So there you are, headed to the backcountry for a true wilderness hunt. You’ve decided to do it the hard way-without horses, on foot and with a couple pals who, like you, are ready for a challenge. Where do you start and what are your expectations? The fact is, you’re looking at the toughest hunt of all. You’ll be packing in all your gear on your back and, if you’re successful, you’ll be carrying meat out the same way. Obviously, you’ll need to travel light, pare down your equipment and consider every last ounce. An extra pound might seem harmless when you first don your pack, but it’ll be a serious burden as the trail gets longer and steeper.
Home Sweet Home
A shelter of some sort is required for protection from the weather and insects. Don’t discount the latter. In warm weather, black flies, mosquitoes and other pests can make a trip miserable. A lightweight tent should weigh no more than 5 pounds, and it must be waterproof and able to withstand strong winds. Most tents that are guaranteed to be waterproof need to have the seams sealed. A tube of sealer often comes with the tent. Apply the sealer according to instructions and then test the tent under your yard sprinkler for at least an hour.
A sleeping bag should weigh 4 pounds or so. I prefer goose down insulation, but it’s clammy and cold when it gets wet and takes a long time to dry. If there’s any chance of moisture getting into your shelter, use synthetic insulation. Buy a stuff sack that’s tough and waterproof. Most conventional sacks are flimsy. Don’t use a trash bag, since it might rip in the brush. Always use a pad under your bag. I like closed-cell pads because they roll up smaller than the open-cell types. A pad also eliminates the discomfort of rocks or twigs beneath you.
The Right Pack
The tent, sleeping bag and pad should be tied tightly to your pack. A roomy pack that’s lightweight, waterproof and well constructed is a must. It should have wide shoulder straps and a belly strap to steady it on your upper torso. When fully loaded, it should weigh no more than 40 pounds, but that depends on your physical condition and ability to carry a heavy load-someone in good shape can heft an 80-pound pack. Some packs have all sorts of bells and whistles, with compartments and sleeves that hold gear. I like at least one sleeve to hold a water bottle or two.
[pagebreak] Back-country Clothes
Clothing is a matter of choice, but I keep it simple. A wool shirt, a waterproof jacket with a hood that’s zippered on and not attached by snaps, waterproof pants, three extra pairs of socks and underwear, long johns and gloves are basic requirements. Don’t get carried away by bringing too much clothing. Think warm and dry. I take along a wool watch cap to wear in rainy weather. I also wear it when I sleep, since most heat is lost through your head.
Wear boots suited to the terrain and weather. Lightweight waterproof boots with sturdy air-bob soles are my preference, but if it’s cold I want my boots to be insulated.
Food and Water
Cookware should weigh no more than a pound or two. Choose a set that’s made especially for camping and collapses into a compact unit. A collapsible cup is a good idea, as are plastic spoons and forks.
Water will make or break your trip. Start out with two containers and refill them in streams, but only after purifying the water by boiling it for at least 10 minutes or using some sort of purifying kit. Always treat water, even if you’ve been told the water in the region is safe.
Don’t go overboard with food. Plan wisely, and figure out how many meals you need. Dehydrated food is light and easy to fix around a campfire. Bring along condiments such as salt and pepper, lightweight plates that can be scrubbed, and paper towels. Individually packaged moist towelettes are great forr cleaning your hands.
[pagebreak] Hunting Gear
Lightweight waterproof binoculars are easy on your neck. Leave the range finder at home unless you have a compact, lightweight model. If you use a GPS unit, be sure you also have a compass and updated maps. The GPS unit is an electronic device that can fail.
I carry two knives-lock-backs both-and a knife sharpener. One is for field dressing and camp chores and has a 4- or 5-inch blade. The other is a flexible fillet knife to bone meat. I don’t carry a saw. You can bone out anything from an antelope to a moose with only a knife.
Carry lightweight cheesecloth to wrap game in, but only temporarily, since flies can usually get through. As soon as possible, put the meat in sturdy bags. A length of 100-foot cord is handy around camp as well as for tying quarters to your pack. I carry a light hatchet on my belt, along with a multi-tool such as a Gerber or Leatherman.
Bring waterproof, windproof matches as well as tinder to help start a fire and a couple of disposable lighters. I carry at least three small flashlights that take AA batteries. Each flashlight has fresh batteries and I carry a half dozen extras. Space blankets weigh an ounce or two, and although they’re not much good in severe weather, I sit on them if the ground is cold and wet.
Your rifle should be lightweight and topped with a lightweight scope. To keep it from being marred by your pack, cover the stock with a sock. A sling with a wide strap eases the chore of carrying your rifle. Carry extra ammo in a container on your belt to eliminate the weight from your pack.
To keep items dry in the pack, no matter how waterproof it’s supposed to be, put everything in resealable plastic bags. Before you go, load your pack and weigh it. Carry it around a bit and see how it feels. Always look for ways to lighten the load, but don’t sacrifice essential items.
For information on Jim Zumbo’s books, go to jimzumbo.com.