Elk Hunting Gear All-Star List
This year I was lucky enough to get drawn for a bull elk tag in Arizona on my first ever time putting in for elk. It was an 8 day (1 scouting day) hunt out of a dome tent base camp and hiking 5-12 miles per day up the slopes of the tallest mountain in the state, in weather ranging from bluebird 50 degree days to fierce wind to constant rain to 6 inches of snow. That required some adjustment to my hunting gear from my usual whitetail deer outfitting and here are the things that made my hunt more enjoyable.
Under Armour Ridge Reaper clothes. I've been a Ridge Reaper fan-boy for a few years. Ever since I found that the Late Season 13 coat had sleeves long enough to fit me without having to get an XXL, I I was sold. I hunt whitetail in the Late Season 13 coat and pants and use the RR backpack from years ago to carry my gear. So when it came to finding hunting clothes for such a physically demanding hunt I went back to Under Armour. This year's line really put a focus on performance with its comfortable, durable, lightweight items; the addition of Gore-Tex windstopper coat/vest/pants; and the addition of down coat and pants.
My favorite of the things I took were the Raider Jacket, Raider Pants, Windstopper Vest, Infil-Ops boots, and wool baselayer. I wore those almost every day and never thought twice about whether I'd be comfortable as I scrambled the peaks. The Raider Jacket and Pants feature a DWR finish that shed water when I found myself encountering an unexpected sprinkle or when melting snow dripped. Even though they're not waterproof, the pants over the wool base layer kept me comfortable even when they got soaked from crawling over wet-snow-covered trees. And the Windstopper Vest made the perfect outer layer for cold or windy times on the trail. Because the wind was fierce and unpredictable, I also carried the Windstopper Coat and threw that on when I stopped or when the weather got especially bad. The Alpine Ops down pants were a luxury I loved having. There were a few instances where I decided to set up over a field and hunt from the ground, having those to put on to protect from the wind and dropping temperatures was a godsend.
The Infil-Ops boots are in a league of their own when it comes to hunting or hiking boots. They weigh just a couple ounces more than my trail running shoes, provide the ankle stability rivaling any other high top boot I've ever worn, and despite being so light they held up to everything the terrain threw at them. My hunt unit was covered in pine and aspen forest, scattered with lava rock (Mt. Humphreys is an extinct volcano), and featured randomly placed cacti. Despite having innumerable things poking, scratching, and rubbing the boots they held up amazingly. I hadn't planned for rain followed by snow, or for walking around in slush, but they did great in that too...taking two 13-hour days of hiking through snowmelt before totally wetting out along the footbed. That's an impressive ability to resist water saturation.
Darn Tough socks. I used to be a cheap, cotton sock guy. Then graduated to Thirlos...then Smart Wools. About a decade ago I found Darn Tough and haven't bought another brand of wool sock then. I have them for hunting, hiking, backpacking, running, biking, casual. I'd drape myself in Darn Tough socks if it were socially acceptable. When my feet got covered in sweat (my feet sweat a lot); or when my boots finally wetted out, the Darn Toughs kept me going in enough comfort I was never actually sure if my feet were wet or not. I never got blisters and the only time a foot got irritated was from not properly tightening my boot.
Luminaide solar inflatable lights. I got one of these in a Cairn box 4 years ago and it was the only thing I ever got from Cairn that was unique and useful. That light went with me on every backpacking and camping trip I took after that...unfortunately as I was setting up camp I found that it had developed a hole after years of use so immediately I ordered one on Amazon to be brought up by my buddy meeting me a couple days into the hunt. It lights up a tent or campsite wonderfully and being so lightweight and packable it's an indispensable part of my gear list. The solar charge is super handy, and now they come with USB charging available AND one that doubles as a battery pack too!
Kifaru gun bearer. This is the greatest non-clothing piece of hunting gear I've ever owned. For years I've carried a rifle on a sling, constantly readjusting where it's slipped down off my shoulder or where the rifle tries to become horizontal instead of vertical. While watching some Randy Newberg hunting shows to mentally prepare I noticed him using a gun holder that had a pouch for the butt to hang in and attached the fore-end of the gun to a backpack strap--keeping the gun handsfree but in easy access. Once I found the manufacturer--Kifaru--I ordered one and my life was changed. There's no way I could have covered the terrain I hunted in using a rifle sling, or even using the gun holder attachment on my backpack. It's $34, built like a tank, and will make you love hiking with a gun.
Merino Buff - Sometimes the best gear is the most basic. It was windy, snowy, rainy, and--on occasion--very sunny during my hunt. The merino buff kept me warm, even when damp, and it protected from sun and wind burn. I practically forgot I was wearing it, but when I needed it it was a neck warmer, an ear warmer, and a sun visor.
Keith Titanium Mug - I carry spare water in plastic bladders, but like to take a metal single-wall mug in case I need to boil water over an open flame...oh, and to drink out of. On a suggestion, I took some bags of green tea on the hunt. With the miserable weather, afternoon green tea to warm my body and give me some caffeine was my favorite addition to the trip. It barely took up any space or weight and was a worthy addition to the trip.