Part of the fun of planning for a big game hunt is researching new gear and gadgets and then spending time sorting and packing everything that you will ultimately take on the trip. We all know the drill when it comes things like a sleeping bag, boots, rifle, binoculars, first aid kit and other staples, but over the last 25 years I have added some not-so-apparent pieces of gear to my what-to-bring list.
And while I obviously have an affinity for all things Boyt, Bob Allen, Mud River and The Outdoor Connection, there are a few other branded products from other companies that I won't leave home without. Some may seem unconventional and others might seem completely unnecessary, but all of them will go a long way toward making your next hunt more enjoyable.
Have a look at SurvivalCooking.com for a review on the best binoculars for hunting, as well as other tips for your survival needs.
Alcohol Prep Pads
They are great for any number of tasks around camp and on the hunt, with the added benefit of being lightweight, compact and disposable. They work well for cleaning grime and smudges off of optics and reading glasses, prepping synthetic surfaces like tents and air mattresses for a patch, wiping your hands, face and other sensitive areas clean of sweat and grime and can even be used in a pinch as a bore patch, toilet paper, or emergency fire starter. I generally go through at least four or five a day. Get the largest size you can find in the individual foil packs.
Full Size Backpack
Many hunters tend to choose backpacks that are too small to adequately hold everything needed for a 10 day excursion in the mountains. Indeed, many trekking guides tell clients to buy the smallest packs they can get by with but the opposite is true in sheep hunting. With all of the high strength, lightweight technical fabrics available in today's gear market, there is no upside to a small backpack. With 50 and 60 liter packs weighing in as light as four pounds, why settle for a small pack? Even on horseback hunts, where a larger pack is a little less critical, you will still need something that can carry all of your gear in one container. If wanting to upgrade your current backpack to one that can be more suitable for long hikes and hunts, take a look around at some of these rucksacks compiled and reviewed for 2020, as just one example. Showing up for a hunt with multiple duffel bags that have to be packed and repacked on horses each day or stuffed in and out of Super Cubs just isn't cool and will generally get a roll of the eyes from the outfitter, pilot, guide and wrangler. Once you get to camp and unload those bulky items like your sleeping bag and tent, a large pack can easily compress down and comfortably double as a day pack to carry rain gear, optics, lunch and water while you are hunting. You can always pack a full size pack with more than you need but you can never get enough of what you need in a small pack. When packing a sleeping bag, you may want to consider something like these double sleeping bags which offer comfort at a reasonable price.
Merino wool beanie
This little piece of merino magic is my go to headgear choice for pretty much every hunt. I opt for the lightest weight I can find and have used a Kuiu Ultra 145 beanie the last two seasons from Sonora to the far north Artic with great results. These little beanies provide just the right amount of warmth under a rain hood without being bulky. They are great for sleeping in when the temps drop down into the nowhere land of 30s and 40s, too cold for a bare head but too warm to zip into a sleeping bag hood. They weigh virtually nothing; mine seldom leaves my head but when you are not wearing it, it easily fits in a pants pocket.
Most hunters would rather leave lugging around a tripod to someone else but I found out several years back that it is much better to pack your own. Having one that doubles as a rifle rest is especially beneficial. After several years of trying to modify carbon fiber camera models, I finally broke down and purchased a tripod and rifle rest system from Outdoorsmans in Phoenix, AZ. A lot of thought and effort went into this design and at only 34 ounces, it is still lighter than most carbon fiber tripods of the same size. The pan head adds another 10.2 ounces, add in the rifle rest plate and rear support arm and the whole system is still only about 3.5 pounds total. Since sheep hunting often comes down to hours and hours of glassing followed by a long distance shot, this double-duty tripod has you covered for both.
Thermarest NeoAir Micro Inflator
If you get tired of blowing up your air mattress every night, this handy inflator may help ease the pain. It uses a tiny little fan powered by two AAA batteries and a silicone coupler to inflate an air mattress in about five minutes. I still have to give five or six breaths to get my mattress where I want it and be forewarned that it is not very powerful; that being said, it is still better then huffing and puffing and the batteries can be pirated in a pinch for headlamps and reading lights. It can also be used to dry out wet boots.
One of the best investments that I ever made was a large assortment of Eagle Creek and Granite Mountain packing system bags. There is nothing that goes into my pack that is not completely organized into a proper sized bag and then marked with a sharpie so I know what it is without taking it out to check. First Aid kit, Sat phone, repair kit, ammo, eating utensils, Mountain House organized in two bags by breakfast or dinner, socks and underwear and literally everything else in my pack is easily identifiable, organized and clean. When you get to camp, simply stack them in the tent or cabin corner and enjoy the day. It makes repacking each morning really painless as well. Getting a system tuned to these bags is one of the best moves I have ever made and they are so lightweight, I could not even get the small sizes to register on a postal scale.
No offense to any of my hunting partners, but most of you smell pretty bad after three days of sheep hunting, and you all snore and fart loudly as well. As much as I love hunting with you, I am not a roommate kind of guy. Most guides are not the roommate type either and are happy to see clients show up with their own tents. Just don't go overboard size wise, keep it compact and under four pounds. The market is full of small two person and one person tents made from quality, waterproof fabrics that fit the bill.
Reference the farting and smelling part in the tent paragraph above. Enough said.
I used to think that Crocs were the most ridiculous footwear ever invented and had no use or place on a hunting trip. But as in many aspects of life, performance does not equate to pretty. They are lightweight, easy to clean, comfortable and slip on and off without little or no effort. At the end of the day, pull your boots off, hang your socks to dry and slide into your Crocs. Take an ice cold bath in a mountain lake, forge a roaring river-just pull up the heel strap and go. They even come in popular camo patterns for those fashion conscious hunters who like to match their shoes to their outfits.
Gun cleaning kit
Anyone who owns a firearm should be well acquainted with the dangers associated with improper maintenance. Without cleaning your gun regularly, you risk lowering its accuracy, lifespan and there's even the potential for catastrophic failure which puts you in harm's way. Investing in something like a cleaning kit, like those found on Smartguncleaning.com, can help to mitigate these from occurring and allow your hunting trip to take place unimpeded by a poorly-maintained firearm. Last on the list is the list itself! I am always amazed at hunters (self-included) who spend months prepping a kit for a major hunt who then go off and leave an essential piece of equipment lying on the kitchen table. A comprehensive list that can be checked off as you pack will go a long way to ensure a safe, comfortable and successful hunt.
Until next time, Tony Caligiuri