By Gibbs Milliken
Quiet and comfortable synthetic fleece offers plush warmth and stealth in the outdoors.
The original fleece clothing was made of natural short wool, fur pelts and suede leather. These were the garments of choice for comfort on the frontier. The main drawbacks were moisture absorption and rapid soiling. Today, some advanced, man-made fabrics and coatings have solved these basic problems of soft-surfaced materials.
Innovative fleece fabrics and designs now are available from most manufacturers of outdoor clothing. Some lines have modular components like the Browning Exchange System. A light outer shell such as the waterproof Hydro Fleece Gore-Tex N/I Jacket ($245, Browning, (800) 333-3504, www.browning.com) has optional types of liners that can be added or subtracted as conditions and climates demand. Each garment is marked with the Browning Exchange logo indicating it will zip in or otherwise match the apparel system. The addition of a Technical Fleece Vest ($50, model TF-300, Browning) and Hydro Fleece Pants ($225, Browning) forms a complete Mossy Oak Break Up camo outfit that also comes with scent-suppressant properties formulated into the fabric.
Garments in other forms of fleece are available, from undergarments to outerwear, including head covers, socks and gloves. Very comfortable underwear and mid-layer insulation are stretchable designs like the Omni-Therm Stretch Pullover and Long Pants ($67, style SM6382, safari color, long-sleeve pullover and $60, model SM8069 full-length pants in black, Columbia Sportswear, (800) 547-8066, www.columbia.com). These offer ideal all-direction mobility when worn under waders and other waterproof outerwear.
Looking for excellent concealment? Try the Natural Gear Jacket and Pants ($75, hooded jacket, $69, stirrup pants, Natural Gear, (800) 590-5590, www.naturalgear.com). This unique camouflage pattern blends well into most Texas winter landscapes. Constructed of thick, unlined, non-waterproof plush fleece, it is intended for dry, cold conditions, or it can be worn over a waterproof layer.
Some of the most innovative fleece products are made of StormKloth, a multi-layered combination of micro-fleece, nylon and a monolithic proprietary membrane that keeps you warm, dry and comfortable even in the most severe weather. Best of all, it is lightweight, fully stretchable, breathable, waterproof, wind proof, durable and quiet. We field-tested their Base Layer Pants ($79.99, style #56, (800) 755-6944, www.stormkloth.com) and Cargo Outer Pants ($99.99, StormKloth) by wading in deep snow for hours at subfreezing temperatures, where they outperformed any insulating fabric we have ever used. Combined with their calf-length Long Thermal Socks ($24.99, style #38, StormKloth), you feel comfortably sealed. Feet dry as perspiration is wicked away while retaining the warmth. The same is true of the lightweight Gauntlet Flip Mitt ($34.99, style #46, StormKloth) made in a fingertip-free design with a mitten flap for outdoor activities that require delicate manipulations without interference. In extreme cold, extra insulation is provided by the Glove Mitt ($39.99, style #47OD-HC, StormKloth), with a double layer of thermal material for maximum protection. Finally, add a Thermal Mask/Neck Gaiter ($19.99, style #37, StormKloth) or Balaclava ($29.99, style #41, StormKloth) of the same fabric and you are covered for almost any cold weather situation. Most StormKloth products are available in men's and women's sizes in black, Mossy Oak or Realtree camouflage patterns.
Most fleece is multi-functional and super-soft like the Browning Micro Fleece Pants ($77 in camo, $70 in solid colors, model 302, Browning). These can be worn as outerwear on cool days and serve as layering under other clothing if the temperature suddenly drops. They come treated with water-resistant Teflon and have stirrup feet to prevent the pants legs from pulling up out of your boots.
Another medium-weight, high thermal efficiency fleece is the Delta RS Jacket ($125, color: mist, Arc'teryx Equipment, (800) 985-6681, www.arcteryx.com) made of Polartec polyester. This is an excellent choice for active winter sports or as casual clothing available in several colors, men's and women's sizes. The design and construction of this garment are of the highest quality, with both the inside and outside having the look and feel of soft fur.
Beyond clothing, synthetic fleece now covers a wide range of accessories from packs, hunting seats and arrow quivers to hats, booties and water bottle holders. The thinking is that anything that comes in contact with brush, tree bark or limbs will send warning sounds to wildlife and the soft non-reflective surface aids concealment. Fleece is certainly becoming universal as a means to greater stealth in the woods.