed on a trip hoping to wear my rain gear. It’s a layer we carry because no other layer will work during persistent precipitation. 

There are endless options in rain gear, and it’s not easy to decipher the data and spend the money for a clothing layer we hope never to wear. However, there are a few basic things to consider when selecting rain gear. 

  • You get what you pay for in rain gear more than any other layer
  • Higher-priced rain gear provides a better fit for easier hiking, is more durable, and often has more features 
  • Rain gear needs maintenance more than any other layer to work as expected
    • Wash Rain gear at least once a season or when soiled by mud, blood, gun oil, sunscreen, or insect repellent
    • Spot treat saturated areas with an after-market DWR spray like Graingers

Here’s a video explaining how to care for your Gore-Tex rain gear

Rain Layer Examples:

3 Layer Gore-Tex Rain Gear

Sitka Gear Dew Point Rain Jacket & Pants

Outdoor Research Helium jacket & pants

Each item within an 8-piece technical clothing system plays a critical role. Determine the performance you seek before assembling your system, then go test it and prove to yourself it works, building familiarity and confidence. 

Gear Locker

Sitka Gear Ambient Hoody $279.00 & Jacket $299.00

The Ambient collection is the most advanced hybrid-active insulation in the outdoor market. The collection features a new Primaloft Evolve synthetic insulation that mimics animal fur. Polyester insulation is constructed with different densities and lengths of fibers providing warmth with less bulk and fewer fibers to inhibit breathability. 

The Ambient hoody and jacket combine the soft Primaloft Evolve insulation with a durable, light, and stretchy 20 denier outer face, creating a layer that increases the system’s performance and your efficiency in the field. 


The product development team and I at Sitka developed these products over three years, and while I can’t be completely unbiased, I strongly feel this layer will change the way people hunt and move through the backcountry. 


What do I mean by this bold statement? 

– The Ambient manages moisture better than heavyweight fleece 

– It is as durable as outerwear and sheds light precipitation

– These pieces are incredibly breathable and weigh a scant 13 oz for the hoody with 100 grams of insulation and 18 oz for the jacket with 150 grams of insulation 

– They provide unencumbered movement to draw a bow, shoulder a shotgun, or climb over blowdown and are quiet for close encounters

– The Ambient is highly adaptive to weather and temperature fluctuations and moves seamlessly from outerwear to a mid-layer as seasons and temperatures change

Here are a few examples of how the Ambient makes us more efficient in the field. 

– When hiking up to a glassing knob in the cool pre-dawn, chasing the sunrise to catch a glimpse of a velvet buck, you don’t want to stop and shed a layer because you begin to heat up. No worries, the Ambient hoody dumps heat and pulls moisture off your base layer, and when climbing onto the ridge blocks some wind.

– If dynamic autumn mountain weather drops light snow or rain while you’re dogging a herd of elk to their beds, keep pushing forward because the Ambient hoody will shed the moisture. If the garment does absorb water, it’s no factor because it will quickly dry once you begin hiking again or put on a puffy while breaking down the bull. 

– Throw the Ambient jacket over your base layer during a frosty morning hike to your treestand to manage body heat, so you arrive on time and, more importantly, dry. Once settled in, the Ambient jacket becomes an exceptional mid-layer, allowing for excellent freedom of movement under your static insulation, assuring you can draw your bow when the opportunity arrives. 

– Wear the Ambient jacket when setting up a spread of decoys and brushing in blinds in the frigid darkness to stay warm yet not overheat. When it’s time to settle in and hunt, keep the Ambient on and layer over with an insulated jacket keeping both warmth and range of motion to shoulder a shotgun.

No matter the hunting discipline or active outdoor pursuit, the Ambient hoody and jacket should be part of your 8-piece clothing system.


Outdoor Class

I’m excited to be a part of OutdoorClass. I’m working with them to develop several courses that will cover information and skills not often talked about but will have an immense impact on a trip’s success.


The Altitude Show

Long time friend David Brinker and I connect on his new podcast and discuss training and discipline in preparation for outdoor adventures. 




Listen Now

Wilderness Locals

The boys and I talk about the upcoming season and touch on backcountry hygiene, gear, and trip planning

Listen Now



The Word: Trust But Verify

Technical clothing is an investment, and you tend to get what you pay for, but ultimately it’s up to each of us to decide what’s best. 

The only way to do that is by gathering information from reliable sources and testing it to ensure it meets our standards. 

Don’t take my word for it or anyone else’s. You, the consumer, are the final decision maker for what’s needed for your unique style in the environments you play, your experience level, wallet size, and commitment. 

Don’t let the lack of a perfect clothing or equipment system stop you from going afield, gaining experience, and having fun. It’s essential however to understand the limitations of what gear you’ve selected and the skillset and experience you have to use it to its potential. 

I hope the Knowledge From Storms platform helps lessen the steepness of the learning curve, but ultimately, it’s up to each of us to climb the mountain. 

Build a system, test it, write down your lessons, update your kit and go again. That’s one of the best parts of the journey.