Part of my personal evolutionary process was making the progression from weekend warrior to backcountry hunter. Once upon a time, deer camp constituted of two to three pickup trucks, a wall tent, and even a travel trailer with all of the amenities. We would drive to a “remote” location, set up the tent and three burner stoves, and unload multiple ice chests of food and beverages. Meals ranged from stew to ribeye steaks complete with taters, onions, maybe even a salad. While some of my fondest memories are of hunting camps described above, it is not practical in the backcountry. As my interests shifted, my expectations of comfort in the wilderness changed. The concept of “going in light” was not new. However, I did not yet know what worked for me, so as many before me have done, my first trip into the backcountry to hunt was burdened with an overloaded pack. I overpacked everything from clothes and food to ammo and toilet paper. After a three day stay, I carried out enough food and ammo to last another six. I carried three liters of water all the way to my base camp near a spring, and a filtration system to process more. Needless to say, I spent much of the first day of hunting nursing sore muscles, and dreading losing any elevation, for fear of having to climb again. I returned from this first true backpacking hunt realizing two major errors:
- If you’re too exhausted to hunt when you get there, you’re out of shape;
- You need to learn to be comfortable with the bare essentials.
If the Friday before the season opener is the first time you’ve climbed a mountain with a heavy pack, you’re likely in for a rough weekend. There are plenty of fitness aficionados in the hunting community with workout tips, so I’ll keep this section to a minimum, but being physically prepared to carry yourself into, and your quarry out of the backcountry is a must. Getting to camp with all your gear is not the end goal, you intend to kill and carry an animal out as well. I will however speak to the mental strength that is necessary. You must force yourself to be comfortable with less. Freeze dried food, iodine tainted water, and a jacket as a pillow are backcountry staples. Do not limit yourself to staying near “camp.” You’ve come this far, why not check the next drainage? A successful backcountry hunter is self motivated, physically fit, and mentally tough as nails.
If you’ve got the resolve, and the strength to tackle a trip deep into the wilderness, what should you pack? There are multiple sources for packing lists available on the internet, but I’ll include a basic rundown of my typical load out.
Pack Load Out
It is important to match your clothing to the expected conditions, and error on the side of caution; weather can change in an instant. This does not mean that you need to bring along your subzero bibs in case a rouge snowstorm hits in September, but a lightweight set of rain gear is a wise investment. We at OWO swear by KUIU as the most technical and lightest mountain apparel available, so my clothing list will reflect that. I strongly recommend that you invest in a good layering system, with breathable, moisture wicking base layers under a weather proof outer layer. A typical archery hunt for us here in California starts in late August, where temperatures can reach as high as 90 F even at 8,000 ft. elevation, with lows in the 40’s and thunderstorms likely. This means we must be prepared for any weather. Because it is usually so warm, we typically hike in wearing gym shorts and a moisture wicking tee shirt, to avoid sweating out the gear we’ll be hunting in.
- Merino top
- Merino base pants
- DCS guide vest
- Attack pant
- Chugach pant
- Chugach rain jacket
- Merino gloves
- Merino beanie
- 2-3 pair merino socks
- 2-3 pair underwear
I have found that 2 good pair of merino wool socks, alternated daily and properly dried can last a week, I pack two and wear one in. Obviously, the apparel must be adjusted for different seasons and different conditions.
I prefer to cut more weight than others in this department. Some, including members of our group, believe that the comforts of a tent is worth the extra pound or two to pack along. Personally, I can get by with a bivouac that is usually half the weight of most tents, yet still protects me from the elements. I have two sleeping bags; one for warm weather, and one for cold, but both are down, which provides a better warmth to weight ratio than synthetic insulation, but is more vulnerable to moisture. Match your sleeping bag to the conditions. I like inflatable sleeping pads for comfort and compressibility, but the good old Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Mattress is still a good option.
- Down sleeping bag
- Bivy sack
- Inflatable sleeping pad
Note the lack of a pillow; a rolled up jacket serves two purposes and works just fine.
This is one of the easiest areas to overpack. Extra food is a security blanket that many have trouble casting away. Keep in mind that you will be burning more calories than you would in a typical day, and budget an appropriate amount. I prefer freeze dried meals to MRE’s, but this means I must also pack a stove and fuel. MSR’s pocket rocket is a perfect minimalist stove, that will literally fit in your pocket. I typically bring one freeze dried meal for each day, and supplement with jerky and carbs (bagels and crackers) and snacks (meal replacement bars, nuts, etc), as well as instant oatmeal for breakfast. One invaluable nutrition item I bring along is Wilderness Athlete’s “Hydrate and Recover” and “Energy and Focus” pouches to add to my water. These replenish much needed electrolytes and amino acids, as well as add a boost of energy when needed.
- Freeze dried meals (1 for each day)
- Protein (jerky, peanut butter, tuna, etc)
- Carbohydrates (bagels, crackers, meal replacement bars etc)
- Pocket Rocket, fuel, and “pot”
- “Hydrate and Recover”
- “Energy and Focus”
It is important to calculate a caloric intake for each day, and pack for each day’s meals. I use zip-lock bags for each day, and force myself to consume the contents of each day’s bag.
Staying hydrated in the backcountry is paramount. I carry a 3 liter bladder in my pack that is full when I leave the trail head. Pre-hydrating is also extremely beneficial on long backcountry hunts. I typically have my water sources identified prior to a backcountry trek, and schedule refills based on my route. It is important to consume water while on the trail to maintain hydration. My pack is never without a small bottle of “Potable Aqua,” iodine tablets that can purify water in a half an hour. It costs mere ounces to ensure purification of water outright. I also carry a filtration device, for processing large quantities of water, as well as a collapsible water storage bag. I prefer the Sawyer Mini, a small filter that can be used as a gravity feed, an inline or a squeeze filter, and weighs merely ounces. I also bring along a lightweight water bottle for mixing hydration/energy supplements.
- Sawyer Mini
- Potable Aqua
- Platypus 3L storage
- Deuter 3L bladder
- Sigg 1L bottle
This portion of your load out will vary whether you are hunting with a rifle or a bow, but many staples will remain. I always bring binoculars, 10x42, and the very best you can afford, along with a spotting scope and range finder. I am not very proficient shooting a bow with fingers, so I pack an extra release, as well as a spool of serving, just in case something goes wrong. One good knife and some knowledge of how to break down an animal can replace three knives and a saw. I prefer the Havalon Piranta for its weight, and replaceable blades.
- Vortex 10x42 Binos
- Vortex Razor 50 mm spotter
- Vortex Ranger 1000 range finder
- Extra serving
- 2 Releases
- Havalon, and replacement blades
- Compass & GPS
- Pain killer (Ibuprofen, Tylenol etc.)
- First aid kid (minimalist)
This is a very basic list of the things I typically pack on a backcountry hunt. It is up to you to cater your load out to the weather conditions and the hunting style for each individual hunt, but this is the basis of what goes into my pack. If you are headed into the wilderness with a partner, look into sharing the weight of food and shelter. Remember to pack according to the conditions and to adjust for the duration of time you’ll be spending in the backcountry. Train before you embark, and maintain mental toughness, keeping in mind that you are roughing it for a cause. Shoot straight, and enjoy your time in God’s country.
Did We Miss Something?
It is a large world out there and the variety can be limitless. However, do you have some items you think we missed or any suggestions? We would love to hear about any items that make your gear list. Or any suggestions or adjustments to our list, that you would make for different types of hunts. Please leave your comments below.