Sometimes you can overlook the body odor that results from steep hikes with heavy loads, or multiple days in the same shirt. But when you’re bow hunting and trying to creep up on your prey undetected, your own scent becomes vitally important. “Smell becomes a big deal,” said Kenton Carruth, a founder and owner of First Lite, an apparel company that makes camouflaged hunting layers from merino wool. Kenton and his business partner Scott Robinson met in Ketchum, Idaho. Both moved to the area for the skiing and snowboarding in the early 1990s. Several years later, somewhere around 2003, they started bow hunting. Both of them had bird hunted occasionally prior, and Kenton went big game hunting once in a while growing up.
“If we actually shot something it would have been a miracle, in hindsight,” he said. “We more just floundered around.” But it seemed natural to try bow-hunting in Idaho. “It’s just all around here,” Kenton said. “It’s like skiing when you live in a place like this. You just end up doing it.” The first year no one in their group killed anything, but the challenge hooked Kenton and Scott. It was about at that same time that Kenton and Scott discovered merino wool and started wearing it as a base layer for outdoor activities, including archery. Not only was it comfortable, it didn’t smell after a hard day in the hills. However, it could only be worn for hunting underneath other layers, since there wasn’t an option out there for camouflage printed base layers.
One chilly morning, Kenton and Scott wore multiple layers, but as the day wore on they encountered a warm afternoon. This led to stripping to their base layer shirt, which was a problem since their bottom shirts weren’t camouflage. “It was just this gaping hole in hunting apparel,” Kenton said. Solving the problem turned out to be challenging than it initially seemed. As it turned out, people hadn’t printed camouflage on wool because it’s hard. If merino wool gets too hot, or receives too much pigment, it gets rough, and the structure of the fabric resists printing. It took working with multiple factories and trying various types of printing before they found a way to make merino wool with all their desired attributes, including the comfort they loved—but in a camouflage print. Today, Kenton and Scott’s clothing is sold all over the world. They started with five items in one color, and now offer dozens of items in various colors and patterns. They even recently licensed their own camouflage print. In 2012 they also added outerwear, in an effort to create a clothing layering system for hunters. To address this niche market, Kenton and Scott designed a hunter-specific jacket. Unlike people who spend time on trails, hunters are moving around in brush and weeds.
“Our guy is a huskier guy,” Kenton said. He added that a hunter’s jacket “has to be more robust.” The forearm of First Lite’s jackets are narrower than a normal alpine jacket, so that when drawing a bow or shooting a gun, the sleeves don’t get in the way and ruin the shot. The jacket is also lightweight and breathable, designed with vents for the backcountry hunter who hikes in the hills. This year, they will also be debuting their new women’s line of clothing that will start with the same basics that launched the men’s line.
What's your favorite hunting layering system?