The ultimate backcountry hunting gear list breakdown
When it comes to gear, I guess you could say that I'm pretty obsessive about what items make it into my backpack. I’ve built plenty of gear lists over the years — most pretty simple, some slightly hard to understand, but one thing remains true, building those lists over the years has helped me see what I need (and don't need) in my personalized gear list.
My current gear list that I created in Excel supports a timberline backcountry hunt in August and September. Even though this gear list nails down everything I need on a hunt, weather ultimately plays a huge part in what I take. So, at the last minute I might need to add an item to ensure I am safe on the mountain. I like to say that I never carry extra gear or clothing that I'll not use. This can only be learned from experience. To do this, it’s best to utilize a quality weather service that you trust before heading out for a week or more of backcountry hunting. Keep in mind, that your clothing is a layering system, you can always add or subtract layers when you are hunting.
Even though the main purpose of my gear list is focused around ultralight gear, I still carry a minimum amount of safety items and gear that ensures I can survive in pretty much anything that Mother Nature throws at me. I do carry a few backups, and over the years, even those are starting to get smaller and smaller.
My gear list is and always will be a living and breathing document. I have modified my gear list so many times over the years (and the pile of gear I no longer use is stacking up). This list will be revised periodically to remain an up-to-date backpacking gear list of the best and lightest gear on the market that I personally feel are essential for the hunt. If I don't trust an item, it will not make this list. I understand the balance between ultralight, safety and success.
Below you will find a downloadable Excel link for my perfected 2016 gear list:
This Excel spreadsheet breaks down every category of gear: the ounces, pounds and even price per item. I feel these three items are very important for budgeting which areas I could spend or save more money on in order to shave weight if needed. The pie charts in the Excel sheet also provide a great visual to see what category are your heaviest, which is helpful for cutting weight. Everything you enter in the spreadsheet will be automatically added to the summary tables and the pie charts. I highly suggest saving a backup copy just in case you make a mistake and erase some formulas. It's also a great idea to make multiple copies of this gear list; one for the early season, one for October hunts, and one for November hunts. Or maybe even a mule deer gear list and an elk gear list because they are totally different beasts in terms of gear.
You will also notice a section on my gear list under the " Function" column in each gear section. I use the letter "p" to know that I have that item ready to place in my backpack. That is sort of my checklist section. I've also kept the spreadsheet unlocked so you can edit the entire document. I'm very proud at how my gear list charts have evolved over the years. It seems each year I find something else to add to this Excel spreadsheet.
Currently my full backpack weighs 46.77 lbs and my full pack at the trailhead (weapon and water added) weighs 61.21 lbs. That total is for a nine day, eight night hunt. I do not like hiking with my binoculars on my neck when I am starting out on a hunt because I am normally hiking at night. So, if I wore those, my pack weight would be almost two pounds lighter.
I definitely have areas I want to improve on, I just have to save up some extra cash before I make any changes to this gear list.
So why develop and follow a gear list?
Everyone has some form of a gear list, some might be chicken scratch on a notebook, others use charts on a computer, and then there is the throw everything on the floor and see what will or will not fit in a backpack method. Without a gear list, items will either get overlooked, or you will take more than you need.
Trust me when I say this; no matter how fit you are, the mountains will always beat your body up. I’ve taken a quote I heard back in the day and modified it. Shooting skills and physical conditioning are very important, but almost more so is proper backpack gear weight to ensure you can hunt hard every day like it is your first day on the mountain. I feel this perfectly describes any backcountry hunt.
To me that describes all the rollercoaster rides one will experience on the hunt. No matter how prepared you are, the mountain is always in charge. This is why I feel you need have your gear and nutrition dialed before you go on a hunt. When I told my dad about my desire to move to Montana he told me this based on his experience on hunting in the mountains: "Grams equal ounces, ounces equal pounds and pounds equal pain… so choose your pain wisely!"
How do I determine what makes it into my backpack?
I look for the best lightweight backpacking/hunting gear and if it will make me a better hunter or lighten my backpack without sacrificing something, then I might consider using it. A lot of lightweight gear nowadays is just as functional as the traditional heavy backpacking gear that might weigh double. So why carry more weight if less will do?
So what benefit does weighing out all of your hunting gear have?
If you were to ask me if I’m obsessed with ounce counting, I would probably say yes, but you will notice that in my list, some things I will sacrifice cutting weight to carry some items that I feel will increase my chances of success.
A lot of people on social media will say that weighing out every piece of gear doesn’t matter. All they want is a gear list and if their pack is a little heavier, then they should just get stronger to handle the increased weight. I can slightly agree with that, but each step you're taking you are carrying that weight. Where counting ounces really comes into play is once you have an animal down. A lot of us do not have access to horses, llamas or pack goats and most do not want to pay the extra fee to hire someone to come in to pack out their animal they just shot, because that bill from the packer could have just paid for your new deer mount.
I feel my gear list is a huge helping hand for someone just starting out, or looking to change up their setup.
Also, it is worth noting that I am a huge fan of Amazon Prime. Most of the links below when I describe each section of my gear list are Amazon links. That free two day shipping is perfect for last minute food or gear items you forgot about.
Podcast episodes where I describe my gear list
I recently recording a two part podcast with Jay Scott Outdoors that breaks down my entire backcountry gear list. Those episodes are a great supplement to this article. You can find the podcast index for all of Jay Scott Outdoors' episodes on iTunes and on PodBean. I provided the iTunes link and the Podbean player link below for part one and part two of the gear list episodes.
Episode 173 - Part 1 - What’s in Brady Miller’s Backpack for High Country Archery Hunt
Episode 174 - Part 2 - What’s in Brady Miller’s Backpack for High Country Archery Hunt
A to Z Backcountry Hunting Gear List
There are a lot of great backpack companies out there these days, but this is still an area I feel people struggle with. I personally like using a backpack that is lightweight, yet can handle the weight of packing out meat at the end of a successful hunt. Lots of backpacks might “feel great” with lightweight loads, but when push comes to shove, they will destroy your body when you add an entire boned out deer. Keep that in mind when testing out new backpacks. My favorite backpack the past few seasons is made by Exo Mountain Gear. I've beat this backpack up and it keeps going!
|Pack||Exo Mountain Gear K² 5500||84.00||$599.99|
|KUIU Pack Rain Cover||4.99||$44.99|
A lot of unnecessary pack weight comes from this section. I feel people are overkill on carrying extra cold weather items. I’ve seen a lot of people pack 0° and even 10° sleeping bags in the backcountry for August or September hunts. Those sleeping bags are not only heavy, but can cause you to sweat at night. My philosophy is I already carry a down jacket and other layers, so if I get cold I can just wear extra base layers. If you’re going on a September hunt and the weather is looking pretty rough, you could always add a silk sleeping bag liner. Most weigh under 5 oz and can add roughly 9 to 10° of warmth.
My entire camp kit is pretty basic. I’m sure I could go a little lighter if I ran just a tarp. But I like to be prepared for a little more weather. This camp kit has served me very well for multiple 9-day backcountry hunts where I've faced weather from extreme heat, to rain, to hail, and finally to snow. The biggest change I made in this area was switching to a TarpTent in 2015 instead of my small one man tent.
I’ve used my fair share of tent stakes. Most people might think that a tent stake is a tent stake. Well… I’ve had plenty of stakes fail over the years, not fail in strength, but pull out of the ground on windy days. There’s nothing worse than returning to your camp to find that your tent has been demolished by wind due to your stakes pulling out. I now run tent stakes make by Ruta Locura that have a carbon fiber body, with aluminum heads and tips. These stakes are ultra light and also have enough surface area to grip the soil.
Overall, this whole kit still weighs less than most two person tents.
|Shelter||TarpTent ProTrail w/guylines||26.45||$225.00|
|Ground Cloth||Polycryo Ground Sheet||1.60||$9.95|
|Sleeping Pad||Thermarest NeoAir Xlite||12.59||$189.95|
|Tent Pole||Easton 24" Tent Pole||1.04||$5.00|
|Tent Stakes||Ruta Locura 6" Sorex Stakes||2.27||$32.50|
|Sleeping Bag||Feathered Friends Kestrel|
Nano 30° Bag
|Stuff Sack||Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil||2.28||$29.95|
My clothing list seems to always be evolving. Back in the day I had really bad insulation layers (at one point I even used cotton sweatshirts). With the release of new and innovating products the past few years, I've drastically cut weight in this section. An example of this would be soft shell jackets. I used to pack a KUIU Guide Jacket on all my hunts. Last year with the release of the KUIU Peloton line, I have been able to eliminate the softshells and use these synthetic layers with a combination of my other layers that I am already taking and still be warm and comfortable.
My primary insulation piece is the KUIU Super Down Hooded jacket. This item can compress really small if needed, and is the perfect item to cram into the small air pockets in your backpack.
I really love the warmth to weight ratio of down and I’ve been a huge fan of Super Down since my moose and mountain goat bowhunt in British Columbia back in 2013. When the temperatures drop, the Super Down Jacket also becomes an essential part of my sleeping system by adding a lot of warmth rating to my 30° Feathered Friends sleeping bag.
|KUIU ULTRA Merino|
125 Crew T
|KUIU ULTRA Merino|
145 Zip Off
|Belt||KUIU Climbing Belt||3.72||$19.99|
|Gloves||KUIU Peloton 200 Glove||1.42||$29.99|
|KUIU Peloton 200|
Zip T Hoodie
NX Rain Jacket
NX Rain Pant
I like to keep the clothing/gear I wear pretty simple. The biggest thing for me is to keep one shirt as scent free as possible. What I mean by that is to save one of your shirts (long sleeve merino or short sleeve merino) and use it for only stalking in close on animals. Depending on the weather or the amount of sun I may switch and hike around in my long sleeve t-shirt each day and then when I stalk I will switch to my merino t-shirt and add the arm sleeves.
Most people know that I am a huge promoter of shoes for hunting. I can’t stand wearing boots during the early season. On August hunts I will wear a non Gore-Tex Salomon Speedcross 3 shoes and if I am hunting in September or a state that might have a lot of morning dew, I’ll use a Gore-Tex version of that same shoe. No matter the season I always wear a gaiter over my shoes which helps keep rocks, debris and moisture out.
Merino 125 T
|Arm Sleeves||KUIU Peloton 130|
|KUIU Tiburon Pants||12.70||$139.99|
|Footwear||Salomon Speedcross 3||25.10||$90.93|
|Leg Gaiter||Outdoor Research|
|Underwear||First Lite Red Desert|
Trail Ergo Cork
This section is my heaviest area, but one of the most important. You can kill a buck unless you find a buck. So packing 10x, 15x and an 85mm spotting scope is well worth the added weight in my opinion. In the past I left certain optics at home to save weight. But a few trips later, and a few dozen wasted miles hiking to check out bucks that looked decent in my 10 power binos (only to find out they were small), I now carry all of these on every mule deer hunt. I love having 10x42 binos on my chest for making stalks on bucks. Plus sometimes it's nice to have that extra field of view when glassing a basin for the first time in the morning. If I can find some extra cash, I might purchase a pair of 8x binos for backpack hunts to save some weight over carrying my 10x. I really love digiscoping bucks so an extra camera and a Tines Up Scope(cam adapter are worth it for scouting and keeping tabs on bucks you have found throughout the years. You can check out this recent article on digiscoping setups that I helped write here.
|Zeiss Victory DiaScope|
|Binoculars||Zeiss Victory SF 10x42 in|
KUIU bino case
|Binoculars||Zeiss Conquest HD 15x56||48.03||$1,649.99|
|Rangefinder||Leupold RX-1000i TBR||7.92||$399.99|
|Lens Cloth||KUIU Spudz||0.30||$5.95|
|Tripod||Slik 624 Pro CF w/|
Vanguard PH 111V
2-Way Pan Head
|Olympus Tough TG-3 w/|
Tines Up Scope(cam adapter
For all general purposes I am going to be talking about the items I need for a bowhunt. I’ve talked about my setup before, but basically I take the precision side of target archery and turn it into tools for bowhunting. My entire bowhunting setup is listed in the table below. My total bow setup weighs 9.56 pounds. I'd prefer to add more weight to my bow if it will help me to be a better shot. So I do not sacrifice weight here.
|Bow||Hoyt Nitrum 34 LD||$950.00|
|BeeStinger Premier Plus 12" V-Bar|
w/ 2 oz Pro Hunter Maxx weight
|BeeStinger Premier Plus 10" V-Bar|
w/ 16 oz Freestyle weights
|Arrows||Black Eagle X-Impact 250 Spine w/|
Q2i 4 Fletch vanes
|Quiver||TightSpot 5 Arrow||$162.95|
|Rest||Vaportrail Limb Driver Micro Elite w/|
|Sight||Pure Driven 75 Single Pin|
w/ 6" dovetail
|Broadheads||Rage Hypodermic +P x 5||$83.32|
|Release||Hot Shot 4 Finger Eclipse||$196.59|
|Bow Sleeve||Bad Medicine Archery||NA|
This gear section is pretty bare bones. It encompasses my water purification kill kit, GPS, satellite messenger, cell phone, glassing pad and a few archery backups. I know I could probably get rid of the GPS unit and use my phone as a GPS while utilizing various apps, but I still like the idea of a stand alone GPS unit. I’m also a waypoint junky. I mark so much data on my GPS when I am in the field. Plus as of now I feel using a GPS and transferring waypoints to my computer for looking at on Google Earth is super easy.
The Delorme inReach is one of my favorite gear items! I use it for sending updates to my fiancé that I’m still alive. I wouldn't classify the Delorme as a GPS, rather a survival tool if I get hurt and a satellite messenger for safety updates. I could also use that inReach if I ever hired a packer to text him that I got an animal down and where to meet me to pick up my animal. Just make sure you turn off the location services if you like to update people about your hunt on social media. You can read this article for more information about sharing hunting location with the world. I've gone back and forth with game bag companies over the years and right now I am settling on TAG Game Bags. They are very light and durable and also have lasted several wash cycles. I might try out KUIU game bags in the future, but it's hard to justify spening money on a gear item that I already have several different brands of.
|Z Rest cut into small section||2.00||NA|
|Release, D-loop cord, nock,|
sight tape, Allen wrenches
|Stuff Sack||Mini ZPacks Cuben Fiber||0.13||$10.00|
|GPS||Garmin GPSMAP 64s||7.21||$299.99|
|Chapstick||LipLipz Lip Balm||0.52||$2.99|
|Wind Check||Smoke in a Bottle||0.60||$4.00|
|Knife||Kestrel Knives Slim Caper||0.96||$149.99|
|Game Bags||Tag Game Bags BOMB||8.13||$54.99|
|Aquamira in UL Mini Dropper||1.50||$14.95|
|Water Container||MSR DromLite 6L||4.64||$32.95|
|Satellite Messenger||Delorme inReach Explorer||6.67||$299.95|
|Extra Batteries||4 AA Energizer|
|Protein Shaker||Blender Bottle||2.3||$8.00|
|Cell Phone||iPhone 6 w/ Lifeproof Case||5.72||$628.99|
Once again, my cook kit is pretty simple, but advanced. The cook pot is a titanium JetBoil cup that I made cuts into to allow a smaller and more fuel effient BRS-3000T stove to go into. There are lots of ways to customize a Jetboil and I feel this one is the best. Customizing an already lightweight JetBoil setup can save you a good chunk of weight. You can buy all of the parts as a kit from Ruta Locura. An advanced JetBoil Flash Lite system weighs 11 oz. and my custom setup weighs in at 5.8 oz for a total weight savings of 5.2 oz! If you have the regular JetBoil Flash that weighs 14 oz, this custom setup will save you 8.2 oz! It just comes down to if the cost of creating this custom kit is worth it.
The Ruta Locura Kit comes with four parts: titanium heat exchanger support ring (upper left), titanium heat reflector disk (upper right), carbon fiber lid (lower left) and the BST-3000T stove burner (lower right). If there there was one piece of gear I would hate to be without, it's this custom JetBoil kit.
|Cook Pot||JetBoil Sol Ti||4.96||$89.99|
|Stove||Ruta Locura Kit w/|
|Utensil||Sea to Summit|
|Fuel||Snow Peak Giga Power|
Pro iso 110g
|Ignition||Small Bic Lighter||0.40||$1.00|
Both of these flashlights produce a ton of light. The handheld Browning Alpha Max is really starting to grow on me. It is a powerful light at a decent weight. My first aid kit is very basic: Advil, gauze pads, bandage netting, mole skin, toothbrush cut in half, toothpaste in eye contact container, band-aids, tampon (in case of giant puncture), and a suture. I also have electrical tape and Gorilla Tape on my trecking poles for emergencies or for gear repair.
|Headlamp||Browning Epic 3V||3.32||$39.99|
|Flashlight||Browning Alpha Max||2.16||$37.99|
|First Aid||Assorted First Aid Kit|
in aLOKSAK bag
|Toilet Paper||Toilet Paper in ZipLoc Bag||0.55||NA|
Food is something that I am constantly working to improve for a backcountry hunt. Right now I shoot for high calories per ounce; I prefer to be at least 160 calories per ounce. I recently switched up my food choices to allow for more of a variety so I don’t get burned out eating the same thing each day. But I may switch back to just packing the best item and eating that each day because in the end, food in the backcountry is just calories and it’s main purpose it keep my going. Again, my main consideration is calories per ounce.
I also feel like I might be carrying too many calories per day right now on my hunts. I understand I need the calories in the backcountry… but carrying that extra weight and forcing myself to eat all of the food can be difficult. On my recent Nevada hunt it seemed that I'd go through the day with leftover food, but I never felt hungry or energy deficient. So I might make some changes here and keep my benchmark at 160 calories-per-ounce, but switch to 2,000 calories per day.
Right now I’m at 3,102 calories per day for the backcountry.
You’ll notice that my food list is mainly snack items. Throughout a hunt I feel it's hard to have dedicated “meals.” I feel like I’m struggling to force food in my body throughout a day of hunting due to glassing, making a stalk or waiting out a buck. This is why my items are fairly simple and quick to eat and really pack on the calories. This also seems to be a more consistent source of energy for me having lots of small "meal" throughout the day. Remember: It’s very important to adjust your macros for your specific eating habits.
A quick, easy and lightweight way to add fat calories to your backcountry diet is to carry a small water bottle full of flax seed and MCT oil to keep your fat intake up. An alternative would be olive oil at 251 calories per ounce. I will either add these items to my protein shake, freeze dried meals, or suck it up and just drink them. There are a lot of great options for ways to carry these fat calorie oils in the backcountry, you can either use a collapsible water bottle like a small Platypus, or my favorite, small water bottles.
|Breakfast||Protein Shake Mix||9||550||5.00||45.00|
|Lunch||Pro Bar Meal|
|Lunch||Pro Bar Base|
Peanut Butter Chocolate
|Dinner||Mountain House Mix||9||540||5.35||48.15|
|Electrolyte Mix||GU Hydration Drink Mix||9||70||0.70||6.30|
|Subtotal||3,102.00||25.33 oz||230.97 oz|
|1.58 lb||14.44 lb|
Organizing and building backcountry meals
My breakfast items are premade, ahead of time by mixing all the items into a blender and then vacuum sealing. My breakfast is a combination of quick oatmeal, cinnamon, peanut butter powder, hemp seeds, protein powder and chia seeds. Special thanks goes out to my friend Jeff who helped me fine tune my breakfast meals for hunting.
Breakfast protein shake
All of these items are blended together at home.
- Protein powder - 1.5 scoops - 200 calories - 36g protein
- Hemp seeds - 2 tablespoons - 80 calories - 10.6g protein
- Peanut butter powder - PB2 - 2 tablespoons - 45 calories - 10g protein
- Quick oats - 3/4 cup - 225 calories - 7.5g protein
- Chia Seeds - 1 tablespoon - 68.5 calories - 4.0g protein
In the field I will add some water and then 1 oz of MCT oil which adds another 200 calories.
Snack items throughout the day
- Rx Bar - Peanut Butter = 108 calories per ounce
- ProBar - Meal Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip = 125 calories per ounce
- ProBar Base - Peanut Butter Chocolate = 113 calories per ounce
Late afternoon snack
- Justin's Maple Almond Butter = 190 calories per 1.15 ounces and also 18 grams of fat
- Justin's Hazelnut Butter = 180 calories per 1.15 ounces and also 14 grams of fat
- Honey Stinger Honey Waffle = 160 calories per ounce and also 7 grams of fat
This is by far my ultimate snack by combining Justin’s Hazelnut and Almond butter on a Honey Stinger waffle. I crave these in the backcountry! This combination packs in 520 calories at 3.62 oz. These Justin’s packets are the perfect size and you don’t have the bulk of larger plastic tubes of peanut butter which can cause you to overeat.
Mountain House Chicken and Rice - 2 cups = 540 calories
MCT oil - 1 oz = 200 calories
Roasted Macadamia nuts = 213 calories per ounce and also 19 grams of fat.
Another option for some high calorie nuts would be roasted pili nuts = 216 calories per ounce and also 24 grams of fat.
Hoser with neoprene sleeve
So once you get to your hunting spot, how do you stay light?
You really have three options. Move camp each day and follow the animals, stay out of one base camp where you will return to that camp each night, or establish a spike camp.
So, beyond the trailhead weight of your gear, also keep in mind your daily backpack weight. If I don't need certain gear items for a day hunt from my backcountry camp spot, I'll leave the extras in the tent. This keeps my day-hunt pack weight as minimal as possible. Note: overtime the gear items you leave back at camp will be few to none. This is because if you have to leave something at camp for a hunt, then why are you really taking it on the hunt?
An example of something I might leave back at the tent would be my Merino 145 zip off leggings or even a down jacket if the daily weather is nice. I normally never leave my down jacket at camp for safety reasons if I get caught out on the mountain and need to spend the night away from my camp.
Simple areas to cut weight
- Rain gear
- Camp gear
- Your body
Cutting total weight from your gear list can seem like a daunting task. I call them the Big Five: rain gear, backpack, camp gear, optics and your body. A little money goes a long way here in here in getting gear that is lighter. If you really want to cut weight from miscellaneous areas in your backpack, consider buying titanium items. Pretty much every piece of gear that can be made out of titanium, I will find it and purchase it for the weight savings. The downside… you could spend 25-35 dollars more for a product that is made out of titanium to save you 3-5 ounces. Also, there are a few reports out there that titanium cook pots are a little less efficient when boiling water.
What I’d change in my current backpacking system
If I can find some extra cash laying around, I’d probably like to switch to a 40° Zpacks sleeping bag. For $395.00 I could have a sleeping bag that weighs 13.2 oz for a size X-Long. That would be a weight savings of 15.52 oz! This is substantial weight that would be great to lose out of my setup.
I am also considering downgrading my sleeping pad. Right now I use a Thermarest NeoAir Xlite that weighs 12.59 oz. For 2017 I am going to switch to a Klymit Inertia X Lite sleeping pad that weighs 6.1 oz. Upgrading my sleeping bag and my pad will save me 22.01 oz but will cost another $443.95.
I'm also considering adding a cell phone/GPS battery charger. The one I am looking at is the Dark Energy Poseidon. I'm not sure the overall weight it will add, but I am sure I can either fit it in or remove a different item from my pack.
Like I said in the food section, I'm considering lowering my calorie intake per day while on the mountain hunting. On my recent Nevada hunt it seemed that I'd go through the day with leftover food, but I never felt hungry or energy deficient. If I make any changes, I'll keep my benchmark at 160 calories-per-ounce, but switch to 2,000 or 2,500 calories per day. I'm also going back to just having the best (nutrition wise) of every food item, rather than switching things up for a variety of flavors.
If I was in bear country I would add my 1.4mm Z-Line Slick Dyneema p-cord and a ZPacks Roll Top Blast Food bag. Those two products would only add 2.05 oz.
Overall I'm very happy with my current backcountry hunting gear list. You now know everything I carry on my back from the brands I use, to the calories of food and even down to me only taking one pair of boxers for nine days. The great thing about gear lists is they are a living and breathing document and always changing. The scary thing I have noticed by building this detailed of a great list, is the price of all my gear not including food...
What I have developed over the years for my gear list has worked very well. Some items I've had since day one, others have slowly been upgraded. It’s amazing to look back and see what I used to hunt with and what I hunt with now. Technology has definitely changed.
Best of luck to everyone this year. Remember to capture all the moments on your hunt, there’s nothing like reliving your hunt through photos.