Backpack Hunt Gear Lists for Big Game (elk & deer) || Introduction

My backpack hunt gear list for big game is identical to my gear list for a normal backpacking trip with similar conditions, with the notable addition of hunting-specific items. In this five-post series I list and explain this extra clothing and equipment, and make them available for download. Last revised: October 30, 2018
A raked lodgepole in the Colorado Rockies
A raked lodgepole in the Colorado Rockies

Next month I will be hunting elk and deer during Colorado’s third rifle season. As with my previous fall hunts, this will be a backpack hunt: I will carry an overnight load and have a mobile camp. I’ll be joined by Steve, a friend and running partner.

Essentially, we’re going on a conventional backpacking trip in the Colorado Rockies in early-November — but with the addition of hunting-specific clothing and equipment in the hopes of filling a chest freezer with meat. With the exception of these extra items, my gear lists are exactly the same for non-hunting and hunting trips for this location and time of year.

These lists are also relevant for other US states (e.g. Montana, Utah, Wyoming, California) and other big game like sheep and bear, since needs and regulations vary only slightly.

Backpack Hunt Gear Lists

This four-post series will focus on these hunting-specific items, which I have divided into three bite-sized categories:

Download & edit these gear lists

After I post this complete series, I will make the gear list available for download as a PDF and as a Google Sheet.

Complete backpack hunt gear list

Several years ago I posted a complete gear list for big game hunting in the Colorado Rockies. While it’s still useful, it has a few flaws. It’s:

  • Inconsistently organized and formatted with my 3-season gear list template, which I believe is the best on the web;
  • Short on selection rationale;
  • A few years outdated; and,
  • Overwhelming, because it’s long length.

Moreover, I’m slowly replacing full gear lists with more targeted ones that focus on a specific category, like 3-season backpacking stove systems and first aid, foot care, and repair kits. With these focused lists, I can avoid redundancy and make updates more easily. Over time, each category in the backpack hunt gear list will be replaced.

Feedback is welcome

I’m very comfortable with my backpacking know-how, but I’m not an expert hunter. I’m well read and methodical, but that is not the same as decades of hunting experience. I welcome and would appreciate feedback and additional perspectives on my selections and thinking. Thanks in advance.

Posted in , on October 26, 2016


  1. Bill on October 26, 2016 at 6:31 pm

    You’ve done well enough with your hunting choices. The main thing is that hunting isn’t always on the go and you can’t rely on body heat alone to keep you warm. My own experience is mostly still hunting and it’s hard to stay in one place for several hours without getting cold.

    • Andrew Skurka on October 26, 2016 at 8:07 pm

      Indeed, it’s very difficult to keep warm when you’re standing still in cold temperatures, with a breeze and no sun, and the extent of your body movement is lifting your binoculars to your eyes.

      My non-hunting setup is more of a casual/guide/group setup, which accounts for shorter days and lower intensity than I would do on my own. Winter parka, insulated pants, 300-weight fleece, running tights, a sit pad, a canister stove, hard-sided bottle for hot drinks, and maybe a few other relative luxuries.

  2. Douche P. on October 27, 2016 at 10:51 pm

    Curious if you grew up hunting, or took it up in adulthood?

    • Andrew Skurka on October 28, 2016 at 8:42 am

      I took it up in 2013. It’s been a steep learning curve, and I would benefit from doing it more often. But I’d rather hike and run.

      None of the adults from my childhood hunted, and I knew of no one in my hometown who did. My father-in-law hunts whitetail in MI, and my brother-in-law hunts intermittently (but not successfully as long as I have known him), so unfortunately I’m mostly learning by doing.

  3. Chris Janoski on October 28, 2016 at 3:24 pm

    Hey Andrew, great blog post. Really interested in seeing how this turns out. I tagged along on an Elk hunt last month in Wyoming (never hunted before), it was an interesting introduction into the world of traditional hunting. Got me thinking of how one could find a feasible balance of backpacking and hunting. I like the idea of being mobile on a hunt rather than camping and waiting for the prey to come to you. That may change the first time I have to pack an animal out over 10+ miles of rough terrain. Out of curiosity, what are your thoughts on bow hunting? Wondering if that would make for more balanced mix of hunting/backpacking.

    Anyway…. Good luck and happy hunting!

    • Andrew Skurka on October 28, 2016 at 3:32 pm

      Hey Chris –

      Hopefully you got a share of the meat for your efforts in tagging along.

      If you get into this, you’ll be glad to know that resident tags for CO are about one-tenth of an out-of-state in WY and elsewhere. It costs me about $85 for a combined elk and deer tag.

      I decided to hunt with a rifle rather than a bow because bow season is in September, which is one of the best three months for backpacking. So I didn’t want to give up prime time for a secondary activity. Rifle season, however is mid-October through mid-November, when otherwise I’d be sitting at my desk with a space heater pointed at me.

      Another thought: bow hunting requires more skills, and I didn’t know if I would be willing to commit to that. Hunting with a rifle is more straightforward. Find game, get within 200 yards, and shoot.

  4. Doug K on November 1, 2016 at 4:31 pm

    another longtime backpacker here, trying to learn to hunt.. have not yet fired a shot, over six hunting seasons.

    really 99.9% of the hunt is finding the game and getting in position for a shot. A retired wildlife biologist told me once that he prefers to hunt from base camp with a truck, since it is much easier to cover the large tracts of country necessary to find public-land game. With backpacking you tend to be restricted to one or two drainages at best – if the elk just hightailed it twenty miles overnight into the next valley, then you are going to have a nice camping trip..

    I’ve been working on bow hunting but so far am not consistently accurate at anything over 25 yards. ‘accurate’ in this context means nine of ten shots can be placed in a target the size of a pie plate. It’s several orders of magnitude more difficult than rifle hunting, I do not expect to live long enough to become a bow hunter.. kinda fun trying though.

    • Andrew Skurka on November 1, 2016 at 4:38 pm

      It’s called hunting for a reason. If it was easy they would call it shooting. There are some places where it’s more like shooting (e.g. Ranching for Wildlife properties in CO) but generally that’s not the case.

      The effectiveness of backpack hunting versus car-hunting really depends on where you are. In larger wilderness areas, which is where I prefer to go, you may not be able to get deep enough to find the game if you only have a daypack with you. The ultimate solution in this case is a backcountry base camp using horses, from where you can dayhike or even overnight out of.

      Hope it works out for one one of these years. Where are you hunting?

      • Doug K on November 3, 2016 at 4:54 pm

        GMUs 41, 28, 4 so far – Grand Mesa, Silverthorne, and up near Wyoming. Problem has been getting the tag for first rifle, since that coincides with school fall break, it’s been the best time for my son and I to go out.

        The ultimate solution is another problem with backpack hunting – it puts you in competition with the horsepacking guides.. don’t have a good solution for all this. I like backpacking so I hunt that way, but not sure it is the most effective.

        My son eventually got enough points for one of the Ranching for Wildlife properties, and shot his first elk there. But guided trips are a bit like cheating in my mind. I’d still like to get one on my own.

        thank you for sharing your notes and experiences, somewhat validates my own decisions 😉

        • Andrew Skurka on November 4, 2016 at 4:34 am

          Good point about the outfitters. However, there are still WAY fewer outfitters+clients than day-hunters (who go no more than a few miles deep). If you really want to avoid them, find out from USFS the outfitters permitted to hunt in your GMU, and then ask the outfitter where there camp is so you can avoid it.

          I’m still looking for the perfect unit. I considered hunting in GMU 12 this year, which as you probably know is the most productive unit in the state, but I was deterred by the large volume of hunters there. So we’re going to 521 instead, which is also productive but which is on few people’s radar. We’ll see.

      • Lance Vaughn on September 13, 2019 at 6:34 am

        Well thought out gear list. I would suggest 4 more rounds of ammo, fire starting kit, space blanket, cordage. A fixed blade knife or folding saw should you need to feed a fire due to staying the night unattended. Also, did I miss GPS or compass? Small first aid kit

  5. Craig B on September 24, 2019 at 11:09 am

    Andrew- Love your site and books as a resource. After reading your book and utilizing your website as a resource for backpacking, I then later stumbled upon this page when doing some hunting related searches and was excited to read that you also hunt. I too took on hunting as an adult and also am primarily self taught. I moved from my native California to Georgia in my early 30’s, and with it came a new friends which led to new hobbies. I really appreciate hearing your perspective as someone who began as a hiker and backpacker, only later to become a hunter. (Actually I believe we are all hunters deep down, but have lost the connection with nature that only hunting can offer.) It’s enlightening and very helpful to read your thoughts on gear for backpack hunting, especially with your emphasis on keeping gear weight down. I remember reading your thoughts on “stupid light” gear and thinking about how when backpack hunting, at no other time is the balance between weight and durability more tested or critical. I’m embarking on my first western elk hunt in a few weeks and wanted to thank you for freely sharing your knowledge and experience, especially when it comes to backpack hunting. For every comment that is left by someone like me, there are probably a hundred other people out there that feel the same way but remain silently grateful. Regards, Craig

  6. Jonathan M Lee on October 11, 2019 at 12:48 pm

    What do you use for footwear in the Rockies when up in the snowier areas?

    • Andrew Skurka on October 11, 2019 at 12:57 pm

      A good explanation here,

      As someone who runs cold (blame that on being 6′ and 160 lbs), I’m finding that 3-season waterproof boots are not quite warm enough. Seems like I spend a lot of time glassing, while wiggling my toes to try to keep them warm. At a minimum, thicker socks (and thus bigger boots) are necessary, and I’ve actually considered buying something that is mildly insulated.

  7. Jon on June 29, 2022 at 4:35 pm

    Did I miss the google sheets download link? Thanks!

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