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Your Gear Checklist For Backcountry Bowhunts

Your Gear Checklist For Backcountry Bowhunts

Question for Bowhunter:

My group has been hunting elk in Colorado in an area accessible by quads. In 2011, we are looking at backpacking into a wilderness area. We're thinking we would hike in three to four miles and set up camp for seven to nine days. Can Bowhunter help me create a list of items for backpacking on an early archery hunt?

With the quads we could take "extra stuff." Hauling everything on our backs, we need to refine our "actual needs." We would also appreciate any tips on physical training for this trip.

- J. Hasse, via e-mail

Bowhunter Response

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 list of backpacking gear for elk.

General Thoughts: Overall, think light.

bowhunting elk

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.

Keep It Simple

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. 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.

Hunting Gear

  • Backpack (3,000-5,000 cu. in., depending on length of stay)
  • Waterproof pack cover
  • Bow
  • 10 hunting arrows
  • Extra broadheads
  • Release aid or tab
  • Armguard
  • Rangefinder
  • String wax
  • Extra bowstring
  • Allen wrenches/bow repair gear
  • Binoculars
  • Camo facepaint
  • Scents
  • Calls (grunt tube, mouth diaphragms)
  • Bow sling
  • Maps/Compass/GPS
  • Flashlight/headlamp
  • Emergency fire starters
  • Lighter
  • First-aid kit
  • Knife/sharpening steel
  • 50 feet of nylon cord
  • Signal whistle
  • Plastic flagging
  • Folding saw (antlers, camp projects)

Camping Gear

  • 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 super-light) mattress
  • Sleeping bag (lightweight for early archery season)
  • Small pillow (I normally used rolled up vest instead)
  • Toiletry kit
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Comb
  • Headlamp for camp use
  • Band-Aids
  • Soap
  • Lighter
  • Toilet paper
  • Towel and washcloth


  • Stove (MSR, Brunton, Coleman, or similar backpack model)
  • Extra fuel
  • Matches/lighter
  • 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)
  • Dish cloth/soap
  • Alarm clock (I just use Timex Ironman watch)
  • Plastic bags
  • Flashlight
  • Water filter


  • Hunting license/tags
  • Game bags (six lightweight muslin bags for boned-out elk)
  • Thermometer
  • Camera/extra batteries
  • Flashlight/extra batteries
  • Water bottle/bladder for hunting pack
  • Reading material
  • Fishing gear (optional)
  • Notebook and pen
  • Needle/thread
  • Unscented baby wipes in Ziploc bag


  • Hiking boots
  • Lightweight shoes
  • Lightweight socks
  • Heavyweight socks
  • T-shirts (two)
  • Underwear (two)
  • Longjohns (one set, lightweight)
  • Lightweight shirt
  • Lightweight pants
  • Fleece shirt or jacket
  • Fleece pants
  • Lightweight gloves
  • Wool gloves
  • Lightweight hat
  • Warm hat
  • Down or fleece vest
  • Wool scarf or neck gaiter
  • Raingear
  • Hankies
  • Sweatband (keeps sweat off my glasses on hard hikes)

First-Aid Kit

  • Aspirin
  • Band-Aids
  • Gauze pads
  • Neosporin
  • Diarrhea medicine
  • Moleskin
  • Medications


  • 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

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