From early-season to mid-season to late-season, KUIU’s whitetail-specific layering systems keep you warm, dry, comfortable, and, most importantly, on the hunt.
by Zach Bowhay
For nearly the first decade of KUIU’s existence, they were all in on making gear for extreme hunts in the north country and hunting out west. Their mission focused on this endeavor, and in most people’s eyes, they succeeded.
Then, a couple of years ago, KUIU jumped into making apparel for the largest hunting demographic, the whitetail deer hunter. In 2022, they released their Proximity Line, tailored for the late-season whitetail hunter, and it was apparent they did their homework and made an excellent line of clothing.
Then, in 2023, they released their next batch of whitetail-specific clothes with the addition of the Encounter Line, which is made for stand hunting in the early to mid-season. This line has five pieces, including the Encounter Jacket, Pant, Vest, 200 Fleece Zip, and 200 Fleece Bottom. I was fortunate to put the entire Encounter line, minus the vest, through the paces, and it didn’t disappoint. Each garment in the line has anti-odor treatment and a low-sheen exterior, so they don’t shine in brighter conditions. All Encounter pieces come in the three Kuiu patterns: Valo, Vias, and Verde, and one solid, Ash. Other than the 200 Fleece Bottoms, only available in Black and Ash.
Each piece is made from quiet materials. You’ll appreciate this when moving around and brushing against things, and zippers have quiet slides and make minimal noise when operating.
The Encounter Jacket is hoodless but has a raised collar to add extra warmth and keep cold breezes from entering the jacket on the top. Considered an un-insulated jacket, it’s still reasonably warm due to its wind resistance capabilities and bonded jacquard fleece interior that remains breathable and helps regulate temperature. The Encounter has a slightly larger build to layer over the base and mid-layers. Although not technically waterproof, it is DWR-treated to shed water, and I found this to be adequate in a couple of light rains that came in this fall. Like most KUIU jackets, there are pit zips, which are great for dumping heat and regulating temperature when needed.
Since we are going over whitetail-specific gear, let’s review the particular features. The location of the chest pockets is perfect, and they are large enough to stow extra gloves, cell phones, grunt calls, etc. Also, in each chest pocket are gear loops that you can attach things to; I like this feature and leave a lanyard for my rangefinder attached, so once I’m in the stand, I can take mine out of my bino harness and attach it there so I don’t need to wear my bino harness in the tree.
The hand pockets are zipperless, with a magnet closure, and both have an internal heat pack/hand warmer pocket inside. This is an excellent feature. Overall, I like these pockets, but I am still determining if the magnets are necessary. Internally, there is a significant drop pocket where I stow things like my neck gaiter and more oversized gloves when needed.
Another feature that I love is the layered safety harness port. I like putting my harness on over my base and mid-layers, and then putting my outer layer on at my stand over my harness. This is more comfortable and seems a quieter way to operate.
Overall, the Encounter Jacket is a great piece. The magnets aren’t ultra-necessary, and I would be OK seeing a hooded version of the jacket, but neither is a deal breaker. Over the past few months, I spent many days in this jacket and found it a functional, comfortable piece in my whitetail kit.
Like the jacket, the Encounter Pant is considered an uninsulated piece, but its jacquard fleece interior does provide some warmth without added bulk. Pants come with adjustable, removable suspenders. I enjoyed the suspenders more than I anticipated because they provide a more comfortable setup than wearing a belt when on the stand. Side leg zips are great for dumping heat on the walk to and from the stand or if the mercury rises mid-day.
Pocket locales, size, and shape are ideal, with the upper hand pockets unzippered with a reinforced edge that makes them easy to access even with gloved hands. The leg pockets have a vertical zipper on the side and a horizontal zippered pocket on the front of the leg. These pockets make it great to stow and access gear while sitting in a treestand and when standing.
Generally speaking, I am not a fan of zippers on the lower leg of my hunting pants, but I do like the zippered legs on the Encounter pants. I like to wear my knee-high rubber boots over my pants on the way to my stand, but I can have my pants over the upper of the boots in a treestand. This is quieter and more comfortable, and the zippered legs make doing this a snap. Also, the durable hem on the bottom of the pants slides into my rubber boots much better than the pants I’ve used in the past.
Like the jacket, I am a fan of the Encounter Jacket. They are comfortable and functional when hiking to and from and sitting in the stand. I also covered some ground in them, still hunting and looking for deer sign, and found them comfortable in all situations.
Encounter 200 Fleece Zip-T
This piece is simple all around. Made from high-stretch jacquard fleece, it’s the perfect complement to the Encounter Jacket. The Encounter 200 Fleece Zip-T has a drop-back hem, meaning it is longer in the rear to keep cold air from climbing up your back and stealing heat. The raised collar mirrors the jacket and keeps your top half warm. I like its half zip that helps dump heat when necessary and it zips up in cold conditions.
The sleeves are also nicely cut not to be bulky when layered under a jacket and have shaped cuffs with layered thumbholes. I don’t use sleeve thumbholes often other than when putting jackets on over to keep my sleeves from riding up, but some people like them, so they are worth noting. Overall, it’s an excellent layering piece with no cons for me.
Encounter 200 Fleece Bottom
The Encounter Fleece Bottom, like the Zip-T, is made entirely from the jacquard fleece. They have a comfortable waistband and fit snugly like most base layers. The gusseted crotch makes the piece comfortable to wear, and they don’t seem to bunch up, making them uncomfortable. My only complaint with this piece is that they aren’t a zip of design like most KUIU base layers. When this first became a thing, I wasn’t sure what I thought of it, but it is easily now one of my favorite features in base layers. I love being able to zip off my base layer bottoms without removing my boots. This isn’t a deal breaker, as these bottoms are a great complimentary piece to the Encounter pants, but I would be OK with seeing this feature added in the future.
The Encounter line from KUIU is a comfortable, functional, quiet, well-thought-out kit of clothing explicitly made for whitetail hunting. Like all KUIU gear, garments come in a layering system and, when done correctly, can get you through a wide range of temperatures and weather.
There are a few tweaks I wouldn’t mind seeing made, but those are specific to me. Still, I found them to be great on my hunts and will wear them for years. They are well built, and with mine being in the Valo pattern, they blend great into the surroundings in the fall in areas I hunt. I guarantee you will find these pieces to your liking if you try them.