For almost half my life, I’ve been on some sort of backpack hunt pretty much every year. Through those experiences, I’ve had to learn quite a few lessons the hard way. By its nature, backpack hunting requires you to possess a certain level of self-sufficiency, and to be able to adapt to circumstances. This makes it necessary to have the gear to deal with different situations. Many gear items, like fire starters and water purifiers, are necessities that go without saying, but here are five other items that are always in my pack, and the reasons I carry them.
1. Extra Pack Belt Buckle
This is one that I’d say pretty confidently that most folks don’t even think about. And I wouldn’t think about it either if I hadn’t broken two of them in the past. Under a heavy load, a tremendous amount of stress is on the bottom “tong” of the buckle, and when I broke the first one, I didn’t have a backup. Luckily, I was only a mile or so from the end of my trip, so I just had to shoulder it, but it could be a nightmare. The second time I did have a replacement, and luckily so, because I still had 14 miles to pack a whole sheep and my camp. I’m not sure how, but one buddy had his slip off his pack belt while taking a break; luckily he found it. Carry an extra.
2. Chap Stick
For a lot of people, this is a “gimme,” but a lot of folks rarely use it back in civilization. I always carry a stick in my first aid kit, and my bino pouch, because the wind and weather in the high country will wreak havoc on your lips, and a lot of times, I’ve had to use it to swab the inside of my nose, which was dry and cracking from all the cold wind. You can also use it to fill the screw heads on your equipment to keep them from rusting.
3. Emergency shelter
Whether you are packing your whole camp with you or hunting out of a spike camp, you need to have the means to stay safe for a night or two in bad weather at any time. If you’re leaving your tent in a location, have some sort of bivy, tarp, or some other means to get out of bad weather. You want to consider where you are hunting, the temperatures, and what you will have naturally available, but be ready, because there’s lots of times where a quick, one hour look-around from camp can turn into a day and a half chase for a sheep or other mountain game.
4. Extra Bootlaces
You always want to have something to replace your boot laces if they break or get cut. It’s rare, but man, when it happens, you’ll be in a world of hurt if you’re not prepared. I usually carry a set of laces, but paracord will work just fine in a pinch, and is a great item to have anyway.
5. Water Bladder
I’m not talking about the water bladders with the hose. I’m not a huge fan of them, but if you like them, bring one. In addition to 3 liter bottles, I like to bring a couple of Platypus 2 liter bladders. They weigh nothing, and take up hardly any space, but sometimes you have to go spend a day or more where you know you won’t find water. In those cases, you can fill those up to get you through. This past September, my buddy and I hung in there for 5 days on melting snow on a big rock with a pothole in it. Every morning we would stack snow on the rock, and by evening, we’d be able to fill up with enough water for the next day.
There are plenty of other gear items and hacks that you can go with, but these are 5 items that you’ll always find in my pack, and every one of them, I’ve had to learn the hard way. Once you have them, these issues become just an inconvenience at best, instead of a trip-ruining disaster at worst.