As you walk away from your truck, you feel a mix of excitement, anticipation, and nerves. And probably some doubt. You have several days worth of food and gear on your back. Adventure awaits.
Am I ready for this? Will I find any animals out there? Will I be warm enough on the cold nights? If I am lucky enough to fill my tag, am I ready for the work that follows?
These questions are completely normal — especially if you are a new hunter. Or maybe you aren't new to hunting, but you are new to backpacking into the backcountry for a big game hunt.
If so, you can relate to Stephen, who recently sent us an email about his hunting plans for the upcoming year...
"I live in southern Indiana and will be driving to Wyoming for a hunt next fall. This will be my first camping hunt. We are currently planning on being flexible and mobile, using a combination of truck camping with the ability to backpack in, as needed. I already purchased my Exo Pack System, and I also have an inexpensive backpacking stove. Otherwise, outside of normal whitetail hunting gear, I am starting from scratch and need to maintain a relatively tight budget. What gear suggestions do you have? (PS — We are planning on doing several 'test trips' locally this winter and spring.")
I could write a book about gearing-up for backpack hunts. My buddy, Josh, has done that, authoring a great book on backpack hunting. In addition to gear, Josh covers trip planning, skills, mindset, and other areas need to consider to become a backpack hunter.
Since we don't have the space to write a book here, I want to use this article to point you to resources that will help you gear-up and make the transition to backpack hunting.
First, check out the "Pack Essentials" series on the Hunt Backcountry Podcast (Reading this on your phone? Get the podcast on iPhone, Android, or Spotify.)
In the Pack Essentials series, we discuss the essential gear needed for backcountry, backpack-style hunting, and how to select the right gear for your needs and budget. The episodes in the Pack Essentials series are...
- Episode 222: Shelter & Sleep Systems (Tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, etc)
- Episode 224: Water, Food, and Cooking (Stoves, water filters, food choices, etc)
- Episode 226: Hunt-Specific Gear (Optics, knives, game bags, etc)
- Episode 228: Everything Else (Clothing, navigation, communication, personal care, etc)
Making Informed (and Affordable) Decisions
While we do make specific gear recommendations in the Pack Essentials Series, what is most important is that we discuss how to make choices when comparing gear items — such as the pros and cons of a traditional double-wall tent compared to a floorless shelter.
Knowing that someone using a specific tent may or may not be helpful if you don't know why they use that specific tent, what conditions they use it for, and why they chose that tent compared to other options they have used in the past.
Another helpful article and podcast is our budget gear list. If you, like Stephen above, are a whitetail hunter that is looking to start elk hunting and need to get backpacking and camping gear on a budget, we share our budget-friendly gear suggestions: Budget Backpacking Gear For Your Next Hunt.
When you are ready to dive more deeply into specific gear lists, we have plenty of those in our "What's In My Pack" video series. These videos and line-by-line gear lists feature different hunters and the gear they use for specific species, seasons, and hunt locations.
Experience > Research
The articles, podcasts, and videos linked-to above will give you hours and hours of content to learn from. Remember, though, that experience is always what's most important. Use this information on gear to help get you started, but don't forget to get out and use the gear! Do as Stephen mentioned he was going to do, and take "test trips" before your big hunt.
Only by experience will you find out what you truly want and need. What you, specifically and uniquely, like and do not like. Through experience, you'll find that you can eliminate certain items from your gear list, so that you aren't carrying more than you need. Through experience, you will discover that once you have your gear system dialed, you can focus on what's most important — the adventure of hunting the backcountry.
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 connecting on Instagram, @MarkTheFark.