GEAR TEST: Sitka Stratus Bib and Stratus Jacket in Optifade Forest Camo
Sean McCosh (DuckBuckGoose) - PHJ FieldStaff
The good people at Sitka gave me a chance to test out two of their newer products over this past Whitetail season. I am a bowhunter, primarily, so having good outerwear is a critical part of my ability to stay comfortable, concealed, silent, still and ultimately…to be successful in the field. That's why I was fired up to give the Sitka gear a go this year. I had heard some really great things about their gear.
I tested the Sitka Stratus Bib and Sitka Stratus Jacket Stratus Jacket – both of which were in Gore's Optifade Forest camo. I wasn't able to get my hands on the products until the end of October, so my testing essentially started in "mid-season" type weather conditions, which is what these particular products from their line were designed for. Over the course of the Whitetail hunting season I would test the Stratus jacket and bibs in cool fall conditions, as well as in cold, wet and snowy winter weather conditions.
The thing I noticed right out of the box with the Stratus Bib and Jacket was their comfort. They slid on quickly and quietly, like your favorite old pair of jeans. You can feel Sitka's roots are in mountaineering outerwear and design as soon as you slip on the jacket or the bibs. To me, they felt more like high-end hiking gear or a lightweight ski suit than they did a hunting jacket and bibs (in a good way). I found the range of motion to be very good in both the jacket and the bibs and the flexibility around the knees, elbows, back and shoulders was quite good as well.
I immediately noticed that Sitka products tend to have more of an athletic fit than many other brands I've tried. This fit served me well in the early season, because I prefer to keep my gear tight to the body and not have a lot of extra fabric or other "bulk" hanging off me when I'm trying to move swiftly and quietly through the woods or while on my treestand. I also don't like too much bulk in the sleeves, which could potentially interfere with my bowstring if my shooting form were just a little off. The Stratus jacket and bibs I tested fit nicely over my early and mid-season base-layers and held close to the body, but still moved with it. When the late season came and I had to layer up with bulkier fleece layers under the jacket, the Stratus Jacket started to feel a little snug and I found myself wanting both a larger size and a little more insulation. As I mentioned, however, the Stratus line was designed for the mid-season. For extended periods in cold weather, Sitka makes the Incinerator Jacket and other insulation products, which are better suited to these cold weather conditions.
Pockets and Features
The Sitka Stratus Jacket features a fully featured hood and a stand up collar. The collar did a good job of keeping the chill off the neck and was comfortable. I never use hoods while I'm on stand, unless it is raining, because they impair my ability to hear. So, I can't really comment on the design or usefulness of the hood. Pockets in the jacket include two hand pockets and a chest pocket. I used the chest pocket to hold my smart phone, in case I needed to grab it quickly to take a picture, capture some video or check messages. I liked the placement of it and discovered that it also served as a vent, in case you got too warm and needed to cool off a bit. The hand pockets were well placed as well and worked fine for keeping hands warm and holding a few small items.
The Stratus Bib is designed to work together with the Stratus Jacket and it did so well. Through testing this product, I have become a fan of the high bib design because it overlaps with the jacket to help keep your core warm, and it just feels solid to wear – like you're completely sealed off from the elements.
Sitka says the Stratus Bib features a "fully articulated knee and seat system". I'm not exactly sure what that means, but what I do know is that these Bibs are darn comfortable. They especially shine when you're moving through the woods and I can see why Sitka products are a favorite of Western hunters that spot-and-stalk hunt and need to cover a lot of ground. The Stratus Bib features lower leg zips to make it easy to put the bottom of the bib over boots or tuck them into high rubber boots if that's your custom. The bib features chest hand and thigh pockets, which is great. I like having lots of pockets because, if you are a Whitetail hunter like me, there are always a lot of little things to carry up to the stand. One challenge I had with the pockets, however, is that I would have liked to have the pockets be a little larger, or more expandable somehow. I wasn't able to fit my grunt call or rangefinder comfortably into the pockets, the way I'd like to. But that's a personal preference. For other guys the pocket design may be more than sufficient.
The Camo Pattern: Optifade™ Forest
The Stratus jacket and bib that I tested came in the Optifade Forest camouflage pattern from Gore® - which, Gore claims is "the first and only concealment system ever scientifically designed around the way a hunter’s prey views the world". One of the more difficult things to test, in my opinion, is the effectiveness of a camo pattern to the eyes of your prey. But, from my experience in the woods this year, this pattern may be one of my favorite features of Sitka's gear. The reason-to-believe in this pattern for me was simple, I killed three Whitetails with my bow at 25 yards or less this season, while wearing this pattern. Scent control was obviously another very important factor here, but I had several deer look in my direction that appeared to look more through me than at me while wearing Optifade. To the human eye, this pattern might seem to blend into the woods to a lesser degree than some of the more traditional patterns, but to the eyes of a deer, this pattern just plain works. To learn more about the science behind Optifade check Gore's Optifade.com website. They have some pretty interesting video explanations of how the patter works and the science behind it.
My overall opinion of the Sitka Stratus Jacket and Bib was quite positive. I would especially recommend them to Western style hunters that cover lots of ground and need lightweight but durable gear, or for the early-season Whitetail hunter looking for weatherproof and breathable gear that offers high quality, extreme comfort, great concealment and a more athletic fit.
Be warned, however, the mountaineering level quality of Sitka products come with a price. The Sitka website prices the Stratus Bib at $229.00 and the jacket at $249.00 – which may put them out of reach for many hunters. But, as with about every type of hunting gear you buy, over the long-term you'll likely get what you pay for.
If I were to make one recommendation to Sitka as a Whitetail hunter, it would be to make at least one of the pockets on the bib and jacket a little larger or expandable, to accommodate larger game calls, rangefinders and the like.
As for Gore's Optifade camo pattern – I'm sold. They have a long history of putting good science into their products and I believe they did the same with this pattern. It looks a little different than more traditional camo-patterns, but it works.
I hope you find this review helpful. If you have used Sitka products and would like to share additional opinions or feedback, please feel free to do so in the comments section below.
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