A good early season coat should be light, robust and practical, says Richard Negus as he tests out a selection for Shooting Times
While the summer sun cracks the flagstones and sensible dogs seek shade, choosing a coat is probably the last thing on your mind. However, as we all know, the British weather is a fickle mistress. I am looking at four factors in my choice of autumn sporting coat when picking out the best lightweight jackets for shooting. (Read here for the best clothing for walked-up grouse and partridge shooting.)
Choosing the best lightweight jackets for shooting
First, is it lightweight — can the coat be easily stashed in a gamebag, ready to be donned the moment you hear the first drops? Secondly, is it robust? Thirdly, is it practical for the field? Finally, is it as much at home in the high seat or hide as it is on the hill or heather? With these criteria in mind, I set about testing four autumn-weight coats over the space of a meteorologically mixed-bag fortnight. (Read here for our list of the best waterproof jackets for shooting.)
Best for traditional shooting looks
+ Waterproof even after washing
+ Folds up easily
The Ultralight II is well named — it weighs in at somewhere between thistledown and gossamer and folds to the size of an A4 envelope. Yet simultaneously, the coat is as tough as old boots. This is unashamedly a shooting coat in the traditional sense. It has proper pockets — a box of cartridges fits in either side — and there is a strap to keep the flap open to aid loading. Plus, the game pocket is big enough to actually hold game. There is a dart under each armpit, meaning you can mount a gun or cast a fly without the jacket riding up. The hood is admittedly a bit weedy, but Schöffel isn’t really the sort of brand associated with hoodies. Internal wind cuffs are a welcome touch and the external cuffs are adjusted by poppers. The Ultralight is also ultra-waterproof, made from breathable two-layer Venturi fabric. I gave it a machine wash at 40°C and it lost none of its water-repelling powers afterwards. Zip pulls are the usual YKK Schöffel high standard. If you are looking to criticise the Ultralight, you could say it is less stylish than the others, but unless you are an Instagram ‘influencer’, this is of no importance in the field because this coat is quite simply brilliant.
Best for stalking
+ Silent, breathable and waterproof fabric
+ Weights just 800g
Brand ShooterKing is a relative newcomer to the British market. It is distributed by Thomas Jacks, known best as the UK face of such quality optics as Cobra, Yukon and Pulsar, which gives you an indication that ShooterKing is very much at home in the stalking world. The Huntflex is clearly perfectly suited for stalking with its Hunt Lite three-layer fabric, which is flexible, silent, breathable, wind and waterproof. The material is also tough — I buried myself in a mixed thorn hedge and it refused to snag or rip. Cuffs are rubberised and the Velcro that adjusts them is strong. The hood is of sufficient size to wear over a baseball cap should light rain turn to deluge, and the collar zips up to cover half your face. However, the styling is such that you could wear this jacket to the Game Fair and not look like an assassin. The pockets happily accommodate a dozen 12-bore cartridges each side. Every zip pull is a sturdy YKK, while the zips themselves are bonded and thus truly waterproof. The coat weighs a mere 800g and folds down to nothing, leaving plenty of space in a standard-sized gamebag. It is quite short, and if you sit down on a wet log you are going to get a damp rear end; however, a matching pair of trousers are available should you want to turn this excellent garment from a mild-weather jacket into a full sporting outfit.
Best for whole season
+ Silent fabric
+ Plenty of pockets
I will admit I am usually a sucker for Deerhunter kit — I would sooner lose a kidney than my Mallard wildfowling coat. Which is why I wanted to list this in my best lightweight jackets for shooting roundup. The Deerhunter Muflon Light jacket is the most bulky of this quartet — when folded, it left little room in the gamebag for any actual game. That being said, this coat does boast a plethora of pockets, most of which are genuinely large enough to carry the kit any sportsman would need — you might even squeeze a pigeon into the game pocket. The only real niggle is that the two hand-warmers are placed so high up on the garment that my elbows stuck out like a doorman’s. The zips are not bonded but sealed with popper flaps, and the pulls are chunky YKKs that a gorilla would struggle to break. The main body is Deertex membrane, which is flexibly breathable and both wind and waterproof. Indeed, so confident are the Danes in their material that it comes with a five-year warranty. Under the arms and along the sides of the jacket, the Muflon Light uses a silent material, which highlights that this is in essence a stalker’s coat that could be used for other activities, rather than being a genuine all-rounder. The cuffs are excellent, with reinforced fasteners and high-quality Velcro. The hood is a bit stingy and I found it restrictive if worn up over a hat. Like with the ShooterKing Huntflex, you will get a wet bottom if you sit down on a damp bank thanks to the short styling; however, there are matching Muflon Light trousers available. Overall, this coat is a touch too substantial and cosy to be genuinely described as summer apparel but, that being said, it could easily become your go-to coat for much of the season itself.
Best for simplicity
+ Useful hood
+ Waterproof and chillproof
– Cuffs catch on everything
The best word to describe the Avail is ‘ligetil’, which is Danish for straightforward. Seeland has avoided being overly clever or fancy with this jacket. It passed the gamebag test well, folding down to a minuscule size. It has three external pockets; the side two are well located but not overly generous — big enough for a flybox or two, but you will have to carry the dog’s dummy. The breast pocket is designed to accommodate a walkie-talkie. The main zip, and those on the pockets, are bonded in a fairly rigid plastic that actually gave me a paper cut when I tugged up the notably flimsy pulls. While I went off to find a plaster, I mused on how well the zip fastenings will stand up to hard use. The outer shell is the Seetex two-layer system, which is waterproof and keeps the evening chill off admirably. If you like a hood, the Avail’s is excellent, sufficiently sized to fit over a hat and kitted out with a curveable brim. The cuffs, however, are something of a let-down. The Velcro isn’t that strong and the adjuster is lightweight, causing it to curl back, which then catches on your fly line, brambles or the pocket of your trousers. I wear an XL, yet the Avail’s size 52 felt very snug; this leads the jacket to ride up when you mount a gun or cast a rod. I am usually a fan of Seeland’s ligetil ethos of making affordable, honest sporting clothing. However, while I can forgive a cut knuckle, the Avail’s wonky cuffs catching on anything and everything turned me off it.