Essential Gear for the Backpack Hunter

posted on August 5, 2017

Today’s backpacking gear is lighter, stronger and more durable than ever. There’s not enough space to detail all of it here, but these are the basics.

■ Tent should be a three-season unit (waterproof and windproof) that weighs 3-5 pounds. There are lots of options, so research thoroughly. You must decide between free-standing or stake-out, floored or floorless, large vestibule or none, etc.

■ Insulating ground pad: Air mattresses are too cold, but an air/Ensolite pad combo like the Thermarest is a great option.

■ Lightweight nylon fly covers tent entrance, firewood pile, etc.

■ Sleeping bag should be rated to lowest temperature you anticipate. A 15-degree bag is about right through September in the Rockies; 0-degree bag is a good all-round; 1.5-3 pounds suffices.

■ Stoves burn liquid fuel or run off canisters of fuel, or they may burn wood (primarily or alternately). Backpack stoves are remarkably small, light and effective, but you must take time to use them, learn their fuel consumption and idiosyncrasies.

Spare fuel: You may need an extra canister or a bottle of liquid fuel sufficient for your time afield. You can campfire cook, but it can be time-consuming and nearly impossible in rain and snow. Some simple, wood-burning stoves work well and require only needles, twigs and pine cones to work.

■ Water bottles/bladders: Plan carefully based on available water where you’ll hunt.

■ Cooking pot, cup, spoon: Don’t waste space/weight with extra pans, forks, ladles, etc. Plan for simplicity. Heat water, hydrate food, eat. Clean with pine needles, sand. Use hunting knife as fork. A 1.5-quart, light pot is sufficient. Titanium cookware is fabulously light, but pricey.

■ Water may be purified with tablets or a filter pump, the best option. Boiling water wastes too much hunting time and fuel.

■ Basic medical kit and the knowledge to use it is imperative. First-aid skills are a big bonus. Think about pain pills, antibiotics, tape, antibiotic ointment, stomach pills, mole skin, etc. Ask your doctor for recommendations.

Food: Freeze-dried backpack meals are easy, but there are less expensive options at the supermarket. Experiment. You want food with minimum packaging, weight and cook time. Jerky is a good protein option and oatmeal a cheap, effective carb. You can hope to supplement with grouse, squirrels or hares shot afield, but sometimes you can’t find any. I’ve been known to fall ravenously upon a just-shot ram after five days of meatless dining. One pass over a candle flame is enough!

Tools: knife, compass, pliers/multi-tool, fire starter (Holland’s Lightning Strike is killer), parachute cord, headlamp and spare batteries. Choose between GPS and compass/maps. I prefer compass and map. It’s easier to view routes and landmass relationships on a map and it doesn’t run out of batteries.

■ Backpack carries all this. Internal frame is most comfortable (check out Mystery Ranch’s Metcalf). Exterior frame hauls more weight (i.e. packing out your game). Look for 4,000-7,000 cubic inches of internal space. Shop with pack weight in mind. Too many packs are overbuilt with fabrics thick and heavy enough to use as saddles. Adjustable, padded shoulder straps and hip belts, and a sternum strap are critical. Try before you buy.


Draper Shooting Ruger Super Redhawk 22 Hornet
Draper Shooting Ruger Super Redhawk 22 Hornet

#SundayGunday: Ruger Super Redhawk in .22 Hornet

Get a closer look at the Ruger Super Redhawk in .22 Hornet, the latest addition to our #SundayGunday series.

Review: Ruger Super Wrangler

The Super Wrangler is reliable, accurate and affordable. It may well be this generation’s best of the best for a “woods” gun and is an excellent rimfire handgun choice for any hunter.

Traditions Launches Outfitter G3 in 360 Buckhammer

Traditions Firearms has announced the release of its Outfitter G3 single-shot rifle line in 360 Buckhammer. This caliber will be available in both the standard and all new Pro Series models.

Head to Head: .375 H&H Magnum vs. .416 Rigby

The .375 H&H Magnum and .416 Rigby are both capable of taking the entire spectrum of game animals, in any climate, on any continent. But which is the better choice for the hunter? We investigate.

New for 2024: Heritage Manufacturing Heritage 92 Line

Heritage Manufacturing has launched its line of Heritage 92 lever-action rifles. Rooted in tradition, the Heritage 92 series is designed to pay homage to the iconic firearms of yesteryear while delivering the precision and performance demanded by today's enthusiasts.

Accessing Peak Performance

On a West Texas hunt, where shots can go long, a capable rifle is only part of the equation. Success requires peak performance from the shooter, too.


Get the best of American Hunter delivered to your inbox.