In November 2010, I was invited down to Maryland by W.L. Gore & Associates to take a tour of the GORE facilities and learn about the science behind GORE Optifade concealment. The last leg of the trip included field testing the Optifade Forest pattern against the eyes of a whitetail deer. Wearing a complete set of Sitka gear, including the Stratus Jacket and Bibs, I spent two days bowhunting whitetails in the hardwoods of Maryland and was extremely impressed and satisfied with the performance of my Sitka system. I continued hunting in my Sitka system two and a half months after my Maryland trip and was able to arrow five deer before my season ended in late January 2011.

The clothing I was given to field test by Sitka was like nothing else I had ever worn previously. I didn’t even know that my old hunting clothes were bulky and not designed with the bowhunter in mind. Sitka takes their gear seriously and there is a reason they make “specialized wear and equipment.” The first time you put a piece of Sitka gear on you’ll instantly understand what all the rave is about.

When I first tried on my Sitka Stratus Jacket in size Large I realized that this clothing was designed and cut with minimal excess fabric. This made for a more fitted garment and I had to exchange my Large for an Xtra-Large (for reference, I’m 6′ 1″ and 215 lbs). The same pattern seems to follow throughout Sitka’s outerwear line so I would suggest going one size up with outer wear. Base layers seem to fit fine in your standards size. Try before you buy to see what fits you best.

The Stratus Jacket is a little longer than your standard jacket and sits in length between a normal jacket and a parka. This is especially nice when you’re wearing pants instead of bibs as it helps cut down on any heat escaping through the back. The GORE Windstopper is worth its weight in gold when it comes to hunting on a windy day. The winds can blow all they want, but they won’t cut through the Stratus Jacket and that keeps you focused on hunting instead of how cold the wind is.

I found the adjustable cuffs on the Stratus Jacket very comfortable, but again they’re fitted so don’t expect to get your hand through them with your release on. You’ll have to put your arm through the jacket first and then put your release on.

I really like the fact that there is a collar and a hood on the Stratus Jacket. This keeps you warm and when the wind pics up or a light rain starts just pull the hood over and you’ll stay warm and dry. There is also a large chest pocket to keep gear close at hand and movement to a minimum.

The Stratus Jacket has a soft and quiet feel to it, but when I pulled away from the tree to stand up I noticed a Velcro like sound as the fibers of the Stratus Jacket stuck to the tree and were ripped off – not something you can get away with when you’re hunting weary whitetails. I raised my concerns about this with Jeff Simpson, Sitka’s Midwest Manager, and he said that the Stratus Jacket and Bibs have been updated for 2011 and are now made with a different fabric that eliminates the problem.

During the course of the season I hunted in my Stratus Jacket from temperatures anywhere from 50 degrees down to 14 degrees. This is a good mid-season jacket for hunting whitetails and I was most comfortable when the temps ranged from the 30s to the low 50s. When the temperatures dropped into the teens I was cold, even when I layered up with my Core Zip-T, Traverse Zip-T and Kelvin Vest.

The Stratus Bibs are the perfect compliment to the Stratus Jacket. Personally, I prefer to hunt in bibs over pants, especially during the late season. I find them more comfortable and warmer.

The Stratus Bibs have the same soft lining as the Stratus Jacket and GORE Windstopper to keep the wind from stealing precious body heat. The shoulder straps are easy to get on and off and have a rubberized grip on the underside of them so the straps don’t slip off your shoulder.

A large chest pocket is perfect for storing your hunting license, a game call, or any other accessories you might have. The Stratus Bibs have lined pockets on each side and a zip fly for when nature calls. You’ll also find two cargo pockets on the Stratus Bibs, but it’s not until your sitting on your treestand and you reach for something in the cargo pocket that you’ll really appreciate the side zipper pockets. When you’re sitting down the zipper is on the top which allows go in and out of the pocket without having to worry about anything falling out of the side and dropping 20 feet below your treestand.

If you wear a big pair of rubber boots like I do then you’ll also find the side zippers on the legs useful. I would have liked to see the zippers go up to the knee, but the zippers go up high enough to allow you to get the bibs around your boots and easily zip them back down.

Overall I was very impressed with the Stratus Jacket and Bibs from Sitka. I was equally impressed by the GORE Optifade Forest, which is designed specifically for deer hunting from a treestand. Time and time again the Optifade Forest has deer looking right through me instead of at me. I’m excited to see what Sitka comes out with in the future and I know I’ll be wearing my Sitka gear for many years to come.

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