I live in the world of whitetails most of the year, so gear planning for deer is natural to the point where I don't really have to think too hard about it. If I'm loading up the truck and driving 19 hours to Southern Colorado for an elk trip, that's a different situation. I agonize over my gear choices then.
What I always find interesting is that no matter how much mind-grinding and equipment planning I do, I get some things right and some things plain wrong. For instance, last fall I started my elk hunt with a brand new, 5000-cubic-inch pack. By day three, that pack didn't have a functioning zipper left on it. It was junk, so I had to go to a backup. Lesson learned.
If you're thinking velvet mulies in a timberline bowl or perhaps bugling mid-September elk are in your future, listen up. The following products will be well worth their weight once you set boots down at the trailhead and crane your neck to see your 11,000-foot camping spot.
KUIU Mountain Star 2P Tent
KUIU is churning out some killer clothing and camping gear these days. This includes the Mountain Star 2P Tent, which tips the scales at a shade over three pounds (carbon-pole option).
It boasts a dual vestibule with side access for easy entry, an ergonomic design that allows for more comfort while sitting up or laying down, and internal storage pockets. This is the ideal tent for one hunter who likes to sleep in peace and heat up a cup of coffee or a round of Mountain House in his mobile shelter.
Cabela's Instinct Scout 2-Person Tent
This all-season tent from Cabela's utilizes the Frame Tensioning System for easy setup and added stability, which is always appreciated in the mountains when weather is rarely consistent. Or kind. The floor measures 87x52 inches, with a center height of 40 inches and an overall weight of about 5.5 pounds.
The Instinct Scout was tested extensively in wind tunnels and through load-bearing exercises to ensure that it'll remain standing even if Mother Nature decides to dump a foot-and-a-half of snow on you overnight.
ALPS OutdoorZ Commander X + Pack
Alps OutdoorZ is making some of my favorite packs, and their Commander X + Pack is an excellent choice for serious backpacking hunts. This is because of the design, which incorporates an internal frame meat hauling pack with a detachable, 4000-cubic inch pack bag.
To ensure the Commander X + Pack can handle the rigors of the backcountry, it is built with 1680D Nylon Ballistic and Robic Nylon Fabrics, which in layman's terms, mean it is a crazy strong and durable material that will withstand years of serious use.
Browning Crossfire 1AA USB Rechargeable Flashlight
Nothing sucks more than trying to quarter an elk in the dark with inadequate lights, except for maybe having to pack those quarters out with inadequate lights. I'm somewhat of a flashlight junkie, and have two types on me at all times — a small, bright flashlight and a headlamp.
For the former, Browning's latest is a great choice with its 100- to 260-lumen output, and ability to function off of a single battery. It's completely waterproof and measures less than 5.5 inches long.
Black Diamond Storm Headlamp
Black Diamond produces some of the best climbing, skiing and hiking gear out there. While most of that stuff has little bearing on an elk hunter's life, their headlamps are definitely worthy of a bowhunter's consideration.
I've used the Storm Headlamp a lot in the last year and am seriously hooked on it. It's fully waterproof, utilizes PowerTap Technology and Brightness Memory, and features three-color RGB night vision (awesome for whitetail hunting or sneaking into an antelope blind well before dawn).
Gerber Gear Vital Pocket Folder
As hooked as I am on lights, I'm equally as addicted to quality blades like the Vital Pocket Folder from Gerber. A lot of companies have produced a replaceable blade knife over the years, but Gerber has created one that is extremely easy to use and best of all, safe.
Slicing your thumb up while trying to swap a dull blade for a sharper one when you're seven miles deep is a bad deal, which is one of the reasons the rubber-handled, 1.3-ounce Vital Pocket Folder is a mainstay on my hunts.
Mountain Ops Ignite
Here's the thing about a backcountry hunt — your best piece of equipment is your body. That's no joke. If you're not in shape, getting a decent amount of rest, and allowing your body to recover, you're not going to find a whole lot of success.
There is no way to shortcut the in-shape part, but you can offer your body something to aid in recovery and maintaining energy levels. Mix up some Ignite from Mountain Ops, which is offered in a few different flavors, is formulated to improve cognitive function, increase mental focus, and provide sustained, jittery-free energy without the crash.
This stuff has become a pre-workout supplement for me, a coffee replacement, and during all of my hunts - a can't-live-without-it-reality. Mountain Ops produces some of the best hunter-friendly workout supplements you'll find anywhere. Try them, you won't be disappointed.
Wildlife Research Center Scent Killer Gold Field Wipes
This may seem like an odd addition to a backcountry list, but follow along. It's inevitable that after four or five days of hiking up and down mountains that you're probably going to smell less than ideal.
Couple that with the fact that Mountain House meals have a tendency to move through most of us pretty quickly, and having a package of scent-eliminating field wipes doesn't seem like such a bad idea. Discomfort is the name of the backcountry game, but you don't have to smell worse than a pile of used gym towels that have been baking in the sun to prove your worth in elk territory.