After years of being overlooked, women shooters now have some practical, comfortable options. Ellena Swift puts the best to the test
As any female involved in fieldsports will know, buying women’s shooting clothing can be a bit of a nightmare. In decades past, I joined my first beating line and was clad in a wax jacket and trousers that disintegrated within a day. Many manufacturers overlooked us and in very recent —more inclusive — times there has been far more available. But it has often been of the pink, fur-trimmed and impractical variety.
A lot of women in years gone by gave up looking at the women’s shooting clothing and bought men’s purely for practicality. However, the fit was never quite right and there’s nothing more frustrating than forking out for something that really isn’t that comfortable.
Now that is starting to change. Fortunately, as more women get involved in country pursuits, manufacturers are recognising that there is money to be made if they can make a name for themselves. It is not that easy for the designers, though, as women require many different characteristics from their clothing.
First and foremost, it has to be practical. As amazing as it might look or expensive as it may be, the vast majority of women on the shooting field want the clothing that actually works. I spend the vast majority of my life out with dogs and in the field in some capacity or another.
The clothing needs to be warm. Shooting operates all year round, and working in the winter cold is not fun. It also needs to keep me dry and protect me from the elements. However, I often walk long distances and need to know that the clothing will ‘breathe’ when I get too warm.
The product needs to fit well, which might seem an obvious thing to say but once you have a shirt and a fleece underneath a jacket, it starts to get a bit tight.
The cost needs to reflect the product. I have to admit, I spent more than five years buying a jacket or a pair of wellies every other season. They either didn’t clean well, weren’t as warm or waterproof as I needed, ripped too easily or lost condition quickly and looked tired. Those days I am not in the shooting field, I am training dogs, so it’s rare in the winter if they get a day off. And last, but certainly not least, it is always nice if the clothing we wear does not resemble a shapeless bin bag. It’s important that your clothing looks smart, particularly if, like me, shooting is part of your career.
With all this in mind, I decided to look at how far women’s shooting clothing has come by reviewing three jackets from some of the top names in the industry. While there are many good British manufacturers of ladies’ clothing, a lot of us think the Scandinavians really lead the way when it comes to combining form and function at a sensible price.
Women’s shooting clothing – the options
Over the past six months, I’ve been trying a few items of clothing that exemplify how far women’s shooting clothing has come. I first tried the Sasta Suvanto trousers.
They were extremely comfortable around my waist with it being elastic, which is a must for the ladies.
They also had buttons to put braces on, which keeps everything so well tucked in. There is a good big pocket at the side for your essentials and the knees were moulded, protecting you when scrambling around in the undergrowth. I tend to wear wellies and wear the trouser legs tucked inside. However, the leg ends are adjustable so I could have easily worn them over the boots if I so desired.
The first jacket I tested was the Sasta Siiri. It is a true shooting jacket for ladies and a lot of thought and consideration has gone into the practicality. It is totally windproof and waterproof and also, thanks to the Gore-Tex material, breathable. The collar can be worn up or down to keep you warm in cold winds and the pockets are a good size, big enough to hold a box of cartridges. They also have the all-important popper clip to hold the pocket flap open. This makes it easy to grab a cartridge when a partridge starbursts over the hedgerow as you are reloading.
The hem is adjustable, which is a great addition and means I can easily keep myself tucked in but keep enough room to freely move around for shooting and handling dogs. The sleeves are a really good length as it is infuriating when they are too short and your wrists are constantly uncovered and cold. They are also adjustable using simple poppers.
One of the things I love about any jacket is something called ‘resting pockets’. These pockets are slightly higher than the main ones and are perfect for keeping your hands warm and doing as they are named; resting.
The double zip at the front makes for quick and easy access to the underneath layers and it has a handy inside pocket which easily looks after vitals such as keys and phone. There is the option to have a hood which is detachable via poppers. At times when the weather is really awful a hood is a valuable addition, but I do like the option to remove it because when not required it is bulky and can get in the way.
I was really thrilled with this jacket — it is definitely designed for the job and is well thought-out. The lovely thing is that it fits beautifully and has a feminine touch. This means that I would happily wear this when trying to look smart to meet clients as well as out shooting.
The Härkila Orton packable ladies jacket is the lightest of the three that I tried. It genuinely feels as though you are wearing nothing. It worked well when I tried it pigeon shooting and within a few hours we had rain, hail and sunshine. Despite being made of lightweight material, it is not noisy, which is valuable particularly when shooting with ear defenders on. The jacket has a windproof and waterproof membrane and there is enough room and give within it to wear the all-important layers underneath if it is really cold.
The wrist adjusters are Velcro rather than a popper which I am not as keen on, purely because I find the Velcro picks up bits of cover, burrs, cleavers and every other bit of foliage in the countryside. The waist and hem are both adjustable, offering a lot of freedom to add or remove layers and retain the fit.
This jacket also has a hood but rather than being removable it packs into its own pocket at the back. This is a useful feature if you simply want to get it out the way quickly. The best thing about this jacket is the ability to pack it up into its own inner pocket. It is so small and could easily be put into, for example, a training vest.
I would definitely use the jacket on dog training days because it is so easy to pack into a vest pocket when it gets warmer. The Orton ladies jacket appears unique in this function. With the lightweight material you lose the toughness and durability the others have, but it makes up for it with adaptability and its usefulness.
The last on test was the Deerhunter Lady Christine jacket. This is similar in looks to the Sasta Siiri jacket and has comparable features. Like the other two, it is windproof and waterproof. It is a lovely fitted jacket with adjustable waist and hem. It has adjustable sleeves as well but again they have Velcro as opposed to poppers. The hood is practical, removable and adjustable to make it a snug fit if required. It is also extremely lightweight, making it comfortable and practical to wear all day long.
This jacket is unique in that it includes a stretch fabric in exposed places; primarily the side panels. This is great for when you need suppleness for movement or a bit of stretch when wearing layers.
My only slight concern with this would be the vulnerability to ripping when beating or picking-up and going through cover.
There is one feature on this jacket that I felt was notable for a picker-up. On the tops of the shoulders there are patches of tougher reinforced material, perfect for where a game carrier strap would rest. There is the popper to clip up the flap on the main pocket but my only slight issue with this is that the pocket flap has two poppers, one either end of the flap.
This means that, when suspended up, it is not done from the middle, meaning one side still covers the pocket opening. All three jackets are hugely desirable and have their individual merits. I would happily recommend any of them. The true test will be how they fare over time with hard use.
The best way to decide is to think about how your jacket will be used and if the jacket is suited. If I was just gundog training, the Härkila is ideal because it can keep you dry but also, if you get too warm, easily pack away into a pocket.
The Deerhunter, with its waist drawstring and additional stretch fabric, assists in free movement for shooting and walking.
However, after considerable thought, the Sasta is the best match for my needs, with the amount of days picking-up and beating that I do through dense cover, with its clever popper sleeves, adjustable hem and durable but lightweight material.
Women’s clothing has come a long way and I hope this increase of interest in it will continue. I recommend that now manufacturers understand the practical side of it, they might look to offer different fits for different generations of women.