Best Camouflage Shell Layer Jackets For Hunters - Side By Side Comparison
There are many "hunting" jackets on the market but very few satisfy the criteria listed above. Until now, most of those jackets were made for sitting stands, riding ATVs and road hunting. The best of those kinds of jackets are being produced by Russell and Rivers West. However, we have been looking for something that suited our needs better, something for big country and the Western style of hunting. We need jackets made for covering lots of ground and climbing on foot. The difference in these two classes of shell gear is weight and the ability to ventilate or manage perspiration that comes from hard physical exertion. In a nutshell, we want what our mountaineer brothers have but in a stealthy form factor.
The good news is that the number of mountaineering style or technical jackets for "hunters" is growing and each new one seems to get a little better than the last. Here are four jackets that currently lead this specialty niche and for comparison purposes, what I think is the very best shell money can buy today, the state-of-the-art jacket circa 1976 and the current military issue answer to this challenging problem.
The gold standard - Arcteryx Theta AR - The very best shell jacket money can buy but it is loud and not available in camouflage. This color is no longer available.
- Size XL weighs 21 ounces which is the lightest of this group
- The XL fit is generous enough to accommodate everything from light weight synthetic liners to full on down bivy jackets without compressing the insulation, reducing dead air space and decreasing the thermal efficiency
- Sleeves are the proper length
- It fits exactly the way I think all these jackets should
- Modern technical mountain jacket slash parka (I am not really sure what the difference is between the two) made for high activity and severe weather in difficult terrain
- The cut is longer than most and the back hangs down lower for additional protection when sitting or bending
- Gore-Tex Pro Shell
- 3 layer waterproof, windproof, breathable laminate (means there is no hanging liner just a smooth ultra low nap fabric with a light grid texture on the interior) construction
- Cuffs are a combination Velcro and 1 inch wide elastic gathers that allow outstanding adjustability as well as the ability to slip your hands in and out when donning and doffing without readjusting the cuffs. Very convenient and efficient
- Bottom hem draw cord is elastic and one hand adjustable
- Waist draw cord is one hand adjustable from inside of each hand pocket
- The separate collar and drop down hood works perfectly with a climbing helmet and is adjustable three ways so it is just as effective when wearing a baseball cap. It works beautifully no matter how foul the weather
- Pocket set is basic and just right. Two hand pockets (8 inch openings) are easy to get into and out of with gloves and positioned high enough to still be usable with a backpack belt. There is one Napoleon pocket on the exterior left and another one on the interior right. Both are sized to keep a cell phone or full size iPod standing upright. Nice
- Pitzips, an absolute must for me, are 16 inches long, seam taped, double water resistant zippered, and fairly easy to operate for maximum ventilation
- Sleeves are long enough to slip down over my hands past my finger tips when the velcro adjustments are opened all the way allowing air to move up and down from the top of the neck to the cuffs (active ventilation slash chimney slash bellows effect) when I am moving. I can also remove my gloves and walk without exposing my bare hands to the elements. This helps to manage excess interior heat and moisture slash perspiration keeping the inside of the jacket (and base layer) dry and me warm
- As long as the the DWR treatment is maintained on the exterior fabric it will keep you dry from the heaviest precipitation
- When it isn't raining the fabric passes water vapor, or breathes in the common vernacular, as well or better than any Gore-Tex jacket I have ever used
- This is a light jacket but the Gore-Tex Pro Shell (Gores beefiest consumer exterior) fabric has proven to hold up very well in the mountain slash alpine environment. It strikes the perfect balance between weight and durability in my opinion
- 73 db is the loudest of this group. Remember that it is also the lightest which is an interesting correlation
- No camo but there is a black and medium grey in the current line that might work for some of you. It is unfortunate that the "Oregano" color shown is no longer offered
- Needs a removable snap on hood but then I think all of these should have this feature
- Needs a double front zipper
- I wish it were a little quieter but not if it were at the expense of anything else about it
Damn near perfect. Quality is outstanding. The Arcteryx Theta AR Jacket is the quintessential mountain style shell jacket and what I use to judge all other shells in the waterproof slash breathable protective shell layer class. It is the gold standard in my opinion. I could hunt in this jacket but I usually don't for two reasons. It isn't available in camo, although this "Oregano" two tone green works very well, and it is loud by hunting standards. The design is very clean but functional. This jacket is built for high activity and will protect you and your insulation layer exceptionally well on any mountain in the world.
An oldie but a goodie - Synergy Works Gore-Tex Parka - A little outdated now but it was state-of-the-art when my Father bought it in 1976.
- 36 ounces
- This is a size Large and is too small for me to accommodate anything but light slash thin insulation layers. I have no idea how my Dad wore it. However, if I had the right size I think it would fit and work properly with whatever I needed to wear under it
- Standard mountain parka design from the time (1976) modeled after the venerable Military M-65 Field Jacket but with modern materials
- This is one of the first commercially available Gore-Tex shells. The liner is not mesh but a light nylon that is not bonded directly to the other layer so I should describe it as hanging although attached at all the edges
- Six pockets total (one Napoleon, two hand with two cargos directly over the top, and a mid back full width sweater pocket or what TAD Gear calls a duck pocket). The main pockets have removable wool liners for hand warming and are positioned too low and could not be used with a backpack belt
- One way, helmet compatible hood with Velcro strips to facilitate folding into the integrated collar and a woolen face mask
- 20 inch one way pitzips with double storm flaps.
- Adjustable waist draw cord
- Velcro adjustable cuffs with no elastic.
- Two double front zipper with Velcro storm covers
- It worked well when it was put into service more than 30 years ago and with an occasional wash in DWR renewal treatment, it still does the job today. This jacket retailed for a little over $400 in 1976 (my Mother is still fuming over that one), I would say it has proven to be a pretty good value
- The exterior can best be described as a light Cordura or heavy poplin material. Whatever it is, it is comfortably flexible but stout. It seems every bit as tough as the WT Tactical Hard Shell below
- 65 db
- Forest green exterior, orange (for signaling, pretty smart huh) interior
- Little things, like antiquated fixtures and hardware
- It is considered heavy by current standards
- Pocket set. Too many and poorly placed
The truth is, it doesn't look too out of place when placed next to the others even now. This jacket was way ahead of its time. I am not a fan of the pocket set but it is still a pretty impressive piece of gear. However, compare it to the other jackets in this article and you will see that we really haven't come all that far in 35 years.
A new breed - Sitka Gear Stormfront Jacket - Innovative camo, very good all around performer but runs small and is relatively loud.
- Size XXL weighs 19 ounces
- Dimensional proportions are correct but an XL is not big enough for me to wear anything heavier than a light weight liner jacket for insulation. Unless their sizing changes (to match those of the Stormfront Lite Jacket) I need an XXL in the Stormfront Jacket to wear the range of insulation layers necessary for fall, winter and early spring outings on the mountain
- Sleeve length is good
- The hem line is shorter than any of the other jackets here
- Generic technical mountain jacket with a very modern look. Seems people either love it or hate it. I like it
- Gore-Tex Performance Shell (Gores medium duty fabric)
- 3 layer waterproof, windproof breathable laminate construction so there is no hanging mesh liner
- Same interior lining as the Arcteryx
- Velcro cuff closures are adjustable but they have no elastic
- Bottom hem cord is adjustable from inside each hand pocket
- Hood is not quite big enough to wear a helmet but you could make it work in a pinch. It is only adjustable two ways but it seems to fit very nicely with a ball cap when you are all cinched up and it is raining hard
- Has a separate collar with a drop down hood which allows you to zip the jacket all the way up without putting the hood up which I like
- Pocket set is good. Two main hand pockets are positioned high enough but a little small (7 inch opening) when wearing heavy gloves. There are two exterior and two mesh interior Napoleon pockets which is probably two more than I need
- Pitzips are 18 inches long, seam taped, double zippered water resistant zippered and work well
- Does a very nice job of keeping the wind and rain out.
- Ventilates well when the conditions are favorable, meaning when it is dry
- So far so good. I think it is heavy enough to stand up to the rigors of Western hunting
- 71 db
- Optifade Open Country camouflage (people either love it or hate it and I love it) and a medium green solid
- Sizing of the Stormfront
- No double front zipper
- No elastic in cuffs
- Hood is not removable
Very high quality. Remember that this was the first jacket of it's kind and represented a major step forward in terms of materials, design features and camouflage pattern. Theoretically the Gore-Tex Performance Shell breathes a little better than the Pro Shell and it is a little lighter but it is also louder and more crinkly. The Stormfront Jacket is very good and will certainly do the job provided you get the right size but it could still be better. I have no doubt that Sitka will continue to develop and improve this line.
A lighter, quieter, better fitting but less durable alternative from Sitka Gear is the excellent Stormfront Lite Jacket, which, now that I think about it, probably deserves its own place in this aricle. Sorry, my bad. Stand by, hold your hover.
Evolutionary - Kuiu Chugach Jacket - A different approach to the problem in terms of exterior fabric, laminate and camo pattern have performed well so far but durability is still a question in my mind.
- XXL weighs 21 ounces
- The XXL fits me properly which means I can wear the full range of insulation layers without reducing its effectiveness
- Sleeve length is long enough and right on for me
- I would describe it as a full cut but not excessive or sloppy
- Very clean
- Sparse or efficient depending on your point of view but there is nothing extraneous or unnecessary on this jacket and that showed on the scale
- Torays 3 layer Dermizax laminate
- Uses a micro grid cloth backer
- Waterproof, windproof, breathable
- 4 way stretch is nice (a requirement for pants) but not necessary if the jacket fits properly. In fact, I think the stretch feature will cause some people to buy a jacket that is too small and that will negatively their insulation layer
- Seam sealed
- Separate collar with a drop down hood that is adjustable two ways
- 14 inch pitzips with double slider water resistant zippers
- Two main hand pockets have 8 inch openings that run down a little farther towards the bottom hem which may put them in conflict with a pack waist belt
- Inside vertical pocket is perfect for an iphone or ipod
- Bottom hem shock cord is one hand adjustable from each side at the hip
- So far, it is waterproof, windproof and is vapor permeable on par with the best here
- This jacket is not ultra light according to the numbers but it sure feels like it is. It will be interesting to see how well the exterior fabric, which feels something like Schoeller cloth, holds up to my Arizona, New Mexico and Northern Idaho outings
- The water resistant zippers work well but they don't strike me as particularly stout or heavy duty, we'll see how they do
- 70 db
- Vias camouflage (nice looking and reminds me of Cabelas Outfitter) is crisp, sharp with tan, brown, black and grey. Frost Grey (looks like it would be good in the snow)
- Main hand pockets are set a little low
- Needs a double main zipper
- Hood adjustment cords can whip around in the wind
- Needs a removable snap on hood, like all the others
- Zippers could be a little beefier, I think
- Velcro adjustment tabs on cuffs are too wispy, there should be more for greater adjustability
- There is no elastic in the cuffs and no stretch there at all so I have to undo the Velcro every time I take the jacket off then readjust it again when I put it back on. Really irritates me
Quality is very good. This is a cool jacket and an easy choice if weight is an issue and the cover is not too dense or sharp. I say that only because I am not sure how tough this stuff is yet, only time in the field will tell which is exactly the same thing I have to say about the laminate. Toray is a reputable company but it has been some time since I had one of their products (early TAD Gear shells) in the field but they did well then. Remember that Kuiu is a new company (started by one of the original Sitka Gear guys) and this is their first product run so I expect to see more good things from them in the future. This jacket adjusts very well to handle heavy precipitation. I will say that this is a very comfortable jacket to wear around and I find myself reaching for it more than the others.
The beast - WT Tactical Hard Shell Jacket SO 1.0 - Outstanding in every way and built for hard use but its not quiet.
- XL weighs 30 ounces, middle of the pack
- The way it should be. Big enough (not quite as roomy as the Arcteryx or Kuiu) to handle insulation layers ranging in thickness from light synthetic liners to thick down puffy jackets without doing compressing and reducing the dead air space. Sleeves are the correct length to allow active ventilation techniques
- A capable mountaineering jacket from a bunch of honest to goodness mountaineers that has been beefed up and modified for military special operations use. I think it is damn near perfect for its intended purpose
- Waterproof, windproof and highly vapor permeable by virtue of its three layer eVent laminate
- The exterior is treated with a DWR and all seams are taped Interior is also a micro grid cloth backer
- Two way adjustable (friction adjusters took a little getting used to) helmet compatible hood but there is no separate, free standing collar which is a little disappointing
- 19 inch pitzips with double sliders water resistant zippers
- All zippers have protective fabric covers for additional protection from precipitation and physical damage
- Inside vertical mesh water bottle pockets on each side indicative of its mountaineering heritage
- Two vertical access bicep pockets with a 2x3 inch fuzzy Velcro patches on each that is very handy for a lot of things
- Two main hand pockets with 9 inch openings set above the waist belt where they belong
- Bottom hem shock cords are one hand adjustable from the side
- Cuffs are almost identical to the Arcteryx, Velcro adjustment strips and wide elastic gathers which are my favorites
- Theorectically 3 layer eVent will breathe better than 3 layer Gore-Tex because eVent has larger pores but because Gore-Tex has an oleophobic coating it will last longer and stand up to contamination better than eVent. How much longer will Gore-Tex last? Don't know but I am beginning to think that laminate breathability trumps laminate durability. Given a choice between Gore-Tex and eVent in the same jacket, I would take eVent because in my field trials it does breathes better. How much better? Hard to quantify but it is enough to notice a difference. A significant difference
- This jacket performs on par with the best in the business and I would not be afraid to use it anywhere
- Outstanding. I think it is the most durable of all these jackets.
- 70 db, middle of the pack
- MultiCam camouflage which has become the darling of special operators everywhere and for good reason I think. No other colors available at this time.
- I would also like to see a winter slash snow version. Sort of a dirty Polar Bear look
- Its kind of heavy but it is a beast so it is an acceptable trade off to me
- Its also kind of loud but again it is a beast so unless you are doing up close and personal work it is an acceptable trade off to me
- Needs a removable snap on hood, like the rest
- Needs a separate collar, with a drop hood
- This jacket should have a double main zipper (other Wildthings jackets, like the excellent Alpinist, have them)
- Not terribly packable but again, that is a trade off I can live with
Stout, burly, heavy duty but more refined and efficient than the APECS issue parkas. Like the Arcteryx, this jacket is made by people (Wild Things Gear) with a lot of first hand mountaineering experience and it shows. Yea, it is a little heavy but it is aimed at the military Special Ops community so it has to be exceptionally tough to survive extreme environments, terrain and vegetation.
The WT Hard Shell SO 1.0 is to outer shell jackets what Eberlestock and Mystery Ranch is to backpacks. Overbuilt. If you anticipate working in thick cover where there are lots stickers, prickers, snags and edges to contend with then this and the matching pants are the shell set you are looking for. The MultiCam pattern is very cool and I like the multi-purpose 2x3 inch velcro patches on the shoulders for strobe lights, patches, reflective markers, etc. This is an awesome piece of gear that you can abuse and not worry about.
Modernized classic - Cabelas MTO50 Pro Gore-Tex Rain Jacket - A giant leap forward. Updating an old favorite. Quiet but heavy.
- XL weighs 37 ounces, the heaviest of this bunch, which puts it in the same weight class as Rivers West and Russell APXG2 products. This jacket, however, has pit zips and Gore-Tex so it ventilates better than those. It occupies the middle ground between jackets made for sitter slash riders and those made for walkers slash climbers
- Full, this XL is one of the roomiest tested and will easily handle any insulation layer you choose to put under it. In fact, any bigger and it would be too big. Cuffs are just long enough for ventilation purposes
- A badly needed update and upgrade to one of the most successful hunting jacket lines of all time. It is a hunting jacket with mountaineering jacket features, as opposed to the others reviewed here which are mountaineering jackets with hunting features. The big deal about this jacket is that they figured out a way to keep the sturdy but quiet MTO50 fabric minus the old, heavy mesh interior hanging liner which also allowed them to add pit zips. Yea! It is a big improvement but it ain't perfect. The hood (loud buzzer sound) especially needs some attention
- All zippers are water resistant and way (sorry) beefier than anything else discussed in this article. I like that a lot because there is nothing worse than a blown zipper in the middle of a cold hard rain when you are miles from the truck.
- 12 inch pitzips.
- 7 pockets but that is not a good thing in my opinion.
- Two way adjustable hood
- Velcro adjustable sleeve cuffs
- Bottom hem waist cinch cords are one hand adjustable at the sides.
- It is waterproof, windproof and does breathe when the exterior is dry although not as well as the others because of the thicker exterior fabric I suspect. This jacket does a very nice job of turning back the brush and it does it with a low, muffled sound which is its best attribute
- If my old MTO50 jacket, pants and bibs are any indication this new jacket will log many years of service. It won't tolerate barbed wire fences or stand up to Agaves but it will do just fine against most everything else I will ever encounter in the Western U.S., Canada and AK
- The quietest of this group at 62db
- Realtree AP, Mossy Oak Break Up Infinity camouflage patterns. Sorry, no Outfitter Camo yet
- The soft exterior fabric holds more water (melted snow or rain) than the more traditional hard shell exteriors which adds to the overall weight when in the field
- Pockets. There are too many of them and they are poorly placed. The two main hand pockets are only 7 inches wide which is snug when wearing gloves and they are set too low on the body so they will be useless when wearing a pack hip belt. Worse, opposite the outside main pockets are two horizontal zip pockets on the inside. One pocket on top of the other is very no bueno. There are also two outside opposing Napoleon pockets on on the chest and a vertical pocket on the sleeve. I say scrap four of the seven and shave some ounces off this porker
- Needs a removable, snap on hood
- Hood adjustment toggles are on the interior, they are hard to get to when all bundled up and they rub on my face after a while
- Hood brim is the worst of the bunch, it won't lay down on and dove tail with my baseball cap like the others which creates a void. Voids are bad. Needs fine tuning
- Sleeve cuffs. There is no elastic in the cuffs, the Velcro adjustment tabs are too short and in the wrong place to work effectively
Quality is very good. This was the jacket I wanted to see before finishing this article. My go to hunting jacket for many years was the Cabelas MTO50 Quiet Pack Rain Jacket but as I have said many times here and other places, it was a dated design (that used a hanging mesh liner, no pit zips, wasn't sized for insulation layers, etc). I was very critical of Cabelas for resting on their laurels (good sales numbers) and not giving it a face lift to lead the niche or even keep up. Well, they finally did it and it is pretty good, not great yet, but a definite improvement, so thank you Cabelas. Keep pushing. Address the issues mentioned above and it will be very good or even great.
If you need your shell jacket to be best in class quiet, don't have to climb into a blowing rain for hours on end (hood issue) and can afford the extra weight, this is your jacket. It will serve you a good long time.
Military issue - APECS (All-Purpose Environmental Clothing System) parka in MARPAT (Marine Pattern) camo - Mil spec durability, utilitarian, soft to the touch and relatively quiet but it is heavy and not as efficient as it could be. Semper fi.
- My XL Regular (military sizes include Short, Regular and Long lengths) weighs 34 ounces
- Big. A full cut and then some primarily through the chest because it is designed to accommodate body armor
- The highest and best evolution of the old M65 Field Jacket
- Quieter, less bulky, more breathable 3 layer Gore-Tex Best Defense fabric engineered to remain waterproof, windproof and breathable even after exposure to jet fuel, gasoline, hydraulic fluid, DEET and other contaminants
- 14 inch single zippered pitzips
- Water resistant zippers
- Velcro adjustable cuffs, no elastic
- 8 pockets (2 sleeve, 2 Napoleon, two cargo on top of two hand warmers)
- two way adjustable, helmet compatible, tuck away hood
- Adjustable waist hem
- Adjustable bottom hem
- Abrasion resistant elbow reinforcements
- Very solid. Does what it is supposed to do and more. Softer exterior finish goes a long way towards making this behemoth 40% quieter than its ECWCS predecessor but the exterior doesn't seem to retain any water (like the MTO50 cloth)
- This is the Humvee of waterproof, windproof, breathable hunting shells. It lacks the refinement of the Arcteryx or WT and others but it is mil spec tough. This is a dependable rig which is why it is issued to our Marines and that counts for something
- MARPAT (Marine Pattern) Woodland, one of my favorite camos
- Heavy but muy mas macho
- Main pockets are set too low
- Too many pockets
- Needs a snap on slash removable hood
This is a jacket you know you are wearing but its heft offers a certain amount of security and piece of mind, like a big quilt or a suit of armor. The MARPAT camo is very cool, it is also one of the most effective in my opinion. The weight could be trimmed down a little by losing some of the extra pockets but if you remember who this jacket is made for you have to appreciate how far the military has come in making sure our troopers get top notch gear. The APECS jacket is a great example of that progress. Ernie Pyle would be very proud.
I wonder though, this jacket uses proprietary Gore-Tex Best Defense fabric and it is outstanding. It is tough, relatively quiet, soft slash pliable and relatively light. So, my question is, since Gore-Tex owns Sitka Gear, why aren't we seeing this excellent fabric represented in the Sitka Stormfront?
Which one(s) do I like best?
- For all around - The Arcteryx Theta AR is still the best on the market so if I had to get on a plane tomorrow morning and go anywhere it would be the one I would take. Period.
- For hunting heavy cover slash sharp terrain - the WT Hard Shell SO 1.0. It is the correct balance between rugged durability and light weight. It is a cross between the Arcteryx and the APECS. Love the MultiCam.
- Hunting open country - The Kuiu Chugach, as long as it continues to prove that it is up to the task (an that is still an open question to me), because it is light, quiet, packable and very comfortable to wear.
EDITORS NOTE - Noise measurements were done using a digital sound meter from Radio Shack and as uniformed for all jackets as possible. It isn't scientific or even definitive in my mind but it is objectively quantitative which is all I needed for these purposes.
And regarding KNOCKS - these are all good products, I could use any one of them on my next outing and do just fine. Am I splitting hairs and being nitpicky, yes of course I am, but the competition at this high level is fierce and distinctions based on my opinions are important. After all, I am looking for what I feel is the best in class.
Snap on slash removable hoods - If Carhart and Rivers West can do it, why can't these guys?
Sorting through the fads and fashion of the outdoor equipment industry to identify and promote the very best wilderness gear for high end recreational users, backcountry professionals and government agencies.
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