By: Glenda Groat
Many girls identify with the popular movie “The Devil Wears Prada,” which tells the story of a small town girl who lands her dream job working for a socialite magazine editor in New York City. The ill-prepared girl quickly finds out she’s in over her head and her boss is the devil disguised in Prada. My story is a little different, that office is a mountaintop in the Northwest Territories or a tree stand in Saskatchewan, and my fashion doubles as practical gear. But I was that naive girl starting out that felt like I was in over my head a little at times. I was ill-prepared to say the least and some days what started as a fun hunting trip turned into more a survival mission.
As a guide in this industry, you are out with Mother Nature, whatever she may bring, which we all know isn’t always friendly. When I was starting out I didn’t want to spend a fortune on brand name gear and the latest and greatest stuff, instead I chose to make do with what I had. I hunted sheep in cowboy boots and pearl snap shirts and I had the original Helly Hansen rubberized rain gear, you know, the good stuff. Though these pieces of clothing may all be awesome in their own regard, I was not feeling their awesomeness on a seven-hour trail ride in the freezing rain, or when that mid-August snowstorm hit in the Yukon. Plus, my optics, well that’s another story; I sported my father’s 30-year-old Bausch & Lomb spotting scope from when he was guiding in the 70’s. Can we say eyesore in the literal and esthetically sense!
Finding the right gear for mountain hunting was not an instant thing for me. Over several years I tried lots of different gear, testing all of it to its max. Some men’s gear just never fit because it never came in a small enough size. On the other hand, I felt some women’s gear wasn’t made to the same standards as the mens or it didn’t fit me right either. Doing both backpack and horseback hunts you must find gear that’s tough enough for riding through thick dense brush and light enough that you aren’t tempted to toss it out of your pack halfway up a mountain. I tested all sorts of hiking brands as well as hunting brands in search of women-specific outdoor gear. I also learned layering clothing is an art that’s not just finding that perfect tank to go under your favorite cashmere sweater; it’s stopping 15 times on the side of a mountain to take clothes off or put clothes on to stay warm enough, yet avoid getting soaked from sweat.
Despite the rough start, I quickly realized guiding was my passion and what I needed to be doing. Not wanting to spend my entire life savings in one day on the right gear, I decided to prioritize. The first priority, staying dry! Rain gear is something I would absolutely not compromise on, I now wear KUIU Yukon series in a men’s med; I am 5’6″ and the fit is good. The gear keeps me dry while letting my body breath when hiking as well as stretch so you don’t feel like you are fighting your rain pants while fighting elevation on a sheep hunt. Second priority, my feet and that means good boots and socks. Whoever knew my $400 leather boot fashion statement would have to include Gortex and a rubberized midsection to protect against sharp rocks on a shale mountainside. I wear Kenetrek women’s mountain extremes; I like the softer sole that has more flex for climbing. If you prefer a really rigid boot this is probably not the style for you. When looking at boots try them on, they have to be comfortable for you and your feet. I only wear SmartWool socks and I have never had a blister. I prefer the mid-weight over the heavy weight to avoid sweating. Getting wet from the inside is as futile as getting wet from the outside. I also improved my optics to everything Swarovski and of this century!
Going on a mountain hunt and knowing what gear to buy and what you will need may seem overwhelming for many of us. Is having all the best gear going to mean the difference of killing an animal or not killing an animal…probably not. However, having the right gear can mean the difference between being comfortable and enjoying your hunt, verses thinking you have just been tortured by a super in-shape devil wearing Sitka gear for ten days.