Backpacking Gear List by Backcountry Editor Nate Simmons
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2012 issue of Elk Hunter Magazine.
I’m kind of a chart guy I guess. The chart I built for this article is my biggest so far - maybe too big - but it has it all; every single gizmo and gadget that I stuff into my pack as I head into the backcountry on a typical weeklong early-season elk hunt. By “early season” I mean August and September.
This is the list that over a decade of backpack elk hunting has brought me to. As you’ll see, there are many things I take along with me. There are also many things I could add or subtract. It’s a constantly changing list and it will always be that way as newer, lighter, and stronger materials are engineered.
I’m pretty happy with my current pack weight of less than 46 lbs. for a seven-day hunt, but I know I could very easily shave another 3-4 lbs. by spending even more money on upgrading than I already have.
While my list is long, it’s not nearly as long as it used to be. As a rookie backpacker, I thought of every scenario that could possibly arise in the backcountry and I made sure I would have what I needed, just in case. As a result, for years I packed things I never used. I had backups for my backups. I also had some very light items I used but didn’t like, such as a bivy sack.Thus, not everything has gotten lighter, just customized for me personally.
Following I will summarize each category on my list and some of my reasons for picking things the way I do.
I won’t get into much detail here since I just outlined my food system in the spring issue of Elk Hunter Magazine. The one major change I’ve made recently though was eliminating the peanut butter, honey, and bacon sandwiches I used to pack. While I do enjoy them and know they are a good source of protein and calories, they are a hassle to prepare (especially compared to trail mix), they take up a lot of room, and are pretty heavy.
I’m really pretty happy with the system I have here. I might start incorporating some of the newer Wilderness Athlete drink mixes, as I know I could do a lot better than Propel as far as vitamins and minerals go, but as I said, everything is always being upgraded. There are times that mixing stuff into my water backfires on me, though, like when I end up not making it to a water source before I set up camp and have to use flavored water to boil and mix into my freeze-dried dinner. Strawberry-flavored spaghetti - yum.
I keep forgetting to get one of those little foot rests that attaches to the bottom of the fuel canister for better stability to avoid spilling water. It’s inexpensive, lightweight and compact – hopefully I’ll remember to get one by this August. I would consider checking into a stove system that takes up a little less room, but since I rarely hunt alone, it’s nice to have a cook pot large enough to boil two dinners’ worth of water at once.
The 4-liter Platypus I pack with me (empty) comes in really handy for when I get back in somewhere far from water and I want to camp up high for glassing. This way I can just fill up the 4-liter reservoir and pack that up to my camp to last me a couple extra days before having to get more.
I have be honest; I don’t always remember the toothbrush, but I make an effort. The toothpaste tube I take is a tough score. I’ve never seen tubes this small for sale anywhere (it’s a fraction the size of travel-size tubes). I’ve only found them at some hotels as complimentary toothpaste.
I used to take unscented sunscreen, but I usually didn’t want to hassle with putting in on. Now I just pack a boonie-style hat to keep the sun off my ears and neck.
I’ve been saving a lightweight empty deodorant dispenser that I keep forgetting to wash out (it had regular scented deodorant in it). I’ve been hoping to try jamming some Scent Killer-type deodorant into it, since all the Scent Killer sticks only seem to come in full size.
There is plenty of opportunity to lighten the load here. For example, if I was heading into terrain that wasn’t “glassing friendly” (thickly vegetated or flat), I’d probably leave the spotting scope at home and also bring a much smaller and lighter tripod just for my compact camera. This alone shaves over 3 lbs.
Another item I’d omit in think terrain is the decoy since in thick cover, the elk will probably have to be close to bow range in order to see the decoy. This saves over 2 lbs.
One area where I’m thinking about investing in some newer gear to shave weight and add comfort is my sleeping system – both my sleeping bag and pad. Not sure what I will get yet, but I’m leaning toward either the Exped SynMat UL 7 or the NeoAir XLite. Either one saves me about 10 oz., but also costs considerably more money than what I have now. I have had my bag for five years and it’s still in great shape, but I could get something warmer (like a +15° bag) and also shave some weight or stay with a 25° bag and shave at least half a pound.
Another area where I could shave weight is by switching to a smaller and lighter shelter, but I probably won’t. The added weight in a nice, roomy one-man tent with a roomy vestibule is worth it to me. I’ve used bivy sacks and very small tents plenty of nights, but I just don’t care to shave weight with this item; it’s just my personal preference.
This is a tough category, because there are a lot of things that could go wrong and/or break in the backcountry. I can’t be packing two of everything and a Leatherman to fix it, so I’ve settled on being happy with my current “short list”. I try to head off some of this by selecting high quality gear that is less likely to malfunction, so I can focus on duplicating things I’m more likely to lose than break, such as my release or a cow call.
This is the clothing I’ll have in my pack when I’m hiking in warm, dry weather. I won’t get too detailed here since I outlined my backpacking clothing system in the Premiere Issue of Elk Hunter Magazine (Winter 2011). One item I’ve been lusting after is a lighter down insulating layer. Patagonia’s Ultralight down jacket is nearly half the weight of my current down vest, but it would be an expensive bill to save 7 oz.
At 45 lbs., 11 oz., I’m very comfortable, but if I do pull the trigger on the lighter gear mentioned above, I could cut this down by 1.5 lbs., just with my sleeping system and down jacket. But even if I stay with what I have (which is all good stuff) I’ll be in good shape, especially considering that I have a nice tripod, spotting scope, and elk decoy and still am well under 50 lbs. for seven days of hunting.
Worn and/or Carried
While these items aren’t intended to be in/on my backpack, I still try to think “light”, because one way or another, I’m carrying them. There’s just no getting around the fact that every ounce adds up.
One item I’m very excited about that’s new for me is the Zeiss Victory 10x32 binocular. This set is super compact and lightweight and perfect as a backpacking binocular.
The one area where I don’t worry about weight is my bow and accessories setup. It’s just too important an item. I select this based on quality, performance, and functionality; whatever it weighs, it weighs.
Well, now you know what type of underwear I wear. TMI, maybe, but I wanted to compile a complete list of every single item I take with me on my early-season backpack elk hunts for other hunters to reference and/or compare to their own systems. Hopefully this either helps you fine-tune your system or helps you pack for your first backcountry hunt. The backcountry experience is something very unique and special; an experience I hope every elk hunter gets to enjoy at least once.
Thanks for this Nate. Been following your work here and previous employer. I really appreciate you publishing a specific list for equipment. Helps provide new ideas for light weight items. My list is very similar but a few items I have changed over the last several years have helped simplify the process. I pack baby wipes instead of old fashioned paper. Shouldn't have to explain how great these are considering what we eat in the back country. I leave the usual stove, pot and lid at home and JetBoil water right into the dehydrated food package to save weight and fuss. No cleaning pots which saves water. I also repack boxed Cous Cous into plastic bags for evening cooking but eating for breakfast. This meal sticks to my ribs better than oatmeal. I don't pack near as many snacks for the day. My GPS doubles for many tasks including alarm clock. Oh yeah...and my Glock 27. Thanks again for sharing your work. Good luck this season. Your hard work is inspiring others to search their own back country trails.
Hey Nate, I'm a huge fan of yours. Just recently I've gotten into the same kind of backpacking/hunting as yourself. At first I thought I was crazy stayin out for 3 or more days and packing out a full deer by myself because I've never heard of anyone else doing that besides yourself and I.
I live in Bishop California which is far eastern California, with in 45 minutes of the Nevada border, (to be honest I would rather be called Nevada, California BLOWS!! ). But I'm a die hard mule deer hunter, there is nothing else I would rather do than spot and stalk. I can't stand watching all these land owners with food plots growing these bucks and harvesting them. In my mind that's farming not hunting.
A lot of people say California doesn't have Rocky Mountain mule deer anymore but I have proof that they are here. I got pictures and videos. The monsters are few and far between but I know with hard work it will pay off for a nice muley. I am offering you to come over and hunt with me. You can leave the camera crew at home if you want. I am not looking for a tv show. I am looking to hunt with someone with as much experience as your yourself so I can learn from someone that has been doing this type of hunting and hopefully I can teach you a little bit about this area. Like I said I'm not looking for any type of fame from your show I'm just looking for a good bow hunter to hunt with so I can learn some things.
So if your interested send an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 7609201755. I can keep you updated with the bucks I'm watching by sending pictures and video of the back country I hunt. I can't guarantee monsters but I can guarantee a great hunt and chances at nice muleys. So let me know and I will give you the choices of hunts in my area that I know, with a few that are over the counter and a couple you have to put in for that you will get first draw. So I will really appreciate if you hit me up whether your interested or not just so I know