Like all humans, hunters run the gamut when it comes to drive and motivation. To some, a 100-yard walk to a box blind is exertion, while others think nothing of packing in for miles on horseback. But of all hunters, the hardest of the hardcore is the backpack hunter. Backpack hunters are obsessed people: obsessed with getting away from other hunters, obsessed about getting into the deepest backcountry and, because they carry their world on their backs, obsessed with the weight of their gear. These people have been known to cut the handles off of toothbrushes to shave weight—new gear from several makers allows them to take that weight savings ever further without sacrificing performance.
Lightweight gear allows backpack hunters to hunt longer, climb higher and get further off the grid. Thanks to modern synthetic materials such as carbon fiber, titanium and nylon, today’s backpack hunter has ultralight tools to choose from that yesterday’s hunters, who used surplus army packs and wool clothing, couldn’t dream of.
Patrick Smith is a legend in backpack hunting circles. The owner of Kifaru (Swahili for Rhino) has long been an innovator of functional lightweight products from packs to tipis—my personal hunting pack is a Kifaru Late Season. Kifaru’s most recent lightweight innovation—the Ultralight line of packs and accessories—is a giant step forward for the hunter. The packs are primarily constructed of mil-spec American nylon which is incredibly strong for its weight. The areas of the pack that are subject to abrasion are covered in cordura while the rigid vertical “stays” are made of carbon fiber. The combination of these materials leads to a pack with an unsurpassed strength to weight ratio. The mid-size 3700 cubic inch Ultralight weights only 2 pounds, 9 ounces yet can carry loads in excess of 70 pounds and gives up nothing to heavier packs in load haul comfort. A full line of modular lightweight accessories are available to outfit this series of packs.
Until a few years ago, hunters looking for high performance “technical” clothing had to make do with products designed without hunters in mind, which often meant noisy fabrics and bold colors. Sitka Gear led the revolution that changed hunting clothing forever and has continued to innovate and add new products to its line. Its Core Top serves not only as a base layer, but also as a hunting shirt in warm weather or during heavy activity. Hunters can layer-up or down as conditions change to stay comfortable. The new insulated Kelvin Lite jacket layer and Mountain Pants are just the ticket for hunting in varying weather conditions without adding pounds of heavy clothing, and adding the packable Dewpoint jacket and pants makes the setup waterproof but still flexible. This basic combination is what Sitka founder Jonathan Hart recommends for the hunter looking for the lightest setup available. Sitka’s online “System Builder” allows you to choose your layers based on the details of your hunt.
GPS devices have become so inexpensive that most outdoor types own at least one. I don’t know about you, but I don’t know how to use 95 percent of the functions on my GPS unit—all I want is something to tell me where I am and where I need to go. The Garmin Foretrex is a 3.2 ounce GPS unit that can be worn on the wrist or strapped to a pack. With only five buttons, it’s simple to use—I’m not super tech-savvy and I figured out how to use it without the help of the manual in a few minutes. It has all of the features you need to know your location, set waypoints, track your speed and more, without all of the clutter or bulk.
Backpacking in rough terrain saps energy fast, and the ability to stop and quickly cook a hot meal can give you the calories needed to sustain your hunt. The MSR PocketRocket and MicroRocket stoves weigh-in at 3 and 2.57 ounces, respectively, and boil enough water to cook a Mountainhouse meal in under four minutes at sea level. My PocketRocket, MSR titanium pot, spork and full fuel canister weigh less than a pound combined and beat the heck out of building a fire when I need dinner or some coffee.
Though no piece of kit alone will make you a mountain hunter, great gear is a start. These ultralight and high performance products allow hunters to get farther faster, stay alive if things get rough and pack out more meat in a single trip. If you’re looking to lighten your load, evaluate your kit and see where you can maximize weight savings for your dollar these products are all field-proven and a good place to start.