August 04, 2022
By Brian K. Strickland
My pack seemed to get heavier as I eased up the switchbacks toward the basin. Not that it was light when I started nearly a half-dozen miles back, but now my 6,000 cu. in. pack was feeling more like 7,000; and the combination of altitude, age, and the heavy load had slowed my pace considerably.
As I’ve gotten older, seeking solitude has become more important than actually notching a tag; however, truth be told, I was hoping my extra efforts to go off-grid would be rewarded with both.
After reaching a cluster of pines and setting up camp, I brewed a cup of coffee in the chilled mountain air and watched the sun fade behind the horizon. The silence was truly deafening. It always is in this part of the world, and I began to recall the many lonely nights I’d spent before in places just like this.
There truly is something special about off-grid pursuits with a bow in hand. Needless to say, these types of hunts are not easy. Everything needs to fall into place if you want your pack heavier going out than coming in. While there are many things out of our control, our equipment choices and preparation are not one of them.
Obviously, a quality pack is the first must-have, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better company than Kifaru International. They offer exceptional tents, stoves, and sleeping systems, but their bread and butter is their multiple pack systems. Their new Hellbender ($362–$391, bag only), is the perfect size at 2,250-plus cu. in. for a day hunt but could also be used by minimalists looking to stretch their legs for a day or two. A defining feature is the fold-open meat shelf which can be used to pack out the first load of meat or take in an extra dry bag full of gear, a tent, or even a treestand and climbing sticks, while your other gear stays in the pack.Combined with Kifaru’s Duplex Tactical Frame ($454–$488), this versatile pack can do it all for both the Western hunter and the whitetail hunter.
Adding yet another gem to their performance pack series, the guys at ALPS OutdoorZ have introduced the Elite Wilderness Pack System ($299–$499). Built around the all-new Elite frame, it’s 30% lighter and stronger than its predecessor and features an adjustable frame design, so you can find that perfect ergonomic fit and elite comfort. To keep meat loads from shifting in the load sling, it also sports side panels and compression straps. The Elite frame is also designed to accept either their 1,800 cu. in. daypack or the larger 3,800 for multi-day trips in the backcountry. It’s constructed from 500D nylon Cordura fabric that is tear and water-resistant, and features a fully accessible main compartment with multiple interior mesh pockets and exterior pockets.
When ounces count, the ultralight hunting geniuses at KUIU seem to always deliver, and their Pro LT Pack System ($539-$579) is just one example. Well over a pound lighter than its predecessor, this modular pack system allows you to attach any of their four packs ranging in size from 3,600 to 7,000 cu. in. onto the same Pro Suspension and Carbon Fiber Frame. Each pack features multiple internal and external pockets, a hydration system, external compression straps, and are fully constructed from a tough abrasion and water-resistant Cordura ripstop fabric. They are also equipped with an additional 2,500 cu. in. load sling for hauling extra gear or meat.
A proven leader in quality and pack design, Mystery Ranch adds more depth to their line with their new 10X & 12X Bino Harness ($125–$134). It features a magnetic lid that stays in place to protect your optics while also providing one-handed operation when it’s time to quickly grab the glass. This fully adjustable harness sports a zippered front pocket and a pair of side stretch pockets to keep small items close, and it can easily be paired with their new Bear Spray Holster ($32) and Rangefinder Pocket ($29) to complete the package.
The right sleeping bag can mean the difference between a good rest or a night of misery. To prevent the latter, Klymit designed the KSB 0 ($229) sleeping bag. Stuffed with 650 fill power down at the top with a synthetic blend at the bottom, it provides a balanced warmth-to-weight ratio, and to keep the fill next to your body it has an innovative Flexible Baffle design that runs the length of the bag. It also sports a mummy hood with draft collar and drawcord to keep the chill out.
Another ultralight bag worth a look is the new Lost Ranger UL 3N1 ($549-$649) series from Big Agnes. These sleep systems feature an outer bag that functions like a quilt, an inner mummy bag that can be used as a standalone piece for those warmer hunts, and a pad sleeve that will secure any size pad to your bag for the ultimate in comfort. Plus, the innovative Down-Tek fill repels water while maintaining insulating value.
When you want to cut the weight and have a quick and easy shelter to set up, tipi-style tents are a great option, and at just over 3 lbs., the Seek Outside Cimarron Light ($465) is hard to beat. Designed to take a beating, it’s constructed with 30D Cordura nylon and features guy points and stake loops strategically placed to ensure it can take whatever Mother Nature dishes out. You can even add one of their ultralight tent stoves to ensure four-season comfort.
Designed for the solo hunter looking to cut weight but still keep the elements at bay, Stone Glacier offers the SkyAir ULT ($165). Made for the minimalist, it has a trail weight of 8 oz., but with a waterproof footprint of 27 to 32 sq. ft. and a center height up to 47", it offers plenty of room to stretch out. It can also be paired with additional comforts such as a mesh insert to keep the bugs at bay, and a vestibule to store gear.
Never disappointing, Browning Camping adds the Talon 1-Person ($279) tent to their long list of successes. With a footprint measuring nearly 7' x 4' and a center height of 43", it’s the perfect size for adventurers. Although it’s not the lightest shelter on the list at just over 5 lbs., its durable and weatherproof material won’t fail if the weather conspires to spoil your plans. It features aluminum poles and hubs for rock-solid performance and has a full-length, no-see-um mesh door and interior vents for optimal airflow.
Nothing spoils a bowhunt faster than uncomfortable feet, so don’t be cheap when it comes to boots. If you’re planning to bowhunt more rugged terrain, it’s hard to beat what Kenetrek has to offer. Their notable Mountain Extreme ($465) is a favorite among mountain hunters, and it features a 7mm polyurethane midsole for torsional rigidity and their proprietary K-Talon outsole for keeping you vertical and not horizontal. The 2.8mm-thick leather uppers with one-piece vamp construction are complemented by a reinforced rubber sole guard for abrasion resistance, and with the no-seam tongue and breathable Windtex waterproof membrane, the only moisture your feet will see is what they produce.
Another boot designed for rugged terrain is the Reserve High GTX ($389) from Canadian bootmaker AKU. Handmade in Italy and tested in extreme conditions, I honestly love the pair I’ve put through the wringer. They provided me just enough stiffness for extended hunts out west that kept my feet in the game, which used to be one of my biggest obstacles, and they also handled the morning dew and stream crossings.
If you want a more flexible and lightweight option that’s still tough enough to get the job done, check out Danner’s (danner.com) Recurve Moc Toe ($200). Weighing just 45 oz. per pair, the Moc Toe has a Vibram Recurve outsole with adaptive lugs and flex lines and a cushioning open-cell OrthoLite footbed with SPE Midsole and TPU heel clip for enhanced support and comfort. Making these boots an even sweeter early season option is their 7" height for ankle support, waterproof, leather/nylon uppers, and options available with Thinsulate Ultra Insulation.
Not enough can be said about how the onX Hunt App ($30-$99) has changed the way we hunt, and now they’ve enhanced said app with even more features. Besides the must-have topo maps and aerial images that let us save, share, and navigate in and around public and private dirt, it also allows us to add photos and create scouting reports. The latest updates give users a tree-species feature, plus a new optimal wind feature that allows you to view the current wind direction and set your preferred wind direction for a particular waypoint.
Having a good blade is essential to any and all hunters, and the Randy Newberg DTS ($65) from Gerber is an all-in-one taskmaster when it’s time for the “dirty” work. It couples an edge-holding 440C recurved oversized primary blade that does the bulk of the processing, plus a unique tool that’s sole purpose is to cut tough-to-reach tendons at bone joints to make the breakdown process even easier.
At just 1.67 oz., the Benchmade Altitude ($245) is perfect for backcountry bowhunters looking to shave some ounces but still get the job done. Designed with a blaze-orange finish, it’s constructed from edge-holding S90V steel — one of the hardest around — and features a slim design and unique carbon-fiber scales for better dexterity and control.
We all need a third hand sometimes, and the Bow Spider Packing System ($89) delivers just that. Designed to carry your bow in virtually any hunting situation, its universal design fits any bow and connects to any pack, hip, or tree to keep your bow close. Simply drop it into the receiver and it locks in place, but easily slips out with a pull.