First, Garret “Dirt Myth” Smith broke down his Five Mandatory Items. Now, we’ve brought on Mark Boardman, Marketing Manager at Vortex Optics, with his take on the best items to bring into the backcountry. The crew at MeatEater has tacked on their favorite brands to help guide anyone looking to build or upgrade their kit. Wading through gear options for a hunt can be a daunting task—and on a western hunt, where tall mountains, open landscapes, and huge tracts of land present unique challenges—the right equipment can make all the difference. Below are 5 under-the-radar pieces of gear that may not jump out as essential, but should be given consideration.
1. Trekking Poles
I’ll admit, the first time I saw my good hunting buddy using trekking poles, I questioned his ability to pee standing up. Then I tried them. Today, if I’m hitting the mountains, they make the gear cut every time. Trekking poles distribute the work between your legs and arms, as well as provide balance and stability in rough, steep country. From a safety standpoint, they have saved me from some nasty spills on several occasions. Good trekking poles are like always having that perfectly placed piece of brush to pull yourself up when you need it. Some shelters are designed to be erected with trekking poles, giving them valuable dual-purpose status. They really do make sense. The game we chase has four legs (coincidence, I think not) and they are ideally suited for the terrain they inhabit. They cover ground, and what we consider highly technical terrain, with ease. Give yourself the same advantage with a set of trekking poles.
MeatEater’s Brand of Choice: Black Diamond Trekking Poles
Hunting out west can take you miles from camp, or the mode of transportation you rode in on. Unexpected stays overnight are not uncommon. A quality, lightweight, waterproof, compact shelter and sleeping bag will be literally worth their weight in gold if you end up needing them. Getting lost, rapidly changing weather conditions, following a poorly hit animal, wanting to sit on game located at last light, or just staying out later than you originally intended for a myriad of reasons can lead to a night in the woods. Being prepared to spend the night provides peace of mind, as well as the freedom to adapt to changing conditions—and it may save your life. MeatEater’s Brand of Choice: Seek Outside
It’s always a good idea to tote a 50 ft. length of para-cord. It can sit next to your small roll of Duct Tape—which should have a place in you pack as well. At some point, you will end up needing both. Can I tell you what for? Nope, but they will come in handy. Some common uses include lashing down/hanging meat, fixing tent poles, and patching holes in clothing and shelters. Paul, in our office, used a length of para-cord tied to a root as “get back up where I came down” insurance when recovering a Wyoming mountain goat. It was a good thing he thought ahead or his day could have turned out very differently. That benign looking piece of nylon rope now sits on the base of his full-body goat mount with great significance.
4. Quality Optics
Ultimately, you’re going to need to be able to find, and hopefully kill your quarry. That’s what led you into the filed in the first place right? Optics adequate for Midwest treestand hunting may not be the best choice for your hunt out west. Optics are exponentially more important in the vast landscapes of the west and paramount to success. For glassing, you’ll want a high quality 10x, 12x, or even 15x binocular, but a spotting scope and tripod can often be equally necessary.
Long shots are common, so you’re going to need a solid rangefinder to relay accurate distance readings. If rifle hunting, a riflescope capable of dialing elevation to maximize your effective range and learning how to use it is a very smart investment.
When setting up shop to glass, don’t resign your tripod solely to spotting scope work. You can benefit greatly by using it in conjunction with your binoculars as well. Doing this not only makes you a much more efficient glasser, but further justifies the weight and space commitment of the tripod. MeatEater’s Brand of Choice: Vortex Optics
5. A Good Backpack
Hunting out west is gear-intensive and you’re going to need something built to comfortably haul heavy loads. This includes everything you need to bring in; and quite possibly additional loads of meat out. Just because it comes in camo doesn’t mean the pack will work well on a western hunt. I’ve witnessed hunters on their first western hunt with the pack they “always use” only to be miserably uncomfortable and ill-equipped. Basic things to look for are a comfortable and properly fitting hip belt, the correct fit for your torso length, optimal lumbar support, durable, yet lightweight materials, quality suspension system/load lifters, functional/practical pocket configuration, and enough capacity to accommodate your hauling needs. Many of the larger high-quality packs compress down to compact lightweight packages when empty or partially full, making them perfect for day trips, as well as extended hunts. MeatEater’s Brand of Choice: Stone Glacier