Field Evaluation - Justin Charles By Jon E. Silks - Senior Field Evaluator
Oct 27, 2009 - 7:52:26 PM
Silks with Skull Cap.
The Justin Charles Company is not your average "Joe" or "Justin" in this case. They are a company dedicated to the finer things for the outdoor enthusiast. Quality is central to their motivation and success. You will find a variety of high-end gear on their website including outerwear, luggage, business & laptop accessories, 100% Merino Wool undergarments and even a Cedar Strip Kayak. (Visit the web site of Justin Charles )
When it comes to cold weather I am a wimp - it takes a lot to keep me warm and comfortable so I always look for the most effective clothing systems available. One of my favorite all-time hunting items is a pair of Merino wool socks that I purchased in Ohio during a late season bow hunt. They are awesome as compared to any other sock that I have tried.
Naturally, I wanted more clothing that could match that performance so when I heard about Merino wool undergarments I knew I had to give them a try. During the 2008 Fall season I had the opportunity to see if the Merino Wool undergarments made a difference in my hunting experience. New to my "keep Jon warm" arsenal was a Justin Charles crew neck shirt, long underwear pant, glove liners and skull-cap. All of these items mid-weight thermal layers and all are made from 100% super-fine Merino wool. As a background there are various merino wool grades although I cannot find sources that agree on what they are! I do know that the super fine class used by Justin Charles is one of the elite.
Justin Charles also offers a lightweight base layer and an expedition weight overlayer.
So, what makes Merino wool special? First, lets talk about wool material in general. Wool is elastic, resilient, wicking/breathable, water repelling, insulating (hot or cold), long lasting in both appearance and function, quiet, dirt resistant, odor resistant and yes, even fire retardant! No human made fabric can claim all of these characteristics. According to Justin Charles literature wool wicks 28% faster than synthetics and naturally neutralizes bacteria virtually eliminating body odor. The ability of wool to stretch allows it to move with your body for additional comfort.
Now, why is it that wool from world famous Merino sheep is a good choice for undergarments? Well, if you know anything about wool you know that there are many types and grades of wool and wool has a reputation for being itchy. Itchy is not something I want anywhere near my skin when I am trying to remain still while hunting. Luckily quality Merino wool does not irritate the skin and has a very soft feel. Merino wool was once a term used only for the wool that came from the Merino sheep of Spain. The popularity of this wool drove its eventual expansion into other regions through the exportation of small herds. The near destruction of Spain's Merino sheep industry during Napoleon's wars in the late 1700s and early 1800s moved the Merino wool market to Germany and Australia. Australia now produces the majority of the world's Merino wool.
Layer design for comfort regardless of the weather.
The Justin Charles 3-layer system is designed for ultimate comfort in a wide variety of climate and exertion conditions. For the still, ground blind or treestand hunter the thin base layers are designed to offer insulation in mild weather conditions that tend to cause the user to sweat. The base layer will wick sweat away keeping that clammy feeling at bay. Moderate exertion in colder weather or heavy exertion in super cold temps also calls for the thin base layers as it will provide the needed insulation while absorbing and releasing body moisture. Remember that other wool quality - odor resistance? That is a big benefit while hunting in those warmer temps. This weight is offered in a pant, boxer brief and crew top.
On their own, Justin Charles midweight thermal garments provide additional insulation and warmth in colder temperatures while stand hunting. Midweights coupled with base layers create a system effective in even colder weather. This weight is offered in a pant, boxer brief, Watch Cap, Neck Gaiter, Liner Gloves and choice of crew or zip mock T neck top.
Short Sleeve Crew Neck.
Med Weight Crew top.
Med Weight Bottom.
Expedition weight overlayer garments offer the best protection against cold temperatures and when used in conjunction with the base and midweight layers represent Justin Charles' full out assault on comfort stealing weather. This weight is offered in a pant, balaclava and choice of crew or zip mock T neck top.
Ribbed ankle, cuffs and neck increases comfort through a more controlled fit. Two size ranges (S-XL and XXL-XXXL) and corresponding pricing ranges are offered for each garment. Merino wool layers are machine washable.
My experiences with Justin Charles
My early November Ohio hunting trip was the first I got to use my new Merino wool. I was expecting cold temperatures but what central Ohio received was a second summer. Daytime temps were in the upper 60 and low 70s. In the mornings I used the wool against my skin, Polartec bibs and my camo outers. I was very comfortable in the pre-dawn minutes leading up to prime time, however, I became too warm as the day heated up.
Med Weight Zipper front.
The next morning I decided to lose the Polartec and go with just the wool and my outers - that combo kept me warmer than I expected and allowed me to stay comfortable through the entire morning hunt. After cooling down and before dawn I felt a little chilly, however, it was not enough to make me uncomfortable. Another thing to note is that while these clothes are indeed soft, comfortable and 99% itch-free I did get the occasional itch here and there. Nothing at all too bothersome but I cannot claim that they are totally itch-free either.
Next up, I was back to Pennsylvania with the goal of getting my four children that bowhunt some opportunities during the rut. The weather was indeed colder - more November-like. Temperatures were in the 30s and there seemed to be a constant stiff wind. Mix in some rain and snow flurries and it was starting to feel like hunting season! I found that the use of the wool, Polartec bibs, a River's West vest and my outers were sufficient to get me through with relative comfort.
Last year there would have been an additional layer mixed in there somewhere. With the introduction of higher performance garments in recent years I have found that my clothing during cold weather outings has become much less bulky. I can actually hunt in weather that once made me hurt and do it in clothes that still allow me to successfully shoot a bow. Things are definitely getting better and Justin Charles is playing a big part in that improvement for me. Remember though, top quality products are not going to be cheap. I have however found that in the long run they are generally a much better value.
Lastly, I hunted one time in the late season with temperatures in the single digits. This proved to be uncomfortable for me no matter what I was wearing. Sitting for hours in single digits is just plain hard work. I look forward to adding the entire Justin Charles system to my line-up next year to see how much comfort it adds to the really hard single digit temp hunts. There are many possibilities for mixed layering tuned to specific hunting situations and weather conditions with Justin Charles gear. I hope to find the perfect combination for all of my 2009 hunts.
As a final commentary on the Justin Charles line I would like to convey that in my experience these garments met the company's goals for quality and their chosen material - Super fine Merino wool - gets the job done.