The purpose of this article is to share what gear that Ryan, Jesse and I deem fit for all hunts. We didn’t get into weapons, shelters, and some of the obvious gear, but we wanted to shed some light on gear that you may not put much thought into or may not have thought about at all. Enjoy!
Kenton’s Top 5 Gear Items.
When it comes to picking gear for a specific hunting trip there is much to consider. How long are you going for, will you be living off your back or will there be stock to help you get to where you want to set up base camp? What is the weather going to be like? Those are just a few of the many questions that need to be answered when considering a hunt, but there are a few things that I believe are staples to any hunt regardless on how you answered the previous questions. These items are those things that I have in my gear list whether I am planning a 12 day drop hunt in remote Alaska, or just a weekend trip into the Montana backcountry for elk. I understand that this is not a complete gear list but I fal back on these items because I have found that they give you the most bang for your buck.
Good boots: Assuming that you are going to be on your feet for an extended period of time, and that, if all goes well, you will be packing out a large load at some point in the trip you have only on way to do all that moving around…your feet. If your feet get blistered up and you are in pain with every step you will not have a good experience. Even if you plan to use stock while on your next hunt, you should consider that you will most likely be on your feet some, and even if the stock gets the task of hauling your meat to the trail head, you will most likely be waling the trek back either leading or following. Nothing is going to ruin your hunt faster than raw feet. That doesn’t mean that you have to go out and buy the most expensive boots on the market, but you should find a boot that is tough, offers support, and fits your foot. It doen’t stop there. You then need to make sure that you are putting a minimum of 50 miles in that boot so get a pulse of any rub spots (hopefully none) you may have in your boots. Regardless, I always carry a roll of Luko tape for hot spots.
Headlamp (extra batteries): If you have ever been caught in the dark without a headlamp to light your way, consider yourself lucky. It is something that is not going to be life and death in most situations but putting this inexpensive piece of equipment in your pack can potentially save you a lot of headache. I have used mine to find my way in and out of remote places, assist in tracking and processing an animal that I have shot just before dark, and in a few cases, it kept me from walking off cliffs with a load of meat on my back. It is one of those items that you may never think about until you need it, and most importantly, it’s one of the few items I have in my pack that if I don’t have working batteries it is useless, to make sure that you get the brightest one that you can afford, and bring extra batteries.
Rain Gear: This is another one of those items that I never leave home without. I don’t care what the forecast says, it might rain. I look at it this way. Being cold can be dealt with by adding layers, and if you have the right layering system (wool baselayer, proper mid-weight, and synthetic down jacket is mine) and are able to move, or stop moving, you can regulate your core temperature within a large range of elements. However, if you get wet, you are going to have to stop and deal with it, and in some extreme cases, you can die of exposure. I buy light weight rain gear that I put in the hood of my pack, for quick access, and if it starts to rain, I put it on. It also is great for blocking the wind and keeping your butt dry when your glassing early in the morning.
Small tarp: This is a small eight-foot by eight-foot tarp that you will never regret bringing. The best thing about having an extra tarp is that there is so many uses for this single item. I have used it for a quick shelter from the rain, or sun, a ground tarp on my floorless tent when setting up in the rain, a shelter for a meat cache, and a shelter for the group gear to free up room in the sleep shelter. The key to choosing any item is that it has more than one possible function on your trip and a tarp is one of those items.
Petroleum Jelly Cotton Balls: Maybe I have had too many rainy hunting trips, but I don’t go on any hunt without Firestarter and specifically, cotton balls socked in Vaseline. This is a very cheap, and light way to assure that you will be able to get a fire started under any conditions. In the case that you don’t need them for starting a fire, you can use them to treat small abrasions, dry skin, chapped lips. Really easy to make as well. Buy a jar of petroleum jelly and melt it down in a small sauce pan. Once it has liquified, slowly add the cotton balls. (Caution: It is hot! So use tongs, or a fork to put in and take out the cotton balls) Once the saucepan is jammed full of cotton balls, let the pan cool completely. Separate the cotton balls into used and there you have it. One important note is that if you use it as a fire starter, make sure to pull the cotton ball apart to expose the dry cotton inside. This will make the ball much easier to light.
Ryan’s Top 5 Gear Items
I’m going to assume all backcountry hunters have a weapon, a good pair of binos, are wearing clothes, a good sleep system, and their favorite pair of boots. I want to get beyond those big items and get down to my top 5 items that I use most often and I leave every hunt thankful that I brought it with me.
Backpack: I like to use an internal frame pack with external pockets for organization, at least 3 horizontal compression straps, and a frame tough enough to pack up to 100 pounds or more. Nothing will frustrate your more than getting your animal on the ground and having a pack failure. Take the time in the off season to train with your pack and make sure it is comfortable, or as comfortable as 80-100 pounds can be. There are a lot of great companies making excellent packs. Find one that fits your needs and don’t look back.
Rangefinder: Whether you are archery hunting, rifle hunting, or muzzleloader hunting, knowing the exact range to your animal has never been easier than it is today. There is no excuse to not carry a rangefinder anymore, they are found everywhere and will minimize frustration on misjudging the yardage and missing your one shot at the animal you’ve spent days hunting. I personally use a Sig 2K and love it but there are many others out there that are very good.
Trekking Poles: The first time I used trekking poles was in Alaska packing out a bull caribou through the tundra 6 miles back to the Dalton Highway aka Haul Road. I can honestly say that without those poles (which were just old ski poles) I don’t think I would have made it in one trip. Since that hunt, I do not go on a backpack hunt without them. They are worth their weight in gold!! The carbon fiber poles today are super light and even if they weight twice as much I would still bring them. I use a set by Black Diamond but again, lots of companies making great collapsible poles out there.
GPS: It is so important to have some sort of GPS and know how to use it. From using the maps to look at potential area to hunt to just knowing where you are and where that animal is you just spotted is critical. They make GPS systems that allow you to text your family (INReach) and with companies like OnX maps where you can use your phone as your GPS it has never been easier. I never go into the mountains without my GPS.
Puffy Jacket: I know it’s a clothing item but it has to be mentioned. A good down or synthetic (your choice) puffy jacket is something I am always glad I have in my pack when the temps dip down and I’m on a hillside glassing. I have never been on a backcountry hunt without one and I never will. The warmth to weight ratio is unbeatable and most of them pack up so small they hardly take up any room in your pack. I personally use the Kryptek Aquillo jacket and love it. Having a hood seems to add about 10-15 degrees when your wear it so I love having a hood.
Jesse’s Top 4 Gear Items
Straight to it!
20 feet of paracord: There are 101 used for paracord. It can be used to hang meat, clothes, tie things to your pack, extra shoe laces, and a tourniquet and again, just to name a few.
3 Gallon sized Zip Lock Freezer Bags: A ton of uses for these bags like packing a daily ration, keeping underwear and socks dry, waterproofing your camera/phone, etc.
Headlamp: Your going to want it at some point, so you better have it.
Baby wipes: You don’t want to get monkey butt so take care of business. These are also a great way to clean up before bed, meals, etc. Staying healthy is key to being out there longer, so don’t neglect the little things.
So there you have it. I recognize that there are plenty of items that I left off this list, but Ryan and Jesse hit some additional gear that are a must for any hunt. If you have a piece of must have gear that isn’t on any of these lists, let us know, we would love to hear from you.