What do you absolutely need on a backpack hunt?

What do you absolutely need in order to go backpack hunting?

All photo credits: Josh Kirchner

The memory replays in my head as if it were yesterday. My wife and I had just gotten married and decided to use all of the money given to us from family and friends to not only go on our honeymoon, but to invest in backpacking gear. For years, this had kept the both of us from having the ability to go on backpacking trips because we simply didn’t have what we deemed necessary to backpack. This stuff can get pricey and a wallet can lose quite a bit of weight during the process. Finally, having the opportunity to do this would also give me the means to start out backpack hunting. Backpack hunting and backpacking are really one in the same when it comes to gear. The only difference is that hunters are carrying a bow/rifle, kill kit and optics. Starting out in the matter, it’s easy to think you need every little gadget out there, but that just isn’t true. With years of backpack hunting trips notched on the belt, my views on what I deem necessary to pull off these trips have changed.


Let’s just get this out of the way right at the beginning. The first thing a hunter is going to need in order to pull off a backpack hunt is right in the title. Can’t backpack hunt without a backpack. If you were to look at yourself as a vehicle, our backpacks are essentially the beds of our trucks or the trailer our vehicles are hauling. They carry everything we need to get from point A to point B and then back to point A again. Not only that, but our backpacks keep all of our gear secure and safe from the elements. And then there is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Should we be so fortunate to harvest an animal in the backcountry, they will come out of said country by way of our packs. And to have a backpack that is not built for the task at hand will give you a VIP one-way ticket for the struggle bus. Good backpacks are expensive, but good backpacks are worth every single penny that is asked for them. So, this is an area that you don’t want to overlook at all. Spend the time to learn about how to actually wear a pack, what proper fit looks like and also how to pack the thing once you do purchase one.

Sleep system

Sleep System

Another area of necessity is going to rest in your sleep system. I’d define this as your sleeping pad and sleeping bag/quilt. Getting a good night’s rest is crucial for backcountry hunting. With how demanding this kind of hunting is, recovering after the fact is just going to help keep you going the next day and the day after that. Of course, you don’t need a pad, depending on the temperatures. However, you’ll definitely want a pad because it’s going to make life back there easier. The same can be said for a sleeping bag or quilt. Yeah, if the weather is nice, maybe you’d be just fine sleeping without one of these insulating pieces. There is definitely something comforting about being inside of one though and that’s enough for me. It’s going to aid in that sleep and recovery we so desperately need out there. When it comes to price on this stuff, you don’t have to break the bank, but you’ll eventually end up likely doing so in the long run.

The thing we are paying for here is weight or lack thereof it. The lighter the gear, the more pricey. And the more you backpack hunt, the more logical it sounds to bite the bullet on lighter gear. In the beginning, though, grab some stuff to just get started if you have to. If it comes down to either buying a less expensive setup and heading out or not buying a more expensive setup and not heading out, get the less expensive one and start making some memories.

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Do I need a shelter?

Do I need a shelter?

It’s freezing cold, raining and the wind is howling like a wolf. In this case, I’d say that having a shelter would be in your best interest. Having the ability to retreat into a dry place and out of the wind can be a huge mood booster on backpack hunts. It gives you a break from the elements and a secure place to sleep. Even if the weather isn’t bad, having a shelter setup is a great place to keep any spare clothing and offers a nice cozy resting spot. That isn’t the end all be all thoughts on shelters though. There are plenty of folks out there that just prefer to sleep without a shelter. Of course, the weather needs to be fair for this to not turn into a miserable stress test, but the fact remains. Shelters do take up space in the pack and come with a bit more weight. If you’re comfortable with sleeping outside without the walls of a shelter, then I say go for it. In the end, though, there are definitely times where you’ll want one, so it’d be a good idea to do some looking around at different models. The whole price thing is pretty much a clone of what we spoke about above with sleeping bags and pads. The lighter the shelter, the steeper the price tag. You should go with what you can afford and whatever will get you in the field to get started.

How about a water filter?

Water filtration

We need water and there is no getting around that. How we choose to get that water is an area that can be bent a bit. This is really all going to depend on how deep you are planning on hiking, the duration of your trip and how motivated you happen to be. Let me explain. Simply put: I strongly suggest investing in a water purification system. Whatever system you go with is up to you. All of them work and shine in different situations. The bottom line, though, is that they’ll keep you hydrated. Pumps, Steripens, Gravity Filters and so on, they do their job. These also offer a bit of freedom. Being able to just move where you want to as the hunt progresses and find water along the way doesn’t tie you down to one spot. However, if you’re only planning on hiking in a few miles, then why not hike some water in ahead of time, especially if water isn’t conveniently located near where you want to camp? We’ve done this several times and it definitely has its benefits. For one, there is no need to carry a water filter, which frees up space and weight in your backpack. And there are no “water trips” to take. There is no chore of going and actually filtering water. This time could be better spent hunting. I’m not going to lie, though; it is a chore hauling water into the backcountry. Then, there is the duration of your hunt. If it’s a 10-day hunt, that’s a whole lot of water to be hiking in. However, a three-day hunt? That’s something easily accomplished. This is especially true if a person plans on scouting the area before season. Why not just hike in a bit more heavy if you’re going to be back there anyways? I know it might sound crazy not bringing a water filter, but I’m telling you, it works.

Survival/first aid kit

Survival and first aid

Survival gear and first aid kits are non negotiable. Being miles into the backcountry brings an element of danger. That level of danger can fluctuate, but it’s there. The potency of your survival and first aid kit also can fluctuate. For instance, there are some folks who will only bring in a roll of Duct tape and ibuprofen. Boom and that’s their first aid kit. There are also folks who go at great lengths to make sure everything they’ll possibly need is with them. Bringing stuff like tourniquets and such for extreme situations, which could absolutely save your life, but not what resides in most first aid kits. At the bare minimum, I’d say bring some type of painkiller, Duct tape, a bandage of some sort and some antiseptic. A person can also buy prepackaged first aid kits for the backcountry, which are incredibly convenient.

On the deck of survival kits, a person might only choose to bring a knife and lighter. Others might bring a space blanket, whistle, spare compass, etc. Just like first aid kits, there are also prepackaged survival kits of which will come with pretty much everything you will need and usually more. These are convenient and affordable if it’s something you don’t necessarily want to build yourself. At the bare minimum for survival, I’d say you want a map, compass, fire starter and knife.

Most of this stuff you’ll never use, but it is valuable to have in a pinch and you’ll be glad you did should such a situation arise. So, speaking for both first aid and survival, make it happen. Whether you choose to build your own kit or just purchase one, it’s an insurance policy for your well being back there.


In closing

Gear is a huge topic within the backpack hunting world and hunting world in general, really. We love the stuff! They are tools that help make our lives easier out there and aid in our pursuits. However, gear isn’t everything. A person doesn’t need to absolutely shred their bank account to go on a backpack hunt for the first time. If they want to, then that is fine, but it shouldn’t be the end all, be all. The truth is that you don’t need much. I’d honestly say the most important things to have are a tag because that is your ticket to the funhouse, a good head on your shoulders and the willingness to go. Assess what is important to you. Things that you really think you personally absolutely need. And make haste. As the trips roll on, you’ll have more answers to your questions and the rest will fall into place.



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