Gearing Up: Shell Game

Finally-warm, breathable fleece that you won't get soaked in.

Field & Stream Online Editors

Why should backpackers get all the good gear? That's the idea behind introducing "softshell" jackets to hunters at last. Used loosely by the clothing industry, the term basically refers to fabrics that in one layer combine the insulating properties of fleece with the wind- and water-blocking ability of a traditional shell jacket. They're not waterproof but "highly water resistant," meaning they'll protect you from light rain and snow and wet vegetation. Maybe most important, they're much more breathable than Gore-Tex or other waterproof-breathable laminates.

Softshells have been one of the hottest trends in skiing and backpacking clothing for the past two years, but high prices and lack of hunting-specific designs have kept sportsmen away from them. These four jackets change that. Three follow the standard softshell format of blocking wind and shedding water, while maintaining the kind of breathability that will keep you from overheating when chasing after a flock of fall turkeys. The fourth tweaks the design by making the odor-reducing qualities of Scent-Lok the most important feature. All of them sell for reasonable prices. If you're expecting a downpour, leave them home. But if you want comfortable protection from the conditions that hunters face most often, these versatile jackets are the way to go.

1. Browning Gator Fleece

This Browning uses a new Polartec treatment called Hardface that is extremely tough and abrasion resistant but still quiet. A trim design and a slight stretch to the fabric makes the jacket comfortable and easy to move in. Open the two upper pockets to maximize breathability. When you close them, a rubber guard will keep water out. The Gator requires no special care-throw it in the washer at the end of a muddy hunt. Available in Mossy Oak Break-Up. Jacket (shown), $170; parka, $195; pants, $150; 801-876-2711; www.browning.com

2. Mossy Oak Apparel APX Hybrid Jacket **This jacket also uses Polartec Hardface, but only on the hood, shoulders, elbows, back, and hem-areas that require extra durability and water resistance. A softer fleece lines the torso and the underarms for more warmth and better noise reduction. And a zippered cuff reduces bulk in the arms and keeps the sleeves away from your bowstring during the shot. Available in Mossy Oak Break-Up. $160; 800-331-5624; www.mossyoakapparel.com **3. Mad Dog Gear Silent Shadow Strataflex Fleece Jacket **
Strataflex is an apt name for this jacket because the fabric across its back and shoulders stretches more than on comparable garments. This makes it extremely comfortable when you're climbing into your tree stand or twisting to take that difficult shot. The material is quiet yet tough, and six smartly placed slash-style pockets hold gear without getting in the way. Available in Realtree Hardwoods and Mossy Oak Break-Up. $120; pants, $120; 800-333-1179; www.stearnsinc.com **4. Scent-Lok Dakota Fleece

Although it's the least water resistant of the four, what makes this jacket truly valuable to hunters is its combination of breathability and scent blocking. The Dakota uses a new fabric called ClimaFlex that absorbs odor while wicking away moisture. Polartec Wind Pro is the final component, blocking 90 percent of the wind. It's soft and quiet and ideal for bowhunters. Available in Advantage Timber and Mossy Oak Break-Up._ $120; pants, $140; 800-315-5799; www.scentlok.com_