If you’re a backpack hunter, this is not unfamiliar ground in which we’re going to venture. One’s pack weight seems to be a major thought as you prepare for that hunt where everything you’ll need to survive is to be carried on your person. Every ounce tends to add up over the course of multiple days and multiple hunts during the season. Some people keep everything organized on a spreadsheet knowing the exact weight contribution of every item. Some people throw everything they think they need into their pack in about 10 minutes, pick up their 40 pound pack, and then say, “This still doesn’t include my 20 lb of food or any water.” Let’s talk about some important points to consider when making your gear list for that hunt so you aren’t overloaded.
Make a Gearlist
Yes, make a gearlist. You need to have something in front of you that you can use as a check-off list and also refer back to for the next hunt. It will allow you to get organized and prepared. Sure, you can use a spreadsheet to get it all organized into categories such as “Sleep System and Shelter ”, “Kill Kit”, “Cooking”, and “First Aid”, etc. There are obviously several other categories, but you get the drift. Each category will contain several items (the brand as well) that can be weighed with a small postage scale or you can use the advertised weight from the company. List all that out and sum each category along with a grand total. This is my preferred method so I know precisely which items are weighing me down unnecessarily. It also allows me to identify redundancy as well as important gear that serve more than one purpose.
One can also just write everything down on a checklist for that particular hunt and weigh everything as a whole once the pack is full. Some guys function fine in doing this but may have trouble finding those extra unnecessary ounces. You should figure out how detailed you want to go with this and make a system that works for you.
Shaving Ounces and Sacrifice
You’ll find the more you study your gear, the question that often arises is, “Can I sacrifice and cut here to save weight?” That is a difficult and very individualistic question. Sometimes, it might be an age-related answer. For example, younger people may do just fine sleeping on an ultralight 1” pad while using their puffy jacket for a pillow. At 44, I’ve had back problems for years and must use a heavier 4” pad and an inflatable pillow to sleep well out there. There’s probably a pound of difference between these two scenarios, but I have to be able to get my rest. That’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make. On the other hand, I prefer a cuben fiber, two-person, floorless shelter supported by a trekking pole to house me and my gear. Another guy might need a double-walled two-person, fully enclosed tent for him to feel comfortable about keeping monsters away during the night. There could be a 2-3 lb advantage to my system there. It’s all about what you are willing to sacrifice. Your decision.
• What if it rains? Are you carrying a full set of rain gear or just the top with no rain pants? Depends. For me, I mostly carry a top and leave the bottoms in the truck. I hunt mostly in Idaho, and if the weather doesn’t call for rain, I’m surely not carrying bottoms. I can usually set up shelter and ride it out, but I always have a contractor sized garbage bag on me to use in emergencies. It is a multiple purpose item in my pack. Certain parts of the world such as Alaska or parts of Oregon and Washington, I’m definitely bringing good rain gear.
• What if there are black bears in the area possibly? Some may call me foolish, but I do not carry bear spray or a side arm typically. I just don’t want the extra weight for a highly unlikely situation that I really haven’t properly practiced or prepared myself for. In grizzly country, I’d take more precautions. Either way, I still keep a very clean camp as to not provoke a curious bear.
• What if my release breaks or gets lost? I do not carry an extra release in my pack, but I do have one in my truck. Like my rain pants, I can go get it if needed. I don’t want the extra weight.
Extras and Backups
This particular segment drives me up the wall. I once hunted with a guy that brought a 7000 cubic inch pack for a 3-day hunt. Now, it’s not necessarily the pack with which I had a problem, it was it’s contents. It wreaked of redundancy and possible preparedness for catastrophic events. He had backups for his backups. He carried backup batteries for his extra headlamp type of thing. He had a backup water filter, 15 rounds for his 7mm, and enough food for 5 days (again, 3-day hunt). Did I mention he carried bear spray and a pistol? That was the guy in the mirror when I first started backpack hunting. I soon learned how to remedy this.
Carrying unnecessary backups can really rack up the weight. I like being prepared as much as the next guy but let’s take a deep breath for a minute. Here are a few items that serve as backups.
1. Extra headlamp
2. Water purification tablets
3. 1/2 day of food
4. Navigation backup (compass and map)
5. Backup fire starter (waterproof matches)
These are the important things that cover food, water, fire, navigation, and artificial light. With these backups, the chances of you not making it back home are slim. Combined, they weigh less than a pound and a half.
Now that we live in the world of technical hunting clothes including merino wool and synthetic fabrics, we can focus for a minute on what we bring to wear. Most of this is personal preference by knowing how your body performs and maintains in certain environments with your apparel. However, don’t bring a clean pair of underwear and a clean pair of socks for each day of the hunt. With merino and it’s antimicrobial properties, you can go multiple days with the same pair of wear. I do like to have a rotation of socks putting on a dry pair right before I crawl in the bag and putting the ones I wore all day either hanging in my shelter or lying at the bottom of my bag. They are usually dry by the next day. This also helps keep hotspots and blisters away.
“Packing your fears” as they say can leave you expending unnecessary energy and cause fatigue while carrying your gear during the hunt. You’ll need all the energy you can muster when your packing that animal out. Get to know your gear inside and out, and ask yourself tough questions about what you can and can’t live without in the backcountry. Get creative and carry items that have multiple uses while discarding items that you seldom use (exception being first aid kit). I debrief my gear after every hunt taking note of the items that I didn’t use. They are then on a “watch” list for removal from my kit. If any items make the list a second time, they are scrutinized intently and usually removed. I am also always watching for gear to replace my current items that might be lighter in weight without sacrificing performance. For instance, going from a nylon shelter to a cuben fiber shelter was more expensive but shaved weight. Going from a mummy bag to a quilt last year was another example of an upgrade in weight and pack space savings. So, do your homework, put in the time and effort, and raise the bar on your gear list and overall backcountry experience. Your body will thank you!