Today’s young, do-it-yourself hunters fill their Instagram profiles with images in the backcountry, decked out in the latest gear.
And for the most part, it’s great gear – far better than the low-quality equipment we had to choose from in the 1980s or early ’90s. Nonetheless, this 50-something outdoorsman sticks with some old stand-bys that have served him well for decades.
Quality backpacking gear these days is a big investment, and when you’re talking outdoor equipment, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of options, from budget-friendly choices to high-end, top-of-the-line gear. Everyone wants durability, functionality, and the peace of mind it brings miles from civilization, but don’t skimp on quality.
Owning gear that withstands the elements doesn’t have to break the bank anymore.
THE HOUSE ON YOUR BACK
When choosing a backpack, consider the following:
CAPACITY: Assess your needs based on the length of your trips. For a weekend camper, a 40- to 60-liter backpack may suffice, while a hunter on an extended expedition likely needs larger capacity of 70 liters or more.
COMFORT: Look for padded shoulder straps and a well-ventilated back panel. Comfort is paramount, especially when carrying a loaded pack for extended periods.
TOUGHNESS: Choose materials that can withstand rough terrain and varying weather. Reinforced seams, robust zippers, and water-resistant fabrics are key features.
ACCESSIBILITY: A backpack with multiple compartments allows for organized storage and easy access to essential items afield.
BIGGEST EXPENSE: A QUALITY TENT
In summer, a lightweight, breathable tent keeps you and your gear dry from rainstorms and the bugs out. For autumn hunts, a three-season tent with proper insulation becomes more critical. I have camped in tents under-equipped for cold, and it’s not fun. Consider the following when buying a tent:
WEIGHT: For the backpacker, a lightweight tent is crucial. Look for options made from durable yet lightweight nylon or polyester.
SEASONS: Three-season tents perform for spring, summer, and fall, but if you expect wintry temperatures, opt for a more expensive, four-season shelter.
SETUP: Quick and easy setup tents are everywhere, but some are junk. Quality designs are handy when pitching in tough weather. Look for color-coded poles and simple designs.
VENTILATION: Proper ventilation prevents condensation inside the tent. Mesh panels and adjustable vents are smart features, particularly during in humid nights in summer.
SUGGESTIONS: Visit www.backcountry.com to see a variety of tents for nearly all camping styles.
CLOTHING: THINK LAYERING
It’s a great time to backpack, but planning clothing is difficult because anything can happen weather-wise. In summer, you can strip down to sunscreen if needed, but autumn hunting demands layers that provide insulation and protection from the elements.
LAYERING: Have versatile layers starting with moisture-wicking synthetic base layers to keep you dry. Insulating mid-layers provide warmth, and waterproof outer layers shield against rain and wind. If you’re moving at all, three or four simple layers will keep you warm in most conditions.
MATERIAL: Choose synthetic or merino wool fabrics for base layers, as they excel at moisture management. For insulation, down or synthetic fill jackets offer lightweight warmth.
VERSATILITY: Clothing is heavy, so invest in flexible clothing with multifunctional designs, like a jacket that can adapt to changing weather or pants with zip-off legs.
PROTECTION: Don’t forget ball caps, knit hats, gloves, and waterproof footwear. These are crucial in protecting against sun, rain, and chilly temperatures.
SUGGESTIONS: Visit www.backcountry.com for clothing options that fit all camping and backpacking adventures. Companies such as Sitka, First Lite and KUIU also offer quality clothing options from base layers to outer layers for hunters.
SLEEPING BAGS AND PADS
You’re not going to be as comfortable as you are in your bed, but you should in good enough shape to rejuvenate for the day ahead.
SLEEPING BAG: Find one with an appropriate temperature rating for the season. For summer, a lightweight 30-plus-degree bag will suffice, but err on the side of extra insulation and being too warm in late autumn.
SLEEPING PAD: You need something between you and the ground. Find a sleeping pad that provides comfort and insulation, while considering factors like weight and packability. Self-inflating models have gotten even smaller in the past few years, so this is an area where you can save on weight.
SUGGESTIONS: Visit the Sleep System category at gohunt.com for a wide variety of sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and sleeping accessories.
KITCHEN: KEEP IT LIGHT
In a places where you have a canoe to haul gear, you can be a backcountry cooking connoisseur and bring elaborate ingredients and even a big, heavy cast iron pan.
In big country with a backpack, you want to keep it light. You want enough food to survive, but you’re not afield to put on weight. If you lose a couple of pounds hiking out west, well you can put it back on next winter right?
STOVE: I own a couple of small, fold-up one-burners from MSR Gear (see photos) that have served me well for years. I buy the fuel at the destination and have a plan for recycling or swapping out the containers before heading home.
COOKWARE: If I’m using simple freeze-dried meals, I’m simple boiling water and dumping it in the packet. No cookware needed beyond a spoon. If I have space for more durable cooking ware, I make sure it has non-stick surfaces for easy cleaning, and nesting pots save space.
UTENSILS: Again, I mostly use spoons for everything, other than a sharp knife and my Leatherman multi-tool, which may be one of the world’s greatest outdoors inventions.
STORAGE: This is a necessary hassle, especially in bear country or wherever rodents associate people with food… which is pretty much everywhere. Have food storage containers to keep your provisions secure and organized.
WATER: You need to have a plan for water, and every drop that enters your system should be boiled or properly filtered.
Water filters work by physically straining out protozoan cysts (like Cryptosporidium and Giardia lamblia) and bacteria (such as E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter and Shigella). These are prevalent biological pathogens that can make you seriously sick or worse.
Lightweight pump or gravity filters have improved in recent years and convert questionable water into reliable hydration.
Look for models with a high flow rate and minimal maintenance requirements – qualities that can be game-changers in the backcountry.
AND HAVE A BACKUP PLAN: Chemical purification tablets or drops are no-fuss, and easy to carry.
New-fangled UV purifiers harness technology to offer a quick and effective way to neutralize harmful microorganisms without altering the water’s taste. While bulkier than other options, their speed and efficiency make them an attractive choice when you’re on the move.
Without going into great detail, have a complete set of navigational and emergency safety tools with you.
That means a topographical map and compass, a GPS device, and your smartphone and a charger. Some guys even invest in a satellite phone for truly remote destinations in northern Canada and Alaska.
Have tools for emergency signaling, like a whistle or mirror to attract attention. A compact emergency shelter, such as a space blanket or bivy, can provide critical protection in unexpected weather conditions. I always bring a well-stocked first-aid kit with essentials like bandages, antiseptic wipes, pain relievers, and personal medications.