Brady Miller's 2018 early season backcountry hunting gear list
Fall is here and that means we are well into hunting season! The past few months have been spent packing and repacking gear and also testing out a few new items. Ultimately, all of this work will pay off when trying to find a hole in your backpacking system. Before I go any further, I had hoped to get this article out there a lot sooner, but some unfortunate circumstances occured that took some time to get out of. You can read more on that here.
Back to gear lists... Gear lists help portray the big picture on aiding you to success. The gear you carry will keep you comfortable and safe. Ultimately, in the end, the gear you take is a personal preference and can easily be catered to a multitude of hunting situations. When you make a gear list and test it out on some scouting trips, you will quickly see what you can and can’t live without. Especially when it comes to food and your layering systems.
I can’t stress enough the importance of keeping a gear list. A gear list can be anything. You could keep all your notes in a notepad, Google Sheet, Excel Sheet or even a Word document. These lists are very valuable over time and will not only be great for planning for your next hunt, but they will also aid in you fine tuning your setup. Without a gear list, items may get overlooked, or you will take more than you need.
Before you finalize your gear list, keep in mind that weather ultimately plays a huge part in what you should take. What I mean by this is have some extra items ready to throw in your truck in case all the weather reports you looked at were wrong, or if a last-minute storm brews up and you’re driving across the country.
So, at the last minute, I might need to add an item to ensure I am safe on the mountain. I like to say that I never carry extra gear or clothing that I'll not use. This can only be learned from experience. To do this, it’s best to utilize a quality weather service that you trust before heading out for a week or more of backcountry hunting. Keep in mind, that your clothing is a layering system, you can always add or subtract layers when you are hunting.
Even though the main purpose of my gear list is focused around ultralight gear, I still carry a minimum amount of safety items and gear that ensures I can survive in pretty much anything that Mother Nature throws at me. I do carry a few backups, and over the years, even those are starting to get smaller and smaller.
I have stated this before on other articles and podcasts, but my gear list is and always will be a living and breathing document.
My personal gear list archives are revised periodically when I find new gear that I feel are essential for the hunt. If I don't trust a piece of gear, it will not make this list. I understand the balance between ultralight, safety, and success. I also have several versions of my gear list for different hunting situations: early, mid and late seasons. Along with that I also create truck/hotel camping versions too. That way I know what I'm carrying and know what I'm packing.
Each year I get very long-winded in these articles as I love talking about gear. But, I'm going to try to keep the text down in this article, but if you want to hear more on my gear related ideas, you can check out a few of my gear related articles below:
Downloadable Excel link for my 2018 gear list:
Just like in years past, I’ve attached a downloadable Excel spreadsheet of my exact gear list. Not a lot has changed on the layout of my gear list. This system works very well for me, but if anyone has any suggestions on how to make this gear list better. I’m all ears. My current 2018 gear list is what I carried on a recent Nevada archery mule deer hunt earlier in August and it is very similar to the gear list that I used on mid-September Wyoming archery elk hunt.
My Excel gear spreadsheet breaks down every category of gear: item name, ounces, pounds and even price per item.
The price per item section in my gear list...
I list the price per item due to managing my personal hunting budget. I want to know what areas I could spend or save more money on in order to shave weight if needed. Yes, if you're starting from scratch, a gear list for a backcountry hunt can be very expensive, or relatively cheaper. That is the beauty of backpacking. You can get by with any amount of gear, it's up to you as the hunter to figure out what works best for you. Backpack hunting is my favorite style of hunting... so my hunting budget goes toward this.
Expanding on gear related data
The pie charts in the Excel gear sheet also provide a great visual to see what category are your heaviest, which is helpful for cutting weight. Everything you enter in the spreadsheet will be automatically added to the summary tables and the pie charts. I highly suggest saving a backup copy just in case you make a mistake and erase some formulas. It's also a great idea to make multiple copies of this gear list; one for the early season, one for October hunts, and one for November hunts. Or maybe even a mule deer gear list and an elk gear list because they are totally different beasts in terms of gear.
You will also notice a section on my gear list under the " Function" column in each gear section. I use the letter "p" to know that I have that item ready to place in my backpack. That is sort of my checklist section. I've also kept the spreadsheet unlocked so you can edit the entire document. I'm very proud of how my gear list charts have evolved over the years. It seems each year I find something else to add to this Excel spreadsheet.
Currently, my full backpack weighs 38.90 lbs and my full pack at the trailhead (everything but weapon, including water) weighs 43.77 lbs. That total is for a 10.5 day, 10-night hunt.
Gear items that I could improve on
Even though my gear list has been refined over the years, there are still some holes that I could fix. So what items would I change in my 2018 gear list? This is a fairly easy question for me to answer. I definitely want to modify several areas of my gear list, but they all mainly come down to money and if it’s actually worth spending the extra money to replace some items for a newer model that is a little lighter and has better features.
Upgrade my inReach device
As of my August mule deer hunt, I was still running the old style Delorme inReach Explorer that I bought in 2014. This unit weighs in at 6.67 oz and the new inReach Mini’s advertised weight is 3.6 oz. If I didn’t have an inReach already and was looking at the new inReach options, I would pick up the inReach Mini for the weight savings and compact size.
Since early season hunt, old Delorme inReach finally saw it's last day on the mountain and broke. So as of September 29, I'm now running the inReach Mini.
Instant weight savings of: 3.07 oz
Swap out my tripod for my lighter one
This one is easy because I would love to use my lighter weight tripod… but, the leg on my Slik 624 CF tripod snapped on the metal part of the hinge area and I’m still waiting to get it back after sending it in for warranty work. So switching back to my “backcountry” Slik 624 CF tripod that weighs in at 28.8 oz and “day hunting” Sirui 1204XL tripod that weighs 31.9 oz, I’d be saving 3.1 ounces.
Instant weight savings of: 3.1 ounces
How do I determine what makes it into my backpack?
I look for the best lightweight backpacking/hunting gear and if it will make me a better hunter or lighten my backpack without sacrificing something, then I might consider using it. A lot of lightweight gear nowadays is just as functional as the traditional heavy backpacking gear that might weigh double. So why carry more weight if less will do?
So what benefit does weighing out all of your hunting gear have?
If you were to ask me if I’m obsessed with ounce-counting, I would probably say yes, but you will notice that in my list, some things I will sacrifice cutting weight to carry some items that I feel will increase my chances of success.
A lot of people will say that weighing out every piece of gear doesn’t matter. All they want is a gear list and if their pack is a little heavier, then they should just get stronger to handle the increased weight. I can slightly agree with that, but each step you're taking you are carrying that weight. Where counting ounces really comes into play is once you have an animal down.
I feel my gear list is a huge helping hand for someone just starting out or looking to change up their setup.
My 2018 A to Z Backcountry Hunting Gear List
My gear list is focused around what I take on an early season mule deer hunt throughout the early part of September. Keep in mind that if you’re an elk hunter, you can easily modify my Excel sheet to accommodate your hunt.
Once again for 2018 I have been running the Stone Glacier Sky Archer 6200 backpack. This pack is a beast! And I mean that in a good way. It's the perfect balance between ultralight and durable enough for heavy meat packing trips.
|Pack||Stone Glacier Sky Archer 6200|
|Stone Glacier Pack Rain Cover||3.48|
|Subtotal (ounces)||87.48 oz|
|Subtotal (pounds)||5.47 lbs|
This is the biggest area of improvement of my gear for the 2018 season. I went from a 4.68-pound sleep kit in 2016, down to 3.74 in 2017 and now finally to a 2.98 oz setup. The biggest change for me in 2018 was switching out my trusted TarpTent ProTrail to a Nemo Spike Storm tent. The Spike Storm weighs in at 17.11 oz after I made some modifications and added better guy lines.
A lot of unnecessary pack weight can come from this section. I feel people are overkill on carrying extra cold weather items. I’ve seen a lot of people pack 0° and even 10° sleeping bags in the backcountry for August or September hunts. Those sleeping bags are not only heavy but can cause you to sweat at night. My philosophy is I already carry an insulation jacket and other layers, so if I get cold I can just wear extra base layers. If you’re going on a September hunt and the weather is looking pretty rough, you could always add a silk sleeping bag liner. Most weigh under 5 oz and can add roughly 9 to 10° of warmth.
Overall, this entire sleeping gear kit still weighs less than most two person tents.
|Shelter||Nemo Spike Storm w/ guylines||17.11|
|Stuff Sack||Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil||0.28|
|Ground Cloth||Polycryo Ground Sheet||1.60|
|Tent Pole||Carbon arrow cut to 15" length||0.33|
|Tent Stakes||Ruta Locura 6" Sorex Stakes||1.84|
|Sleeping Bag||Sea to Summit Ember EBI Quilt||19.06|
|Stuff Sack||Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil XXS|
|Sleeping Pad||Klymit Inertia X Lite||6.10|
|Subtotal (ounces)||47.69 oz|
|Subtotal (pounds)||2.98 lbs|
In 2016 I completely eliminating soft shell jackets from my early season system. Being able to eliminate a softshell and use other lighter layers with a combination of my insulation and rain gear that I am already taking, I am able to still be warm and comfortable.
My primary insulation piece on an early season hunt like this is the SITKA Kelvin Active Jacket or the SITKA Kelvin Lite Hoody. My decision on which to run all comes down to what weather I'll be expecting. Both of these insulation layers can compress really small if needed due to the PrimaLoft synthetic insulation, which also gives incredible warmth.
When I'm running my ultralight sleep system and the temperatures drop, the Kelvin jacket becomes an essential part of my sleeping system by adding a lot of warmth rating to my Sea to Summit Ember EB I Quilt.
|SITKA Core Lightweight|
Hoody Subalpine (XL)
|Top (Insulating)||SITKA Kelvin Active Jacket Subalpine (XL)||14.86|
|Stalking Shoes||Rimrock Stalkers - Pair (XL)||12.85|
|SITKA Beanie Subalpine||1.14|
|Gloves||SITKA Ascent Glove Subalpine (XL)||1.54|
|SITKA Flash Pullover|
|SITKA Dewpoint Pant|
Open Country (LT)
|Subtotal (ounces)||67.51 oz|
|Subtotal (pounds)||4.22 lbs|
This is a pretty simple section for me. The biggest thing for me is to keep one shirt in my kit as scent free as possible. What I mean by that is to save one of your shirts and use it for only stalking on animals. The trekking poles are a gamechanger on the hike in to my hunting spot, as well as pitching my tent, and hopefully, they will aid in packing meat off the mountain.
|SITKA Core Lightweight Crew SS|
|SITKA Ascent Pant|
|Belt||SITKA Stealth Belt (L)||2.40|
|Hat||goHUNT Flexfit Performance|
Dark Grey Delta
|Footwear||Inov8 Mudclaw 300 (Size: 12)||21.12|
|Darn Tough Merino Hunter|
Boot Full Cushion 2012 (XL)
|Leg Gaiter||Outdoor Research|
|Watch||Fitbit Charge 2||1.12|
|Underwear||SITKA Core Silk Boxer|
|Trekking Poles||Black Diamond|
Trail Ergo Cork
|Subtotal (ounces)||77.32 oz|
|Subtotal (pounds)||4.83 lbs|
This area has always been my heaviest section no matter what season I was hunting. But ultimately it is the most important in my opinion. You can’t kill a buck unless you find a buck. On my Colorado rifle mule deer last year, I ditched my 10x and 15x binoculars for 12x binoculars and I haven’t looked back. For some insight on my switch to 12x binoculars, you can check out this article here.
This is why I'm an ounce counter. I cut weight in other areas, so I can pack more weight in others. If you want to dive into more on the subject of what combination of optics to carry on a hunt, you can check out my recent article here: Why carrying multiple are essential for locating more deer as well as the article mentioned above.
|Zeiss Victory DiaScope|
|Binoculars||Vortex Razor HD 12x50||29.20|
|Sun Shield||goHUNT Bino Bandit||0.41|
|Bino Pack||Marsupial Bino Pack||12.00|
|Rangefinder||Leupold RX-1000i TBR||7.92|
|Tripod||Sirui T-1204XL Carbon Fiber||31.90|
|Pan Head||Sirui VA-5 Ultra-Compact Fluid Head||20.00|
|Lens Cloth||goHUNT Spudz||0.30|
|iPhone 7 plus w/ Phone Skope||10.14|
|Subtotal (ounces)||185.65 oz|
|Subtotal (pounds)||11.60 lbs|
When it comes to my bow, I take the precision side of target archery and turn it into tools for bowhunting. My total bow setup weighs in at 9.58 pounds. I do not sacrifice weight here.
|Bow||Mathews Halon X Comp||-|
|String||Zebra Bowstrings and Cables||-|
|BeeStinger Premier Plus 12" V-Bar|
w/ 2 oz Pro Hunter Maxx weight
|BeeStinger Premier Plus 10" V-Bar|
w/ 6 oz Freestyle weights
|Arrows||Black Eagle X-Impact 250 Spine w/|
Q2i 4 Fletch Vanes
|Quiver||TightSpot 5 Arrow||-|
|Rest||Hamskea Hybrid Hunter Pro Microtune|
|Sight||Pure Driven 75 Single Pin|
w/ 6" dovetail
|Broadheads||Rage Hypodermic Trypan (5)||-|
|Release||Hot Shot 4 Finger Eclipse||3.47|
|Bow Sleeve||goHUNT Bow Slicker Bow Sling||6.40|
|Subtotal (ounces)||153.20 oz|
|Subtotal (pounds)||9.58 lbs|
This gear section encompasses my water purification, kill kit, satellite messenger, glassing pad, and a few archery backups. This was the first year I decided to experiment by ditching my standalone GPS and just using my cell phone for navigating. In the past, I've explained how I don't like trusting my phone to do all the work. But I am warming up to the idea and the ease of a cell phone for navigation. This also means that I don't have to pack extra batteries anymore and can fully rely on rechargeable items. Leaving my GPS at home saved me an instant 8.25 ounces and opened up some space in my pant pockets.
|Z Rest cut into small section||2.00|
|D-loop cord, nock,|
sight tape, Allen wrenches
|Stuff Sack||Mini ZPacks Cuben Fiber||0.13|
|Battery Pack||goHUNT Dark Energy|
|Chapstick||LipLipz Lip Balm||0.52|
|Wind Check||Smoke in a Bottle||0.60|
|Knife||Kestrel Knives Mountain Caper||1.02|
|Hunting License||License and Tags||0.06|
|Game Bags||Caribou Gear Carnivore III (4 Bags)||10.09|
|Aquamira in UL Mini Dropper||1.06|
|Water Container||MSR DromLite 6L||4.64|
|Satellite Messenger||Delorme inReach Explorer||6.67|
|Charge Cord||iPhone Charge Cord||0.62|
|Charge Cord||Headlamp/inReach Charge Cord||0.22|
|Subtotal (ounces)||38.63 oz|
|Subtotal (pounds)||2.41 lbs|
My first aid kit is very basic: Advil, gauze pads, bandage netting, moleskin, toothbrush cut in half, ultralight toothpaste bottle and band-aids. I also have electrical tape and Gorilla Tape on my trekking poles for emergencies or for gear repair.
|Z Packs Ultralight|
Travel Tooth Brush
|First Aid||Assorted First Aid Kit|
in aLOKSAK bag
|Toilet Paper||Toilet Paper in ZipLoc Bag||0.73|
|Subtotal (ounces)||8.18 oz|
|Subtotal (pounds)||0.51 lb|
In 2017 I started running a stoveless food method for early season hunts. This food list has worked great for me! To save some space, I dedicated a full article to my food list as well as a bunch of thoughts on my stoveless method. You can check out that article by clicking the button below. But for a quick summary, I am at 3,307.23 calories per day.
|Subtotal (ounces)||5.30 oz|
|Subtotal (pounds)||0.33 lb|
Hoser with a neoprene sleeve
|Subtotal (ounces)||78.00 oz|
|Subtotal (pounds)||4.88 lbs|
What I changed from 2017 to 2018 in my backpacking system
This year the biggest change came from ditching one pair of binoculars and also going to a lighter tent.
Category by category comparison from 2017 to 2018
Pack: no change in 2018
Sleep system: -12.18 oz in 2018
Clothing packed: -4.58 oz in 2018
Clothing/gear worn: -51.69 oz in 2018 (keep in mind this was mainly boots vs. shoes)
Optics: -37.77 oz in 2018
Weapon: -10.00 oz in 2018
Gear: -9.65 oz in 2018
Cook kit: no change in 2018
Safety gear: -11.91 oz in 2018 (removed bear spray)
Water: -6.30 oz in 2018
Note: That for the full pack trailhead weight this includes my bow. I prefer to start my hike by having my bow on my backpack. So I didn't want to confuse anyone by having my bow weight removed from that total. If you're the person who carries your weapon in your hand. Then just eliminate that weight from the Excel spreadsheet.
Overall I'm very happy with my current early season backcountry hunting gear list. The great thing about gear lists is they are a living and breathing document that is always changing.