Backpacking can be very rewarding if you go about it right, or very defeating if you go about it wrong. With some thought and planning, you’ll have a great experience. Below is my standard gear checklist for backcountry bowhunts.
General Thoughts: Overall, think light. If one ounce of toothpaste will do, don’t carry a six-ounce tube. In place of a fork and spoon, carry a plastic spork. Rather than steel pots, use titanium. Try to keep your total load in the 50-60 pound range.
I put a lot of value on a good tent and sleeping bag. You can tolerate a lot of misery during a long hunting day if you know you have a secure shelter and a warm sleeping bag waiting for you in camp. I often set up a lightweight tarp next to the tent for storing extra gear, especially with two or three guys because their gear will fill the tent.
Leave ALL cotton clothing at home. It’s relatively heavy, and in damp, cool weather it takes forever to dry. Wet wool will keep you warm, but it’s heavy and dries slowly. For backpacking, I far prefer all-synthetic materials — fleece for cool weather, light polyester for hot weather — because they’re relatively lightweight and dry quickly. For trips up to 10 days or so, I just carry one change of socks, underwear, and T-shirts. If one set gets too rank, I just rinse it out and put on the other set.
Regarding food, plan a simple diet. I personally won’t use foods that require cooking. For me, “cooking” means boiling water. That’s why I especially like Mountain House freeze-dried dinners. You just boil water, pour into the foil pouch, and eat out of the pouch.
Get a good stove. Butane stoves are easy and quick, but butane does not perform well in cold weather. For hard-core backpacking, I generally prefer a stove that burns white gas or other liquid fuels.
Meat care and packing may be your biggest concerns. If you’re hunting elk for instance, the average mature bull will bone out to roughly 300 pounds, so you can figure three trips of 100 pounds, six trips of 50 pounds, or some similar combination. If you have a couple of buddies willing to help pack meat, it’s doable. But assess your abilities honestly. If you’re not capable of that, talk to local packers — before the hunt! — to line up pack stock.
To get in shape, running is a good place to start. To backpack at elevation, you should be able to run four or five miles, five days a week at home. If that hurts, you’re not ready to backpack for elk. Also, lift weights with emphasis on legs two or three times a week. Best of all, put on a 50-pound pack and climb hills regularly. If you live in the flatlands, find a tall building or stadium, and climb the stairs. Put in just as much time going down as up. Descending is far harder on the legs than going up.
Backpack (3,000-5,000 cu. in., depending on length of stay)
Waterproof pack cover
10 hunting arrows
Release aid or tab
Allen wrenches/bow repair gear
Calls (grunt tube, mouth diaphragms)
Emergency fire starters
50 feet of nylon cord
Folding saw (antlers, camp projects)
Tent (two-man for one or two guys, three-man dome for three guys)
Tarp for shelter, gear storage outside of tent
Therm-a-Rest (or similar
Sleeping bag (lightweight for early archery season)
Small pillow (I normally used rolled up vest instead)
Toothbrush and paste
Headlamp for camp use
Towel and washcloth
Stove (MSR, Brunton, Coleman, or similar backpack model)
Cook pots (small and large)
Spork (or spoon and fork)
Cup (doubles as cereal bowl, coffee cup)
Plastic plate (when alone,
I just eat out of cook pot)
Alarm clock (I just use Timex Ironman watch)
Game bags (six lightweight
muslin bags for boned-out elk)
Water bottle/bladder for
Fishing gear (optional)
Notebook and pen
Unscented baby wipes in
Longjohns (one set, lightweight)
Fleece shirt or jacket
Down or fleece vest
Wool scarf or neck gaiter
Sweatband (keeps sweat off my glasses on hard hikes)
Breakfast: Granola w/powdered milk in plastic bags (just add water), instant oatmeal, coffee, hot chocolate
Lunch: Hard rolls or tortillas with cheese, dried beef, pb&j, granola bars, candy bars, gorp, jerky
Dinners: Freeze-dried dinners, Top Ramen noodle dinners; instant potatoes or rice; instant pudding, instant milk