When gear hits the market, what you get in your hands as the final product always has a story behind it. One of the things I feel very fortunate about is being a part of the development process for a lot of gear, from providing input in filling a need with a product, to extensive gear and wear testing for various companies. Which allows me to give input and help influence changes before many items ever get sold.
Much of this process takes multiple years, from conception through testing prior to release. One of the recent products I got to be a part of was the First Lite Uncompadre Foundry Jacket, or the "Unc" for short. This is a little behind the scenes look at my testing of the jacket.
The first time I was introduced to this jacket was in 2021. We headed down to the mountains of New Mexico to chase OTC Aoudad. When the product was described as an insulation puffer-type jacket, I was expecting whatever we were using to get torn to shreds. I have hunted in this area before, and to say it is not clothing-friendly is an understatement. Cactus, catspaw, ocotillo, sharp rocks, and lots of things that grab clothing.
The samples were an early version, and we were looking at them for initial wear testing, as well as feedback on how durable the outer material was. My initial view of the jacket was it was to be a multi-use single piece. A jacket for the person that wants a waterproof outer layer with insulation. A sort of do-all that can be durable, warm, and dry. In all honesty, I am more of a guy that likes lighter gear, but then as I started to think about it, I saw the benefit of only carrying a single piece. This to me would be a late-season elk or deer hunt piece, probably day hunting, and probably in a lot of different types of weather where precipitation is likely. My mind immediately went to guiding rifle elk hunts in Montana.
Test spot one did not seem like the ideal spot of the late season aspect, although the mornings were cold, but what it did have was something many places don't: the sharp brush factor. The goal was a durability test. We pushed through cactus, roughed it up, hiked in it, sat on it, and beat it up, walking away with a lot good insights and the knowledge that the outer material would hold up.
Prior to this jacket, I had just done a podcast about one of my backcountry hunting mantras: "Protect the puffy". Meaning, don't get your insulation layer wet and keep it safe because that insulation layer is important. Walking away from the trip, I now had a protected puffy.
Aside from durability, we made some notes on the fit. It felt boxy to me, the arm positioning could have been better, and a more athletic fit seemed like the proper adjustment. Alterations were made based on the notes.
Then the next version was to be tested in a more natural environment for the jacket. I was going to run it during my entire elk guiding season in Montana, 5 weeks straight, chasing elk and deer every day. I encountered everything from wet and cold to hot and dry, from mid-October till the end of November.
Well, day 1 of this past season was a blizzard. It was wet, it was cold, and I was dry. In all honesty, I was apprehensive about the jacket as it was not my general layering style. This season was one where it proved its worth. From the beginning of rifle season through the end of the season, conditions were extremely wet and cold. Fresh snow daily, and lots of hiking. I used the heat dump zips on the hot days, and the hood on those days pushing through snow-covered timber. It remained durable and succeeded in its goal.
It became a part of my kit and was perfect for the season we had, one unseasonably miserable as far as weather goes. For big hikes if the jacket was too hot I would just hike in my base layer, then throw it on as I slowed down. To be honest with the weather we had I found myself in it more than not. I also like how it seemed to pair well with the through pocket on the Charge vest. It was nice to not have so many spare layers in my pack.
Overall, the system held up during the test and was extremely valuable during the season. It introduced me to a new style of jacket; I may not have previously been accustomed to. I had a great season and stayed comfortable every day despite the harsh conditions.
Great write up. Interested to see what all goes into testing a piece. I recently got my hands on one and I can’t wait to get it out in the field. The only thing I would note is the fit. I normally wear an xl in tops from FL. This jacket seems a little on the big side where I think if I went to a large it would be too small. Overall, can’t wait to try it out.
Well written article Remi.