The 7E Chronicles: Gearing up for the hunt. - the things I'll carry
The 7E Chronicles, sponsored by Gaia GPS (sign up here with a discount). Camo gear provided by Under Armour Ridge Reaper (shop here on Amazon).
Unfortunately, due to the drought my hunt unit is still closed off from access, but that's not keeping me from planning and strategizing my gear (clothing will be a later post). For most of my life, the gear choices have been pretty easy--whatever cool stuff I can fit into the backpack I carry on the half-mile hike from cabin to deer stand. But this time it'll be a backpacking hunt at 9,000' and higher, several miles from my car and a half-hour drive from town, so I'm going to have to be more diligent and discerning with what I carry.
This is the first of a three-part subseries of the 7E Chronicles dealing with the gear I'll be taking for my hunt. This will deal with the basic necessities, the next will review firearm and optics, the final will feature the camo clothing I'll wear.
By and large, my gear for this elk hunt will be very similar to what I'd carry on a backpacking trip. For some reason I expected to need TONS of specialized gear, and while there's definitely a need for some hunt-specific items, all the research and prep I've done suggests I'm packing to backpack with a gun.
First I'll go over the necessities--tent, sleeping bag, etc.; then I'll go over the fun stuff--knives, electronics, and other hunting gadgets.
As a preface, let me acknowledge that I'm not optimized to be as ultralight as possible. I do try to pare down my gear list, but like most hunters I don't have the budget or inclination to buy all UL gear so I'm primarily making due with what I have and can repurpose elsewhere. Will that make my pack heavier and bulkier than it could be? Sure, but being resourceful starts at home.
Since I will be carrying everything, let's start with a backpack. It needs to be spacious enough for tent, sleeping bag, insulated gear; durable enough to deal with bushwhacking through pine blow-downs and clambering over scree; and comfortable enough to wear for up to a week. Since packing out meat will be a necessity, it needs to be roomy enough for elk quarters unless you don't mind a trip back to the car for a replacement pack.
I'm planning to use my Under Armour Ridge Reaper 2800 backpack that I've carried for a few seasons of deer hunting. With a 45 liter cargo volume, it's on the low end of having enough room for all my gear (especially since I'm 6'5" and everything I need is bigger), but with careful planning and packing it should work. Unfortunately for anyone who doesn't already have this pack, it's been discontinued. Unless the recent marketing materials showing a Ridge Reaper backpack indicates a new release this year, consider a modular frame pack like the Eberlestock Mainframe ($199 on Amazon). It's customizable to your needs and budget, or just use the frame by itself to pack out meat. For a less expensive option, try the Alps OutdoorZ Commander ($139 on Amazon).
Next is shelter. For an ideal balance of decent size and light weight, I'll be using the MSR Hubba Hubba. At 3.8 pounds, it has 29 square feet of floor space and is easy to set up and take down. It's also very packable to save space in my pack. It does cost around $400, so it's not the cheapest option around, but it's a great, versatile tent. For $279, you can get the REI Quarter Dome 1-person tent and also save a pound. Or if your budget allows, splurge on the Big Agnes Copper Spur platinum ultralight 2 person tent; it has the floor space of the MSR and less weight than the Quarter Dome. I'll be carrying the stock stakes, but will be using a custom cut piece of tyvek as a footprint.
Sea to Summit makes my go to sleeping pad--their ultralight insulated pad. This is the only pad I've ever slept comfortably on. In the past, my typical night in a tent consisted of tossing, then turning. With this pad I sleep like a rock. It's literally more comfortable than some beds I've slept on. They have a variety of options, with varying degrees of insulation and padding. The UL insulated strikes a good balance of comfort and warmth...two things that'll be important in rocky terrain in October. Any insulated model that you can carry is a great choice.
Sleeping bags are a very personal choice, depending heavily on what fits you and keeps you warm. Warmth will be determined both by the insulation value of the bag and how it fits you...if your body leaves empty spaces you'll have dead, cold air; conversely, if the bag is too tight it might compress against your body and lose its insulation ability. Down is always going to be lighter and more packable than synthetic, just make sure to keep it dry because wet down will not provide any insulation. My bag of choice is the REI ignio, it's the only bag I've found that comes in a long and wide size that fits my body in the weird positions I sleep. I'll probably pair it with a Sea to Summit bag liner in case those nights above tree line get chilly. And it'll go into a Sea to Summit waterproof compression sack.
Rounding out the essentials are things like stove, water filter, and first aide kit. For camp stove, I'm sticking with my Jet Boil Mini Mo ($117 on Amazon). It might not be the smallest or lightest option available (try a DIY alcohol stove for that), but it's what I have, it's what I know, and it performs well. The simmer control is great for low-temp cooking, and it cranks way up to boil water in a flash. Similarly, there are tons of water filtration options available too. I prefer the MSR AutoFlow gravity filter ($109 on Amazon). There are other great MSR filtration options. Also, the Sawyer Mini is another choice I see frequently on backpacking trips--it's loved because it can screw onto Smart Water water bottles in addition to the provided pouch. I've put together my own first aide kit, but if you're in a pinch you can go with one of the Adventure Medical Kits hunting-specific kits.
Now for the fun stuff: gadgets and blades (optics and firearm will be discussed in a later post).
Benchmade became my favorite knife brand last year after using the Saddle Mountain Hunter knife I got for Christmas the year before to butcher a whitetail buck I shot during firearms season. That blade made quick and easy work of cleaning the carcass of every bit of usable meat. I'll have that blade in the car ready and waiting to go to work quartering an elk; the clip-point blade isn't ideal for field dressing. I'll carry my Benchmade Steep Country as my daily knife; its blade will be usable for skinning and field dressing an animal. If I could justify buying a Saddle Mountain Skinner...and pretty much the rest of the Benchmade hunt series, I'd have them too.
A Garmin Inreach Explorer+ ($448 on Amazon) will come along to aide in navigating to prime areas I've mapped out on scouting trips, stay in my hunt unit, and contact help in case of an emergency or an elk needing to be packed out. I've used it on two Rim to Rim hikes, several backpacking trips, and my scouting trips so far and it's done a great job for me. I am using Gaia GPS premium to create maps to load into the Inreach, though, because for some unfathomable reason Garmin Earthmate Hunt Maps cannot be accessed from anything other than a mobile device. I'll carry an Anker PowerCore battery to keep it, and any other electronics, charged up. On that note, this is no replacement for a map and compass--and the ability to use them.
The Garmin VIRB XE adventure camera will be my prime source of photo and video for the hunt. Garmin and other aftermarket accessory vendors make mounts that can go on backpack straps, gun barrels, rifle scopes, and pretty much anywhere else you can imagine placing a camera to document your hunt.
Trekking poles will be indispensable on my hunt in San Francisco Peaks. Carrying 50+ pounds of gear at high elevations, over uneven terrain gets exhausting. Using trekking poles helps redistribute weight, gives two more balance points, and can help spread fatigue over your whole body instead of focusing on legs. You can spend well over a hundred dollars on a pair of trekking poles, but I have a great pear I picked up from Costco a couple years ago for under $30. They've taken me down to Havasu Falls three times, on two Rim-to-Rim hikes at the Grand Canyon, and countless other less intense hikes and backpacking trips. Amazon carries the same Cascade Mountain Tech brand...the carbon fiber poles are around $40 while the aluminum version are around $20.
Less fun, but still important:
- Cat-hole shovel
- Bear hang rope
- Toilet paper
- Hand sanitizer / Wet-wipes
- Hydration bladder
- Pillow (or stuff sack you can fill with clothes to use)
- Flashlight / headlight - I like the Petzel Reactik rechargeable headlamp because of the strong beam and ease of charge.
- Coffee (Starbucks instant is great)
- Food (still figuring out my menu)
- Camp spoon
- Metal mug (so you can boil water in it over a fire if necessary for survival)
- Rope (at least 50', can be your hang rope if it's strong enough) and a couple carabiners.
- Matches and fire striker
- Camp chair
- Inflatable solar light
- Solar panel