It’s March and most of us have been cooped up for a few months dreaming of getting back outside after most of the snow clears. I don’t think I’m alone in saying I get cabin fever-ish this time of year. It seems like good medicine to go through and revisit the gear I will be using while daydreaming about upcoming trips. I put links to all the gear companies at the end of the article.
GEAR I USE AND REALLY LIKE
Kennetrek boots. I’ve had these for a little over a year now and love them. They’re a little spendy, but over the years I’ve come to the realization that I have never regretted spending a little much on outdoor gear. It seems you get what you pay for. Every foot is different, certainly try boots on before buying. I’ve tried on many pairs of other high-end hikers and could not get them to fit my wide Hobbit feet. I’m glad I kept looking. Kennetrek makes nice gators too. They are sturdy, waterproof, and quiet.
Kifaru packs. I’ve had their Spikecamp daypack since 2003 and keep going back to it. I use it hunting, hiking, family vacations, as a carryon, and a bugout bag in the Army (including a year in Afghanistan). They make a shelf attachment that I have packed elk meat on. The shelf is functional but not an ideal meat hauler. Plus, I usually have more hunting to do after packing one animal and prefer not to get my daypack covered with dead animal scent. A 25-pound plate fits snug inside a Spikecamp (for training or sadism, depending on your point of view) as do most laptops.
I have Kifaru’s Longhunter meat hauler and love that. It’s the most comfortable meat pack I’ve worn, I’ve packed elk, deer, moose, and occasionally one of my kids around on it. I usually strap a 35-pound plate onto mine for training. I recently ordered the backpack that goes onto the Longhunter hauler frame for an upcoming backpack hunt. I can’t wait to try it out.
Kifaru makes tipi tents, sleds for hauling gear in the snow, and various other accouterments that all look very well made and functional. Kifaru manufactures all their gear in Colorado. Have you ever heard of Mountainsmith packs? Patrick Smith, the gent who started Mountainsmith, spun off the Kifaru brand for hunters and military purposes.
Wiggy’s sleeping bags. They make them right here in Grand Junction. They’re synthetic, not down, so will still keep you warm if you get wet. They compact down to an amazingly small volume to squeeze into your pack. There are lighter bags out there, but I’m willing to carry a bit more weight to give myself the option of not freezing to death if I get completely soaked. I think Wiggy’s still has some military contracts for sleeping bags too.
Eberlestock packs. I know, how many packs does a guy need? Eberlestock makes many packs from small to large, but their unique feature is their rifle scabbard that rides right down the wearer’s spine. It is, hand-down, the most comfortable way to carry a rifle all day. For those of us who are starting to see a little gray in their whiskers and have some old back/neck injuries, load symmetry is the name of the game. I feel way better at the end of a day toting my rifle in an Eberlestock than if I had it slung over my shoulder. This setup also allows your hands to be free for trekking poles, elk calls, catching yourself from falling off a cliff, etc.
Leupold binoculars. You can go crazy spending money on binoculars. I like the Leupold mid-range Wind River models. They’re good glass and not priced so high that a person would be scared to take them out of the truck! Where I hunt, we typically look through our binos at least 100 minutes for every one minute looking through our rifle scopes. So I always tell people to get a reliable scope, but spend your bigger money on your binos since you put way more time behind them.
Leupold rifle scopes. These all have a lifetime warranty and are very, very, reliable. I like their basic VX-1 models for the reason outlined above. It’s Leupold, but certainly not their top of the line glass. In my opinion, reliability is the number one criteria for scopes. I am a bit of a control freak so when I hit or miss a rifle shot, I want to know it was all me, I don’t want any question about my rifle, scope, or bullet being awry. For this same reason, I also use…
Nosler bullets. There are seemingly infinite choices of quality big game bullets out there. It seems like manufacturers are getting closer every year to the ideal bullet that works in every condition on any game. For now, I still shoot the relatively boring Nosler Partition bullet. They have been performing reliably on game for decades. They have always flown surprisingly well out of my .300 Remington Ultra Mag, so I’ve never had a need to experiment with any other bullet. I use target turrets and a laser rangefinder and, when conditions are good, consistently hit plate-sized targets out to 800 yards with 180g Partitions out of my 26” SS factory barrel. Living in the desert provides good opportunities for plinking rocks at long ranges.
Helly Hansen rain gear. I ordered a set of their Impertech five years ago and it’s still holding up very well. It’s rubberized, completely waterproof and not breathable like goretex. Anyone who’s been out all day in rain and/or wet snow, you know a saturated Gore-Tex or other breathable fabric is really no picnic. It may be waterproof, but it still gets heavy, and is not pleasant to wear after a full soaking. I prefer to pack my raingear around with me and put it on for when the rain/snow really starts coming down.
SPOT Personal Locator Beacon. If you ever find yourself hunting, scouting, hiking, or just out alone, please do yourself a favor and invest in one of these. They’re simple and they work. I occasionally volunteer with our local Search and Rescue and can truthfully say these have saved at least a couple lives in my County. You can even set it up to post your location to your Facebook wall if you’re so inclined!
Taurus Judge .410/.45LC pistol. This is a great camp gun. The .45LC round is great for most critters who may take an interest in any meat you’re packing out. And the .410 is good for snakes and birds up close. For whatever reason, mountain grouse seem to always be more than willing to let you get nice and close before they fly off. It is small and light (it’s only a 5-shooter) so the recoil is brisk. It seems there are many folks out there who love the idea of a .410 buckshot round for personal defense against malicious two-legged critters. I’ve never understood that logic myself, a 2.5-inch .410 buckshot round usually has three pellets. That load from a three-inch barrel won’t pattern decently beyond a few feet. You may as well just use harsh language. Again, in my opinion, a .410 load is for snakes and birds. Defense against the zombie apocalypse is a whole other conversation.
JetBoil Stove. I love mine. It’s simple, compact, and boils water amazingly fast. I never liked the various other lightweight backpackers stoves with the bottle of fuel, flexible supply line, pumping the plunger, and all the associated headaches. Often, when you want hot water in the boondocks, you’re bordering on miserable in the first place and you want simple and fast operation.
Honda ATV. I won’t buy any other brand. In my opinion, they are the most reliable. They may not have the snazziest features of some other models, and they’re priced a little higher when you compare apples to apples with respect to options. They do hold their resell value quite well. When a person goes way out alone, reliability is the number one criteria, so I give Honda the nod. I mainly drive a 500, it’s big enough to haul two adults and a quartered elk. It’s also small enough I can pick up the rear end and swing it around 180 degrees if I get in a tight spot. I figure they are the Nosler Partition of ATVs. They are boring, but get the job done consistently.
Steripen water purifier. We took mine on a two-week drop camp in AK as a backup if our water filter crapped out, and…our water filter crapped out. We kept the Steripen busy making drinking water. You do have to read and follow the directions, but it was fast and neither of us got sick. One word of caution, if you dip your water bottle I raw water then purify the water inside, that still leaves raw water around the bottle’s rim. So wipe it off before you put it to your lips!
CHEAP GEAR THAT WORKS SURPRISINGLY WELL
Jansport (or any decent brand) internal frame backpack. I bought a low-end backpacking pack in the mid 1990’s and have used it mainly for packing meat! A boned out elk quarter fits quite well inside and the whole thing snugs down nice and tight for travel. Even a bone-in quarter from a cow elk will fit inside most internal frame packs. If you use a good game bag (see below), it won’t get too nasty inside the pack. I tell people wanting to start elk hunting to just hit the yard sales and pick up any large internal-frame backpack that is in decent shape (look for rotted seams and thread) and fits you well with a big load. Odds are, if your yard sale has backpacks, there will also be dumbells or weight plates nearby too! When starting out, spend your money on good boots and glass instead of an expensive meat pack.
Homemade game bags. My lovely wife sewed together some old sheets into gamebags for me. We sized them as a pillowcase large enough to stand in and pull it up to mid-chest. They work great. Plus, if you use some ridiculously-printed sheets, your hunting buddies will never “accidentally” make off with your game bags at the end of the hunt. Don’t transport game meat inside plastic bags for any longer than you have to.
Homemade shooting sticks. A local sporting goods store has a big grab-box of various sizes of miscellaneous shock-corded tent poles. With a few dollars, a hacksaw, and a little imagination, you can make your own custom shooting sticks in bipod or tripod setup.
Non-orange flagging. Flagging tape is great for a number of uses, but everyone uses orange. Do yourself a favor and go to a local survey or contractors supply store and get the most outlandish color you can find. Remember, in the fall, much of the foliage is orange and yellow so those colors may not be ideal. I like the striped flagging when it’s available.
Wool. Socks, gloves, hats, underwear, anything. Wool often gets forgotten about in the age of snazzy synthetics. But it wears hard, stays warm when wet, doesn’t get as nasty of a funk as some synthetic undergarments, and I find the socks hold up better to the dryer than synthetics. I know, you’re not supposed to dry any of it in the dryer, but I’m just being honest. Tumble happens. Smartwool out of Steamboat Springs, CO makes some nice stuff.
GEAR I HAVE RESEARCHED AND REALLY MUST HAVE SOMEDAY
Seek Outside tipi tents. I just found these guys. Their tents seem quite like the Kifaru tipis with a little different twist on material and configuration. They’re out of Ouray, CO, which is close to my home town, and their price point appears a little lower than Kifaru.
Swarovski binoculars. These are all very nice, very bright, very crisp, and very expensive. Someday.
Bell and Carlson rifle stocks. I really need a lighter stock on my .300 RUM if I’m going to take it on a backpack hunt. Stocky’s Stocks has great information and prices on stocks of many shapes and sizes. There are more expensive and likely nicer synthetic stocks out there, but I don’t shoot hundreds or thousands of rounds per year like a lot of serious shooters. I just want lighter and good quality. I own one McMillan stock on a .270Win. It is nice, but for the money B&C looks like just the ticket.
I thought it can’t hurt to share the knowledge/opinions I’ve gained after spending more than a little time outdoors. I don’t get anything in return from any of these companies. And my evaluations are based on small statistical data samplings, i.e. just the stuff I buy and use. Your mileage may vary. Good luck!
Stockys Stocks website