Although I’ve been hunting out of a backpack for over 25 years, I’ve never considered myself serious about it. It is a means to an end to find and harvest mature critters. I am serious about hunting and it doesn’t matter how I accomplish it. Some folks are serious about backpacking and can spew ounces and brands in their sleep. Some guys are the same about archery, muzzleloaders, long range, etc., etc. I know enough about all of them to be dangerous but don’t consider myself “serious” about any of them. They’re a tool for me to use while hunting to increase my odds of success or extend my days in the field. Nothing more.
With that being said, I know that I’m a better hunter with less ounces on my back for an extended outing. Over the years I have swapped out some of my older and heavier items for newer and lighter gear. Many might still scoff at the contents of my pack if I were to pass them on the trail but I am getting better every year. Thankfully, those that are “serious” about backpacking continue to push the envelope on weight, functionality, and durability with new products. I may be several years behind the curve before it makes it into my pack, but it is always an improvement over my neanderthal gear. I still laugh with my 2 brothers about the look on our dad’s face from our first ever backpack hunt – spring bear in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness in Central Idaho. Dad was out of town on business and had his three boys load his pack. He specifically asked my older brother, Jake, to charge and pack the video camera. Who knew that the red light on the charger meant it was ‘charging’ and not already fully charged? Dad wasn’t nearly as mad about packing 2 dead batteries and a useless camera as he was the fact that Jake had packed the camera in the pelican case before putting it in his backpack. I guess the charger and cables to hook into the tv were pretty useless that far into the wilderness as well. In our defense, we still contend that he should have actually looked in his pack before we started up the trailhead. This simple task would have also uncovered the 2 cast iron fry pans. I’m sure he would have thought it was a prank his teenage boys were trying to pull on him. Somehow he refused to see the humor in it after 3,000 vertical feet and 5.2 miles. At least we had something to use to heat up the 4 or 5 one pound cans of Dinty Moore Beef Stew he graciously packed up the mountain for us. If I remember correctly, those cast iron pans were a wedding gift. There surely had to be something nostalgic about them for him to voluntarily pack both off the mountain.
As I reflect back on that first backpack hunt I guess I really have come a long way. Here are some of the top items I have found the past several hunting seasons to help shed weight and increase my comfort and productivity in the hills. In no particular order:
- Easton Connex: I started using trekking poles for most my rigorous hunts several years ago. It always seemed like a waste of weight and space to also carry shooting sticks. With Easton Connex, the shooting sticks stay at home. Connex allows you to convert your trekking poles to shooting sticks in a few seconds. Weighing in at mere ounces it is both a space and weight saver. eastonoutfitters.com/product/connex
- Tenacious Tape: I had a pinprick hole in my Big Agnes sleeping pad a few years ago on a Wyoming backpack elk hunt. I had left my patch kit at the truck in an effort to save a few
ounces. This was also about the time I started packing a down jacket in my pack. Tenacious tape is amazing for holes in either of these products. It could also be used for tent, rainfly, or about anything else that needs patched.
- Optimus Crux stove with Cook Set: A whopping 9.7 ounces for heat exchange sauce pan, fry pan, and stove. The unused space in the cook set will also hold an 8 oz. gas cartridge and my folding titanium spoon inside for safe keeping. I’ve owned several other stoves and this is the lightest and most efficient I’ve used.
- Elevation Jacket with Down Tek: Core 4 Element hit it out of the park with this jacket. Lightweight! Packable! Warm! Waterproof Down! This is my favorite piece of backpacking outerwear gear. I wear it on those cold mornings and evenings behind the spotting scope for hours on end. It also serves as my pillow on the mountain. I probably could have listed the whole C4E lineup here as it is a huge improvement over my old blue jeans and cotton flannel shirts, but I will only list my favorite item here.
- Schnee’s Granite boots: Schnee’s has been marketing and selling high quality mountain boots to hunters longer than I can remember. I still remember how excited I was when I purchased a pair of their ‘Sheep Hunters’ over a decade ago. It took me years and years of serious use and abuse to finally force them into retirement. I then tried a couple pairs of boots from other companies that marketed high-end Italian boots. After 3 or 4 seasons of serious pain and blisters I finally wised up and went back to Schnee’s. 1 ½ seasons in the Granite and my feet are happy and healthy again. I’ve never been one to worry about extra ounces on my feet. If my feet hurt, the lightest boots in the world do me no favors 8 miles from the trailhead. My Granites are comfortable enough I even wear them on summer backpack trips when the temps can be higher. www.schnees.com
- Alpine Air Dehydrated food: My backpacking cuisine has seen some of the most drastic improvements since the old days of packing cans of Dinty Moore beef stew and peaches. Last year I found Alpine Air and thought we’d try it on a family backpack trip. My girls loved the Teriyaki chicken and my wife couldn’t believe the Cinnamon Apple Crisp was dehydrated. Lots of selections for any palette.
- Easton Kinetic Carbon 3P Tent: 3lbs 3 oz. for a lightweight 3 person tent? Yup! I’ve used it for 2 full fall seasons and haven’t had any issues. It’s seen some early season snowstorms and a couple doozy mountain thunderstorms and I haven’t had to even use the footprint to keep it dry. I have one of the original prototypes when it was going to be named the Kilo 3P. I broke a joint on the Carbon Ion frame hunting timberline deer in western Wyoming. Not a deal breaker during my hunt and we made it through. Easton fixed the issue of too much torque on the poles in this prototype with the new Kinetic Carbon. I leave this in the article as Easton fixed the issue and the customer service was phenomenal. I got on the website and filled out the proper form, attached a pic, and emailed it to Easton. A week later I had a new set of poles in my living room even though my tent was the original/prototype model. I was very impressed with the customer service. I’ve never put 3 people in this tent but have put my wife, myself, and 3 days worth of gear in it. Spacious, lightweight and able to withstand the elements are a few reasons that really set this tent apart.
- Vortex Razor spotting Scope with Outdoorsman Tripod: I can’t believe I was in my mid 30’s before I ever owned a spotting scope. LAME! I don’t dare imagine how many critters I’ve walked by in that time. My excuses were fairly legit as I always had buddies with scopes and I could never justify that much money on a single fixed income with a family to raise. Every time I had enough stashed away something would always come up. I wasn’t going to buy a cheap spotter just to say I owned one. When the day finally came I did my research and bought the best spotter I could afford: Vortex Razor 16x48x65. I put an Outdoorsman’s medium tripod with pan head underneath it for an unbelievable, lightweight, and deadly combo. I chose the 65 MM objective instead of the 80 to save over a pound. This combo has definitely added some versatility to my hunting repoire’ that was missing before. I am a much more effective hunter. I wrote an article a few years ago and titled it “Eye-opening Experience” about hunting off a tripod. You can find it here if you’re interested: http://blog.westernhunter.net/eye-opening-experience-by-r-cade-powell-part-1-7/
- Big Agnes: When I replaced my old sleeping bag with a Big Agnes Fishhawk, I not only trimmed about 4 pounds but I freed up too many cubic inches in my pack to count. I love that I also added waterproof down with this selection. Throw in an insulated Q-Core pad to cover most of my hunting situations and I now sleep much easier in the hills. I loved this set up so much I did a review on it last year. You can find it here: http://blog.westernhunter.net/big-agnes-fish-hawk-and-q-core-pad-review/