Backpack hunting can be overwhelming when staring down the rabbit hole of what’s needed, especially as a newcomer. From the type of gear required to understanding how to make it back to the truck safely to living comfortably while in the field — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Recently, I had a coworker show interest when I was talking about hiking in a mile or two with everything required for three days on my back for camping/hunting. His response was, "I wish I could do that." My response in return was, "Why can't you?" We proceeded to talk about ways he could slowly introduce himself and, eventually, his family into the world of backpack hunting and camping. I don’t claim to be an expert, but there is some things I have learned along the way. Here’s what I recommended:
I know for myself one way that helped me get hooked into backpack hunting was friends offering to lend me pieces of their gear so I didn't have to fork up a bunch of money just to get a taste of the backpack hunting bug. A rain jacket here, a backpack there and a few other odds and ends and I was ready to rock. As most of us gear nuts know, lightweight, compact gear goes for pretty pennies. To make the process easier and less stressful for those interested, be a good lad and lend out what items you can to make them more comfortable. If you are the person in search of borrowing gear, don’t be afraid to ask; most people won’t mind lending a helping hand. There are also places, such as Rent Guns and Gear, that offer the opportunity to test and rent gear.
Start Short and Easy
The next topic we discussed was where to go once you have all the necessary gear. This particular individual I spoke with isn't a frequent hiker or camper so I recommended some training options as well as some very simple popular camping areas with easy trails within our local national forest — at the most one mile away from the road. Being a mile or less from the truck gives him the peace of mind that he really isn't too far from aid in the event something was to happen, such as bad weather, a sprained ankle or shortage of food. He could just return to his rig. I also recommended that he starts with short-duration trips during the summer like an overnighter. I made him aware of the fact that it's a different dynamic than your typical camper camping and requires a little more mental fortitude, especially solo.
Carry the Load
In this scenario you are taking a beginner along with you and showing them the ropes. I recommend carrying the majority of the weight in your pack. I know when I introduced my wife into backpack camping I didn't want her to be in discomfort during the hike in (in this case, it was supposed to be only two miles, but ended up being four miles). Luckily, it was an expedition in the summer so our packs weren't overly heavy, but I made sure to carry about 75% of the weight between the two of us. This made her pack somewhere in the 30 lb range, which doesn't seem like much, but she’s 5’ tall and only 115 lbs so it was a good break-in weight.
This leads us to the next tip: making the inductee comfortable.
Make Them Comfortable
One of the last things I would want to induce to a new backpack hunter would be too much uncomfortability. Granted, it's not always a five-star resort. I'm sure we’ve all been there during the miserable times stuck in the field. That’s where your expertise can help set them up for a successful trip. For example, if you have multiple sleeping pads, take the less comfortable one and let them use the nicer option. Help them plan the logistics of their trip: weather, trail map, etc. You never know — maybe by having them enjoy themselves on their maiden voyage they could turn into someone who's more willing to accompany you in the future on what some refer to as a "Death Hike."
This could, ultimately, be a deciding factor in many people's hesitation to venture into the woods unknowingly. I know for myself it definitely was. I had friends let me borrow gear with the assumption I knew what I was doing. I also had buddies who loaned me gear and, upon receiving it, had shown me exactly how to use it — along with some extra pointers. This was much more helpful than the latter. Given that I'm now a gear nerd, I really enjoy showing people different options as well as what I like to use and why. I shared what I know about good boots and how they make a difference and made sure he was aware of what to expect while being alone in the wilderness. I also shared some short stories about failures and troubles I had along the way. Giving people a small informal lesson that helps familiarize how to use a tool or specific item and informs them about what to expect while in the field will strengthen their confidence and hopefully minimize any doubt when it comes time to go afield. I would recommend teaching them what food to bring, how to gather clean water, which clothing to wear, etc. Don’t forget to refer them to goHUNT articles and the Gear Shop when they need to buy some gear!
Camping and hunting from a backpack has brought myself and family a lot of joy and introducing others to the recreational activity I enjoy is very rewarding. My family and I went from knowing nothing to slowly acquiring more gear and knowledge, taking us to more adventurous and scenic places. I encourage anyone interested to give it a try. The views you have the ability to see just a short distance away from civilization are pure and self rewarding.