Thinking about taking your first elk hunt this fall? I was in your shoes recently and I’m glad I took the plunge. It was the toughest but most rewarding hunt I have been on and we didn’t end up filling our tags. My cousin, uncle, and I went out to Idaho with OTC tags and came about as close as your could to notching a tag. We found elk, chased elk, but just couldn’t get close enough.
From this trip I learned a lot and wanted to share my experience with you so hopefully the learning curve will be a bit less steep. In this article I will cover the gear I used. What I wish I would have brought and what I think could have been left back at the trail head. Hopefully this backpack elk hunting gear list will provide some insight to help formulate a game plan for your trip.
If your interested, I did write an article on what preparation I did for the hunt regarding scouting, training, etc. Check out that article here.
For this article I will be covering the following:
- Boots and Socks
- Misc Gear
Before getting into the gear I wanted to provide some details on the type of hunt we went on. Hopefully this will give a better understanding of why I used the gear I did and help in determining what you might need for the same type of hunt.
As mentioned above we had OTC tags (rifle cow tags) and hunted public land on the eastern side of Idaho. We had done plenty of scouting ahead of time and decided to hike about 5 miles in, set up a camp and then branch out from there every morning. Elevation varied from 6,000 to 8,500ft and we would hike up approx. 800ft every morning to a glassing position.
Time of the year was mid-October and temperatures averaged 55 to 60 during the day and dropped down into the 20s at night. From my research, this was the average temperature for the area but it is not uncommon for a couple of inches of snow to be on the ground either. As far as weather is concerned we dealt with a bit of everything. Light snow, rain, and clear sunny days. We put about 30 to 35 miles on our boots for the whole trip. Fortunately, we found elk on the 2nd day of the hunt. Unfortunately, they were in a hard to reach area.
Boots And Socks
Danner Vitals are what I wore for this hunt. As with any pair of boots I highly recommend breaking them in before heading out for a hunt like this. My wife and I are big hikers and actually did a road trip out west (Montana, Canada, Washington, Oregon, Idaho) 2 months before the hunt where we put over 25 miles in. Also, wore them as much as I could around my house so I felt very comfortable in them for the hunt.
What I liked about the Vitals are their breathability and how light they are. They are a synthetic boot with a leather upper and I found that they breathed really well. My internal engine runs pretty hot so my feet heat up quickly. These boots helped my feet stay cool and dry. The waterproofing on these boots has also performed well.
I also wear these boots for early season whitetail in the Midwest and have walked through creeks and swamps with no problems.
Check out my full review here if your wanting to know more about the Vitals.
As for socks I brought 2 pairs of Darn Tough socks. I can’t tell your enough how much I like these socks! Made out of merino wool these things will last forever. They dry very fast and protected my feet from getting any blisters. I would switch between the 2 pairs I was wearing every day. The ones I wasn’t wearing would be tied to the outside of my pack and dried out by the sun. These were a mid weight sock, their hiking style type of sock. I have no doubt these socks will last many years.
I’ll wear these socks anytime I’’m hiking, working outside, hunting, or camping.
For this trip I purchased the Alps Outdoorz Commander pack and frame. I have the Alps Outdoorz Trailblazer which I use for all my deer hunting or day trip hunts and have been very pleased with it. As with any trip money was a concern so I decided to go the cheaper route when I purchased a pack.
That being said it served me well. If your looking for a price competitive pack that will be able to handle anything you throw at it then this pack is a nice option. Now that I am getting more into western hunting and overnight trips I would have taken the hit and spent more for a bag that will better fit my needs.
Again, don’t get me wrong. I like this bag and it served its purpose very well. Maybe consider this a back up should your main pack get damaged. The external frame can be purchased separately as well if you just wanted to use it as a meat hauler.
As for clothes, I wore Kuiu and Eddie Bauer gear for my outer shell. Besides a turkey hunt this was really the first time I put my Kuiu garments to the test.
From Kuiu, I purchased their Guide pants and jacket and the Peloton 240 hooded jacket as a mid-layer. Side note… any pants your purchase from Kuiu come as a universal length. You will need to take them to a tailor and get them hemmed. At first, I thought this would be a con and a pain to deal with. I found a local person to hem my pants and for 10 bucks I now have a custom fit pair of pants. Looking back I’m glad its done this way. Yeah its a small extra thing to do but I hate it when pants don’t fit me right and bunch up at my boots.
As for the pants I’m glad I purchased the Guide pants. Kuiu’s only focus is to make gear that is lightweight and for a mountain style type of hunt. They did a great job on these pants. Guide pants are made for a late season type of hunt when you need more warmth but still a breathable pant for long hikes. They are fleeced lined which I really like. These pants kept me so warm that I never wore my merino wool leggings. Having the hip zipper vents was a great extra thing to have. Before we started to hike I would zip the vents open and it really helped dump heat so I didn’t get to hot while on the move. Once we arrived at a glassing spot I would leave them open for a bit longer to help me cool down as well.
At only 19.5oz these pants are lightweight. This was a nice aspect as we ended up trying to belly crawl through some brush to sneak up to elk we had spotted. Unfortunately, this plan didn’t work and to make matters worse half-way through us sneaking it started to rain and turned everything into mud. As the day came to and end it started to rain and rain hard. We had a 2.5 hour hike back to our tents. When we woke the next day everything was soaking wet and covered in mud. Thankfully we camped next to a small creek and decided to wash the mud off in the creek, build a fire and dry out our clothes. This worked great and my pants were completely dry within a couple hours. Much faster than I ever thought and it was due to the type of material and how light these pants were. This saved our trip as we were able to finish the hunt out and stay warm and dry.
Another thing I liked about these pants is that they didn’t come with the knee pads. From talking to my brother and cousin who had already purchased Kuiu pants with knee pads they had mentioned the knee pads hit them in the shin rather than on the knee. This was more of an inconvenience and annoyance so if your a shorter person like myself (5’9″) that is definitely something to keep in mind.
One area of these pants I wish they would change was the way the cargo pocket zippers opened. The pocket opens front to back and it was difficult trying to open the pocket with one hand. I think it would be easier if the pocket opened back to front or if they would replace the zipper with a snap button. In the grand scheme its a small thing but still an annoyance when have a loaded pack on and have to twist your torso around to use both hands to open a pocket.
The Guide jacket I only wore a hand full of times when it was colder and needed something to cut the wind. As I mentioned earlier, my internal engine runs pretty hot and once it gets up to temp I stayed pretty warm the whole day. The temps reached up into the 50 and 60s during the day and when the sun was out the Guide jacket just wasn’t needed.
A tip I heard from listening to the Meateater Podcast and it became apparent on this trip is to start your hike with the least amount of clothes as possible. To the point of being uncomfortably cold before starting out. You can always add more layers. Once you start sweating a lot with multiple layers on your going to get cold and it will be difficult to warm back up.
Just like the pants, the jacket is fleeced lined and is geared toward a late season type of hunt. I’m a big fan of hooded jackets and this hood works well. Also, a huge perk on the Guide jacket is, it is equipped with arm pit zippers to help dump heat when needed. As mentioned the couple times I wore the jacket was to cut the wind. I would keep the arm pit zippers open so I wouldn’t over heat and it worked great.
Jacket has plenty of pockets as well. It’s a great jacket but now knowing what I know now I would have left the jacket back at camp or even back at the trail head in the SUV.
The Peloton 240 hooded jacket became my favorite piece of clothing that I brought on the hunt. It was my go to piece of clothing mainly for its versatility. If we stopped to glass I could throw it on and with the hood over my head help keep in the heat, its pretty good at blocking the wind, and it is very breathable if your wear it while hiking. Also, if we were going to be setup in once place for a couple hours I would use this jacket as a mid-layer between the merino wool and puffy jacket.
It is a very useful jacket for any type of situation. It’s fleeced line as well and has thumb holes which really comes in handy if your are using it as a mid-layer to help it slide under an outer jacket. If Kuiu put arm pit zippers on this jacket I would be in love!
On the hiking trip with my wife I mentioned above we checked out some national parks and forests. I brought this jacket along for the trip as well and by the end of it she was stealing it from me for our hikes.
As my insulation layer I brought my green Eddie Bauer puffy. Personally I think Eddie Bauer makes some pretty good gear. I usually bring it with me on a cold hike but this was the first time I used it for a hunt and was pleased with how it performed.
This also doubled as my pillow and worked well stuffed in its carry sack. Using a puffy jacket is like wrapping yourself in your own personal oven. It can make a huge difference!
This year I started wearing my puffy on my whitetail hunts when I would get cold. Previously, I couldn’t take it anymore and climb down because I would get to a point where I couldn’t warm up. Now once I start to feel chilly I put that on and am good to go. If archery hunting I recommend wearing some time of jacket over the puffy as it does have the downfall of being noisy
For my thermal garments I wore merino wool from Meriwool. This included a long sleeve shirt, leggings, and underwear. Merino wool has honestly changed the way I hunt, hike, and think about layering. Like a lot of you growing up it was put as many layers on as possible. It seemed like the more layers I put on the colder I actually got.
It didn’t hit me until I was in my late 20s when I started to read/listen up on proper layering techniques and the importance of having a moisture wicking, breathable thermal layer. Now, I wear only a couple of layers and am much warmer than I ever have been. It makes a huge difference.
Also, merino wool is antibacterial so the garments don’t stink like a synthetic thermal layer will. I actually only brought one pair of Meriwool underwear for this 6 day hunt. Sounds crazy but it really is true. This is due to the Lanolin wax this is produced by the sheep’s glands that is in the wool. This Lanolin is what prevents bacteria from growing.
Looking back on the hunt I needed to improve in the area of food the most. I thought I was prepared and would be ok but going into the 4th or 5th day I was starving. Personally, I am never a big eater when I am continuously active. At home, I tend to eat 4 or 5 small meals a day and snack a lot.
I used this mindset when I was planning out my meals and the research I had done everyone had said you never eat a bunch while out on the hunt. For this first couple days this was true but eventually the amount of calories I was burning a day caught up and I didn’t eat enough food to cover that gap.
Here is a breakdown of the daily portions I had each day. Each day was broken down into 1 gallon zip lock bags. As we were in bear country we tied up our food each night. My thought process was I could grab 1 bag a day and would have everything I needed. This process worked great.
In each bag I had a freeze-dried breakfast, 2 tuna packets, a snack size trail mix, 2 snack size candy bars, and 3 small jerky sticks. What really hurt me I think was my freeze-dried breakfast was a granola and blueberry mix. I had packed 1 breakfast skillet and wish I would have packed more. I didn’t give my body enough fuel for breakfast to start the day. Also, I should have had 4 tuna packets per bag or packed a freeze-dried dinner instead.
You never know until your try and food preparation was a large learning curve. I feel much more confident though for my next trip.
Any tips you have for food preparation leave me a comment below. I’d like to know your process. I need to improve in this area.
Trekking Poles: This is an overlooked item that will save your legs. Being a younger guy I initially thought “No problem, I don’t need trekking poles. I’ll be fine.” I’m glad I didn’t listen to myself. I read an article that stated using trekking poles will take approx. 10% of the weight off your legs. Simple math, if you’re carrying 50lbs that’s 5lbs! It really makes a difference when your are hiking for hours during the day.
Also, being able to have the added stability of 1 or 2 poles can make a world of difference. Stepping over a log with a weighted pack, crossing a creek, finding your footing on the side of a mountain, the list goes on and on. No matter how old you are get a pair of trekking poles and you can thank me later.
Tri-Pod: Another item worth its weight is a tripod for glassing. Spending hours glassing at a time will wear on your arms and shoulders while your trying to support your binos. Besides saving your muscles a tripod is a much steadier option than holding your binos by hand. The more your move the less clear your picture is. Steady glass reveals more animals.
Water Filtration: I took 2 types of water purification with me on this hunt. I borrowed my brothers water pump and also brought along tablets. Looking back I would have left the water pump at home and only used the tablets. We camped next to a creek. This meant having a water supply was never an issue. Using the tablets was easier and faster than pumping. Also, I didn’t mind the taste of the iodine tablets. If your know water is plentiful I would just take tablets.
GPS/Phone: I carried both my phone and a GPS as back up. Both devices had the OnX app or chip. Because I had terrible cell reception my cousin and I both downloaded the specific area we planned to hunt on our phones before the trip via the OnX app. This worked great and I recommend doing this even as a back up. Never know when you will be in a canyon and not have reception.
Sunglasses: Keep a cheap pair in your pack. Nice to have on hand.
Neoprene Wading Socks: This was a spur of the moment purchase that paid off. Bought these the day before the hunt. Worked great when we tried to stalk in a stand of pines we thought elk were bedded in. Also, in a pinch they work pretty good as camp shoes when I let my boots dry out. Main purpose we bought these was to wear them for deep creek crossings to save our boots and socks from getting wet.
Sling Shot: This is an item I wish I would have brought. We came across grouse daily and you can basically walk right up on them. Having a sling shot would have secured dinner for us just about every night.
Camp Sandals: Another item I wish I had packed. As I mentioned above the neoprene socks worked but having a pair of sandals to wear around camp would have been a nice luxury item.
Wrapping It Up
As I sit here writing this article I wish I was back out there. Every time I look at a picture from the trip, I close my eyes and I’m back on the mountain. The musty, barn yard smell of elk, the bugle from a distant bull, the sound of the creek next to my tent as I faded off into sleep, and the encounter we had with a moose at 15 yards all come rushing back.
If your are on the fence about going I can’t push you enough to go. Don’t worry about not having the best gear, a premium tag, or anything else that may hold your back. Just go! You’re going to have a great time and no matter what happens a memory you will never forget.
Borrow gear, or rent gear if you have to. I borrowed a tent, rifle, GPS, water pump, and bino harness. Down the road purchase those items. You may never have an opportunity to go on a hunt again so make the most of what you have.
If you any other questions please feel free to leave a comment. Have another tip or piece of gear you think would be helpful? Let me know below.
Best of luck on your next adventure.