Big Guy Gear Review: Under Armour Ridge Reaper

Photo copyright - Matt Bonham/http://www.mattbonham.com
Big Guy Gear Reviews are what the sound like--gear reviews focused on the usability for big guys. If you're a proportional six-footer, congrats: you can use literally every piece of gear on the market. If you're a big guy, however, you know it's a frustrating marketplace. I'm here to help.

For reference, here are my basic dimensions: 6'5", 235 pounds, dress shirt is 17"x37".  I wear XL-tall shirts and 38x34 pants—as long as they’re not straight legged, boot cut, or whatever else skinny hipsters have pushed the market toward. I'm built with more of a weak-man's barrel chest than a fat-man's beer belly. I have what Lululemon calls "hockey butt." If you're tall and not broad, or broad and not tall, these reviews should still help you find usable gear.

Each year I return to the Blue Ridge Mountain area of Virginia to hunt white-tailed deer.  Each year I am confounded by hunting clothing cut to fit gnomes and Santas.  If I want a shirt or jacket to fit in the arms, I have to buy a double- or triple-XL; but then the coat is too large to fit into my pack and often catches the butt of my rifle as I raise it to aim.  If I want a shirt or jacket to fit in the body, I have to settle for sleeves so short it looks like I’m copying Bill Belichick.  For that reason, my strategy over most of the last decade has been to wear whatever coat I have handy that fits.   

This has resulted in me hunting in a blue Eddie Bauer down parka, a plaid wool coat from Abercrombie and Fitch that made me look like a hunter from the 1930’s, a Mountain Hardware windproof pullover layered with sweaters and thermal.  Each time I ended up looking, and feeling, as prepared as a kid from the city seeing woods for the first time ever instead of a guy who grew up in the mountains who has been hunting for 25+ years.

Last year as I tried on every camo coat at Cabela’s I resigned myself to yet again cobbling together a passable hunting uniform.  I had given up.  Then I noticed, hidden by its own camo, a coat that I had not seen yet.  Expecting to be defeated again, I slipped it on, and was blown away by sleeves that not only covered my wrists, but even extended down my hand!  Whatever could this glorious product be??!  The Under Armor RidgeReaper 13 Late Season jacket, that’s what.  


Here’s some of the basics of the Ridge Reaper line and Late Season gear:

Photo copyright - Matt Bonham/http://www.mattbonham.com
Pattern – Under Armor describes its Barren camo pattern as “designed with coincidental disruption technology & an innovative ‘no background’ color algorithm, blocking your prey's ability to see complete forms.”  The color scheme is predominately a light greenish tan with jagged patterns of black, brown, and green.  Looking at it as a human, the colors seem very versatile.  I have blended in well in the eastern forests that are a blend of hardwood and conifers, at a time of year where all leaves have turned brown and most fallen to the ground.  

Under Armor states the pattern and product are made with a western hunter in mind, and based on my wandering through the high desert forests of Arizona I suppose this would be accurate.  

New for this year is the forest camo pattern that changes the dominant shades to green and grey/black.  If you’re hunting when the leaves are green, then the forest pattern is definitely for you.  If you’re a late season hunter, no matter the coast, Barren would be my choice.

My experience with prey thus far has been that an 8-point buck stared at me for several seconds as I noisily fiddled with my shooting sticks before finally dropping him with a single shot through the heart.  So, sure, I guess it works!

Photo copyright - Matt Bonham/http://www.mattbonham.com
Technology – the jacket and pants are outfitted with ColdGear infrared technology, odor block anti-microbial features, a durable water repellent finish, and wind resistant materials.  The DWR finish lives up to its promise—by shedding water and preventing deer blood from settling into the fabric to ruin the pattern and odor blocking.  The wind resistance seems to perform to expectations. 

I had a conversation with an Under Armour retail employee about the late season gear.  He gushed about them with genuine enthusiasm—then paused and asked me with concern “are you hunting somewhere cold?  Because, these have infrared lining and are going to be incredibly warm.”  Based on this, and my past positive experience with Columbia’s Omni-Heat reflective technology, I was ecstatic at the thought of a morning in a deer stand that did not include constant shivering.  But the ColdGear infrared technology seems more like a marketing gimmick than actual technology.  I have stand-hunted in the Ridge Reaper gear on mornings with temperatures at or just below freezing and did not feel appreciably warmer than with any past loadout—though admittedly it is not an apples-to-apples comparison as I may have worn more layers in the past (but that’s problem with the pants because they fit too snugly to layer much).

Comparing Omni-Heat reflective to ColdGear infrared is comparing Ferrari to Kia.  This technology wasn’t my reason for purchasing the gear, but it was disappointing to have infrared talked up so much and then seem nonexistant.

"Go where you don't belong."
Performance – my hunting season is a blend of stand hunting in the mornings and evenings, with stalking dense woods and logging roads in the late morning and early afternoon—as the season and/or frustration progresses I expand to bushwhacking through dense thickets and the Virginia ridge-and-valley topography.  

My experience so far is that this gear performs very well.  Somehow this line manages to achieve relative comfort while stand-hunting on freezing mornings and walking in 50-60 degree afternoons.  I get cold, but not miserable in the morning stand; warm, but not sweaty on the afternoon walk—maybe the infrared technology actually is redistributing heat appropriately.  This aren’t heavy and bulky like so many other clothing lines are, so if I get too warm the jacket easily packs away.  There are four pockets in the jacket, roomy enough to stow gloves, cell phone, walkie talkie, and still get my hands inside for warmth.

 The material on the jacket and pants seems exceptionally durable.  They survived bushwhacking through the locust and blackberry vines of a regrowing clearcut without even a pulled piece of thread.

For my size and body shape, this jacket is perfect for me.  I am thrilled I found it and have no second thoughts about splurging for a piece of gear that seems like it will hold up for years.


Pants:  
While I can unequivocally recommend the Late Season 13 Jacket to the big and/or tall guys, the same does not hold for the Late Season 13 Pants If the jacket was made to fit a large man with long arms; the pants were made to fit a small man with pole-legs, a Hank-Hill butt, and a disproportionately large waist.

What I can say is that if these pants manage to fit you, absolutely buy them.  If they don’t fit, I don’t have a good answer.  Luckily, though UA expanded the inseams to include 34” and 36” so chances are you can find a fit.

A frustration I have with Under Armour pants in general is that—without designating different cuts or fits—each style of their pants I have tried on fit differently.  This is extremely frustrating because it is impossible to buy one Under Armour pant and then tell what other UA pants will fit you without actually having them to try on.  I fit perfectly into the Field Pant in a 36”x34”; the Late Season Pants were too small in the butt and too big in the waist in a 38”x32”; one pair of insulated ColdGear liner pants was too big in an XL, while another pair wouldn’t pull past my knees in an XL, while yet another fit perfectly in XXL. 

The fit of the Late Season Pants was unexpected in other ways, too.  It is described as a “loose” fit.  I took this to mean loose like cover-alls are loose so you can wear additional layers beneath.  In reality, “loose” in these pants meant just “not compression fit.”  In the pair of 36”x32” I could barely put on the pants over UA Cold Gear compression pants because the thighs of the pants were so skinny.  Even in the 38”x32” I was limited in layering and the pants pulled tight each time I sat down, both of which combined to create numerous cold spots on my legs. 

Another fit issue is that these are of an oddly low rise.  They rode low on my hips and frequently exposed the top of my rump when I sat in my stand or knelt down. 

Fit frustrations also extend to gloves because their size range only extends to XL; said differently, their XL gloves are too small.  I had to return the Trigger Finger gloves because XL was so small it gave me a claw instead of a hand.  I recently purchased the Speed Freak gloves in XL and they are a little roomier, but could be better.  This critique is coming from someone who has the hands of someone whose main work took is a computer keyboard.  I cannot begin to imagine my mechanic/farmer/builder Father or Grandfather trying to get their meaty paws in XL gloves from UA.  If UA is going to make outerwear in 3XL, then other products should be comparably sized.

Under Armour has produced a full line of great gear in the Ridge Reaper line.  After my season last year I am all-in on the gear and have added the backpack, fleece, and primer gloves to my loadout.  If I can find the Infil Ops boots somewhere in a size 14 I’m liable to get them too. 

My last hunting season ended after last Thanksgiving and once I got home I immediately began planning for this year—and looking for more Ridge Reaper gear to add to my closet.  I can’t wait to get in the woods again.


Photo copyright - Matt Bonham/http://www.mattbonham.com

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