Gray’s Best 2018

Coffee at Dusk, by Brett James Smith


[by Russ Lumpkin]

Filson Northwest Wool Shirt

Where I live in the Deep South, many winter days pass without need of a coat. Often, a sweater suffices—or I can wear the Northwest Wool Shirt ($165). Its wool-and-twill blend is perfect for winter days when temperatures remain between 40 and 50. In colder climates, it makes a great breathable layer. Last fall, I wore the Northwest beneath a warm coat and on top of lightweight base layers while chasing ptarmigan in Alaska. The temperatures never rose above 10, and despite the frost in my goatee, I stayed warm without the perspiration that would have added misery. After that hunt, I wore the same shirt to a better-thanaverage restaurant and fit right in. I like the shirt primarily, though, because it bridges the decades; it could have come from my grandfather’s closet or fresh from an upscale outdoor shop. The two-pocket front carries a yeoman’s appearance, but its cut and design give it a rugged, handsome look that’s perfect for anywhere a sportsman wants to be. It’s my go-to shirt for hunting, angling, or socializing whenever the weather is cool enough to wear it.

Kenetrek Bridger Ridge High Hikers

When my pursuits carry me over relatively dry ground in warm conditions, I tie on the most comfortable boot I’ve ever worn: the Bridger Ridge High hikers ($165) by Kenetrek. I’ve walked many miles in various boots that support my ankles, but the Bridger Ridges support my feet, give me a feeling of security. The heel cup is cushioned and, as I experienced while backpacking into an Appalachian trout stream, keeps my heel from sliding around in the back of the shoe regardless of the angle of my foot. The entire insole gives my foot the same feeling. The boots are also lined with an eVent membrane, which prevents water from entering but allows moisture to escape. So, if I encounter wet grasses or need to ford a stream that doesn’t flow above my ankles, I plow through. And at 2.6 pounds a pair, the Bridger Ridges are lightweight. The end result is a pair of boots that engenders less fatigue, helps keep my dogs from barking quite so soon and quite so loudly, and allows me to go a little harder and a little farther.

Simms Downstream Jacket

There ought to be some allowance for an apparel review that falls into the category of “when you need it, you’ll sorely want it.” Such may be the story of Simms Downstream Jacket ($350), which has a distinctive category of its own: extreme-cold-weather-fishing apparel. I discovered last year quite suddenly that I needed the Downstream on a lateDecember camping trip, which entailed kayaking several miles to an uninhabited barrier-island WMA in the Carolina Lowcountry. Overly conscious of the delicate balance between weight and warmth, I’d left my new jacket at home. That first night, the temperature dropped to freezing, and 20-mile-per-hour gusts blew off the backsound. Since then, the Downstream has become my go-to insulating piece for any coldweather activity. The 750-fill equivalent water-repellent down blended with Primaloft Gold, along with a Durable Water Resistant (DWR) shell, ensures insulating loft that holds up in wet conditions. And it’s comfortable. Soft pocket and neck liners wear like velvet slippers; elastic inner cuffs block drafts without binding; and the body-mapped insulation and three-point adjustable hood give vital protection where it is most needed. DWR rip-stop nylon ensures years of rugged performance, and whether it’s fall striper fishing, early season in the Rockies, or just a little impromptu winter dirt-bagging down South, I won’t be caught without it again. —Steve Walburn

Sitka Gear Subalpine Ascent Pants

Traditionally, most camouflage apparel has been designed to keep hunters warm on a deer stand or standing in flooded timber. Hunting, however, has changed over the last 50 years: Every state except Alaska now has a spring turkey season and most states offer early seasons open only to archery and muzzleloader devotees; in certain latitudes and certain times of the year, these seasons often run through hot weather. Some clothing manufacturers have breached the market with warm-weather apparel, but Sitka is the first to get it just right. The Subalpine Ascent pants ($189) are especially on target, and designed to keep you hunting and comfortable on the days weather trends toward hot. Better yet, the pants are engineered to help you get close to your target. In terms of weather, the material is a lightweight blend of Cordura, nylon, and spandex that stretches and dries quickly. It’s also a lot tougher than it looks and feels. The fabric is so thin and light, it seems it should tear as easily as Christmas wrapping, and though not designed for upland hunting, the pants certainly stand up to thick brush and briars. And in terms of helping you get close to game, the pants are quiet, treated with Polygiene to mask your scent, and complete with pockets that accommodate kneepads.