Today in part 4 of my 5 part discussion I'm going to share with you what I pack for camping on a regular week long trip and give suggestions on how to trim the size of you pack down so you can have everything you need without going overboard.
When sharing stories with other elk hunters one common concern with a public land, over-the-counter tag hunt is running into other hunters. We're all there with the same mission in mind, but that doesn't mean we all want to hunt together. I pulled a lot of inspiration from outdoor writer Cameron Hanes and his "bivy" style of hunting. This method of hunting usually means filling up a backpack with 5-7 days worth of gear and hiking deep into the back country to get away from the crowds.
Bivy hunters often believe that the rougher the country, and the deeper you go, the less likely you will see other hunters. Another perceived advantage is finding elk pushed into sanctuaries where they are undisturbed by hunters sticking closer to the roads or trail heads. I have found this to be mostly true as in my three previous hunts pressure was almost non-existent as we ventured 2, 3, and even 4 miles deep. The trek to get that far can be grueling. Over the years I've learned how to scale down what I think I need in my pack. I've also budgeted to buy better equipment, which usually translates into a lighter weight pack. I've also learned the bigger my pack, the more I'll put in it, so going smaller is my plan this year.
This type of hunt is supposed to be a "rough it" kind of hunt. You can cover all your basic needs with 55 lbs or less worth of gear. That doesn't mean skimping on safety or survival gear, there are too many and more important things at home depending on us. In the pictures above you can see my pack difference from my 2011 hunt to my 2015 hunt. Not only is it roughly 10 lbs lighter, it's also much more compressed and fits nicer taking pressure off my aging joints and muscles. Don't forget to pack lots and lots of Ibuprofen!
My 2013 gear list includes a Badlands Sacrifice pack, Kelty Grand Mesa 1 man Tent, Big Agnes sleeping bag and this year I'm trying a Therma-Rest ultrlight cot as opposed to a sleeping pad. For me, a good night's sleep is critical and I never slept well on pads. I am carrying an MSR stove for cooking, a Katadyne water filtration system, delicious mountain house meals for supper, and jerky, trail mix, and protein bars for breakfast, lunch, and snacks. Keeping your caloric intake high is important as you'll be burning lots of calories hiking the rockies. I find snacking multiple times during the day keeps me fueled without overeating and bogging me down. Wilderness Athlete also makes nutritional supplements to keep your body fueled. Gatorade, Emergen-C, and others make drink mixes that refuel your body with vitamins and electrolytes.
Again, if you're going to go the bivy route explore options for gear purchase. Many of the same online forums you will research for picking your elk hunting unit will have classified ads where you can purchase gently used or nearly new gear much cheaper than you will for new gear. Some businesses will offer to set you up with a backpack full of all of the essentials needed for your trip for a fee. Just call them up, tell them what you are after, and make arrangements for pick up and drop off on your way to and from your hunt. It's basically a backpack rental service.
If your budget allows it hiring a horse packer to take you in, or out, can save you lots of time, and energy and also take your level of adventure up a notch. It can also help you get your meat off the mountain much quicker and easier ensuring you avoid spoilage.
Quality gear can make a huge difference between making a backcountry trip enjoyable and just making it through the week. Listed above are some items that should be considered for your pack. Modify the ideas above to suit your budget and personal style and comfort level. Tomorrow I'll be talking about overcoming the mental and physical challenges of the rugged elk mountains.
The Budget Bowhunter