I was fortunate enough to run into and meet Kenton Carruth, owner of First Lite Wool, at the ATA show this January. I had heard of First Lite before and was very intrigued by the idea of a 100% merino wool clothing company geared towards hunting. I’ve been using merino wool in socks for years and absolutely swear by them. If their clothing was anything like the socks I have been using I knew I would like them. I had high expectations knowing that Kenton is a fellow bowhunter who likes to get in the backcounry and hunt hard. The inherent properties of merino wool make it an outstanding hunting fabric especially for us backpackers who are constantly dealing with trying to keep our clothes scent free after days of hiking. Merino wool’s ability to retain heat even when wet, it’s ability to dry quickly, and it’s weight to warmth ratio are all outstanding. All of these are properties that I look for in hunting clothing.
In February I was able to get a few items of clothing from them and put it to the test. Before I would ever think of selling products to my customers I have to know it’s going to work and stand up to the abuse hunters are going to put it through. If I don’t believe in a product I can guarantee you it’s not going to be on my website.
The first test was a three day backpacking trip for some Steelhead fishing on the Grande Ronde river in Oregon. Loaded down with 50lbs of gear with a three mile hike into the river and 30 degree weather was a great test for it. Steelhead fishing can be extremely cold as often your standing in freezing waist deep water for hours at a time. I had on their Allegheny long johns, Llano first layer shirt and the Chama shirt. Throughout the hike I never overheated and was completely comfortable. When we got to where camp would be I dropped my pack and felt my lower back where sweat would normally build up. While my back was wet to my surprise it wasn’t as bad as I’m used to wearing other base layers. With a steady breeze coming down the canyon I thought for sure I would be cold as the wind hit my back but Merino wools ability to retain it’s heat when wet showed up here. What little moisture there was was completely dry after about 10 minutes. Fishing for two full days I was completely impressed with the fabric in just about every aspect. When I got back home I threw the shirts on the ground in the corner of my room, to my surprise the next day when I picked them up I could smell nothing.
The next test came later that week. On a cold 33 degree day I thought I would take out the mountain bike and really put this stuff to the sweat test. If the two shirts could keep the sweat off my skin and keep me warm when mountain biking in cold weather then I would have no doubts about it doing the same when hiking to the top of a 10,000 ft mountain in late September. One constant theme I have noticed so far is that no matter the temperature I am always comfortable when wearing first lite. I don’t ever feel cold and I don’t feel overly warm, just comfortable. This was proving to be the case once again when mountain biking. Normally when riding in the winter months I either have to dress light and freeze until I warm up or dress heavy and sweat a ton once I really get going. This time I started out comfortable and stayed that way through the entire ride. When I got to the top of the climb, about 1900 vertical feet from where I started, I was definitely pouring down sweat but once again wasn’t too hot. When I started downhill with the wind in my face I knew this would be a great test for it’s ability to keep me warm on a windy day. On the way down I could definitely feel the wind hitting my face but never really noticed it up against my body. At the bottom of the hill I was completely dry and comfortable once again. To say I was impressed is putting it lightly, this stuff really lived up to my high expectations.
Another aspect to this fabric is just how comfortable it is. The ultra fine Merino is really soft and subtle, it feels better than putting your old favorite cotton shirt on. It also stretches and moves with you, not against you like a lot of fabrics do. You won’t notice it binding up and preventing you from drawing your bow back even when layered.
The only thing I can’t comment on yet is the fabrics durability as I’ve only had it for a couple weeks. I have absolutley no indication that these won’t last for years to come but I guess only time will tell. I’ll be sure to come back and update this post later this summer after putting it through some more backpacking/scouting trips.
Also on a side note, First lite will be coming out with two new camo patterns this year. Advantage Max 1 and Mossy Oak Infinity will be available July 1st.
Update to this post: Well it’s been well over a year now and that first Llano and Chama shirt are still going strong. I would bet I wear the Llano at least 3 days a week. It’s my go to shirt for mountain biking here in the cold spring weather. They show absolutely no signs of wear and still keep stay scent free even after days of use.