scopin it out

Backcountry Gear Selection – What to Pack

Aron Snyder

scopin it out

So it’s that time of year again and the emails, PM’s and phone calls about packing lists are rolling in like rainstorms in the Pacific Northwest! The standard question I get is “Aron, can you give me your packing list for a 7 day hunt”? You would think the answer to this question would be as easy as a couple points and clicks of the mouse….but it’s not! Now don’t get me wrong, there’s some gear that ALWAYS goes inside my pack, but depending on the time of year and area I’m hunting, the rest of my list can change drastically.

Breaking things down

I could use the same basic gear for all of my hunts, but to be as efficient as possible I always break things down using three basic criteria: Task and conditions, Necessary Items, and Wants.

Each of these will play a huge part in your final packing list, and with some forethought you can figure all of these things out from the comfort of your own living room (within reason).

Coldcamp Hotmeal

Task and Conditions

First, you need to evaluate the task and conditions you’ll be facing on your hunt; things like weather, terrain/altitude gain, distance to hunting location, intended target animal and what type of hunt you’ll doing. The next step will be choosing what’s needed to survive (with some resemblance of comfort) while on this adventure and finally you’ll need to figure out which items you’ll want to bring along to make your life and hunt a little easier.  

Using some common sense when going through your selection choice will be pretty important, but you’ll also want to keep the “Good Idea Fairy” (GIF) under control too!

Click link for GIF article:

Note: Keep in mind that every person has different needs and comfort tolerances. Make sure and go off of what YOU are going to need and not what others tell you. Some people sleep warm and some cold. Some guys like using quilts, but others like sleeping bags. All you’ll need to do is go through each category step by step and by the end of this article you’ll have your packing list finished for your upcoming hunt!

Here’s a short list of things you should consider:

  •      Weather – (rain, snow, wind, temperature range)
  •      Terrain/Altitude gain – (self-explanatory)
  •      Type of hunt – (bivy, backpack/base camp, spike camp)
  •      Target animal(s) – (elk, mountain goat, sheep, bear, mule deer, etc…)
  •      Distance you’ll be traveling – (how many miles you’re packing in)
  •      Water sources in the area – (multiple, unknown and everything else in between)

Don’t overlook the details in your task and conditions! These things are vital in putting together the lightest and most efficient gear list. Using a 0 degree sleeping bag for a Colorado high country mule deer hunt will work, but if you’ve got the option, a 15-20 degree bag would be a better choice. The same thing can be said for shelters, as a tarp would be my choice in some areas, but if the hunt dates shift later by a month or two, I’ll be taking a 4 season tent to the same area. Clothing is another category where most “greenhorns” pack more than is needed. As I’ve already mentioned, USE COMMON SENSE and pack accordingly!


NOTE: this is a list for a standard backpack hunter in normal hunting conditions, so don’t go all Bear Grills on me, or even worse, don’t turn into a doomsday prepper either!

Necessary Items

  • ·         Sleep System (shelter, sleeping bag, sleeping pad)
  • ·         Boots (hiking, backpacking or mountaineering)
  • ·         Socks (synthetic or merino wool)
  • ·         Clothing (base layer, standard layer, insulating layer, outer layer)
  • ·         Backpack (choose applicable size)
  • ·         Cook system (Isobutane, liquid fuel or other)
  • ·         Water storage (bladder or bottle and size)
  • ·         Water filtration/purification (pump, pills, drops or other)
  • ·         Misc. (headlamp, TP, kill kit, fire-starter, first aid, map/compass)
  • ·         Weapon/Ammo (gun, bow, or muzzle loader)
  • ·         Food (2,000-3,800 calories per day)

The items in the need section are things you’ll want to have on any backpack hunt to maintain a decent level of comfort. Your task and conditions will play a huge part in your final gear selection, but you’ll also need to look in the mirror and ask yourself a few questions. How much do I actually need to eat each day? Can I physically handle a bivy hunt, or should I stick to a backpack/base camp. Am I good with pumping water out of an elk wallow, or should I stay by a known water source? Will I need a change of socks and underwear for each day, or am I just packing like I’m taking a vacation to Hawaii? Can I keep sustained energy eating 2,000 calories a day, or do I need closer to 3,000? All of these questions will dictate your final packing list, but again, every situation is different and can change things dramatically. If I’m only packing in 3 miles and I know I won’t be moving much (backpack/basecamp scenario), then I’ll be bringing way more food than when I pack for a high country mule deer hunt 7 miles in. Now having said that, the argument could be made that you’ll need more calories when going on a grueling backpack hunt then you would on a backpack/basecamp hunt. This is where you’ll need to have a “coming to Jesus meeting” with yourself and make a decision on what’s best for you.

Any experienced mountain hunter will already have these answers, but for a greenhorn, you’ll probably be a bit nervous about only taking 1 extra set of underwear for a 7 day hunt. So when in doubt, ask a professional….but make sure they’re experienced and not someone living in their mothers basement pretending to be a mountain hunter!



To be honest, some of these could be more of a need for some of us (Copenhagen and Caffeine for me), so evaluate each item for yourself and correct as needed.

  • ·         Optics/glassing equipment (spotting scope, Binoculars, tripod, Range Finder)
  • ·         Camera gear (point and shoot, mirrorless, camcorder, SRL/DSLR)
  • ·         Safety/Survival/comm. (SPOT, SAT phone, Delorme In-Reach, cellphone, etc.)
  • ·         Happy items (Copenhagen, energy drinks, coffee, etc.)
  • ·         Boredom helpers (I-pod, phone, books, etc.)
  • ·         Sometimes needed (ice axe, crampons, walking sticks)
  • ·         Toiletries (soap, wet wipes, tooth brush, tooth paste, etc.)
  • ·         Misc. (camp shoes, solar charger/batteries, repair kit, extra ammo, etc.)

As you’re reading through the want list, you may think that some of these items should be listed as needs. This could be true in some cases, but you can make that decision for yourself. I’m sure I could be missing some items as well, but you get the point either way.


The want list can be much harder to choose from than the needs, especially when you’re looking at a 7 lb. spotting scope and tripod and thinking “Damn… that’s 4 more days of food in weight”! But 4 more days in food won’t help you count the growth rings on a sheep like an 85mm spotting scope will. It can also be hard to determine if you even need to bring a spotting scope on some hunts (elk for example) or if binoculars will be enough. On the other hand, I’ve brought 15’s and a spotting scope when I know I’ll be spending the majority of the day behind the glass.  All of the choices in the want category will have a lot to do with the answers you get from the task and conditions category. Some areas will call for a little more “shit hits the fan gear”, while others areas you can walk back to the truck in an hour or two.

I’ve already mentioned this several times, but use common sense when choosing your gear. If you eat 3,000 calories a day at home, I would bring at least that much on the hunt. If you don’t like bugs, bring a tent. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel because you’re heading onto the wilderness.

This wraps up part 1 of this article, but stay tuned for part 2 where I go through several different scenarios in how my gear can change from one hunt to another, and why.