The coastal mountains of Southeast Alaska are as unforgiving as they are beautiful. Mountain Goats find security in the steepest areas of these jagged peaks, and for man to live and hunt among them is a test of one’s will and preparedness. I have hunted numerous mountain ranges in the Lower 48, and have also spent time in several regions of Alaska, but none of my backcountry hunting or backpacking experience has rivaled the demands of pursuing mountain goats in Southeast Alaska.
If you want to hear more about the story of this hunt, listen to Episode 373 of the Hunt Backcountry Podcast…
In this article I want to share my full gear list, talk about some higher-level themes related to gear for a hunt like this, and then share some newer or notable gear that stood out to me from this hunt.
THE COMPLETE GEAR LIST (Spreadsheet)
A few quick notes about the full gear list spreadsheet linked above. All of the items on that gear list are things that I traveled to Alaska with. That includes some contingency items, or gear choices that were last-minute decisions based on weather conditions. Some items were not used at all on the hunt, and are not checked as “included” or “packed”.
The “include” column indicates the items that I personally packed and used. You’ll notice, however, that some items are checked as “included” but not “packed” or vice-versa. The items that I personally carried and used are both “included” and “packed”. There were a few items I used, but did not pack, which would be marked as “packed”, but are not “included” in my personal pack and subsequent pack weight. For example, my good friend Tyler packed the spotting scope that we shared.
My pack weight with food, fuel, water, and gear was about 43.5lbs at the beginning of the hunt. With my 9lb rifle attached, the true pack weight was 52.5lbs.
With the full gear list out of the way, let’s talk about some gear-related themes for this hunt…
BALANCING WEIGHT, PREPAREDNESS, & DURABILITY
To get into the alpine and truly begin hunting goats, we had to climb 2,500’ or more of elevation through insanely steep, wet, slippery, brushy country. You don’t want to navigate that terrain with a bigger or heavier pack than is absolutely required. However, you also can’t go ultralight and fail to be prepared for the unforgiving terrain and wild weather that Southeast Alaska will force you into.
I wanted my pack to be as light as possible, but I also had to carry more gear, and some heavier and bulkier gear than I am used to using for hunts in the Lower 48.
First Lite's Omen Stormshelter Pants being put to the test in wet, thick, thorny Southeast Alaska
A good example of this would be the two sets of rain gear that I brought up to Alaska — the Sitka Dewpoint and the First Lite Omen. Both sets of rain gear are very good, but they are very different. They each have their place and their purpose. I wanted to convince myself that a lighter set of rain gear, such as the Dewpoint, would be sufficient, but I begrudgingly accepted the added 2lbs of weight and 3-times the bulk to pack the First Lite Omen set instead. It was the right call. My begrudging attitude turned to gratitude throughout the hunt, as I became grateful for the durability and performance of the heavier-duty rain gear.
The point here isn’t to talk about rain gear, compare brands, or anything like that. The takeaway should be that you need to match your gear choices to the specific location, season, and unique demands of a specific hunt.
THE 10% THAT’S DIFFERENT IS WHAT MAKES ALL OF THE DIFFERENCE
Although 90% of the gear in my pack for this hunt was the same stuff that I would use for, say, as an archery elk hunt in the Lower 48, the 10% of my gear that is different is what made all of the difference in my ability to hunt safely and effectively. Keep this lesson in mind for all of your hunts. No matter what, when, or where you are hunting, you can probably use most of the same gear, and then need just a few carefully-selected items that will set you up for success for any particular hunt.
My pack, boots, gaiters, pants, puffy jacket, food, stove, water filter, sleeping pad, navigation, optics, trekking poles, and other gear items are the same thing I use on almost every hunt.
The roughly 10% of things that were different for this mountain goat hunt included crampons, a synthetic quilt, more synthetic clothing, and gloves with protection from Devil’s Club and other thorns. Each of these things proved to be very important.
WERE SYNTHETICS REQUIRED?
For the year leading up to this hunt, I debated whether synthetics would be required for my sleeping bag/quilt, insulated clothing, and base layers. Due to the wet nature of the coastal environment of Southeast Alaska, synthetics are generally recommended and widely used by experienced guides and hunters in the area.
A long wet day, followed by a long wet night. Southeast Alaska's conditions can wreak havoc on water-sensitive items.
A synthetic sleeping bag (or quilt) is something I had not used in years. And I absolutely love the packabability and performance of my natural down Katabatic quilt. I decided to play-it-safe and use a synthetic sleep system, ultimately deciding to stick with a quilt and get the Enigma Quilt with synthetic Apex 20-Degree insulation from Enlightenment Equipment.
While I still prefer the packability of natural down, I am glad I chose to use a synthetic sleep system for this particular hunt. With the potential of heavy rain, heavy condensation, and constant high-humidity, the use of natural down — and even water-resistant “hydrophobic” treated down — could easily lose loft and performance over the course of an extended hunt in Southeast Alaska.
In terms of clothing, I used synthetics for base layers, for my mid-layer, and used a blend of synthetic and natural down insulation via Sitka’s Kelvin Lite Down Jacket. After a decade of using merino wool for most of my hunting, hiking, and backpacking, I have been testing more synthetic clothing in the past year and have been impressed with their performance. I am really happy with how quickly the synthetics dried, and was genuinely surprised at how well they resisted odor; the Polygiene antimicrobial treatment that Sitka uses apparently works.
One of the new-to-me clothing approaches I used on this trip was to forgo wearing my hunting pants while climbing the first few thousand feet of elevation from the water, and into the alpine. Instead, for this wet and brushy climb, I wore my First Lite Omen rain pants with Sikta’s Core Lightweight Bottoms underneath. The lightweight baselayer helped wick moisture away from my skin, and also kept the “clammy” feeling waterproof membrane of the rain pants away from direct skin contact. This approach also kept my primary hunting pants bone dry, and ready to be worn when we were out of the wetness and into the alpine.
NEW & NOTABLE GEAR
Digiscoping — Ollin Magnetic Case & Adapter
I have been using this digiscoping adapter for several months now, and I’m absolutely loving it. The magnetic attachment is fast, precise, and doesn’t affect the spotter’s position or field-of-view as much as systems I have used in the past.
Bipod — MTN Gear
I hate hunting with a bipod attached to my rifle. This bipod offers a quick attachment and is incredibly light, which are the first two things I look for in a bipod. What sets this particular bipod apart from the competition of light and quick bipods, is that it also offers an insane amount of adjustability.
That adjustability proved to be very critical in allowing me to get setup from a very awkward shooting position on my mountain goat — a shot that also required a very high level of stability and precision, as I needed to place my shot in a very small area. I am extremely glad I had this bipod on this particular hunt. I am not sure how well I would have been able to get setup and stable in the same position if I were using bipods that I have packed previously.
Mark straps on crampons for a steep, slick climb ahead. The Ambient Hoody helped Mark stay warm, yet not overheat, during this high-exertion climb on a cool morning.
Active Insulation — Sitka Ambient Hoody
In my opinion, Sitka Gear has made some bold claims about the benefits and performance of their new Ambient line of "active insulation" pieces. In my experience, those claims are justified. Compared to the grid fleece and merino midlayers that I have worn for years, the Ambient Hoody is lighter, warmer, breathes better, manages sweat more effectively, and also sheds external moisture well for a mid-layer. I have tested this piece on quite a few hunts now, and it will continue to be a mainstay in my pack for quite some time to come.
Traction — Petzl Leopard FL Crampons
In speaking with my guide, Mark Rowenhorst of Limitless Alaska Outfitting, as well as with several hunters who have pursued mountain goats in Southeast Alaska, I kept being told to bring crampons. Having used Microspikes pretty extensively in the past, that’s what I initially planned to use. I am glad that I listened, though, and went with a full crampon for this hunt. We did use the crampons to cross some snow and ice fields, and almost needed them to cross a glacier, but the primary way these crampons earned their keep was on a heavily vegetated, insanely steep slope that was also wet and slippery. There were truly some areas on the mountain that ascending or descending slopes without crampons would have been either impossible or extremely dangerous.
I specifically chose the Petzl Leopard FL crampons for their relatively lightweight and their packability. The system can be tricky to use, with some experience earned and mistakes made, I ended up being glad I chose them.
Boots — Hanwag Alverstone
The first time I pulled a pair of Alverstones out of the box, I proceeded to backpack-in for the opening day of rifle elk season, kill a bull the following morning, and then pack that bull out 6+ miles with zero issues, hot spots, or blisters. That was two years ago, and the Alverstones have continued to impress me since then. I purchased a 2nd pair of Alverstones for this year’s hunt, relegating my previous pair to the hundreds of weighted training miles I hike each year. This new pair of Alverstones has, once again, been phenomenal.
This hunt was constant steep climbing, steep descending, and steep side-hilling, with little flat ground to be found, and under the constant weight of a loaded pack. The boots kept my feet comfortable, dry, and well-supported through it all. These boots aren’t new to me, but they certainly continue to be notable.
Rifle — Folding Chassis & Rugged Scope
Shortly before this hunt, I shared a detailed article about my custom rifle build. I love everything about the rifle, but there are two particular things about that rifle that proved to be notable on this mountain goat hunt.
After 8+ days of rugged use being strapped to his pack, Mark's rifle performed when it mattered most. Here, he straps it on for one final pack out, which included numerous falls on loose rock and slick slopes.
First, this hunt would have been extra miserable without a folding chassis! Having a rifle barrel protrude overhead any more than absolutely required is something you absolutely want to avoid when fighting Alaska’s alders, Devil’s Club, and other thick vegetation. And even if you lowered your rifle down below the pack to reduce the barrel overhead, the rifle’s stock hanging below the pack line would be difficult to deal with when taking unavoidable falls or setting the heavy pack down. I am glad I had the folding XLR Element Chassis.
Secondly, I am extremely glad I had a scope that is proven to be extremely tough and reliable with the Nightforce NXS. Again, falls are inevitable in this country, and my rifle certainly took a beating on numerous occasions. Saving a few ounces or even a few hundred dollars on a lighter and cheaper scope would be a fool’s errand if that scope couldn’t withstand a week of falls, impacts, and bumps, and then allow you to make a precise shot on the final day of your hunt. That was the scenario that my Nightforce endured and then performed in.
WHAT I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY
Thankfully, not much. I was really happy with my gear decisions and the performance of almost everything that I tested.
My Gossamer Gear "The One" is a great tent and has been my primary shelter for years now — and it did perform just fine on this specific trip — but it is not the ideal shelter for Southeast Alaska, except in favorable conditions. There could have easily been some nights with stronger winds or more severe conditions that would have been a test of this shelter’s worthiness for this type of hunt.
Well, that’s a wrap! This hunt was truly an adventure of a lifetime. I am sure that I will have more lessons learned or other thoughts to share as I process this experience further in the weeks to come. If you have any questions for me, shoot an email to Mark [at] ExoMtnGear.com
Mark Huelsing is the host of the Hunt Backcountry Podcast and works at Exo Mtn Gear — though he's never been able to figure out his job title. Connect with Mark by sending him an email (mark at exomtngear.com) or DM @MarkTheFark on Instagram.