Rain Gear - KUIU YUKON
I live in the Pacific Northwest and consider it a standard to be wet once the rain sets in. Travel the rest of the world and you'll find these things called "umbrellas" that have this interesting function of protecting you from the downfall of moisture. Here in the PNW, we don't roll that way. Rare is it to see a local with an umbrella and when you do, you'll find yourself staring at them as if they were some sort of unicorn. Yeah, we know we will be wet when we get to where we're going, but for whatever reason, we just don't do anything about it.
Highly durable with reinforced areas
· Stretchy material allowing freedom of movement
· Full length side zips on the pants for easy on and off
· Pit-zips on the jacket for venting
· Rubber cuffs on the jacket help seal out weather
· Heavy - if you're a ultra light freak, consider another line of KUIU rain gear
· I’ve had difficulty with the Jacket zipper getting caught on the fabric while trying to zip up. I’m not sure if this is a design flaw or just a problem with my specific jacket. Either way, it’s really irritating. I have to get the zipper just right in order to get it to zip up all the way.
Enter my thoughts on rain protection. No, I'm not going to advise that you bring an umbrella with you into the backcountry (though it's not a terrible idea), but I will say that you should take this topic seriously if you either reside in or plan to venture into a region where rain is a common occurrence. Being wet even in a warm climate can quickly turn any situation into a serious one and it's with this in mind that you should take appropriate measures to battle the rain when in the backcountry.
For as long as I can remember I have spent the fall months hunting the Cascade Mountains of Southwest Washington in search of deer or elk with the expectation that I'll most likely become wet within the first few hours of being in the field. It's like I was in an abusive relationship with Mother Nature. I kept hunting in the rain each fall just accepting the results like it was a necessary evil. I had tried various forms of rainwear but they never really held up and about the time I would hit the brush it was game over; I'd be wet through and through in no time. Spend and hour or so in a downpour and you'll find yourself wondering why in the world you're even doing what you're doing when you could be home with friends and family enjoying the weather from the comfort of a café or living room. I had all but given up on ever finding a true "waterproof" piece of gear that a) didn't eventually soak through and b) didn't make me feel like I was wearing one of those sweat suits you use when you're trying to get down to fighting weight.
A couple of years back, I decided I'd give it another go and do some research on what I should look for in rain gear. It seemed all manufacturers were making the same stuff just in a different color or pattern. If it was made from GORE-TEX, you were going to be protected from the rain but you'd end up sweating your butt off if you decided to climb a hill. Wet on the inside from sweat? No, thank you. There had to be something else out there. I began to investigate the amount of fabric layers that made up the rain gear and found that the more layers to the fabric the better protection, but the less breathable it was. You might find a really great waterproof fabric but risk breathability or you find a one or two layer fabric and eventually become wet, especially if you have branches brushing up against you. Also, the fewer the layers means it's more delicate and can be damaged easier. Neither of these options works for a Blacktail deer hunter who regularly hits the brush that can at times feel like a labyrinth of low hanging branches.
After much research, I thought I found what I was looking for in the Downpour series from Sitka. It had a quiet outer shell with what they said was "GORE-TEX" on the inside. This "GORE-TEX" turned out to be a sort rubber lining that worked great at first, but ended up rubbing off after a while thus creating bare spots from which water could attack me. I used this set up about three times before I saw the wear on the inside of the pants and immediately sent them back. I had spent a load of money for something that lasted only three hunts. For the style of hunting I was doing, this didn't work. If I were snuggled up in a tree stand not moving around much I'm sure it would have worked great but we don't do that here in the PNW. We work the ground, not the trees.
I struck out with Sitka (sorry guys) and had to find something else. I looked at the general hiking/mountaineering market and just didn't find anything that caught my eye. I didn't care about camouflage, I cared about protection from the elements and I eventually came across KUIU out of Dixon, California. KUIU specializes in making lightweight mountain hunting gear for extreme conditions. I figured this might be the ticket and did some research into their rainwear. At the time, they had only two options, the Chugach and Yukon lines. The Chugach was a lighter weight setup and the Yukon a bit beefier. I decided on the Yukon line and ordered the full kit; jacket, pants, and gaiters. I was going to be protected from head to toe come hell or high water! If this didn't work out I was willing to accept my fate and just be cool with being wet.
To say it lightly, I was excited to give this Yukon stuff a workout. I figured the upcoming deer season was going to be my best opportunity and soon found myself heading out on opening morning into the thickest of the thick. I had previously harvested a deer in this particular area at only 20 yards, which was pretty much the longest shot I could take in this specific spot. I say this to convey to you that how thick the brush was. Twenty yards was my max range and even at that, I had very narrow shooting lanes. The morning proved to be fairly damp as usual and I jumped in the bushes for the first time with the Yukon line. After finding nothing that morning, I was at still happy to say I was dry. I didn't think it was too impressive though because the brush had dried out pretty quickly that morning.
The afternoon proved to be a different story. I headed up to a different spot way up on the mountain where I'd be much more exposed to the elements. I left the truck and headed in on the trail about a mile to do some poking around. Not an hour into my hunt, the weather moved in and I hunkered down on a hillside in the open to see what this Yukon stuff was made of. For the next three hours or so I was hit with a heavy downpour and even hail. I kept waiting for that cold wet feeling to make its way to my skin but it never happened. I was content with my situation but visibility was beginning to dwindle. I was basically stuck in a cloud and unable to see more than 30 yards in front of me. Considering my reason for going to this area was to glass the hillsides, I decided the gig was probably up for the day and began making my way back to the truck through the brush. This is where I gave my new friend the Yukon a workout.
Shortly after leaving the comfort of an exposed hillside, I found myself in a batch of young Christmas trees that have a tendency of holding a ton of water when it rains. I pushed through about 1/2 mile of these trees at times having to tuck my head down just push through the branches to the next open spot. The underbrush was to my waist and the trees were over my head. I was getting a workout and accepted the fact that I was eventually going to become soaked. I kept waiting for that cold, damp, uncomfortable feeling to hit my skin but it never happened. I figured maybe I was already wet and just didn't notice it.
Eventually I made it to the truck and did a full pat down of my body. I figured there had to be at least some damage to the pants or jacket and some sort of water penetration. Shockingly, the only moisture I found was from my own body. My merino base layer was a little damp, but other than that I was completely dry. This couldn't be possible. I had just pushed through a half mile of heavy brush after having hung out in a rainstorm for a few hours prior. No way in hell should I be dry. Literally nothing that was protected by my rain gear was wet. I was floored.
About fifteen minutes after I arrived at my truck a group of hunters arrived at the trailhead. They were soaked to the bone and looked miserable. I eyed what they had with them and saw that they were not cheap skates. They had expensive optics, expensive packs, and overall looked like they knew what they were doing. The only thing they were missing was a dry spot. We chatted for a few minutes and I quickly learned that they had hiked in over 4 miles earlier that morning and had planned to come out in the dark until the rain hit. They told me they lasted about 30 minutes in the rain before they figured their situation might turn south if they stayed much longer so they packed up and headed back to the truck. By the look on their faces, they were glad they packed up when they did. Their entire 4-mile hike was in a downpour and by the time they reached the trailhead they were soaked to the bone (side note: they were wearing cotton…). If my memory serves me right, one or two of them had some cheap rain gear on but it didn't keep them dry. Their faces were stark white from being cold and I could tell that had they been forced to spend the night out there in an emergency, they would have been in a world of trouble.
After exchanging our experiences, I took the opportunity to mention my newly acquired rain gear and how well it performed for me throughout the day. They took note, loaded up their things, and headed for home. As I was packing up the truck, I began recalling the events of the day and realized that my decision the previous year to search out quality rain gear had paid off. No, it hadn't yet resulted in me weathering a storm in order to harvest an animal, but it did stand the test of the day by keeping me safe from the elements. The Yukon was poked, prodded, stretched, scraped, and soaked, but not a drop made it through to my skin.
I thought about the hunters I had just met and how much money they had invested into everything but rain gear. A person could spend thousands of dollars on the best boots, packs, and optics, but if they're forced to head back to the truck when the weather turns, those items are rendered useless. The Pacific Northwest is not the place play chicken with the weather and whether you’re hunting or just out for a hike, having quality rain gear in your kit is worth its weight in gold. It can literally make the difference between a good experience and a bad one. In an emergency situation when you find yourself miles from the trailhead, I firmly believe rain gear can save your life.
Driving home that night I knew that the $600 or so that I spent on my Yukon rain gear was money well spent. It meant I no longer had to plan for being wet during hunting season, that I could push further into the backcountry, and that I would not be hesitant to hit the thick stuff after or during a rainstorm. Most of all, it gave me another level of confidence.
Fast forward through to the beginning of the next season and I remain more than satisfied with my purchase of this KUIU Yukon setup. I've worn it in the sun, in the rain, in the snow, and have poked it more with underbrush than I should probably ever do and it's held up incredibly well. No rips, tears, or worn out spots as of yet except when I accidentally caught a tine of my 2014 buck on my gaiters while dragging it out (my fault). I don't expect it to last a lifetime, but I do expect that if I take care of it well enough it should hold up for many more seasons and afford me many opportunities to experience the backcountry with confidence when Mother Nature throws her best at me.
If you're going to spend any extended amount of time in the backcountry where weather is factor (and it always is), do yourself a solid and invest into quality rain gear. I don't care if you choose KUIU or not, I only care that you come home safe, dry, and with a story to tell because you were able to push through bad weather. My personal experience with the KUIU Yukon series has made me a believer in what they're doing and for the time being, I personally wouldn't spend my money elsewhere when it comes to protecting myself from the rain. Do your research and find something that works for you but don't make the mistake of spending less money just because you think it will get you by.