Hunter Performance Part 2…Gear Tips for Backcountry Hunters

One of the great things about being a modern backcountry hunter is all the cool gear we have at our disposal. Of course, the outdoor experience itself is king, but quality gear can make you a more safe, comfortable, and effective backcountry hunter. The athletic mountain hunter benefits greatly from the wise use of technology.

This article is not going to be a “bag dump” or comprehensive list of equipment that I either use or recommend. Quite frankly, there are many resources available in article, podcast, or video format that come from experts way more experienced and knowledgeable than I. What I’m going to try to do is highlight some tips that I’ve found extremely useful as they relate to certain types of gear. I’ve learned many of these things through my years in the field but I’ve also acquired an equal number of them from wise friends and colleagues.

I’ve thought about a variety of circumstances and applications where performance and gear intersect to enhance the backcountry experience. In Part 1, I covered conditioning and it’s importance. Now, let’s go through a partial list of how the use of good gear makes that conditioning even more effective. In no specific order I’ll put forth some of these aspects. Each of these points is fleshed out fully in Episode 205 of The Lifetime Athlete Podcast, in which I support each topic with some real-world examples and stories. If you’d like a deeper dive, give it a listen.

  • The basic goal in optimizing your kit is to only take what you really need, but make sure you have exactly what you need.
  • Once your essential equipment is dialed in, gradually start making it lighter. Titanium, carbon fiber, and down are the keys. You trade dollars for ounces or even pounds. This is not cheap and it can take years but it’s completely worth it.
  • Any time you can get more than one use out of something, it serves multiple purposes and becomes more valuable to you. As long as a “two-fer” does each job well, this is a great space and weight saving option.
  • Boots: I typically run two types of boots in the backcountry. I use the lightweight, ankle height “trail sneakers” which are dedicated hunting (not hiking) boots in the early season when the conditions are usually (although not always) warm and dry. Then, in later season and in particularly rough terrain and snow, I switch to an all leather, dedicated mountain hunting boot at 8-10 inches, usually with gaiters. I explain why I don’t use running shoes or pac boots in the backcountry (not that those types of footwear don’t have specific applications).
  • Socks: I use the same midweight, over-the-calf sock all season. I buy multiple pairs and always have a consistent fit and feeling in my boots, which aids performance and comfort.
  • Insoles: Also called replacement sock liners or orthotics, I usually remove the stock models and use higher grade aftermarket products. I like the foam topcovers because they reduce sock slippage and hot spots. You can also fine tune the inside volume of your boot for best fit.
  • Base Layer: I’ll run merino wool in cooler conditions and for longer trips. On shorter trips and in warmer weather, the synthetics wick better and dry faster. The reek factor can be tolerated on short trips and in warm conditions. I’ll often take a creek bath or do laundry in the early season. Over the years, I’ve moved toward only taking a spare pair of socks and underwear, if at all.
  • Ultralight Backcountry Tarp: Made of variable fabric (polyester, silnylon, dyneema) this weighs only ounces and has multiple uses in the field. I never go without mine any more.
  • Knives: This is a fun and controversial topic. I talk about why I don’t prefer replaceable blade scalpel-style knives or those with skeletonized handles. My preference is a fixed blade drop point (in my pack) and a clip-point folder in my pocket. I prefer synthetic handles and if it’s not blaze orange, I put a few wraps of orange electrical tape on the handle. This helps to prevent knife misplacement or loss in the field. 
  • Clamp: I talk about the utility of a small, plastic spring clamp for skinning.
  • Dressing and Processing Gloves: I go over the different types and their benefits.
  • Lights: Always 3 — a headlamp and spare batteries, a flashlight, and a visor clip light
  • Water Resistant Stuff Sack: I use several, including one for a puffy coat that can also be used as a pillow.
  • Hood. Shirts and jackets with hoods kick ass. They offer more comfort and temperature control in wind and varying temps.
  • Beanie or Fleece Hat: I use mine mostly for sleeping but I also stuff my mittens inside it to make a lightweight shooting bag for either a front or rear rifle rest. 
  • Bino Harness: A backcountry essential. Be careful not to breathe on your ocular lenses as you bring your glass up to your eyes.
  • Rifle Slings and Carrying Straps: Personal preference but think about how you carry on a sidehill.
  • Rangefinding Binocular: Two key tools in one package.
  • Trekking Poles: These are so valuable. They save energy and increase safety, serve as tent poles or shooting sticks, and are invaluable for the mountain athlete. I talk about carbon versus aluminum, fixed versus telescoping, and homemade versions.
  • Water Filtration and Purification: It just depends on where you are and what type of hunt you are doing, but you need it.
  • Coffee Prep: Titanium and silicone cups can make your prep and consumption so efficient and enjoyable.
  • Batteries and Chargers: You get what you pay for. If you need electronics in the field, you need these.
  • Hearing Protection: This is a no-brainer. I discuss some strategies for lifetime health.

Those topics were fun for me to cover. As I mentioned earlier, these aren’t the only considerations, just a handful of those that I value. Reach out to me with questions and comments, and let me know some of your favorite tips as well. Good luck out there, stay safe, and have fun!

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