Backpack hunting complicates everything. It’s one thing to go through all of the work and worry of preparing your hunting gear (bow, arrows, scent control, etc.), and it’s another to have to worry about all of those things plus everything that’s required to live in the backcountry for days on end.
Most backpack hunters obsess over their gear lists; packing and re-packing their gear many times before a hunt begins. And rightfully so! In today’s article I want to talk about what I feel are some of the most important items on my packing list – not with the intention of listing everything that’s required to backpack hunt – but with the sole goal of covering some items that help me enjoy (and at times simply endure) the demands of living in the wilderness while chasing elusive game. Here are 10 items to make your backpack hunt more enjoyable.
Boots are probably the most important gear choice that backpack hunters can make. After all, if you’re expecting to hike miles into the backcountry, as well as pack excessive loads of meat, the condition of your feet are critical.
Blistered and bruised feet might start off as annoying or painful, but they can quickly become immobilizing. And when it comes to backpack hunting, if you can’t cover ground, you can’t hunt. Skimp on your boots, and you might as well stay home. You certainly won’t enjoy the hunt, if you can even hunt at all.
Personally, I like the support of boots that are meant to handle tough terrain and support heavy loads. My favorite boot for backpack hunting is the Lowa Tibet. Regardless of what you choose, be sure – 100% sure – that they fit well when hiking in steep terrain and while carrying your loaded backpack.
When it comes to shelter and sleeping gear, most guys spend most of their time and money on tents and sleeping bags. As important as those items are, the secret to a good night’s sleep in the backcountry is choosing the right sleeping pad. A good sleeping pad will provide comfort that allows you to sleep instead of tossing and turning all night. The right sleeping pad will also provide proper insulation between you and the ground.
I prefer to use inflatable sleeping pads. Leave those thin blue foam mats for the boy scouts, and get something that will provide true comfort and insulation. Modern, auto-inflating sleeping pads are lightweight and pack-down incredibly small (about the size of a can of tennis balls). My personal choice of sleeping pad is the Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core.
Locating and filtering water is an important, inescapable task, while backpacking and living in the backcountry. The process can be a real chore and take up essential hunting time – especially if you’re using common pump-style water filters. Or, you can get a treatment setup that works while you rest.
I use a gravity-fed filter system from Platypus. The process is simple: fill my “dirty” bag from any water source, hang it from a tree and let gravity pull the water through the in-line filter and fill the clean bag that hangs below. Once filled, I can detach my clean bag from the filter, attach my drinking tube to the clean bag, and now I have a bladder of filtered water that I can put in my pack and drink while I hike and hunt.
Want to maintain energy, prevent fatigue, and avoid altitude sickness while hunting in the mountains? Then you better hydrate constantly. But, as good as filtered water tastes, it does get old after awhile. One of the small, enjoyable ways that I “treat myself” on a backpack hunt is with drinks. In the morning I’ll sometimes make instant coffee with Starbucks VIA packets. Love or hate Starbucks at home, it doesn’t matter – there’s no denying that their VIA single serving packets are perfect for backpack hunting.
During the day, I use NUUN tablets to add additional flavor to my water and supply myself with essential electrolytes. NUUN tablets drop right in to your water and dissolve in less than a minute; the result is a slightly carbonated, lightly flavored drink that’s also good for you. Instead of forcing myself to drink more water, with NUUN I enjoy it.
It’s day four. You’ve been hunting hard and covering miles on all of the previous days. You fluctuate between sweating and freezing (crazy mountain weather!). You’ve been wearing the same clothes the whole time; you feel nasty and smell even worse.
You need something to, as the ladies say, “freshen up.” Non-scented baby wipes work wonders in the wilderness. A baby wipe bath will not only make you feel great, it will help fight the growing smell that increases your chances of getting winded by the animals that you’re hunting.
In addition to baby wipes, I’ve also used a product called Action Wipes. They’re larger and softer than traditional baby wipes, and they’re treated with natural oils to increase cleansing. They do have a scent from the natural ingredients (mainly derived from plants), but it is a light scent and is not the byproduct of any synthetic fragrance additives.
Trekking poles? Those goofy looking things that elderly mall-walkers use? Yeah, those.
Until you’ve carried heavy loads in unforgiving terrain, you will underestimate how valuable trekking poles are. Even without the weight of packing-in a week’s worth of gear, or packing-out a year’s worth of wild meat, research has proven that using trekking poles while hiking in steep terrain will often dramatically reduce fatigue and increase endurance. Granted, I don’t use them as I hunt, but they are invaluable if you get to do what you’re aiming to do – pack a game animal out after a successful hunt. There is no doubt in my mind that I could not have packed last year’s elk out of the wilderness if it weren’t for the assistance of my trekking poles.
It’s a cliché term, so forgive me, but it is completely true when I say that the Havalon knife is a “game changer”. This small, lightweight, scary-sharp knife is a perfect choice for backpack hunters. The replaceable blades are incredibly effective on game — much more effective than their size would indicate.
Can you imagine butchering and entire elk with those little blades? It might be hard to believe, but my experience has proven that it is more than just possible – it is incredibly effective. You don’t need a big, heavy blade that will dull and require re-sharpening while working through big game. A Havalon with a few extra blades (included) is the way to go.
It can keep you warm. Dip it in a stream, and it can keep you cool. It will help conceal you from game. It can help stop bleeding from an injury. It can filter out large particles in water. It can clean up messes around camp. It has a hundred other uses. It is a bandana.
Upgrade from the old school, cotton, paisley patterned bandana, and get a merino wool gaiter from First Lite Wool. Not only are they offered in the best camouflage patterns, but the merino wool fabric won’t retain any odor, and it is also much better than cotton at regulating body temperature while worn. For one reason, or a hundred others, this small piece of cloth is absolutely essential for my backpack hunts.
Headlamps used to be specialty items, but now you can find them in nearly every store. Some sell for $6, and some sell for $200. What gives? Well, when it comes to backpack hunting, there are some particular features to look for that will make your use of light more effective and enjoyable.
First of all, make sure you select a headlamp that has a power lock (mechanically or electronically), so that it doesn’t turn itself on while in your pack and you then discover a dead light. Next, make sure that it has multiple brightness settings. You certainly don’t want to be running a high beam in your tent while you look for that misplaced sock, do you? Even better, get one that has a red light feature; this will provide ambient light and preserve your eye’s adapted night vision. You’ll probably need to spend more than $6, but my choice – the Black Diamond Spot – doesn’t cost too much more.
I’m sure you will do some scouting before you load up a backpack and leave the trailhead behind. But you’ll also quickly realize that your pre-hunt scouting didn’t fully prepare you for what the area would be like with boots on the ground. So it is important to bring your scouting intel with you.
Although GPS units and smartphones are powerful, I never leave printed topographic maps behind. These traditional maps allow me to survey larger areas of land at a glance and never worry about batteries or satellite signals.
But, when it comes to navigating to specific areas, a GPS-enabled device is unbelievably convenient and accurate. Whether you choose a dedicated GPS unit or take advantage of your smartphone’s capabilities, I highly suggest that you load your device with Hunting GPS Maps before the trip. This mapping platform will show you hunting-relevant data that traditional maps could never help with.
So, there you have it. From big-ticket items (boots) down to the small details (wipes), these products enable me to enjoy my backpack hunts. As tough as backpacking hunting can be, it is great to remember that you are out there to enjoy yourself after all.