The Backcountry Hunter’s Holiday Gift Guide 2014

Wilderness Athlete Hydrate & Recover Packets
$29/ Yes, this is a fancy sports drink. But it’s one that’s designed to refuel hard-working backcountry hunters, both as they prepare for hunts, and during strenuous activity. As I age—not particularly gracefully, I might add—I particularly appreciate a couple of its attributes. One is that is contains glucosamine, which reduces joint swelling. The other is that it doesn’t rely on sugar or caffeine to enhance its energy-boosting capabilities.
$39 for 12 bars/ Serious nutrition shouldn’t taste this good. I lived off these dense, tasty concoctions of seeds, fruits, nuts, and protein for several days as I ruined my health chasing elk in Wyoming’s high country. They’re compact, full of fiber and protein, are certified organic, and come in a variety of flavors from decadent chocolate to peanut butter to fruit to something called “Superfood Slam.” No matter the flavor, they make my former favorite backcountry snack (Snickers candy bars) appear to be quite literally empty calories.


Cabela’s Instinct Backcountry Hybrid Vest
$139/ Packable, lightweight, and comfy, this water-resistant vest is a great backcountry base layer. Wear it in the mornings and evenings, when the mercury dips and you’re more likely to be sitting waiting for game. But shed and pack the 9-1/2-ounce vest when you’re active. Either way, it doesn’t add much bulk to your kit.


Danner Pronghorn Boot
$180/ I expected to be disappointed by the redesigned Pronghorn. I was a big fan of the first generation of this iconic Western boot. Then my pair leaked like a colander, and nothing I could do would make them watertight again. The new Pronghorn seems to have overcome this design flaw. They may not be rigid enough to be spot-on backcountry boots, just as they may be too heavy for all-day wear in level country. But the waterproof Pronghorns strike just the right balance, in price and utility, to be considered all-around hunting boots for just about any destination.


Outdoorsman’s 3-in-1 Tripod System
$370/ This is the Cadillac of backcountry tripods. Made of machined aluminum, the medium tripod compresses to just over 18 inches, but extends to 44 inches, and you can buy a center post that gives you 60 inches of height. The base unit is pricey at $370, and then you must buy accessories, like a $200 pistol-grip head. But you’ll get the most portable, solid tripod you can buy. In addition to the pistol-grip head, I bought a collapsible rifle rest ($169) and a binocular ring adapter ($100) designed for my specific optic. The adapter effectively turns my 15-power binocular into a tripod-mounted spotting scope, and the rifle rest allows me to take long shots with confidence. The beauty of the system is that each component mates to the tripod, cutting down on weight and bulk for backcountry hunts.


Kuiu Icon Pro 5200 pack
$425/ I doubted the load-carrying capabilities of this stylish pack. Then I toted an entire elk out of the Montana backcountry in just two trips. And while it wasn’t a particularly enjoyable task, the pack made short work of what can be an arduous chore. The secret of the Icon is its carbon-fiber frame that spreads weight to the smart suspension system. The result is the ability to carry massive weight without feeling crippled by the load. Kuiu has created a semi-custom product by allowing customers to order the Icon in either regular or tall sizes, and to customize the waist belt to the size of the packer. Frankly, the pack is too large and bulky for me to comfortably hunt under, but as a meat hauler, it has few peers.


Sitka’s Coldfront Pants
$599/ Let me say that I never thought I would recommend a pair of pants that cost more than my rifle. That’s before I hunted all season in Sitka’s rainproof, snowproof, frostproof, bombproof Coldfront trousers. This breathable, hard-wearing layer is designed for extended sessions on your butt: in the saddle, glassing from a rocky ridge, or in my case, sitting on prairie cactus patches. I wore the Coldfront for weeks of mule deer, whitetail, and elk hunting when temperatures dipped to 20-below, in sleeting rain, and in bluebird days in between, and I never felt either over- or under-dressed in it. Part of its appeal is its ability to regulate your temperature while still keeping you dry, but the feature I most appreciate is its fleece lining that feels great next to skin and moves freely over base layers like long johns. Second-best feature: the adjustable suspenders that ensure you never feel like your pants are sliding off.