Although we have just come out of winter, the fall hunting seasons will be sneaking up before we know it. It’s never too early to start planning for your fall trips and the gear you will need to bring.
It seems like there’s always something I need to buy for the season. For any piece of gear I’m considering, I usually evaluate it using these simple principals. If any piece of gear meets each of these six criteria, it’s a good bet that it will work for me. It’s always a smart idea to research the different products you’re looking at and, best of all, talk to people who have used them on the same type of hunt you are planning. But evaluating your potential choices in these categories is a good start.
This is kind of a no brainer, but you’d be surprised what kind of crap people sometimes try to take on the mountain. You don’t want to take anything that will easily break, shred, or otherwise become damaged. Basically, any gear you will be taking (boots, packs, clothing, etc.) all need to be able to handle some rough treatment. Look for potential weak spots or flaws that could put this gear out of commission before you risk your hunt on it. Backpack hunting gear needs to be able to take a beating and still keep functioning.
Any backcountry gear needs to be able to withstand and function in bad weather, especially here in Alaska. Sometimes big storms won’t be a part of your hunt, but that’s in a perfect world. Consider where you are hunting and the worst scenarios you might encounter. Then plan for that. You may want a stove that will burn even when it’s very windy, as well as a rifle or bow and optics that can withstand moisture or other weather conditions you might face.
This is a big factor for me in evaluating potential gear choices. You want to limit Murphy’s chances to ruin your hunt on the mountain. When you can find the simplest option to fulfill your gear needs, that’s usually the best one. Basic gear will also make you more efficient. You can waste a surprising amount of time constantly rifling through pockets or fiddling with accessories when a more straightforward option would be easier and faster. Contemporary marketing often likes to add all kinds of gizmos, gadgets, and options, but keep in mind that additional features can often be additional failure points.
When evaluating gear that you’ll have to carry on your back, you want to consider both its weight, and how easily you’ll be able to fit it in your pack with everything else. Tents, sleeping bags, clothing, and food seem to take up the most space, and you can also cut a significant amount of weight from your load by optimizing these. Consider the weight of every item. With a few items it can pay off to opt for a slightly heavier model, but there are still plenty of areas that can be trimmed down.
Dependable backcountry gear doesn’t usually come cheap, but price is still something to consider. There are areas like boots, packs, and optics that are well worth spending a few extra dollars on, but there’s also a lot of grossly overpriced gear out there. You don’t want to skimp and waste money on shoddy gear that will leave you hanging, but if you shop around, you can usually find gear that will fit your needs just fine for much cheaper than the newest and fanciest available.
6. Gut Feeling
Backpack hunting is an endeavor that typically involves a significant cost: sometimes in money, but always in time and effort. At the end of the day, you need to be able to trust that your gear will work when you need it. More often than not, the previous five categories will disqualify some potential choices. But sometimes everything in my inventory seems to be okay, except I have a bad feeling about it for one reason or another. If you experience that feeling, don’t buy it. If nothing else, it’s one less worry in the back of your mind.
One example was a set of breathable rain gear that my buddy Frank bought for our sheep hunt last year. It was from a reputable brand, lightweight, and packable. I was a little skeptical, however, and sure enough, after its first hard exposure to nasty weather, it leaked like an old barn roof. Even if it doesn’t always seem rational, if you have a bad feeling about something, listen to your gut.
This article first appeared in www.outdoorlife.com