Gear can make or break a hunt. Especially when you’re traveling miles away from the nearest road and spending a week in the wilderness. In today’s post I want to debrief on last year’s elk hunts and analyze my gear list with the distinct advantage of hindsight.
- What items worked as expected? (Almost everything.)
- What items am I going to be changing for this year’s elk hunt? (Just a few things.)
- What should I have brought or wish I would have had with me? (Not much.)
- And what did I carry, but didn’t really need? (Nothing really.)
Here is the gear list that I used last year. (UPDATE! Here is my gear list for 2014) My base pack weight was 25lbs, and once I added water, food, and fuel, my pack weighed in at 40lbs. Gear lists change according to the seasons, hunting strategies, and personal preference. This list was put together for a weeklong backpack style hunt (establishing our own backcountry base camp, but moving around if necessary) for late September in Colorado, at 9,000-11,000’; it was intended to be lightweight and void of superfluous items, but not ultra-light or ultra-minimal.
Line by Line
I was going to summarize the good and bad of my list, but I think it might be most helpful to go line-by-line and walkthrough last year’s list. I will conclude by discussing what I will be adding/changing for this year.
Pack – Tenzing CF-13 – This pack treated me very well on last year’s hunt. It was just big enough to carry a week’s worth of gear and I loved how easily it converted into a streamlined day pack after we had camp setup and our gear unloaded. I also ended up hunting with all of my gear and camp on my back on a couple of occasions, and it was always comfortably “out of sight, out of mind” in those situations. I didn’t have any problems with it at all, but I have since given it to a friend to use and he had a stitching failure that should have never happened. My verdict – it is a very good, functional design, but quality could be better, and the price isn’t justified. I’ll be using something else this year. (More on that below.)
Water Bladder & Filter – Platypus Gravityworks – I love this thing! Water filtration pumps and water treatment approaches both have their disadvantages, and while Platypus’s gravity system isn’t perfect, it is the best thing for my needs. I loved that all I had to do was dump the dirty bag in the water source, hang it up, and let gravity do all of the filtration work without my assistance. It isn’t the fastest system in the world, but for its reliability and hands-free approach, I’ll take it. I also loved that you don’t have to filter water at the source; we often carried dirty water back and hung the bladder in camp, using “on demand” filtered water when needed. I used Platypus’ drinking tube kit with the “clean” bag as my in-pack hydration system, which also worked well. It can be hard to fully fill the dirty bag from shallow water sources, which is my only real gripe.
Shelter – Mountainsmith Mountain Shelter LT – I have a full review of this shelter. Long story short, it is a great option if you are going lightweight on a budget. It isn’t a palace for two men, but it is very usable. This year I will be testing and reviewing the Sierra Designs Lightning 2 tent.
Sleeping Bag – Sierra Designs Zissou 12 – This is a standout item for me. I fell in love with it on my CO elk hunt and have used it numerous times since. It is extremely comfortable, has a realistic temperature rating (I have used it in the upper-teens), and the DriDown technology works as advertised. I won’t be changing this item out for a loooong time.
Sleeping Pad – Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core – This isn’t the lightest sleeping pad on the market, but it is one of the most comfortable. I’m a big guy, so I am always hesitant to try the ultralight inflatables, but the Q-Core has won my trust. Carrying 28oz for a good night’s rest is worth it for me.
Stove/Pot/Cup/Windscreen – I put this kit together years ago and it has been flawless. The stove is a Primus Micron, which nests inside the Ti pot/cup (REI brand) along with a fuel canister. It works. This year I’ll be trying a Jetboil and seeing if they are all that they’re cracked up to be. In general though, I like the small canister-style backpacking stoves, which are a great tool for my approach to food on these trips.
Clothing – First Lite – I have already published quite a bit of information on the First List system that I used last year. Everything worked great and I’ll be using the same kit this year, and will be adding their new Boundary Stormtight Pant as well. Here are some more of my thoughts, reviews, and videos pre-trip and post-trip. One interesting note: having tried all of their high-end stuff (which is great), I find it really funny that one of the things I get most excited about to this day is their Mountain Athlete Compression Sock. They’re just socks! But, man, they are amazing.
Hygiene – The boring stuff. Toothpaste and toothbrush are obviously essential. I carried baby wipes and some toilet paper, but the baby wipes are the ticket. I had a backpacking towel, but never really used it – it would get more use if we had warmer weather. That’s about it! I didn’t carry antiperspirant, and never desired it. (Thanks to merino wool and baby wipes!)
Map/Compass/GPS – I printed a custom topo from MyTopo.com. It was nice to have a large printed map to look over, but I never relied on it for true navigation. The compass never left my pack, but is an essential backup to have. However, my GPS and Hunting GPS Maps were relied on heavily. Hunting GPS Maps, now called “onXmaps”, are essential. Period. End of story. Get them.
Bears! – I used 50’ of 3mm accessory cord, and my Sea to Summit compression bag (used to pack my sleeping bag) as our system to hang food and trash away from camp. I didn’t carry bear spray, but both of the guys that I was with were locked and loaded. If bears are around, then have some protection.
Safety Miscellaneous – I never needed my lighter, fire starters, or emergency shelter, but I wouldn’t leave home without them. The “just in case” category is where a lot of guys get into trouble – either by preparing for the apocalypse and weighing-down their packs, or by going into the wilderness without preparations for what could happen. Only you can decide what items you need, but make sure to use some common sense.
First Aid Kit – Adventure Medical Kit, Ultralight .7 – This is a great starting place for a First Aid Kit. I removed some of the duplication, and also added some of my own items. The size and waterproof packaging are great. We had to use it for a couple of minor injuries.
“Kill Kit” – I didn’t get to use this, but I am really happy with the package that I put together. Here is a video that goes over everything: A Lightweight DIY “Kill Kit” for Backpack Elk Hunting
Electronics – Headlamp, SPOT Connect, camera, GPS (already covered) and extra batteries for all. I kept everything in a very small waterproof sack, which not only kept everything organized, but provided protection. The headlamp and camera are obviously essential. The SPOT Connect worked as advertised, but keep in mind that it is a “one way” (only outbound) communicator. It was cheap insurance and peace of mind to check in with the family. My hunting partner for this year has a DeLorme inReach, which is a two-way communicator. The backcountry communications market is changing each year and I still think that there are worthwhile improvements to be made. There isn’t one “perfect”, affordable solution yet.
What’s Changing for 2014?
- For a pack I will be using the Exo Mountain Gear 3500
- For a shelter I will be using the Sierra Designs Lightning 2
- I will ditching my “home brew” cooking kit for a Jetboil
- I will be adding First Lite’s Boundary Stormright rain pants
- I will be including a lightweight elk decoy from Montana Decoy
- I might add some sort of gaiter
What Works For You?
I am really happy with how the overall gear strategy came together, and for the most part how each individual item performed. Feel free to use this information as inspiration, but ultimately what works for you can only be discovered by trial and error. Take smaller backpacking trips to test your gear and discover what is really necessary.
Want to lighten your load? Play baseball! Each time you take something on a trip and it doesn’t get used, that item gets a “strike.” Three strikes and it’s out of your pack. This strategy works really well, but obviously doesn’t apply to all safety and emergency supplies.
Questions? Fire away…