It should go without saying that the right clothes can make or break a hunt. On a mild early-season day, that means packing layers that go from the crisp temps of first light to sun-soaked late mornings. Fail to do this and you’ll shiver into misery within the first hour of the sit or lose your weight in sweat by noon. During a final push to punch tags late in the season, that means striking a balance between extreme warmth and optimal mobility. Every hunter knows dressing like the Michelin Man will make you struggle to take a sound shot from a contorted position in cover. Dressing like an Olympic speed skater won’t work either: There’s a good reason why they’ve competed indoors since 1994.
It should also go without saying that women have been working from a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to striking these necessary balances and outfitting themselves properly. For decades, the basics of supply and demand economics have left most women to hunt in clothing designed for men, which tend to leave lots of room through the shoulders, sleeves, and back, and not nearly enough room in the chest, hips, thighs, or ass. Wearing ill-fitting clothing can impede mobility and functionality in times of shifting weather when performance is key.
Women have always hunted, going back thousands of years. There is no reason we should have to look like we stole our dad’s oversized camo every time we step into the woods, or worse, attempt to find a place where pink camo has an actual application. Luckily, companies like First Lite are supplying the increasing demand for high-performance hunting gear that accommodates a woman’s frame without sacrificing technological advances.
But every female hunter exists somewhere on the spectrum of preferences for the fit and features of their kits. Some women prefer men’s hunting apparel, and that’s totally understandable—it tends to be more widely available and fits plenty of women the way they want it to.
Expert hunters Shelby Arman, Jordan Budd, Jessi Johnson, and Chelsea Cassens know how to dress and pack for a hunt as well as anyone. We asked them to share some tips and must-haves for their hunting kits, and their insight could prove useful for any woman gearing up for the fall season—whether it’s their first or their 15th.
Image via Shelby Arman.
Shelby Arman grew up hunting by her father’s side in North Dakota and started taking on more intense pursuits as a teenager. She’s chased black bear in Canada, antelope in Wyoming and Montana, whitetails in North Dakota, and birds here and there when she isn’t studying for dentistry school at Sheridan College.
“Some of my favorite hunting gear comes from First Lite, including these softshell pants and jacket that are designed specifically for women. I absolutely love the way they fit,” she said. “Depending on the temperature and time of year I may end up layering up with a few of my other favorites, including these women's long johns. For those long hours sitting in the antelope blind or for early season whitetails, I go with the women’s Alturas Guide Pant and Kiln Hoody.”
For structuring her kit, Shelby swears by layering.
“I inevitably end up carrying a few extra layers in my pack,” she said. “The great thing about First Lite is the ability to layer up and down, which is especially important for the areas I hunt.”
Image via Jordan Budd.
Jordan Budd currently resides in Idaho where she operates her hunting film business, Running Water Media. She also owns a deer and turkey outfitting business in Nebraska on her family's ranch.
“To my good fortune, I get to spend a lot of time in the field whether it's filming, guiding, or hunting throughout the fall,” Jordan said. “Remaining comfortable allows me to be more effective, so I rely on these pieces to keep me out there.”
Jordan hails merino wool and mid-layer fleece as two catch-all solutions for comfort.
“The value of a quality base layer is far underrated in my opinion. Merino wool pulls the moisture off your skin as you perspire which is key in keeping you dry and warm,” she said. “First Lite’s Wick Quarter-Zip is on my body from early to late season. Then, in every good layering system, there is an intermediate warmth layer. For me, it’s a grid fleece that provides a great amount of warmth and often acts as my outer layer on early season hunts in the high-country wind.”
“These pants have padded, reinforced knees and a reinforced seat to protect those high-wear areas,” Jordan said. “They also include side vents that zip open to dump a bunch of heat quickly. These features make this pant a go-to for me early to late season and I adjust the bottom base layer accordingly. And a puffy jacket is arguably the most critical piece of clothing I carry with me. The warmth I get out of a jacket that weighs so little is unmatched, and this one features a synthetic insulation that retains its insulating properties when wet. From September on, the matching pants never leave my pack. Once I get to my glassing spot, or even when I’m hanging out around camp in the frigid evenings, the pants zip on over my all-season pants and I'm essentially a walking sleeping bag.”
Image via Jessi Johnson.
Jessi Johnson is the government affairs director for the Wyoming Wildlife Foundation and almost exclusively hunts with archery equipment. She chalks this up to her love of keeping close quarters to wildlife and her obsession with the month of September, and she spends most of her year looking forward to bow season.
“My kit and gear are built around this time frame,” Jessi said. “From sagebrush mule deer stalks to lots of miles in the elk woods, chilly mornings, hot days, and cold nights are the standard. The women’s Sawtooth Hybrid Jacket is my most-used layering piece. I lived in this during a sheep hunt in the Northwest Territories and it is the only layer I never switch out of my pack. It cuts the chilly mornings down to a tolerable level while hiking in and breaths enough to get you to the top without being drenched in sweat. This layer is the workhorse of mid-layers and is also perfect for a heavy pack-out late at night.”
She also shared some essential pieces of gear that have made a huge difference in her hunts over the years.
“I bought five bino harnesses prior to the one from FHF Gear. Each one was either too big, too bulky, or too loud. I know I sound like Goldilocks, but this one was ‘just right,’” Jessi said. “It fits a smaller build, is low profile enough to fit my chest without interfering with my draw cycle, and it comes with padding on the shoulder straps so you can still comfortably wear a bra. While most harnesses are built for men, this harness is built for everyone and has the adjustability and design to be a must-have for any hunter.”
“Let’s be honest: these are probably some of the most essential pieces of gear for women and they are likely the least talked about,” she said. “Tampons and pads get messy, and you need to pack them out. Menstrual cups or discs can be emptied, cleaned, and reused. No messy bags in your packs, no accidental leaks, no stressing about anything other than where that elk is. When paired with this antimicrobial pee cloth, this can make being in the woods more a lot more comfortable and hygienic. Bringing a small pack of wet wipes on the multi-night hunts makes this setup bomb-proof.”
Image via Max Brenz.
When Chelsea Cassens isn’t working as a nurse in Eastern Oregon, she’s with her husband and kids and taking to the backcountry to hunt everything from big game to huckleberries.
“Living in the outdoor space as a female isn’t always the easiest of tasks. At times we need extra supplies in our pack, extra gear to stay comfortable, and a few bites of chocolate to continue functioning to our fullest potential, at least that my personal experience,” she said. “Through my years of exploring the outdoors, hunting, fishing, camping, and playing with my kids, I have continued perfecting the choices I make with regards to gear.”
Her most imperative piece might surprise you with its simplicity, but it can make all the difference.
“When First Lite came out with a women’s headband years ago, I was instantly envious of the team who got to do the trial testing. I watched the women wear them in the gym and out in the field on social media until I was able to order myself a few the following year,” Chelsea said. “I couldn’t appreciate this simple piece of gear more. It keeps my long hair pulled back and out of my eyes, it wicks sweat, and it transforms into an eye patch during napping hours. You’ll rarely see me without one.”
And to the men who have read this far, Cassens recommends you give this piece a try too.
“This merino wool headband truly does belong in everyone’s pack. After my first overnight hiking trip with the headband years ago, my husband purchased a few for himself to help wick sweat away on long hikes.”
Could this be the future of women’s hunting gear? Apparel and accessories so brilliantly designed and useful that men find themselves considering such purchases? Who knows. But as long as there are elk to stalk, whitetails to glass, icy sunrises to welcome, and warm afternoon heat to beat, female hunters will find a way to get the job done and the notch tags no matter the gender tag on their clothing.