As an outdoor writer and videographer, I naturally spend a great deal of time outdoors, but I don't have the luxury of only going out on bluebird days. If photos are needed for an article or a hunt is scheduled to be filmed, it has to get done no matter what the weather conditions and my outerwear absolutely cannot fail.
This past summer, I visited L.L. Bean headquarters in Freeport, ME to film a feature on the company. While there, I was impressed with their state-of-the-art product testing facility, their design team composed of people that actually hunt and the pride and confidence that they have in their products. In this world of "make a quick buck" businesses, L.L. Bean's philosophy is refreshing. In 1916, Leon Leonwood Bean placed a sign on the wall of the original retail store in Freeport that read, "Notice - I do not consider a sale complete until goods are worn out and customer still satisfied." The sign remains and the company maintains that same belief today by offering a 100% satisfaction guarantee.
L.L. Bean recently developed a line of Big Game System outerwear, which is a system of individual pieces designed to work together through layering to perform in a variety of conditions. I put the outerwear through a three-month, no-holds-barred evaluation to find out if their products lived up to the confidence that they placed in them. Below is a description of the individual Big Game System components followed by journal entries of the conditions that they were subjected to and the results.
The Technical Shell is constructed of two-layer waterproof, breathable fabric. The two large front pockets and the two vertical chest pockets have waterproof zippers. The full-vision hood is removable. The cuffs are adjustable through the use of Velcro straps. A rear cargo pouch holds larger items or small game or can be unzipped for ventilation. In warm weather, the side vents can be unzipped for additional ventilation. For cold weather, a mesh handwarmer-sized pocket is located in the center of the back. The shoulders are covered with solid-black antislip patches to hold rifle slings or backpacks securely. The Technical Shell is designed to be worn in temperatures ranging from 35 F to 70 F.
Heavy Weight Liner Jacket
The Heavy Weight Liner Jacket is wind resistant, water repellent and it has an XT-S Thinsulate Insulation lining in a zone configuration - 160 grams in the body and 100 grams in the sleeves. For scent reduction, the XT-S lining includes an X-Static treatment. The cuffs are attached to the inside of the Technical Shell cuffs when the two pieces are worn together. The Heavy Weight Liner Jacket is designed to be worn by itself in dry weather ranging from 20 F to 50 F or underneath the Technical Shell in any elements from -15 F to 30 F.
The Technical Pants can be worn alone on dry, cool days or underneath waders or the Overpants in cold, wet conditions. They are constructed of quiet, moisture-wicking, quick-drying fabric and configured with two front pockets, two zippered rear pockets and two zippered cargo pockets. The leg cuffs have adjustable Velcro straps.
The Overpants are made of quiet, durable, waterproof fabric. They can be worn alone in cool, wet conditions or over the Technical Pants in colder weather. A flap on the back of the waistband converts the pants to a high-back style and includes two handwarmer-sized pockets for providing extra warmth on the lower back. The elastic waistband ensures a proper fit when layering. There are two zippered front pockets, oversized belt loops and buttons inside the waistband for those that prefer suspenders. The leg cuffs have adjustable Velcro straps and include zippers for putting on over boots.
October 8, 2009 - Southwest Missouri
The first test was early archery season in Missouri. The fabric was quiet, breathable and refused to let the heavy showers and strong wind penetrate it. The design of the full-vision hood kept the rain off of my face while still allowing me to use my peripheral vision. The vertical chest pockets proved to be very handy to keep my cell phone and rangefinder protected from the constant downpour and within easy reach. After four hours in the stand, I remained dry and comfortable. The only issue that I had was something I noticed during a practice draw. The jacket has a high collar that comes up to the chin when zipped up completely. When I had it partially unzipped, one side of the collar would bend over into the path of my bowstring. I temporarily solved the issue by simply sticking the flap underneath my binocular strap.
The full vision hood of the Technical Shell was effective at rain protection while still allowing a peripheral view.
The vertical chest pockets provided a dry place to store items while still allowing quick access.
When unzipped, the high collar could obstruct the bowstring path but
was kept out of the way by tucking it under the binocular strap.
October 14th - 18th, 2009 - Eastern Colorado
Spot and stalk hunting can be difficult to dress for due to the unpredictability of the prey. You never know if you will be making a 200 yard dash to get in front of an animal or moving at a snail's pace for an hour or two to get within range of a bedded buck. With a layer of Under Armour and a long sleeve shirt underneath the Technical Shell, I was able to remain comfortable in the varying conditions. The combination of Overpants and Technical Pants kept me warm in the mornings when the temperatures were below freezing and the ability to remove the Overpants layer proved useful as the sun quickly warmed the air. The eastern Colorado landscape is deceiving. The sand and standing crops look innocent enough, but when you start belly-crawling through either you quickly discover your two worst enemies - cactus needles and sand spurs. Both of them can be painful to your skin and brutal on your outerwear. Knee pads and leather gloves are almost a necessity. The sharp needles reached my skin just as many times as the guys wearing other outerwear, but I noticed a difference when we got back to the truck. I had fewer sand spurs stuck to the slick fabric of the Technical Shell and Technical Pants than they did to their clothing and I had a much easier time removing the ones that did stick.
October 23rd - 24th, 2009 - South Dakota
Despite the low morning temperatures, the Technical Pants and the Technical Shell worn over L.L. Bean's Technical Upland Shirt (which also proved to be a very impressive garment) kept me warm, due to the substantial amount of walking. Even as the temperatures rose, the breathability of the fabric and the unzipped side vents allowed subsequent perspiration to escape quickly. The fabric also proved to be quiet when cutting through the rows of Milo to catch up to a running rooster. The fields were immense and when an unexpected rain caught us at the other end of one, getting the high-dollar video camera back to the truck was not an option. I quickly stuffed the camera underneath the Technical Shell, slipped the wireless microphones into the vertical chest pockets and crossed my fingers that "waterproof" wasn't just a marketing term. After the thirty minute shower ceased, I removed the camera and microphones and checked for any sign of moisture. They were dry as a bone.
The ability to unzip the side vents on the Technical Shell proved beneficial as temperatures rose and activity increased.
December 4th - 8th, 2009 - Southern Iowa
Habitat - Timber, CRP Temperature - High 37 F, Low 1 F Precipitation - Blizzard, 16 inches of snow Wind 5 - 25 mph, 60 mph gusts Activity - Filming a whitetail deer hunt from treestand and ground blind Big Game System articles worn - Technical Shell, Heavy Weight Liner Jacket, Technical Pants, Overpants The first two days of the hunt were dry but cold and the layered system kept me comfortable and warm in the treestand for 10 hours each day. The outerwear once again allowed me and my camera to stay dry in the intermittent snow of the next two days, but it was on the fifth day when the true test of the Big Game System occurred. Southern Iowa was pummeled with a blizzard that was being called "the worst snow storm to ever hit Iowa". The combination of an additional 11 inches of snow, temperatures around 0 F and 60 mph wind gusts (creating a wind chill of about -30 F) meant it was time to see what this Big Game System was really made of. We were forced to move from the treestand to a ground blind in order to film in the constant precipitation. Without the use of some source of external heat, I don't believe any amount of outerwear would have kept a sedentary person "warm" in those conditions. However, a combination of the layering of the Big Game System and several of its features - the well-placed handwarmer pockets, the neck-covering collar, the high-backed Overpant flap - allowed me to withstand the brutal elements for several hours and get the job done.
The high-backed flap on the Overpant provided additional protection from the elements on the lower back.
January 1, 2010 - Southwest Missouri
The Big Game System had proven durable in a few abrasive conditions but I wanted to find out if it could stand up to the rigors of clothes-shredding briars and brush piles. With an inch of snow on the ground, I headed out to chase a few rabbits the hard way. No dogs, just me and my determination to bust them out of whatever cover they hid in. In the cold early morning temperatures, the Overpants provided a second layer of warmth and despite my relentless pursuit of cottontails through thorn-covered vines the pants came out unscathed. With the sun rising and the heat from my exertion, I shed the Overpants and relied on the Technical Pants for protection. The fabric of the Technical Pants is slicker than that of the Overpants and they actually allowed more thorns to slide by instead of poking in, but even the ones that stuck pulled free without any damage to the material. Neither of the pants provided the protection of "briar-proof" pants that have a protective layer of vinyl or other material on the face, but both pairs survived the day without any damage. The light weight of the Technical Shell along with its articulated sleeves allowed a full range of motion for quick, swinging shots at running bunnies.
The number of choices for outerwear on the market is almost staggering, but they are certainly not all created equal. Many will leave you cold, wet or uncomfortable when they are put to the real test. I honestly figured that I would get an opportunity during the season to use L.L. Bean's 100% satisfaction guarantee when the outerwear crumbled under the brutal, diverse conditions that my clothing is subjected to, but the Big Game System took everything that my job could throw at it and performed beyond my expectations. The fit, function, durability and ingenious details that are in each piece of the outerwear system leave little doubt that they were designed by people that spend a great deal of time in the woods and by a company that stands behind what they sell.
More information on the Big Game System outerwear can be found at www.llbean.com  or by visiting one of their retail locations. The retail prices for regular sizes are as follows: Technical Shell - $139.00, Heavyweight Liner Jacket - $109.00, Technical Pants - $99.00, Overpants - $79.00. They also offer a Basic Shell and a Midweight Liner Jacket, both starting at $79.00.
Larry R. Beckett Jr. is a full time freelance writer, photographer and videographer. His greatest joy is spending time fishing, hunting and hiking with his wife and son. Larry discovered his enthusiasm for the outdoors at a young age and devotes much of his time trying to instill that same enthusiasm in future generations.