Hunters are a notoriously difficult population to buy gifts for. Most of us know precisely what we need, and what we will use, and we resist (and sometimes resent) the sort of whim gifting that defines this season. Backcountry hunters are even worse. We have high expectations for our gear, and a cheap piece of kit isn’t worth its weight. Speaking of heft, we also place a high premium on gear that punches way above its weight. It must be light, versatile, reliable, and durable. High standards, indeed. Luckily, there’s a ton of great gear out there, at every price point. Here are some gifts to consider for the backcountry hunter in your life.
1. Olloclip Lens Set
Olloclip Lens Set
$80 for case and lens Amazon
One of the least expected but most welcome gifts of the season, this 4-in-1 camera lens set works with a phone case of the same name and turns your cellphone’s camera into a super wide-angle, a fisheye, and a macro camera. The whole lens kit—it’s two lenses that can be flipped, and the wide-angle lenses unscrew to reveal the macro lens—is about the size of a Bic lighter, but a quarter the weight. The coolest thing, especially for Intagramers, is that it opens a wide world of possibilities for new images. Next coolest? The olloclip case is tough as nails and entirely suitable for backcountry use.
2. FITS Socks
If you’ve ever had a sock that lost its cuff elasticity or balled up at your ankle, then you need to meet FITS socks. The American company claims its footwear is the most comfortable, best-fitting sock you’ll ever pull over your toes. It’s hard to dispute that claim. I have a number of FITS models, but my favorite is the plush, calf-hugging Heavy Tracker. How do you know that they, um, fit? Because each FITS sock has its footedness—either left or right—knitted into its toe box.
3. OtterBox Venture 45 Cooler
Call this a trailhead cooler. There is no shortage of ice-keeping polypropylene roto-molded coolers on the market, but this one has enough accessories that it rises to the level of the remarkable. The 45-quart model is perfect for beverages and a couple of meals before and after your backcountry trek. Accessories include a try storage tray, bottle opener, plus additional dry box, cup holder, coolerside table, and cutting board. You won’t have to feel uncomfortable about leaving the cooler in the bed of your pickup, because it keeps ice for 14 days and is certified bear resistant.
4. Outdoorsman Muley Fanny Pack
This go-everywhere lumbar pack can double as a capable day pack for go-light hunters, or it can strap onto a frame pack to haul all the smaller items that you’ll need for day hunting in a multi-day backcountry trip. The heart of the pack is a 1,500-cubic-inch bag that can haul a wide variety of gear in the main and secondary pockets. You can load the Muley pretty heavy—I put 40 pounds of elk meat in its main compartment for a 5-mile pack-out—and the web straps do an admirable job of distributing the weight. But the real advantage of this pack is that it’s light and nimble enough to strap onto a frame pack. Hunt with the Muley, but when you get a critter down in the backcountry, the lumbar pack takes up very little room and weight as you bring down the real trophy of any hunt, the meat.
5. Vortex 2X Binocular Accessory
Vortex 2x Binocular Accessory
We’ve all been there. We want to take a spotting scope to extend the range of our optics, but we don’t want to haul the weight of a spotter. This eyepiece is the answer. The 2X optical double fits over the eyepiece of most Vortex (and many other brands’) binoculars, doubling the magnification of the optic. Say you have a 10×42 binocular. This device, which weighs less than a sheath knife, makes it a 20×42. The Vortex doubler fits any 32-50mm binocular (unfortunately, it doesn’t fit Votex’s Kaibab models) and can help you access a distant critter that may be out of reach of your normal binocular.
6. Catalyst Arms’ Harris Bipod Leg Levers
This nifty upgrade improves the performance of one of the most useful pieces of a hunter’s kit: a Harris bipod. These aluminum levers install on top of the Harris bipod’s factory leg-adjustment knobs, allowing shooters to adjust the length of legs with a single hand. You can get them in black, tan, or eye-catching red.
7. Badlands Calor jacket
Badlands Calor Jacket
$170 Bass Pro Shops
A medium-weight approach jacket, this garment will muffle your movement, subdue your visibility, and even reduce your scent. The soft-shell fabric allows for ample movement while dampening sound. The built-in antimicrobial technology claims to keep scent to a minimum. All that’s great, but I like the fit, and the Approach camo pattern fits a wide range of terrain, from foothills to alpine meadows.
8. Power Practical Sparkr Mini flashlight and Lighter
Power Practical Sparkr Mini Flashlight & Lighter
This is either a gadget that’s trying to do too much, or the most essential do-everything safety instrument you can carry. I can make a case either way, since I’ve carried this combination lighter/flashlight for most of the past year. It’s a small electronic lighter that’s useful for lighting small pieces of paper or a celebratory cigar, and it’s a small, handy flashlight. Both are powered by a battery that’s recharged by plugging into any USB port. I think the lighter is too small for survival use, and it’s easy to turn the flashlight on in your pack, but when this device works, it’s a light, tiny insurance policy against both the cold and the dark.
9. Browning Camping Vortex Sleeping Bag
Browning Camping Vortex Sleeping Bag
Finally, a high performance, lightweight sleeping bag that won’t cost you a frozen leg. This two-tiered down and synthetic bag—it’s available in three temperature weights: 35 degrees ($149.99), 20 degrees ($179.99), and 0 degrees ($229.99)—is lightweight and packable. The bottom layer is filled with TechLoft synthetic insulation that warms and resists moisture. The top layer is filled with waterproof down. Ripstop exterior fabric resists tearing and abrasion.
10. CRKT Daktyl Knife
CRKT Daktyl Knife
This is my nomination for the coolest EDC (everyday carry) knife of the year. The minimalist design swings open and closed on a post hinge, and the slide lock keeps it from either closing or opening accidentally. To open, you press the front lever and rotate the blade outward until it clicks into place. To close, reverse the procedure, and then deploy the “Slide Lock” to keep it closed. The name pays homage to the human figure, as well as the dinosaur with razor-sharp claws. A carabiner clips onto a pack loop or belt loop.
11. Caribou Gear Wapiti Game Bag Package
Caribou Gear Wapiti Game Bag Package
$65 Bass Pro Shops
This is simply the best kit for a backcountry hunter who plans to go in light and come out heavy, with well-earned meat. All Caribou game bags are made of a synthetic nylon blend that’s lightweight, breathable, stain resistant, and washable. Additional attributes include reflective attachments and a drawstring that’s strong enough to hang a loaded bag. This kit contains five bags, each sized for elk quarters.
12. Superfeet Guide Hunting Insoles
Your hunt is only as successful as your feet are comfortable. That’s a truism of both the frontcountry and the backcountry, but maybe mostly the backcountry. These hiking-boot insoles will take miles off your hunt and pounds off your load, thanks to their impact-eating foam construction. The wool-faced surface offers warmth and the carbon construction absorbs odors.
13. FirstLite Uncompahgre Vest
Here’s an essential layering garment for any season. This puffy vest is light in weight but heavy on function. The vest heats your core while allowing for uninhibited arm and torso movement. The body-mapping insulation adds additional warmth in areas that don’t have abundant circulation. And the Uncompahgre is cut to wear under FirstLite’s Puffy Jacket.
14. Salewa Mountain Trainer Mid GTX boots
At home in the mountains or in town, these technical hiking boots feature waterproof GORE-TEX membranes under a suede leather upper. The boots can be laced in a variety of ways to augment either ankle support or mid-foot support.
15. Cabala’s Hip Boots
I’ll bet I’ve hiked over 200 miles in these hard-wearing waterproof boots. It’s not that I wanted to. I’ve taken these hip waders to Alaska, Quebec, British Columbia, and all over Montana, anywhere I needed a knee-high waterproof boot. The thing about the backcountry hunts where I’ve worn these is that you can rarely anticipate conditions. From landing boats in high surf to crossing glacier-fed torrential streams, and even packing backcountry critters across boggy swamps.
16. OluKai Moloa Slippers
OluKai Moloa Slippers
What is this cushy, comfortable slipper doing in a roundup of hard-wearing backcountry gear? Well, every foot needs a friend after coming off the mountain, and your favorite flip-flop company is now producing a toe-covering, warm shearling slipper that has a stout enough sole that you can wear these to the outhouse or to leave your tent for another spotting session at those bighorn rams on the ridge above camp.