Backpack Hunt Gear List || Colorado Big Game (elk, deer)

October snowstorm in Colorado’s Gore Range during First Rifle elk season

Introduction

Before scrolling any further down this page, first read prefacing remarks about my gear lists.

In mid-October I’ll return to GMU 371 in Colorado’s Gore Range for the First Rifle elk season. Other hunters would describe me as a “backpack hunter,” in that I’m entirely self-sufficient and have a mobile camp; I don’t day-hike out of a wall tent or a truck. Before I even knew the term, this seemed like an obvious strategy to me — I can cover more ground and access more remote areas than if I were tethered to a camp or supply point. Plus, I like to hike and see new terrain, and this hunting style allows me to do both.

Below is my intended backpack hunting gear list. If the on-the-ground or forecasted conditions prove different than what I’m expecting, I may make a few last-minute tweaks, but overall it’s very accurate. The applicability of this list extends beyond just my elk hunt — it is also a suitable template for:

  • Other big game, e.g. deer, pronghorn, moose, bear
  • Second Season, and other seasons with comparable environmental conditions
  • Other hunting locations, especially in the Rocky Mountains, e.g. New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana

I will also point out that this gear list closely resembles my non-hunting gear list for fall trips in the Mountain West. Obviously, I leave my hunting equipment at home; I also lighten up on my clothing since I can move more and move faster, thus generating more body heat.

Environmental & Route Conditions

Temperatures. The closest NOAA weather station is in Vail, at 8,220 feet and on the west side of the Gore Range. But the station atop Climax Pass is probably a better predictor of weather because its elevation (11,530 feet) is more similar to my hunting range of 9k-12k feet. Average high and low temperatures in October are 45 and 20 degrees; I’ll be prepared for 60 through 10.

Precipitation. The Climax weather station reports an average of 1.66 inches of precipitation during October. Daily snowfall averages about .25 inches on October 1 and .75 inches on October 31; the monthly average of .5 inches per day would result in about 15 inches of total snowfall by the end of the month, which would compact to about 10 inches on the ground (or more or less depending on wind and sun exposure).

Daylight. On October 1 in the nearby town of Frisco, civil twilight begins at 6:34 AM and ends at 7:14 PM, meaning there are about 12.75 hours of daylight. On October 31, civil twilight begins at 7:04 AM and ends at 6:32 PM, meaning there are only 11.5 hours of daylight. Cloud cover and topography could further reduce usable daylight. Legal hunting hours begin 30 minutes before sunrise and end 30 minutes after sunset. For October 11 in the Gore Range, that means 6:41 AM and 6:02 PM.

Ground cover. Hopefully, there will be some snow on the ground, which makes tracking easier; but not too much, which makes the hiking hard. Temperatures are cold enough in October that snowfall will normally stick on high and shady slopes into the winter. Below the snow, the ground is generally covered in low undergrowth, evergreen needles, and meadow or tundra grasses; there is extensive talus and scree at higher elevations. Trails are a mix of dirt and rocks.

Vegetation. Below 10,000 feet, the Gore Range is blanketed with lodgepole pines, many of which were killed by the mountain pine beetle and have been blown over. Avoid extensive off-trail travel through these areas — it’s heinous. Above 10,000 feet the forest consists mostly of dense sub-alpine firs and Engelmann spruce. The forest thins into sub-alpine starting around 11,000 feet, and timberline is another 500 feet higher.

Navigational aids. The Gore Range has distinct topographic features like dramatic peaks and deep valleys. Most trails are well worn and maintained due to heavy summer hiking traffic, but beware of low-traffic trails through beetle kill zones. Visibility is limited in forested areas and during stormy weather.

Sun exposure. In the summer, sun exposure is intense at these elevations. But by October, the sun is low in the sky and cloud cover is more likely. Beware of increased UV on sunny days when there is snow on the ground due to reflection.

Water availability. There are many creeks and lakes throughout the Gore Range; look at the topographic maps. Since the winter snowpack has long since melted off, stream flow volumes will depend mostly on summertime precipitation.

Problematic wildlife. There are bears in the Gore Range, but the Forest Service does not require or strongly recommend any precautions (e.g. bear spray or hard-sided food canisters). “Mini bears” may be a nuisance at heavily impacted campsites near trailheads or popular lakes.

Biting insects. The mosquito population fades quickly after the first frosts, which will have happened in September if not August. On a warm October day, there may be a very light and short-lived hatch, nothing that requires consideration.

Remoteness. For Colorado, the Gore Range is moderately remote. Cell phone reception is unreliable; recreation traffic is light at this time of year; the terrain is extremely rugged; and road access is very limited. However, the south end of the range is bordered by Interstate 70, along which there are multiple full-service communities like Frisco, Silverthorne, and Vail.

Natural hazards. Acute mountain sickness may affect those unaccustomed to high elevations. Hypothermia will be a concern in cold-and-wet weather.

Gear List

Jump to:


Overview

  • Clothing & Items Always Worn: 5.4 lbs, $775
  • Base weight: 18.2 lbs, $3,843
  • Hunting equipment: 8.9 lbs, $1,378
  • Total: 32.4 lbs, $5,996

Do these numbers discourage you, one way or the other? Don’t let them — there are many viable alternative selections that are lighter or heavier, or more expensive or less expensive. I hope that my list is at least a useful template for your own.


Clothing — Go Suit

TOTAL86.0$775
will post photo soon
CategoryImportanceMy Pick, or ExampleWeightMSRPComments
TopRequiredIbex Hooded Indie9.0$115Anti-stink, mid-weight merino wool. Wear alone in warm temps or as base when cooler.
BottomsRequiredSierra Designs Silicone Trail Pant14.0$90Good fit, stretch, water-resistance. Limited breathability okay for this low-exertion activity.
Hunting vestRequiredRedHead Safety Vest2.0$7Required per state regs. Wear over any layer, easy on/off.
UnderwearRequiredREI Boxer Briefs3.0$23Warmer & more protection against thigh chafing than briefs
Bra (W only)Optional-0.0$0-
ShoesRequiredSalomon X Ultra Mid GTX33.0$160Normally discourage "waterproof" footwear. But in shallow snow, they keep feet dry & warm.
SocksRequiredDeFeet Woolie Boolie3.0$17Just the right thickness - warm but not hot. Very durable. Soft merino wool - no liner sock needed.
GaitersRecommendedOutdoor Research Flex-Tex II Gaiters4.0$54Keep snow out of shoe. Better fit & breathability than conventional mountaineering gaiters.
HeadwearRequiredUnder Armour Antler Adjustable Cap2.0$20Required per state hunting regs. Wish I could find cap with Headsweats-like performance.
SunglassesRecommendedJulbo Dust w/Zebra lens2.0$160Photochromic lenses adjust to light conditions, extending useable range
Rx glassesOptional-0.0$0-
Trekking PolesRequiredKomperdell C3 Carbon Power Lock Trekking Poles14.0$129Hike with just one, for noise reduction and faster rifle access. Have second for heavy hike out.
Bear sprayUnnecessary-0.0$0No reports suggest it's necessary.

Clothing — Element Protection

TOTAL60.0$543
will post photo soon
CategoryImportanceMy Pick, or ExampleWeightMSRPComments
Shell topRequiredSierra Designs Pack Trench15.0$150Long torso offers more protection. Less clammy due to built-in vents, less reliance on breathability
Shell bottomsRequiredMountain Hardwear Plasmic Rain Pants7.0$100Keep legs dry during cold rain or wet snow
Mid-layer topRequiredColumbia Steens Mountain Full-Zip 2.0 Jacket15.0$35Low-profile layer to wear over hiking shirt in cool temps or between shirt & rain jacket
Mid-layer bottomsRequiredPatagonia Velocity Running Tights6.0$70Low-profile leg insulation. Hiking pants alone not enough in cold temps, esp if not moving fast
Liner glovesRequiredDeFeet Duraglove Wool2.0$20Excellent gloves - perfect balance of warmth & dexterity. Merino warmer than polyester version.
Shell gloves/mittsRequiredRBH Designs Vapr Mitt12.0$140Pricey but good investment - superior warmth per weight & very durable shell (250+ days on mine)
Mid-layer headwearRequiredSmartwool Neck Gaiter3.0$28Extremely versatile: ear band, neck gaiter, nose warmer
HeadnetUnnecessary-0.0$0Biting insects are long gone for the year

Clothing — Rest & Stop

TOTAL30.0$463
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CategoryImportanceMy Pick, or ExampleWeightMSRPComments
Insulated topRequiredSierra Designs DriDown Baffled Parka19.0$300Avoid getting cold even while being still for long periods in cold temps. Wear at night, too.
Insulated bottomsRequiredMontbell UL Down Pant7.0$145For chilly camps, rests, and waits. Wear at night so I can take lighter sleeping bag.
Insulated headwearRequiredCabela's Blaze Knit Stocking Cap2.0$15For colder temps. Blaze orange headwear required per state regs.
Sit padRecommendedTherm-a-Rest RidgeRest Classic (24-in section)2.0$10Provides warm & dry area to sit or rest, even if ground is cold, wet, or snow-covered. Keep near top of pack, or outside it.

Clothing — Sleep

TOTAL3.0$17
will post photo soon
CategoryImportanceMy Pick, or ExampleWeightMSRPComments
Sleeping topUnnecessary-0.0$0Will stay mostly dry during day - can build fire or pitch shelter in very wet conditions
Sleeping bottomsUnnecessary-0.0$0-
Sleeping socksRequiredDeFeet Woolie Boolie3.0$17Shoes & hiking socks may get damp during day. Critical to have warm & dry feet at night.
Camp footwearUnnecessary-0.0$0Will not spend much time in camp - either on the move or in shelter sleeping

Clothing — Backups

TOTAL0.0$0
will post photo soon
CategoryImportanceMy Pick, or ExampleWeightMSRPComments
Socks 2Optional-0.0$0May add last-minute if forecast is very wet. Difficult to dry hiking socks in such conditions.
Underwear 2 (W only)Optional-0.0$0-
Bra 2 (W only)Optional-0.0$0-

Packing

TOTAL85.0$669
will post photo soon
CategoryImportanceMy Pick, or ExampleWeightMSRPComments
Pack frameRequiredKifaru Bikini Frame37.0$376An investment. Design focuses exclusively on load-hauling - otherwise, is minimalist.
Pack bagRequiredKifaru Highcamp 700035.0$225More versatile than intergrated frame/pack. Extra volume for larger load on hike out.
Pack pocketRecommendedKifaru Belt Pouch - Large UL2.0$32Pocket-less pack is inconvenient. Can only put so much in clothes pockets or around neck.
Pack linerRequired20-gallon trash compactor bag5.0$1Very effective at keeping key items dry, yet durable, cheap, & easy to replace
Food storage - todayRequiredZiploc Easy Zipper Freezer Bag - Quart0.5$1Keep near top of pack for easy access
Food storage - futureRequiredLOKSAK OPSak Bags - 12.5"x20"1.0$5Way lighter than a canister, and can't hurt; seal blows out after about a month of use
Food protectionUnnecessary-0.0$0No wildlife concerns. Will use food sack as pillow.
Accessory storageRecommendedEagle Creek Pack It Sack - Small1.0$9Wide, zippered access more convenient than deep sack barely big enough for hand
Stuff sacksRecommendedFor sleeping bag, pot, shelter, stakes2.0$20Useful for keeping gear organized, clean & protected; but don't over-stuff or over-organize
Eyewear protectionOptionalJulbo case1.5$0Expensive and critical sunglasses worth protecting

Sleeping & Shelter

TOTAL63.5$915
will post photo soon
CategoryImportanceMy Pick, or ExampleWeightMSRPComments
Bag or quiltRequiredSierra Designs Backcountry Bed 800 2-season35.0$350Wear clothes to stay comfy in colder temps. DriDown added resistance against high humidity.
PadRequiredTherm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite (R)12.0$160Heavier and more delicate & expensive than closed cell foam, but vastly superior sleep quality
Pad inflationUnnecessary--0.0$0Good lung exercise: 20 deep breaths at altitude
Rainfly or tarpRequiredMountain Laurel Designs SoloMid Cuben10.5$365Most versatile solo shelter on the market - use anywhere, any season. Sil version costs $195.
Nest or bivyUnnecessary 0.0$0No bug pressure at this time of year
Ground clothRequiredDuck Heavy-Duty Shrink Window Film - 50x80 piece2.0$6Ultralight & very waterproof. Durable enough for at least one trip; cheap to replace.
StakesRequiredMSR Ground Hog (6x)3.0$18Far superior holding power than UL Ti toothpicks
GuylinesRequiredMLD LiteLine - 6 x 6-ft1.0$16McCarthy & Truckers hitches more reliable & versatile than fixed knots or hardware

Hydration

TOTAL3.8$33
will post photo soon
CategoryImportanceMy Pick, or ExampleWeightMSRPComments
BottlesRequiredPlatypus 1L SoftBottle w/closure cap (2x)1.8$18Water is abundant, rarely will carry more than 1L during day; second for dry camps and backup
Purification 1RequiredAquamira Chlorine Dioxide Drops2.0$15Very effective against most pathogens, including giardia; personally, will not treat most water
Purification 2Unnecessary-0.0$0Consider Sawyer Mini Filter during day for instant treatment, no wait time

Kitchen

When backpacking in the shoulder seasons, I use a powerful upright canister stove system, “Fast & Light.” It’s detailed below; for more discussion, go here. For group trips in these conditions, I use a remote canister stove instead, “Hot & Heavy.” Read more about it.


Navigation

TOTAL15.6$386
will post photo soon
CategoryImportanceMy Pick, or ExampleWeightMSRPComments
MapsRequired7.5-min topos (made with Caltopo) + Nat Geo maps5.0$30Use 7.5-min quads for detailed navigating, Trails Illustrated for route planning, bailouts
Map sleeveRequiredZiploc Freezer Storage Bag - Gallon0.5$1Effective, and cheaper than water-resistant map paper
WatchRecommendedSuunto Core (positive display)3.0$299For dead-reckoning, pinpointing location using elevation, and forecasting weather
CompassRecommendedSuunto M-3D Leader2.0$35Extraordinarily powerful tool in skilled hands; upgrade to Suunto M-3 Global for frequent usage
GPSUnnecessaryGaia GPS app on Google Nexus 54.6$20Should serve a purpose since I'm not leaving it in car; Gaia app is backup, probably never need
Writing instrumentRecommendedRetractable ballpoint pen0.5$1Make route notes & draw bearings on maps

First aid, emergency, & repair

Go here for downloadable gear lists for my first aid, foot care, and field repair kits.


Personal care & items

TOTAL13.0$508
will post photo soon
CategoryImportanceMy Pick, or ExampleWeightMSRPComments
ToothbrushRecommendedSoft toothbrush (shortened handle)0.5$3Cut handle in half for packability
ToothpasteRecommendedDr. Bronner's Peppermint Liquid Soap0.5$5Acquired taste; multi-purpose
FlossRecommendedDental Flossers0.5$1I know where my fingers have been! Flossers are cleaner & easier to use.
Toilet paperRecommendedCharmin Ultra Soft (4 tiles/day)0.5$1Start w/natural materials, touch-up with TP
Soap/sanitizerRequiredPurell Hand Sanitizer1.0$1Quick clean after No 2; wash w/soap daily, too
Pee aid (W) or jar (M)Optional--0.0$0For modesty or to avoid leaving shelter at night
SunscreenOptional-0.0$0Expecting low sun intensity
Lip balmRecommendedKiss My Face0.5$4Nice to have dedicated lip balm, very light
Anti-chafingRecommendedBonnie's Balm (see foot care)0.0$0If I keep nether regions clean, I rarely chafe
Insect repellantUnnecessary-0.0$0No bug pressure
LightRequiredFenix LD02 w/battery1.0$35Mostly for camp use; very battery efficient
CameraUnnecessaryCanon Powershot S1207.5$450Excellent image quality & controls for weight & size; less expensive than RX100
OpticsUnnecessary-0.0$0Not useful
Wallet w/ID, cash, CCRecommendedChums Marsupial Keychain Wallet1.0$8Not leaving in car at trailhead

Hunting Equipment

I have divided my hunting-specific equipment into three bite-sized categories, summarized immediately below.

A detailed list for each category is below. In-depth explanations are available on a dedicated category page. Start by reading the Introduction to this series. These lists can also be downloaded as a PDF or Google Sheet; follow these download instructions.

Before the shot

For a more in-depth discussion of my selections, visit Before the Shot.

The shot

For a more in-depth discussion of my selections, visit The Shot.

After the Shot

For a more in-depth discussion of my selections, visit After the Shot.

Posted in , on August 27, 2014
Tags:

45 Comments

  1. samh on August 28, 2014 at 8:11 am

    Thanks for sharing your list, Andy. Great attention to environmental aspects and how it will push the limits of your chosen gear. May your scouting lead to a successful trip into the Gore come fall.

    I’m a .308 Tikka/VX-2 owner as well and am very much looking forward to putting food on the family table this fall. Good insight into some other choices I’ve made and still have to make from your list.

    • Dave on August 28, 2014 at 8:27 pm

      To be honest, I am not sure if some of the lighter rifles would be considered as “stupid light”.

      They make sense for sheep- and goat-hunting where .20 calibres are king. Also, those critters happen to live in regions where hiking is difficult or next to impossible. Also, for most of those rifles, they would only be fired maybe once in a day. Many of those hunters carry insanely heavy spotting scopes too.

      The drawback is, the lighter the rifle, the greater the recoil. Doing follow-up shots would hurt like a mofo.

      One can try to compensate for this with smaller calibres with smaller powder loads. They could also try to compensate for it with custom-made pads and hydraulic stocks. But all of them have serious drawbacks. For instance, the muzzle brake is more likely to cause hearing loss, and ruins everyone else’s days in the valley by scaring all the game in the area due to the sheer volume.

      On the other hand, none of this would actually matter if one has second thought after enduring the brutality of carrying 100+ lbs of meat. That one-shot, one-kill might be all that a person need.

  2. Wyatt on August 28, 2014 at 9:42 am

    I like to carry a set of shooting sticks when rifle hunting as well. After a couple of times carrying heavy skinning and boning knives and knife sharpeners I made the switch to a havalon knife. http://www.havalon.com/piranta-edge-skinning-knife-xt60edge.html Saves weight at less then 3 ounces and not having to carry a knife sharpener. But more importantly it saves time in the field by not having to stop and sharpen your knife constantly. I also made the switch to the new KUIU Ultra 6000 pack this year and have tested it out on a couple backpacking trips. Total weight for the pack is 3 lbs 9 oz. and it has great load carrying capabilities.

    • Dave on August 28, 2014 at 7:02 pm

      Have KUIU fixed some of the failures under heavy load with Gen I and Gen II? Lots of the people I conversed with had issues with them while sheep-hunting.

      Haven’t read much on the Gen III since a lot of the backpack hunters pretty much wrote off their attempt to break into the suspension-frame market.

      Would be curious to know how KUIU addressed these problems. Elks are a lot heavier than sheep.

      • Wyatt on August 29, 2014 at 4:17 pm

        I don’t know anything about previous KUIU packs since this is my first one and I haven’t hauled out an elk in it yet but I tested it with an 80 pound load this summer and it carried the weight great with no issues. Hopefully, I will be able to put it to the real test in a couple of weeks.

  3. margaret h on August 28, 2014 at 12:41 pm

    Well, I’m out of here….anyone that likes to kill animals is beyond my imagination. Sit in a peaceful back country camp and see a deer come close and the first thought is ‘I want to kill that thing’ is not someone I care to listen to. Peace!

    • samh on August 28, 2014 at 3:03 pm

      A boy’s gotta eat, Margaret. Better he’s out there harvesting local, grass fed, venison than some of the other stuff they call “food” at the supermarket. But of course, to each their own. Peace!

    • Dave on August 28, 2014 at 8:18 pm

      I don’t think he is doing it for pleasure. Many hunters, including Hank Shaw, don’t like the outcome of hunting. There are numerous essays out there about the moral dilemma. Most of them don’t want to kill if they don’t have to. But they also acknowledge everyone has blood on their hands either through agricultural practice (pesticides, deer culls, land-clearing et al) or simply by existing or reproducing. For the vast majority of them, hunting is a way to take control of the food production instead of being at the mercy of unseen corporate giants.

      He probably is interested in hunting for the same reason as Tovar Cerulli (a former vegan): http://tovarcerulli.com/.

      Look at this way:

      If no one hunts them, then the ranchers would lobby the government to cull them because they compete with free-ranging cattle. If one has been paying attention to the news, the ranchers up in Montana, Wyoming and Colorado want the both elk herds culled and the wolves minimized.

      Government culls always produce waste, and they are not properly utilized by neither the ecosystem (scavengers such as wolves, bears, coyotes, ravens et al) or by the beings who wish to take part of participatory ecology (look up Russell Edwards).

      I don’t see the point of government culls when they cost the tax-payers lots of money with lots of waste when a private hunter is willing to pay his taxes and purchase equipment which also add to the government revenues to perform the same task and takes home what he needs.

    • CanadianBrad on August 14, 2015 at 10:03 pm

      A little late, but still…

      …Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

  4. jj on August 28, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    Nice to see you continue to write about hunting, even if it ruffles the feathers of some misguided readers.

    I’d like to mention some extras you might consider for your gear list:

    Depending on the terrain, your familiarity with the area, and the size of the animal population, a spotting scope and tripod may be worth the (significant) weight and investment. Sometimes it’s the only way to get yourself in the right neighborhood.

    A breeze squeeze or threads pinched from a cotton ball are useful for reading the wind.

    Tape a data card to the side of your rifle so you have a handy reminder of your round’s ballistics (even if it’s just a reminder of maximum point blank range at various wind speeds).

    I’ve had bad luck with bikini scope covers leaking and/or getting lost. After trying a variety of alternatives, I’ve gone back to the Butler Creek flip-up covers I first started with. Their durability isn’t the best, but they’re the only option for my Swaro. In your case, Leupold makes a nice set of aluminum flip-up covers that might be worth considering.

    Don’t forget your license, tag, and the means to attach it to your animal! I also carry a table of legal shooting hours and phone numbers for the various agencies in the area (e.g., ranger stations, state police, poaching hotline).

    With a little knowledge and some practice, a shooting sling will improve your effective range considerably. Shooting sticks are a little easier to master, but not quite as effective or versatile in my opinion.

    Ditch the cleaning kit and tape your muzzle to keep stuff out. I’ve never seen a measurable shift in POI with a taped muzzle at the ranges your Tikka is capable of. Also, consider putting a couple rounds downrange before entering the field; a clean barrel will shoot to a different point of aim than a fouled one, especially in a lightweight rifle.

    Hi-viz flagging tape is useful for locating your animal after you’ve hauled your first load. Tie some to the antlers when you carry them out too so you don’t wind up in another hunter’s crosshairs.

    A tourniquet or roll of hemostatic gauze (along with the knowledge to use them) can literally save your life when working around guns and sharp knives in the cold and dark while far away from civilization.

    Bring materials to keep the meat cool, clean and dry: breathable game bags, strong cordage for hanging them, and something (like your shelter) to protect them from precipitation. You owe it to yourself and the animal to take the utmost care of the meat.

    Good luck and keep us posted!

  5. Bill on August 28, 2014 at 6:17 pm

    I’m a bit surprised that you haven’t gone the replaceable scalpel blade route with your hunting knife. A few extra blades and you wouldn’t need your sharpening kit. Another thing that I would never go rifle hunting without is a tool to tighten the screws on your rifle, especially the scope mount screws. I use Loctite 222, a weak threadlocker, on my scope and sight mounting screws to be certain that they won’t vibrate loose.

    I very much appreciate that you have shared your gear lists and your rationale for choosing the gear. It helps me to think about my choices and may ultimately cause me to rethink my choices.

  6. Dave on August 28, 2014 at 6:58 pm

    Try using Opti-Lock with quick-reattach from SAKO for the scope-mount: http://www.midwestgunworks.com/page/mgwi/prod/S19009. This would eliminate the need for a binocular. It’s an old Scandinavian trick, and most of them don’t carry spotter or bincoulars.

    A lot of the precision shooters in the United States say quick-mounts are not ideal since they mess with the accuracy of the shooters. But a lot of the Nordic hunters out there are shooting grouses at 200, 300, 400 meters. And many of them are trophy-hunters who travel the world.

    Now, it might be a stupid choice since monocular vision tend to cause eye-fatigues over long period of times. Plus, it’s a skill to learn how to keep the hands steady.

  7. Dave on August 28, 2014 at 7:08 pm

    Another upgrade you might want to consider is a flip-up scope cover. I have one in yellow. There are times when it’s more accurate for me to shoot through a tinted glass than it is to shoot through a clear one.

    The most popular or famous manufacturer of these flip-ups would be Bulter Creek.

  8. Ryan on September 5, 2014 at 11:37 am

    Thanks for compiling you list. I am a fellow backpack hunter. Some thoughts:

    1. As noted by others, switch to Havalon knife. That said, for elk it is really nice to have a boning or filet knife as well.
    2. Your game bags are great for packing boned meat, but to properly store for any length of time breathable bags such as T.A.G., Alaska, or Caribou are recommended. This allows the meat cool through evaporation and to “crust” and block pathogen growth.
    3. Your rifle and cartridge choice are fine, but with Tikka (unlike most rifle builds) you don’t actually save any gun weight by going short action as they use the same build and just block the magazine 1/2″ for short actions. I would have chosen .30-06 for more power and no weight penalty. However, no big deal and .308 should be fine to 300 yards with 1,500 ft/lbs of energy.
    4.Skip the cleaning kit.
    5. I would carry more than 4 rounds of ammo. Extra weight and likely not necessary, but there is a slight possibility this could ruin your whole trip. Putting your rounds on a live target while your heart is racing and the clock is ticking is a lot different than shooting off a bench. Even with a perfect shooting there is a good chance you will put three rounds downrange to ensure a quick kill.
    6. Consider a harness for the binos rather than a neck strap.
    7. You might want some 550 cord to hang the meat or help hold a leg while field dressing.
    8. Like JJ I carry a Quickclot and an Israeli bandage. Optional but sharp knives on a cold dark night with blood everywhere presents a risk to cut yourself.
    9. Good luck and enjoy!

  9. Ross Gilmore on September 9, 2014 at 6:53 am

    It’s great to see you writing about backpack hunting. I look forward to reading more about it.

    Personally, as much as I love saving weight, I’m a wimp when it comes to recoil. My rifle with scope weighs 7.5lb in .308, and beats me up when I shoot it. I would be afraid to go much lighter.

    I’ve been going back and forth in my mind about a dedicated hunting pack like a Kifaru or Stone Glacier. I still haven’t pulled the trigger. Let us know how the Kifaru set up works for you. It seemed to me like it had a bit too much lateral movement with a heavy load.

    Again, I look forward to more posts on the subject.

  10. Jake on September 9, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    Thanks Andrew!

    I’ve been waiting for several months for this posting, I’ll be on a similar hunt myself down near Gunnison and your detailed list is extremely helpful for a novice backpack hunter. Best of luck!

  11. Brooks on September 11, 2014 at 1:39 pm

    Don’t forget your ammunition! Good list, thanks for sharing.

    • Brooks on September 11, 2014 at 1:40 pm

      Nevermind, I missed it… you didn’t

  12. Chris Coleman on September 29, 2014 at 9:59 am

    Headsweats has a Hi Vis Race Hat that you should check out. It’s not officially ‘blaze orange’, and not sure of the regulation on color, but its super bright.

    http://www.headsweats.com/race-hat-hi-vis-coral-w-reflective-piping/

    • Andrew Skurka on September 29, 2014 at 10:46 am

      Great find. It will perform much better than the acrylic and cotton caps out there. I’ll have to see if I can get one.

  13. Nathan on February 27, 2015 at 8:19 pm

    A boresnake and a couple of your favorite CLP product wipes), or maybe an eye dropper of CLP, would be a good thing to have. I have fallen a couple of times bushwhacking, and had to walk back to my rig to clear a barrel obstruction. This year I am backpacking in, so I need to avoid unnecessary trips back to the car. My spike camp will be about 3 miles in, and I will be further in during my actual hunting.

    I also live in WA, so October can be very wet in a bad season. Even if it doesn’t rain heavily, the foliage can be coated with water. Tape doesn’t stay on, at least not any tape I am comfortable shooting through. November is stupid wet, and it only snows occasionally in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, and usually only at the highest local elevations. Most of my elevations are about 3000 feet for the trip I’m planning this year.

    BTW, the shoot through flip-up scope covers are awesome in heavy rain. I just need to adjust them so they don’t pop open against my gear, depending on whether I have the rifle slung weak side muzzle down or strong side muzzle up. They are easy to learn to flick with both thumbs when you shoulder the rifle, and in most cases shooting through them is easy enough if buck/bull fever causes a brain freeze on flipping them up. They also don’t get lost like the bikini style.

  14. Kevin on March 19, 2015 at 7:16 am

    The logistics of packing out your own elk just don’t a large Meat Hauler type backpack. Consider the following 2 scenarios:

    Scenario 1 – Large Meat Hauler Pack (e.g. Kifaru, Stone Glacier, Mystery Ranch)
    You carry a large, 6 pound+, 5000ci+, pack for a few days through the mountains, and you down an elk 4 miles from your car. After processing the animal, you make 1 trip out with all of your gear and an elk quarter (maybe, this would be 80 to 100 pounds). You then make 3 additional round trips to get the remaining 3 quarters. You have hiked a total of 28 miles over a couple of days after having carried your pack around the mountains for a few days.

    Scenario 2 – Small internal frame 3000ci pack, and a cabelas frame pack in your car. You benefit from having a smaller lightweight pack on your back while hunting. Once you down your elk 4 miles out, you make 1 trip back to get the frame, and then 4 round trips. You have hiked 36 miles, but all with lighter loads. You have also had the benefit of a smaller pack for the whole time you are hunting.

    How many people are really hauling out a whole elk by themselves? How many people that can afford a $600 pack are hauling out a whole elk by themselves? Just saying…

    • Andrew Skurka on March 19, 2015 at 8:00 am

      I looked into this option. It’s not a dramatic cost savings over a 2-pack system: $250 for a 2.5-lb framed pack with enough volume for an October kit (e.g. Epic or Catalyst from ULA Equipment) + $150 for a low-end frame pack = $400. Versus $600 for the Kifaru system, which is on the pricey end of the spectrum.

      I also don’t think the weight savings are worthwhile — carrying an extra 2 lbs is worth saving those 8 miles, and it may very well be more depending on where you hunt.

      • Kevin on March 20, 2015 at 2:47 pm

        I should have figured you would have thought through the various scenarios, and I should have started by thanking you for all of the great information. I have incorporated a number of your gear choices (e.g. Platypus Bottles, Loksak Bags, and maybe leaving my water filter behind) into to my own gear for Idaho Elk. The truth is that on unguided public land archery elk hunts I spend about 20 to 30 days over a couple of years of hunting for each elk that I get down. That is a lot of miles of backcountry movement without an elk on my back.

        Also, I really appreciate when someone with your reputation champions hunting. We need respected voices from everywhere to help the mainstream see that hunting is a life-affirming pursuit.

        • Andrew Skurka on March 20, 2015 at 2:51 pm

          Gosh, that’s not a very encouraging ratio, but probably true based on the limited hunting experience that I have. You can’t just show up on the first day of the season and get it done (at least not without a lot of luck).

  15. Bounce on March 26, 2015 at 7:05 pm

    I’m gearing up for first elk hunt in AZ….thank you for making it easy…’er. 🙂

  16. Darius Savory on April 9, 2015 at 3:11 pm

    Is the Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed 800 2-season the best choice of bag? It has a limit rating of -2C but weighs 910g. The Criterion Ultralight 350 has a limit of -3C and weighs 765g and is also cheaper.

    • Andrew Skurka on April 9, 2015 at 3:22 pm

      As I’ve said here, there are many viable options besides “My Pick, or Example.” If you follow my picks, I can almost assure your happiness, but that’s not to say you couldn’t be slightly happier by doing your own research and getting something a little bit different.

      I’ve never seen Criterion bags in a US retail store or in the backcountry, so I’m not sure it’s a viable option for my US-centric readership even if it is a better bag. It’d be a hard debate to have anyway — one is an oversized quilt, the other a mummy. Apples and oranges.

  17. Loki on May 3, 2015 at 10:46 am

    I really dig your gear list. I’m currently in the market for a lightweight hunting rifle. Does your tikka t3 really only weigh 5.35 lbs? I see they are listed at 6.2 lbs, but being nearly a full lb lighter would be awesome.

    I’ve been trying to prepare for backpack hunting as well and one of the pack systems that has really caught my eye is the Paradox Packs evolution frame. it weighs in at 2.6 lbs and I was planing on strapping my ULA ohm 2.0 as the pack bag. If this works I would have a pretty flexible setup that utilized ultralight equipment that I already own.

    http://store.seekoutside.com/evolution-suspension/

    • Andrew Skurka on May 5, 2015 at 9:41 am

      When you add up all the components necessary to operate the rifle (rifle, magazine, bolt) the weigth is probably as-advertised.

      I would keep it simple by just using one backpack. At 2.6 lbs, that pack can play double-duty as both a load-hauler and a day pack. Little will be gained by bringing your Ohm.

  18. Eric Blumensaadt on June 9, 2015 at 11:28 pm

    Excellent lists and explanations. They pretty much mirror what I carry.Thank you.

    I carry special elbow length gloves to protect my jacket sleeves when field dressing. This is especially good when reaching up to cut the trachea as high as possible when removing the lungs.

    Also I carry a gallon freezer bag for the heart and liver. Liver can be sliced and fried with onions in camp. Delicious.

    A plastic roll up sled called the Deer Sleigh-R is good in deeper snow. It’s similar to the military first aid sled.

  19. Doug K on July 23, 2015 at 2:39 pm

    good list, thank you. We carry a tent for the two of us, so usually carry a bipod and use it for a trekking pole as well.

    to reinforce Kevin’s comment, here’s what happened on our last two backpack elk attempts.. though it is true I’m not much of a hunter.
    http://dkretzmann.blogspot.com/2012/11/elk-fortress-ii.html
    http://dkretzmann.blogspot.com/2011/10/armed-hiking.html

    2013 we gave up and went after pronghorn instead, actually succeeded. 2014 my son drew a Ranching for Wildlife tag which didn’t need backpacking, rather to his relief I think 😉
    We didn’t draw any of our tags this year, guess I’ll just have to do a fishing trip instead.

  20. Skelly on August 8, 2015 at 11:04 am

    What a great list. It’s making me really excited for fall.

    Is there a reason you prefer the Patagonia tights over some of the merino-blend alternatives?

  21. Andy on August 22, 2015 at 9:44 pm

    Thanks for sharing your expertise and insights. I hope you are looking forward to the 2015 season as much as I am. As I was getting my gear organized, I thought I’d offer a couple observations.

    I find myself hunting right into the 30 minutes after sunset and walking back to camp in the deep dark hours. I’d suggest carrying a hand held flashlight and a headlamp. It’s really hard to dress an animal while holding a flashlight and the hand held is great for moving around in the brush. Animals always seem to find the thick stuff. Headlamps are not as effective when branches are in your face. We rarely move from the evening hunts till after dark and more times than not we’ve been packing out in the deep of night. The extra light is a huge asset. Last year we had the good fortune to have a reason to try the Primos Bloodhunter flashlight. It was a very handy tool to track a very light blood trail. You may find that a useful tool in support of a good headlamp.

    Marking tape is absolutely needed. If you have to track an animal at night, or in tough conditions, you will wish you had a small roll of it to mark spots and progress.

    The replaceable blade knives are a huge time saver and frankly, a safety issue. A dull blade really slows things down. Stopping to touch up a victorinox knife while you field dress an animal for the first time — sounds like an entertaining story to hear! I use the Outdoor Edge version and I reuse and resharpen the blades. It usually take 4 blades or so to field process an animal. I am not a big fan of the havalon knives — they are a little flimsy for me.

    It may seem like a funny thing but I also started carrying a post-animal check list. After the packs are loaded, I take a moment to review the list in detail to check off and make sure I have everything. Including a full look over the carcass to be sure the parts and pieces were picked up. After the adrenalin wears off, in the middle of the night, and after you spend an hour on the animal, it is really easy to miss something silly like leaving a knife or a tenderloin.

    Thanks again for all of the info and inspiration.

    Good hunting,
    Andy

  22. john felkins on September 4, 2015 at 5:05 pm

    Love the list. I wish I could down load it or print it somehow to use a checklist (at least to compare). Is there a way to do that? When I hit the print button the tables are all blacked out. Maybe it’s my browser. thanks!

    • Andrew Skurka on September 5, 2015 at 9:14 am

      Unfortunately, no, it’s not possible to print out the list. I’m aware of this shortcoming so at some point I’ll try to add a print-page feature, or offer the lists as downloadable spreadsheets. But that will be a while.

  23. chuckster on October 7, 2015 at 9:53 pm

    Andrew, thanks for the list, and taking the time to post your perspectives/recommendations and thought processes driving your selections. I’m first-timing-the back pack adventure this October 2nd season Colorado. I appreciate your objectivity.
    Best of wishes with your future adventures,
    Chuckster

  24. Pat Beaudet on October 12, 2015 at 6:45 am

    What a wonderful and generous sharing you provide to the outdoor community. Well done, Tks!

    Andrew, what are the reasons you picked up the SD Pack Trench over the Cagoule?
    And why are you dropping the Rain chaps for Rain pants?

    I need to lighten my rain gear (actually a 1983 Marmot G-Tex Alpinist Parka, tight lenght 32 oz + rain chap 4 oz, which is too heavy at 36 oz). As I mostly play in the NE New England weather partern, where rain is constant, are there any down sides wearing the Cagoule in long continuous days of rain VS the Pack Trench?

    Pros & Cons from those 2 similar rain wear would be welcome. Tks!

  25. Robb on January 6, 2016 at 2:06 pm

    Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for all the great info. I’ve got a long way’s to go, but I’m constantly upping my game thanks to the experience and knowledge you share.

    Wanted to let you know that there is a link misdirection in your clothing list. The link for “Mid-layer bottoms” goes to “Komperdell C3 Carbon Power Lock Trekking Poles” on Backcountry.com.

    Robb

  26. Lewis Martin on November 25, 2016 at 6:27 pm

    Hi Andrew,

    Curious as to why you pack the Sierra Designs Pack Trench for hunting vs the Sierra Designs UL Trench when hiking. Is this for durability reasons or am I just making conclusions on my own?

    • Andrew Skurka on November 25, 2016 at 6:49 pm

      You might be seeing a preference from a specific point in time. The original UL Trench was made of 2-layer fabric, and I preferred the heavier 3-layer because it was more durably waterproof. They upgraded the fabric for 2016, so the UL Trench is fine for either activity.

  27. Todd Anderson on August 30, 2018 at 8:42 am

    Great information as always Andrew 🙂

    You used the Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor pack at some point(s) for hunting, including hauling out meat. Why did you switch to the Kifaru frame/bag? I’m considering a new pack for “regular” backpacking, but want to be able to use it for backpack hunting also.

    • Andrew Skurka on August 30, 2018 at 2:48 pm

      I have used the Flex for the past three seasons, two of which were successful. Last year my hunting partner had the Flex, too, and I suspect we’ll do the same again this year.

      The Flex is one of the few packs that can truly play double-duty for normal backpacking and big game hunting. The other brand that comes to mind is Seek Outside.

      • Lewis on August 30, 2018 at 2:51 pm

        I have the Exo Mountain Gear 3500 and find it prefect for both activities. It’s a tad on the heavy side for just backpacking but it’s very durable and I carried 150lb moose quarters in it no problem!

        • Todd Anderson on August 30, 2018 at 5:40 pm

          That is a nice looking pack (lots of features!) but it is double the weight of the Flex Capacitor at 5.1 lbs and almost 3x as expensive. I want to stay as light as possible for backpacking (and hunting also for that matter). Also, one of the reasons I want to have one pack which I didn’t mention is budget. But thank you for the suggestion – I’m always looking for options!!

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