What makes a fleece comfortable? Lofted polyester fibers trap warm air next to your body and don’t absorb water, and an open weave vents any moisture your body produces. Warm plus dry equals comfort outdoors. There’s just one problem: weather. Add wind, rain, or snow, and suddenly that comfy fleece can’t keep you warm.
Not the new Bluff Berber Jacket ($250) from Bozeman, Montana-based apparel brand Sitka. The Bluff Berber sandwiches a Gore Windstopper membrane inside a high-loft fleece, blocking wind and light precipitation while retaining the fabric’s traditional feel.
Sitka drew its fleece’s unique approach from its whitetail deer hunting apparel. Whitetail are an exceptionally wary animal, and hunting them typically involves sneaking into a hidden location before first light, then sitting perfectly still for hours on end, waiting for one to walk in front of you. At the first hint of sound or movement, the whitetail will disappear. And since most hunts for the species occur late in the fall, the weather is almost always cold and damp.
Following the usual prescription for layering—base layers, fleece, puffy, shell—is no good, because puffies and shells make a lot of noise. Plus, the whitetail hunter endeavors to avoid working up a sweat during the hike into their stand to avoid the chill moisture will inevitably create once they sit still—and its odor.
Sitka’s solution was to replace the waterproof shell and puffy insulation with a heavy fleece outer layer that buries a Windstopper membrane inside the fabric. The end result is utterly silent and capable of blocking most weather, while remaining breathable. Whitetail hunters everywhere love the end result: the brand’s Fanatic jacket and bibs.
But that formula is too good to limit it to hunting, so Sitka designed the Bluff Berber. It uses the same fleece and membrane as the Fanatic, just in solid colors, and more flattering fits.
Pick up the Bluff Berber, and the first thing you’ll notice is the weight. It’s several times heavier than other jackets due to the membrane, of course, but also thanks to the thick, dense nature of the fleece itself. Put it on, and that weight translates to warmth. Walk outside, and the usual feeling of a breeze cutting through your clothing just isn’t there. Windstopper minimizes convective heat loss, while still allowing sweat to escape.
Incorporating a windproof shell inside a fleece jacket comes with both plusses and minuses. While you feel no wrinkle and hear no noise from the membrane, the garment it helps create is less packable and less breathable than typical fleece. I wouldn’t want to carry the Bluff Berber in a backpack for much distance, it can’t dump body heat in the same way an active mid-layer like Polartec Alpha does, and it won’t layer well under other garments.
But rather than incorporating the Bluff Berber into your usual layering system, think of it as the ultimate standalone jacket for campfire hangs, cabin lounging, and cold-weather road trips. In short, it’s simply the coziest fleece out there.