Similar to recreational backpackers, hunters should have a healthy respect for nature and wildlife. However, the preparation and gear used for both activities are notably different. Backpack hunting requires more gear, additional hunter specific skills, and an increased willingness or tenacity to explore the vast off-trail wilderness in pursuit of game animals. These animals are often found in areas that are difficult to access due to either distance, change in elevation, or density of vegetation. By carrying my hunting camp on my back, I can adapt to where the game lives, or where my instincts take me. This prevents tiring hikes to and from a base camp each day and vastly improves my odds for success.
Depending on the species of game that you may be pursuing, hunting seasons typically start in August and end in December. The varying weather conditions of these months alone could easily overwhelm a backpack hunter. It is not uncommon for a relatively sunny September day to turn miserable with a mountain storm moving through and dumping snow in a matter of hours. If you are hunting for a few days, it’s not long before you can have damp boots, clothing, and sleeping bag.
One of the best ways to understand the similarities and differences between backpack hunters and backpackers is to look at the differences in the kind of gear you need to carry. What follows is a detailed list of equipment I might use on a typical fall hunt. This has been further organized around the core activities that make up a typical hunting trip. There’s a lot of information packed into this post about backpack hunting, and gear requirements that I think you’ll find interesting and useful if this concept is new to you.
This particular backpack hunting gear list is compiled for hunts occurring in September and October. At just over 26 pounds, without food, water, and fuel, it’s a good example of a lightweight backpack hunting gear list with a few tradeoffs that you can make to reduce the weight of your hunter specific gear without skimping on comfort or taking too many risks in the backcountry. Items marked with asterisks are optional depending on hunting season, terrain, and weather.
I’ve broken the gear list into the following sections:
- Clothing for Hiking
- Clothing for Camp
- Clothing for Glassing/Sitting/Weather
- First-Aid/Self Care
- Weapon of Choice
- Harvest Kit
Clothing for Hiking
Hunting clothing has come a long way in the last 10-15 years or so. With technical fabrics in synthetic and natural materials, hunters no longer have to suffer the traditional limitations of wet cotton, heavy wool, or loud polyester clothing. Today, it’s easier than ever to build a complete clothing system that will get you comfortably through most hunts in a wide range of weather and environments.
|Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX||Comfortable, lightweight, supportive boot for carrying heavier loads.||45|
|Smart wool PhD hunting sock||Cushioned, comfortable, reliable, crew height to accommodate taller boots.||2.4|
|Browning Hell’s Canyon Speed Javelin Pants||Light-Medium weight soft shell pant.||20.2|
|Merino T-Shirt||Light weight, low odor shirt for warm weather hiking.||5.8|
|King’s Camo Hunter Series Long Sleeve Shirt||For concealment and protection from sun or cold. A quick-dry, 100% polyester used alone, or as a base layer.||10|
|Manzella Bow Ranger Gloves||Thin gloves for concealment and protecting your hands from abrasion during off-trail travel.||2.8|
|Firstlite Brambler Gaiter||Rugged gaiters that keep snow/water, leaves, sticks, pebbles and other debris out of your boot during off-trail travel.||4.3|
|King's Camo ball cap||Breathable hat, for concealment and sunshade.||2.6|
|King's Camo neck Gaiter||Lightweight breathable for concealment, sun protection, or warmth.||0.8|
For the hike in, I focus on comfort. Depending on the distance of the hike, a sturdy boot, comfortable pants, and a breathable t-shirt make all the difference in getting your hunt off on the right foot. You don’t want to dress too warmly for the hike. If you do, it will increase the sweat that will accumulate in your clothes and increase body odors, which is a negative when trying to go undetected by game animals.
Once in the backcountry, I will wear more camouflage for concealment. Additionally, in prime hunting areas, my steps will be much quieter and calculated, with an overall goal to keep heart rate and respirations under control for a more steady and solid shot if the opportunity presents itself.
Clothing for Camp
Big game hunts tend to be broken into a morning hunt, which occurs from first light until perhaps 10 am, and an evening hunt from around 3 pm until dark. These are the best times to catch game as they are moving from feeding and watering areas to heavy cover to bed down for the day and vice versa. That being said, much of the mid-day can be a waiting game in camp, which may consist of a siesta, considering afternoon weather, or making a game plan for the evening hunt. Therefore, camp clothing would consist of clothing that would be used for sleeping or pending changes in weather. These items are as follows.
|Make / Model||Description||Weight/oz.|
|Smartwool PhD hunting sock||Wool socks/sleeping.||2.4|
|Under armor cold gear Long sleeve||Base layer worn when sleeping.||7|
|Cabelas ECWCS mid weight bottoms||Base layer worn when sleeping.||8|
|Mountain Hardware Dome Perignon Hat||Warm windproof hat.||2.1|
|Mack’s silicone ear plugs||A must for peaceful sleep.||0.1|
Most of the above is standard sleepwear. The sock debate will probably never be fully settled, but I don’t want cold or damp socks on my feet at night, so I take 3 pairs of socks for any hunt. One pair to hike in, one to sleep in at night, and a backup pair that is rotated with the first being either worn or washed for the duration of the trip. As for earplugs, I prefer to be undisturbed by the things that go bump in the night and choose to have the sounds of nature fade to black, and as a bonus, they keep me from smothering a snoring tent mate.
Having clothing layers in reserve has at least two benefits. First, no matter how miserable the weather is outside, I know that I have clean, dry, and warm clothes on hand. Second, having a layering system in place can help supplement the warmth of your sleeping bag. As mentioned, unexpected weather can roll in bringing wind, snow, and plummeting temperatures. I tend to carry a lighter sleeping bag with the understanding that I can wear my layering system inside my bag in those unanticipated, semi-emergency situations. The key is to make sure each layer is dry before committing it to be worn inside your bag. Otherwise, misery awaits you.
Clothing for Layering
Depending on the time of day, elevation, or surrounding vegetation, external temperatures, and wind chill can vary widely on a hunting trip. Often times a high elevation point is sought to survey (via binocular or spotting scope) the surrounding meadows and ridgelines for game. Because of this, it’s best to carry additional layers that you hold in reserve to put on or take off as time passes and conditions change
|Manzella grizzly gloves*||Warm, waterproof but good dexterity when using binoculars/spotting scope.||3.5|
|Digital Camo shell*||Wind/rain shell for extended cold or bad weather.||26|
|ScentLok recon thermal jacket*||For scent control, concealment, and insulation layer.||28|
|Surplus PCU Level 7 cold weather pants*||Primaloft insulation, semi compact, warm when wet.||27|
|Cabela' space rain pants*||Light weight, ultra-packable.||18|
|Therm-a-Rest Z-pad section||Insulation/padding for extended time sitting behind the binoculars or spotting scope, camp seat.||2|
A final note on clothing: As you may have already deduced, hunting occurs in different environments with a mixture of weather, terrain, and activity levels. Having a layering system that’s versatile enough to do it all is important for the overall comfort and safety of your hunt.
The amount of water you carry on a backpack hunting trip will vary depending on the season and environment. For a fall archery hunt in the Uintah Mountains of Utah, water is ubiquitous so I carry less and filter more. In dryer regions, it may be necessary to carry most of your water depending on availability. Either way, carrying a reliable way to filter water is essential. Proper hydration is very important in maintaining muscle chemistry, digestive efficiency, and mental acuity.
|Sawyer Squeeze filter/32oz bag||Light, efficient water filtration.||3|
|Sawyer Coupler||Provides a direct connection with a standard water bottle for backwashing your water filter instead of carrying the syringe.||0.6|
Just the basics for cooking: Four-season fuel seems to work best at higher elevations, no matter the temperature. As noted, my MSR pot is heavy and someday I will upgrade to titanium, but I like it because a 100gm fuel canister stores neatly inside. I want to give a huge shout out to my plasma lighter. This electric/rechargeable lighter is good for about 100, 3-second ignitions. Because it’s electric it tends to work well in all environments, as Bic and torch style lighters burn extra fuel and can have trouble igniting at high elevations. It’s great to start your camp stove and to keep with you for emergencies.
|MSR alpine stowaway pot||Heavy, but near bomb proof.||9.5|
|lcfun waterproof, windproof dual arc electric/plasma lighter||Rechargeable fire starter.||1.8|
|Snow Peak gigapower stove||Compact, reliable stove .||3.1|
|Sea to Summit utensils||Light weight, reliable.||0.6|
|Scotch-Brite scrub sponge|
cut into 1/4
|Handy for pot/dish clean up if cooking involves more than just boil water.||0.5|
|Biodegradable camp soap||Pot & dish cleanser/ camp hygiene.||3|
Navigation needs can vary widely while hunting. I might start in one canyon and end up in another 4-5 miles away depending on where the game animals are or where they lead me. A paper map is best for reference, but I tend to use my phone with offline maps that still update with the phone’s GPS. I always carry a compass as an analog back-up for route finding. The basic orienteering skill of being able to triangulate your position on a map is still relevant and valuable. If you are new to navigating by map and compass, the post on Wilderness Navigation and Route Planning is a wise starting point.
|Trails illustrated topographic map||Highly detailed map, UTM/compass & GPS compatible.||2|
|Brunton true arc compass||Map & user friendly.||1.7|
As mentioned, I do use an iPhone for GPS navigation with offline maps, I also tend to rely on my Garmin eTrex Vista HCx Unit to establish my track because it’s waterproof and has a better battery life than my phone. Many of the mountains that I hunt in lie across state lines, which is a critical factor as hunting permits are only good for the state that they are issued in. Having accurate navigation has saved me from chasing game into the next state and invariably having unpleasant interactions with wildlife officers.
|Black Diamond cosmo head lamp||3AAA batteries, great overall utility light source.||3.5|
|ON-X maps app||Great for offline navigation with saved maps, also shows private/public land boundaries for hunting.||0|
|iPhone w/Mous case||Lightning-USB Rechargeable.||5.9|
|Garmin eTrex Vista HCx||2 AA batteries.||5.6|
|Battery pack and cords||6|
Typically I put fresh batteries in both my headlamp and GPS before heading out. In the future, I hope to upgrade to a rechargeable headlamp and GPS/satellite communicator that I can recharge on a battery pack as needed rather than trouble or worry about dead batteries. For now, I carry a single 8000 mAh battery pack and short cords so I can recharge my phone and lighter. I use my phone as a backup light source and navigation should my alkaline batteries fail me. Electronics increase weight but add a measure of security and peace of mind that I am willing to carry.
I use a self-assembled first-aid kit for all of my outdoor adventures. Nothing too fancy: Benedryl, Tylenol, “Vitamin I” (Ibuprofen), bandages, Coban, Leukotape for blister management, and various other odds and ends specific to my needs and experience. I highly recommend assembling a first aid kit yourself. This will allow you to analyze what you may actually need/use and disregard things that you don’t. Here is a great description of how to make your own: Homemade Ultralight First Aid Kit.
|First aid kit||Self-assembled.||6.8|
|Hygiene kit||Deodorant, toothbrush/paste, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, wet wipes, zinc oxide, chap stick, sunscreen, and small washcloth.||6|
I have also assembled a small personal hygiene kit to help keep me clean and fresh(er) than without. Odor management is paramount when pursuing any game animal. If you stink, you are going to have a hard time getting close to any critter.
A lightweight approach to wilderness travel is essential for backpack hunters. You need the ability to navigate rough country off-trail, having plenty of endurance, speed, and agility. That means carrying light, highly compressible gear and choosing a pack that can expand to accommodate game meat. The weight of your gear is important of course, but keeping the volume of your pack as small as possible is also helpful to avoid getting hung up in the heavy brush or low hanging limbs when traveling by game trail.
|Granite Gear 10L event sil compression drysack||Sil-Nylon, strong, light, for sleeping bag.||2.8|
|Osprey pack cubes||Neat and tidy way organize and pack your gear.||2.2|
|Mystery Ranch Beartooth 80 pack||Hunter specific pack with overload feature.||97.6|
|Trash compactor bag||Pack liner, keeps gear from weather.||2|
|Cascade Mountain trekking poles||Carbon fiber, inexpensive, essential.||16|
My hunting backpack is a Mystery Ranch Beartooth 80 (5187cu. Inch/80L) pack. I can fit all of the gear, food, fuel, and water I need for hunting inside it with extra room to spare. This purpose-built pack has a unique 270-degree “duffle style” zipper which has proved to be handy in accessing gear from the top of the pack to the bottom. There is a breakaway overload feature built into the pack which allows the bag to expand away from the frame to carry meat, antlers, or hide. This eliminates the need to put meat inside the pack bag and makes the heaviest of loads more stable and closer to your back (same fundamentals as regular backpacking), so carrying a very heavy load becomes a lot easier. This is the heaviest piece of my gear list but pays off when it comes to hauling out heavy loads of game meat.
I line my pack with a trash compactor bag to keep its contents dry and use stuff sacks or pack cubes to organize gear. I try not to overstuff these items so that as I compress them into my pack, the air gaps and open space between other bulkier items inside my backpack can be reduced or eliminated.
When trekking poles first became popular, I really took issue with them. I couldn’t see any advantage to using them, and at the same time refused to embarrass myself on the trail to give them a try. My best friend had used them for a couple of years, and I always teased him about getting old and needing to use “sissy sticks” to hike with. I finally broke down and used some, and what can I say….I regret my mocking, they were LIFE CHANGING! In the hunting world, they are near essential, not only for helping traverse off-trail in the pursuit of game but when successful and loaded with a heavy pack of meat, they are crucial in stabilizing you while navigating through steep rocky terrain or seemingly endless deadfall back to an established trail.
My go-to shelter while hunting is the freestanding Easton Kilo 3p Tent, which while discontinued, I believe that this tent may have started the carbon pole craze amongst ultralight tents. It’s cozy for 3 backpackers or adequate for 1-2 hunters with their extra gear. Weighing just 48 ounces, it’s freestanding so you can set it up just about anywhere, it has great ventilation, good headroom, is extremely weatherproof, and has a small vestibule for boots and a pack.
|Easton Kilo 3p tent||Freestanding, 3 season tent.||48|
|Polycryo footprint||Near weightless footprint.||1.2|
I know that there are many options for a shelter, yet I choose to be enclosed in a tent due to varying weather conditions encountered while hunting. While upgrading to something like the Zpacks Triplex tent (with the camouflage option) would cut my carry weight in half, I hesitate to diverge from a system that has worked for me for years.
Hunting is at times exhausting with long hikes, large elevation changes, and literal foot races to the next clearing to catch a glimpse of the game you are pursuing. A comfortable and warm place to collapse at night is an absolute must for any sort of recovery and hope to do it again the next day. The Big Agnes Q-core SLX pad keeps me comfortable down to freezing temperatures and a little below. A lighter sleeping bag is preferable, and if added warmth is needed, the use of clothing layers may be necessary as mentioned above. I don’t use the Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Compact Plus Sleeping Bag Liner very often, but include it below because I do use it during late season hunts when temperatures consistently drop below freezing at night.
|Sierra Designs Zissou 23 sleeping bag||700-fill DriDown.||42|
|Big Agnes Q-core SLX||R value 3.2, comfortable.||15|
|Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor sleeping bag liner|
|Adds 20+ degrees of warmth if needed.||9.3|
Binoculars and/or a spotting scope are helpful in finding game that is invisible to the naked eye at further distances.
|Vortex Diamondback HD 10x42 binoculars||Inexpensive option for a relatively light, intermediate magnification of the terrain.||21|
|Leica 900 Range Master range finder||Essential for range determination and taking ethical, calculated shots.||15.8|
|Vortex Razor HD spotting scope 20-60x85*||Sharp clear image wide range of magnification allows use in varied terrain.||70.5|
|Field Optics carbon fiber tripod*||Important for supporting and stabilizing the spotting scope especially at high magnifications.||62.5|
If pack weight were not a factor, I would carry binoculars, as well as a spotting scope, on every trip. But backpack hunting has limitations, and for me, binoculars are the all-around better choice for much of the hunting that I do. A rangefinder is useful in determining distances between me and my intended game and helps me make more calculated and ethical decisions of when I should or should not take a shot. For archery, that means a cap of 50 yards, and with a rifle, it typically means a 300-yard limit. Each state offers state-specific mandatory hunter’s safety courses. The laws and regulations by state can be found HERE ; this is for the safety, instruction, and benefit of all hunters.
Spotting scopes prove their worth in big landscapes with lots of visible terrain, such as steep mountain passes perhaps on the lookout for mountain goats, or scanning for buffalo in the relentless terrain that makes up the Henry Mountains of South-Central Utah. In these cases, the spotting scope and a good tripod are worth carrying to let your eyes do the scouting, saving you from wearing yourself out trying to cover the same ground on foot. I have included both the spotting scope and tripod on the list even though I don’t carry them every time I hunt.
Weapon of Choice
There are many choices when it comes to selecting a hunting weapon. Just like my backpacking gear, I have strived to select the lightest, most reliable gear that I can afford. I mainly hunt early fall with a compound bow and many other times/seasons with a rifle. I have included both for reference, although please note, I only carry one of these weapons at a time depending on the game tag and season requirements.
|PSE Diablo compound bow||Archery||Older model, but accurate and reliable with site, and arrow rest.||80|
|Arrow quiver||Archery||Easton Axis arrows & G5 Montec broadheads.||12|
|Archery release||Archery||Aids with a smooth release of the bow string.||1.7|
|Bow extras||Archery||Allen wrenches, extra D-loop, peep tubing, knock, and string wax for field repairs.||4.2|
|Smoke in a bottle||both||Used to visualize the wind direction when pursuing game.||0.8|
|Forbes 20B rifle||Rifle||Considered Ultralight amongst its competitors.||83|
|Leupold VX-II 3-9x33 scope/mounts||Rifle||Ultralight hunting scope.||10|
|Rifle ammo (x5)||Rifle||Hornady .308 168gr ELD-X, an extremely accurate and reliable ammunition.||4.6|
|Rifle sling||Rifle||Used to carry rifle when not strapped directly to the pack.||2.5|
This gear is essential to properly care for an animal after it has been harvested so that the maximum amount of meat can be preserved and responsibly handled, reducing waste and spoilage. I keep this gear in a stuff sack to ensure that it all stays together and is ready when needed.
|Havalon piranta knife||Replaceable blade, always sharp, blaze orange for visibility, surgeon like dissection of game.||1.6|
|Extra blades (x2)||Large game such as elk will require about 2 blades.||0.2|
|Nitrile gloves||Keep hands clean & warmer (2 pair).||0.5|
|T.A.G. game bags||Synthetic game bag for superior protection against dirt, insects, and wasted game meat in the field. Washable/reusable.||29|
|Mylar emergency blanket||Used as a ground cloth. Keeps meat out of dirt, leaves, and pine needles while boning out and placing in game bags.||1.7|
|550 paracord||Useful for securing game on steep slopes while processing or used to hang meat to cool and keep away from other animals while making trips out.||2|
|Trash compactor bags||Used while transporting meat on my pack to keep it clean. Not used for storing meat, this would lead to spoilage due to lack of cooling and air circulation.||2|
|Quart Ziploc bag||Store discarded/bloody gloves and emergency blanket for a clean pack out.||4.6|
|Hunting license/tag and zip ties||A way to secure a punched hunting tag to the animal.||0.8|
|Granite Gear 2L tough sack||Stuff sack for contents above.||0.7|
This 26+ pound backpack hunting gear list is pretty streamlined and lightweight and is a good reference for the gear required for a backpack hunt. While adding all the gear together would prove significant, when care is taken, relatively light pack weights can be achieved. Regular backpackers aim to come out much lighter than that when they start, but as a hunter, I fully intend to come out MUCH heavier than I went in, so it’s important to keep the pack light from the beginning. My best advice would be to do your own research to figure out what is right for you to be safe and comfortable. Added hunting gear IS heavier than three-season backpacking/hiking gear, but is worth carrying especially if it will increase your chances of success. I realize that there are several areas in my gear that could be lightened or improved upon. This is just one man’s gear list. The continual improvement process in these areas is the most important part of my gear journey. I enjoy the equipment that I have and look forward to upgrading it when I can. Happy hunting!
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