5 Tips for the Aspiring Backpack Hunting
By Brad Brooks
I went on my first backpack hunt simply to get away from other hunters. I was tired of hunting animals that were responding to humans, and I wanted to hunt game that weren’t constantly being harassed by other hunters.
That first backpack trip was miserable. My pack was felt like I had filled it with bricks, I didn’t prepare well, and I came home empty handed. But, I had a great time and it lit a fire for adventure in me that continues to this day.
A lot of people like the idea of a backpack hunt, but never actually get out and do it. Backpack hunting isn’t for everyone, but it is an incredible way to hunt and I truly believe it is a style of hunting that can be enjoyed by many hunters, not just the hunters who were born with a penchant for pain and suffering.
The idea of packing in for a big game hunt is a difficult mental hurdle for many hunters to overcome. The logistics of hauling all of your camping and hunting gear, let alone hauling out an animal on top of that keep many hunters from taking the leap. I didn’t start out backpack hunting, but I’ve grown to love it and it is a style of hunting that can be accessible to a broad swath of the hunting population.
If you like the idea of a backpack hunt, but are struggling to figure out how to start, these are what I believe are the high level steps you need to take to get from “I’d like to”, to “I’m going”:
1. Fully commit yourself
When it comes to backpack hunting, there is no such thing as trying. You are either going to do it, or you aren’t. Many people talk about going on a backpack hunt, but mentally they have one foot in and one foot out, and when the slightest opportunity arises, they latch on to an excuse. This is not meant to be a punch in the gut, or an arrogant guilt trip, but if you really want to experience a backpack hunt, the first step is deciding to do it, and not allowing yourself to wiggle out.
This step sounds simple, but I can’t stress how important it is to commit yourself mentally before anything else. Whether you plan to pack in 1 mile or 10 miles, just make it happen and don’t let your ego come up with reasons why you should just hunt from the road. I can think of any number of reasons not to do something hard, but it’s much more difficult to not let your excuses control your actions. If you can make the commitment (and mean it), you’re ahead of most hunters.
2. Get in shape
Notice I didn’t say you need six pack abs, and biceps that can crush a Toyota Yaris. You don’t need to do CrossFit, bench 300 pounds or take supplements. But you do need to have a decent fitness level, and you need to train. I realize the current hunting fitness fad is off-putting to many hunters, but fear not. You can be fit enough to backpack hunt without feeling like you also need to be ready for a weight lifting competition.
What you do need to do is have a healthy lifestyle and a regular workout regimen that is exercise specific enough to mimic the strength and endurance you will experience on your hunt. You don’t want the first time you put on weight and climb up a mountain to be opening day, or you will likely be miserable. We will get into this more in the future, but there is no getting around this one.
3. Get the right gear
Modern technology has resulted in gear your grandfather would have killed for, and it literally can make or break your hunt. A pack that weighs 20 or 30 lbs. versus a 60 or 70 lb. pack will determine how far you are willing to walk and how much fun you have. Yes, you are going to have to spend a little money, but if you prioritize hunting over that six pack of microbrew beer ever week, you can afford quality, lightweight gear that will last for many years. Most people will spend thousands on guns, bows and optics, but balk at the thought of paying a little more for a quality, lightweight backpack and a good pair of boots. Figure out what you need, and build a budget that allows you to purchase quality, lightweight gear.
4. Set realistic expectations
Eight miles might not sound that far in your head, but eight miles with 4,000 ft. of elevation gain/loss can be brutal no matter how fit you are. Pick a distance to backpack that is manageable and realistic. You wouldn’t start road biking by completing the Tour de France, and you shouldn’t bite off more than you can chew with a backpack hunt. It’s possible to carry out a boned out mule deer and camp in one trip, but it sucks. A decent bull elk boned out is easily going to be two or three trips to pack out by yourself if you are also packing a camp. Make sure you carve out enough time to pack in, hunt, and pack out an animal.
5. Plan on suffering (a little)
Backpack hunting isn’t like staying at a Ramada. With the right lightweight gear, you can be relatively comfortable in the backcountry, but don’t expect pancakes and sausage for breakfast. You are going into the backcountry for an adventure, and a fun hunting trip. Mentally prepare yourself for unplanned events, like a snowstorm, and don’t get scared out of the mountains by them. Relish in the adventure and don’t let small things like your sleeping pad getting punctured ruin your trip.