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How To Pack for a Backcountry Hunting Trip

What to bring along and what to leave in the truck.




I meant to do this post before the season started, but I’ve been so busy hunting and moving into our new apartment in Eugene that I haven’t had the time. Overall, chasing elk in the jungle of Oregon’s Coastal Units has been a really fun torture-fest with a steep learning curve, but every time I go out, I feel closer and closer to finding elk.


I was supposed to be heading back out today, but there are a good number of fires nearby Eugene, including the McKenzie/Holiday Farm fire, which has currently engulfed over 110,000 acres at the time of this writing. I decided to take a day or two and see what develops before heading back into the woods, so I finally had some time to post a detailed list of just about everything I bring into the woods for multi-day hunts and what I leave behind for day trips that start and end back at the truck. There is a lot to know about both kinds of hunting trips, but I think I have it all pretty dialed in at this point and figured I'd share what I know.


Truck Camping

So far, I have mostly been truck camping. I have been doing this for years and it's an awesome option to have available. I drive a truck with a 6 foot bed and a cap on it. The cap has screens and blacked out windows, making it ideal for sleeping. A few years ago, I got tired of sleeping on the hard plastic bed liner and built a very simple platform system with a drawer underneath. There are also four storage cubbies on each of the corners for extra storage and several command strips hanging on the glass where I can hang my hat, light, keys, or whatever else.


Truck camping is great. I can leave behind just about all my cooking supplies for the day, any extra days worth of food, tent, sleeping bag, and any other gear I immediately won’t need for that day. I can bring some creature comforts along with me like a proper pillow, some cold drinks, extra snacks and sweets, and heavier or bulkier foods I wouldn't usually bring in my pack. Instead of having to regularly find water sources then sterilize it, I bring along 10 liters of clean water in two 5 liter water bags, along with 1 liter in my Nalgene, which usually lasts about three days when its hot out. Last year, I added a foldable foam twin sized mattress to the top of the platform, which fits on it exactly, by design. I also have several LED touch lights and a lightweight battery powered lanterns located in the cubbies and a couple books. If I do get anything hunting or fishing, I also keep a proper foldable propane stove, tin foil, salt, pepper, and lemon in the drawer and am capable of having a cookout with ease. It’s also great to be able to get back to the truck and just crawl in after a long day, instead of messing with setting up and taking down a tent in the dark.


I know everyone loves their Decked systems, but this setup cost less than $100 bucks and is easily removable. This is a photo from a few years ago.

Backcountry Hunting

Truck camping is great, but when you need to get as far away from the roads as possible, which I’m finding out more and more is essential to success, carrying your camp on your back into the backcountry is the way to go. Although I'm new to elk hunting, I'm not new to the backcountry and have spent a good amount of time backpacking. When backpacking, everything is about saving weight. You save weight by spending too much on light weight gear, trying not to have duplicate items, and paying attention to every little detail, especially to how much food/calories you actually eat in a day. Below, I’ve broken down everything I bring with me.


Pack:

Mystery Ranch Beartooth 80 liter

Total Weight: 26.6 lbs

I figured if I was going to get one pack, it should be a big one with an expansion shelf for packing out meat. The Mystery Ranch came highly recommended, and it is easily adapted for shorter trips. I’m pretty sure my first pack when I went to Colorado late spring was somewhere around 70 pounds. The higher in elevation my friend Mike and I got, the more snow there was and the more I got my ass handed to me, until I shed a bunch of weight. There was all sorts of crap I wouldn’t bring along today. Over the years, I’ve taken more trips and learned to bring along the right amount of gear. For about five days worth of hunting, I currently carry about 26.6 pounds without my bow, which I usually keep in my hand at all times during legal hunting hours.

Food:

(1.5 lbs per day x5 = 7.5 lbs)

2x packets of oatmeal (can be eaten cold in the packets) ~300 calories

2x packets of Deathwish Instant Coffee

1x Clif Energy Shot 110 calories

2x Protein Bars 440 calories

1x Bag of Mixed Nuts, Fruit, and Jerky ~500 calories

1x Dehydrated Meal ~800 calories

1x Bag of Sleepytime Tea


Total: 2,250 calories

(Optional: 1x Ramen Noodles add 380 calories, or Instant Mashed Potatoes 480 calories. I throw a few of these in my pack in case I’m feeling extra hungry certain days.)


I can almost guarantee that if you’ve never sat down and added up the amount of calories you eat in a day and a week that you are probably grossly over or under estimating how much you actually eat. I’ve see plenty of folks online saying they believe they eat over 5,000-6,000 calories every day (roughly the amount many elite level athletes eat on game day) at their office job and that’s why they’re bringing the absurd amount of food they’re bringing. On the flip side, I’ve seen people post pictures of maybe 1,200 calories of food and calling it 3,000 calories.


Take the time to figure this out. If you accidentally bring way too much food or way too little, you’re either going to be hungry as hell or crippled by all the extra weight – both of things can end your trip prematurely or at least force a trip back to town. Most people advise packing under the amount of calories they need in a day and trying to lose a few pounds in the mountains. If that makes you anxious, remember that the human body can go a month without any food whatsoever. A month. Most folks wouldn’t mind losing a few pounds, and a pound of fat is about 3,500 calories. If you have even 5 or 10 pounds of extra weight on your bones, and most of us do, pack lighter than you think you need. I bring about ~2200-2400 calories of food a day in separate ziplock bags. Although the bags add a few ounces, it is much easier to manage than digging through your pack every time you want a snack, and you have a bag to put your trash in as you eat. Here is what I bring for one day, which weighs about 1.5 pounds:


One day's worth of food

To Cook/Eat With:

Titanium Spork

Primus Stove

Fuel Canister

GSI Outdoors Mug


I do not bring food that I would have to actually “cook.” This takes up time and wastes precious fuel. Leave the canned food and other heavy items at home. Bring things that are powdered or dehydrated to save weight. If you can't afford camping meals, I've survived plenty of nights in the woods on Ramen and Instant Mashed Potatoes. I use a Primus (Jetboil type) stove to boil water to rehydrate what I’m eating. One canister is approx. 100 boils, so they last quite a while when you're only using it two or three times a day just to boil water. I recently switched from an old school metal mess kit to one Ziploc 16 oz screw top, which has been more than fine so far. I eat everything in the containers they come in with a titanium spork and bring a mug for coffee and tea.


Water:

Steripen

Sawyer Mini Filter

Nalgene

5L Water Bag

Some people don’t seem to worry much about sterilizing their water, but water born illnesses are something I take pretty seriously. A bad case of giardia can have you messed up for a month or more. Sometimes you need to be hospitalized. I never drink untreated water in the field, period. There are plenty of options for water sterilization, but I am a long time Steripen user and love them. It is merely a UV light that you put in your Nalgene for about a minute, which destroys all water born viruses, bacteria, and protozoa. This seems a little whacky at first, but this same method is actually used by water treatment facilities globally. In the ten years I have had one, I have drank from some sketchy water sources, including brown stagnant puddles, and have never gotten sick. I carry a Sawyer mini filter as a backup, just in case. I have also recently started carrying an empty 5L water bag for when I am in areas that don’t have a ton of water, which weighs only a few ounces when empty. Overall, my pack is pretty light, so if my day is winding down, and I’m low on water and by a water source, I just fill it up.


Camping Gear:

1 Trekking Pole

Kelty Men’s Cosmic 0 Degree Bag

Nemo Spike 1P Tent

Thermarest Z-Lite

SpotX Satellite Messenger


This is the stuff that can really add weight to your pack. A cheap tent and sleeping bag can easily weigh over ten pounds. A decent tent will weigh below five pounds. You’ll probably have to spend some money to get below that weight. Some guys like bivys or just sleep out on the ground, but neither is for me. In some colder areas, a lot of people have started using lightweight tents with portable wood burning stoves. I can definitely see the appeal of this, and being able to dry off after a long day in the snow is awesome, but having a good 0 degree bag with a down jacket and pants should keep you toasty in just about any weather. I went with the Kelty Cosmic 0 Down bag. Where I’m hunting, the nights so far have been about 40-50 degrees. Sleeping with the bag open easily accommodates higher temps, and if they dip down even lower, all I have to do is zip it up. I have used it in single digit weather in New York and been plenty warm.

For a tent, I just picked up an ultralight First Lite Nemo Spike 1 Person Tent. It weighs in at just over a pound and a half and utilizes one trekking pole as its main pole, which I’m already carrying. It is super roomy and also has a vestibule to keep your pack and bow out of the weather. I still carry a foam Thermarest Z-Lite rather than an inflatable one. I know I could save a few ounces by making the switch, but the older I get, the more unhappy my back gets, and I don’t want to have to worry about chasing pinholes in the middle of the night just to get comfortable.


I also carry a SpotX Satellite Messenger with me. It has a one button SOS feature as well as the ability to send texts and my gps coordinates to anyone just about anywhere in the world. It’s been great so far for simple check-ins and sending a few texts to loved ones while I don’t have cell service. The subscription is a bit pricey, but the piece of mind is worth it.

Clothes:

Asolo Gore-Tex Boots

Sitka Ascent Pants

Sitka Lightweight Hoodie

Sitka medium weight longsleeve shirt

Hat

2x Smartwool PhD Socks

1x Merino Wool Underwear

Lightweight gloves

Gaiters

(If it ever rains again in Oregon: Sitka Rain Gear)


So far, early season in the Coastal Units of Oregon has been super hot, so I’ve been leaving the down and mid-layers in the truck. Most of this stuff I’m wearing or is in my pockets. The key here is merino wool and fast drying, lightweight clothes. Merino wool stays warm when its cold out, and wicks away moisture when its hot. The Sitka Ascent Pants and Lightweight Hoodie in Subalpine have been great so far and dry super quick. I wear waterproof Asolo’s I’ve had for a number of years, and I also bring a pair of Goretex gaiters in case I have to cross something more than a stream or creek. I bring an extra pair of socks, just in case. The hoodie and the gloves are great for concealment as well as keeping the bugs off.


Chest Pack:

Rangefinder

Bow Release (when it isn’t on my wrist)

Vortex 10x42’s

Wind Checker

Mouth Calls


I keep a few things in my chest pack, mostly things I need to have quick access to.

Kill Bag:

Wet wipes

Reflective Paracord

Morakniv

Small Hanging Worklight

Multitool

Havalon Skinning Knife

3x Game bags


In the event I actually do shoot something, I need to be prepared to break down the animal in the field and pack it back out. Whitetail hunters usually butcher their animals at home, so this will be a bit of a change, but this is basically all I use at home anyway. I keep these things in a separate bag that I can easily grab out of my pack. I bring a lightweight skinning knife and a few spare blades along with a more heavy duty Morakniv for cutting tougher areas like joints.


Misc. Bag:

Compass

Hand Sanitizer

Travel Toothbrush

Travel Toothpaste

Advil

Toilet Paper

Trowel

Quickclot

Moleskin

First Aid Kit

Super Glue

Aquaseal

Lighter

Waterproof Matches

Firestarter


This is just about everything else I have with me, which I keep in one small bag. I bring an Anker 20k mAh battery pack, which can charge my phone about 8 full times, and one usb cord. My phone has battery pack built into the case, which supplies about an extra charge and a half. I use OnX a lot, which does drain your phone battery pretty well, so I do have to think about keeping it charged. My headlamp and SpotX Satellite Messenger can all be charged with that same cable. I make sure everything is charged before entering the field. So far, I have barely needed it. There is plenty of stuff here I don’t use often, but would like to have, just in case.

Other than my bow and the six arrows on my quiver, that’s about it! If you think there's something essential I'm missing, feel free to drop it in the comments below. Overall, I’m hoping to be back at it sooner rather than later and putting this stuff back to use. Stay safe, everyone.

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