There’s a saying I often hear in Idaho that goes like this: “You don’t like the weather? Wait five minutes and it will change.” This is due to the fact that in the mountains of the West, especially during the spring and fall hunting seasons, Mother Nature can change things in the span of a day.
I lived this reality fully on a two-week Wyoming elk hunt last fall, when the weather ran the full gamut on me. When my hunt started, I wasn’t even wearing a jacket after getting out of my sleeping bag in the morning. Come the middle portion of my hunt, after several days of low temps and constant snow and rain, I broke down and rented a room at a nearby lodge one night, just so I could warm up and dry out. A few days later, it was back to bluebird skies and warm temps. Luckily, as I have gotten older and somewhat wiser, my clothing and boot choices have evolved to the point where I generally have the necessary gear to get me through a hunt, regardless of what Mother Nature throws at me.
This is important on all types of hunts, from day hunts where you come back to your vehicle or base camp at night to extended wilderness hunts. Choosing the right gear for a backpack hunt becomes even more critical when both pack space and weight are limited and crucial.
One thing to keep in mind, specifically when buying clothing, is that you are building a “kit,” and that kit should be built on a layering system. Clothing bought from one manufacturer is usually made with this concept in mind. Seams are often designed so they don’t align in the same spots on different pieces to keep them from stacking up and becoming uncomfortable. Certain pieces are often made to fit slimmer or looser, depending on where they are worn. Sometimes you need to size up or size down with different garments to achieve optimal fit and performance within your kit. You get the picture. So do your part through extensive research, starting with this article.
If an active insulation layer is on your wish list, be sure to check out the redesigned and upgraded Kenai line from KUIU that consists of the Hooded Jacket ($259) and Pant ($199), as well as the 14.2-oz. Jacket ($219) and 9.4-oz. Vest ($159). The Kenai series outer layer is K-DWR treated to resist light rain and moisture, and the DWR 3DeFX+ active insulation features siliconized fibers that help resist saturation while maintaining insulation in wet conditions. Each piece is also body mapped to put more insulation in needed areas around the core, and lighter insulation on the sides for breathability. You’ll appreciate the streamlined fit and the new quilt-free design that eliminates unnecessary stitch holes to maintain durability and water resistance.
Base layers are the foundation of any good hunter’s kit, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better one than the Men’s Wick LS Crew ($85) from First Lite. This next-to-skin top is made from ultralight 150 Aerowool, which combines the finest 17.5-micron Merino wool with activated nylon fabrics. These garments are UV-absorbent to eliminate shine, have flatlock seams for comfortable wear, and modified raglan sleeves that move said seams out from under where your pack rides for even more comfort.
Sitka has released some interesting new stuff that will be beneficial to anyone who hunts where ticks are an issue. They also wick moisture, control your odor, and keep your skin protected from the sun. I’m referring to their Equinox Guard Hoody ($149), Pants ($229), and Gloves ($50). The Hoody has a built-in breathable facemask and a long tail that you tuck into the Pants, which have internal leg gaiters for slipping into your socks to keep insects out, zippered leg vents to help expel heat, a dedicated knife pocket, and hidden suspender attachment points. The Gloves have nylon Cordura built into the fingertips and in between the fingers for durability and long cuffs for protection from insects when worn with the Hoody.
Any full kit has some sort of packable insulation layer, and the Browning Puffer Jacket ($209) fits that bill. Made from a PrimaLoft water-repellent-treated 640 Silver down blend and a 100% polyester micro-ripstop fabric, this top is durable, lightweight, and packable. The hood and elastic binding on the waist allow you to really suck the jacket down around you when conditions are at their worst. The Silvadur technology helps with odor control, and the jacket stuffs into its own pocket. In addition, make sure to check out their Early Season Pants ($84). The lightweight ripstop holds up well, and the articulated knees and gusseted crotch will keep you nimble on even the most difficult stalks.
On that early season note, I also highly recommend the ASIO Gear Lightweight Hoodie ($95). This is a perfect warm-weather piece made from a breathable/lightweight mesh material. The fabric is quick to dry, has antimicrobial qualities, and is DWR-treated to shed moisture. This quarter-zip top has a hood and built-in facemask, and the fabric’s UPF 50+ rating will prevent you from getting sunburnt.
It seems more and more boot companies are starting to make hunting footwear like the Altitude GTX ($330) from Crispi. The Altitude is built with a technical fit that’s breathable, lightweight, and comfortable but also robust enough to handle heavier loads when the need arises. Made from an ultra-soft leather with a synthetic upper, the Crispi Thermo Wire Technology and full PU-coated leather rand will stand up to pretty much any conditions you could ever possibly encounter on a hunt. While they may not be the top choice for a multi-day backcountry bowhunter, I guarantee they are perfect for those in need of an ultra-comfortable boot that will help them quickly cover ground when needed.
The Kenetrek Corrie II ($300) is a great option for those looking for a nice lightweight hiker. This 7" boot has lace-to-the-toe design uppers with ankle support “k” straps and comfort padding, plus a 5mm nylon midsole for support in rough terrain. Rubber toe and heel guards provide extra abrasion resistance, and the waterproof Windtex membrane keeps your feet both warm and dry. Last but not least, the Grapon outsoles prevent you from slipping and sliding in less-than-ideal conditions.
If you’re watching your pennies, then it would behoove you to slip on a pair of Irish Setter VaprTrek Men’s 8" Waterproof Leather Insulated Camo Boots ($189). The 400-gram PrimaLoft insulation is made from fibers recycled from plastic bottles. This unique construction maintains loft and traps body heat, even when compressed. The CUSHIN Comfort tongue minimizes the pressure many feel from the top of the boot tongue on their shins. The Ultradry construction keeps your feet dry and warm. Lastly, the ARMATEC XT is placed in high-wear areas to dramatically preserve and lengthen the life of the boots.
The Salomon Quest 4 Gore-Tex ($230) is a top choice among hikers and warrants serious consideration by bowhunters. The Mud Contagrip is built to thrive in loose, soft, and rugged terrain; the 4D Advanced Chassis uses two different midsoles for enhanced foot control and comfort. The Gore-Tex lining keeps your feet dry while simultaneously allowing them to breathe, and the EnergyCell EVA foam provides maximum shock absorption. The upper is made from NuBuck leather and a soft and breathable textile lining.
Lowa made an already great boot even better with the Camino EVO GTX ($335). It has an ankle “patch” area that allows more flex when hiking in steep terrain. The DuraPU midsole enhances stability and comfort, and the Vibram APPTRAIL outsole grips the terrain to keep your feet firmly underneath you. The 800-gram insulation and Gore-Tex lining means warm and dry feet. Like many Lowa boots, this one has a topnotch lacing system that prevents pressure points for all-day comfort.
The Method Pack System ($NA) by Forloh is made up of three parts: the Method CXLite Frame and Suspension, Method 4400 Pack Body, and Method 1600 Dry Bag. The CXLite Frame lays flat against your back, and carbon-fiber construction ensures superior strength. The Dry Bag is a roll-top made from military grade, 210 HD diamond ripstop nylon that’s TPU-coated for noise reduction. The 4400 Pack Body is also made from the same ripstop material and has four separate compartments, and the bottom bathtub design is fully submersible. The adjustable waist belt has convenient hip pouches and side compression straps for lashing your gear securely in place. The Method System can be used as just a frame, as well as with both the pack and dry bag — or with each individually.
New from ALPS OutdoorZ is the Elite Frame +1800 Pack ($449). The new frame boasts 30% more weight with 30% more strength to help with carrying heavy loads. The removable shoulder straps make it easy to adjust to six different torso positions, and the waist belt’s MOLLE system with removable pouches allows for full customization. The contoured anti-slip lumbar pad ensures elite level support and comfort. Each frame also has an integrated, adjustable lashing system.
The Pack Bag is made from 500D Cordura, with a spacious main compartment with five mesh organizational pockets. The top zippered pocket provides quick access to valuables. There is also a provided raincover, rifle/bow drop-down pocket, and hydration compatibility. When successful on a hunt, you can stash meat or other gear between the frame and the bag. For those wanting a slightly bigger pack, a 3800 Pack Bag can be purchased instead of the 1800 for an additional $50.
Those planning a multi-day trip in the backcountry should consider the Stone Glacier Xcurve Frame & Sky Archer 6400 ($669). The main bag gives you 5,900 cu. in. of space plus a 500 cu. in. lid. The 30" side-zip access panel provides easy entry to the pack’s interior. Inside are tri-slide buckles for attaching organizational swing-out and/or camp pockets. This pack has two side pockets — the left pocket is for an arrow tube or tripod, and the right is for additional storage. There is an internal spotting scope pocket, and the center compression straps on the outside of the pack have added length and dual adjustable buckles. You’ll appreciate the 2,500 cu. in. of load-shelf expansion for carrying meat or extra gear.
Kifaru is always a smart pick when shopping for a serious hunting pack, and the Gnargali ($362) is another top choice from this reputable manufacturer — especially for those planning to “disappear” into the wilderness for extended periods of time. This bag is constructed from a 500D/VX21S Xpac material, which puts abrasion-resistant technical fabrics in all the right places. Side and top straps are made from a stout material to make sure your weapon, tripod, and other valuables remain securely in place while hiking. This bag is a top-load-only pack, with no side access to the bag’s inner compartment. Three belt-pouch matrixes help keep things organized and at the ready, at all times. There are also dual hydro ports and an internal bladder pocket, as well as an integrated load shelf that you can expand for additional carrying capacity. This is a bag only and will work with your existing Kifaru frame, or you can purchase the whole kit and caboodle at once.
Built off their Guide Lite frame, the Beartooth 80 ($585) from Mystery Ranch is made for those who value organization and varied options for accessing their essential gear. This pack means business, with big load-hauling capabilities via the Overload features that provides expandability with the load sling between the pack and frame. The bag is made from 330D Lite Cordura, is 5,185 cu. in., and has an overall pack weight of 6.7 lbs. Other features include side-stretch pockets, telescoping yoke for custom torso fit, zippered inner pockets, lightweight SJ Autolock buckles, and a removable lid with zippered pockets.
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