Building your hunting pack; it's like a game of Tetris. Not only will your pack differ from turkeys to elk, but you will also have to pack for time, season, and type of hunt. Will the hunt be just for the day? Or is it going to be a two-week survival excursion?
Many hunts need separate gear. You might pack your elk bugle for a turkey hunt because it works well as a shock gobble and is good for practice, but you probably aren't going to pack a portable backpack stove to cook a meal on a 5-hour whitetail hunt.
Over time you'll learn what is a staple in your pack and what isn't. But to shorten the learning curve, there is a way to set up your bag to keep your shopping list short and your pack light. Who knows, it may even save you a sore back.
When discussing pack size, it's important to consider what type of hunt you're going on. On a typical out of the tree whitetail hunt, a pack may only be carried for an hour or two on a hike in and out. But on a western style deer or elk hunt, that same pack may not often leave your back.
A good rule of thumb for injury prevention is to keep your pack under 15% of your body weight. A bag that light is challenging to pack on any hunt, let alone a multi-day trip! That means if you're 180 lbs, you should only consistently carry a pack that weighs 27 lbs! If you're packing a lot of food or taking camp with you everywhere, burnout and injury can happen quickly. This is why strength and endurance exercise is so helpful in Western hunting.
The lightweight gear you put into that pack is very important; 27 lbs is a rather light pack. Think of things you will need on every hunt, like food, a kill kit, first aid, and water get priority. Make a list of any items that could be optional.
Also, tweak things to make them lighter. For example, if you know you will pass a few water sources, bring a water filter to lessen the water weight you will carry. For food, leave meals that need a portable stove back in camp and take dry cold food instead.
For a typical whitetail hunt, purchase a pack that can easily fit everything from your game bags to your bow. Leave room for deer quarters if you enjoy a pack out versus drag and hate to take multiple trips in and out! I am one of those people, and a 2300 cubic inch pack is about right for me.
For a multi-day elk hunt, your pack will very likely exceed a "recommended" weight. If you're packing in with a tent, food for 5 to 7 days, and all of your hunting gear, there isn't a good way to avoid that. You may be carrying a 5500 to 7500 cubic inch pack. Make sure the pack you choose has an excellent load lift and a way to tuck in unused parts. Once you unpack your camp and don't need to carry it, you won't want the extra pack material flopping around while hunting.
The takeaways for a well rounded hunting pack include physical preparation, thoughtfulness to the weight of all gear inside the pack, length of hunt or hike, and how you will add to the pack if your hunt is successful.
Anyone who hunts is prone to bring more than is needed on most hunts. Most of us can't really help but be gear junkies. There is always something advertised as the best kept secret in hunting. When you've found a system that works for you, stick with it. More often than not, familiarity with your pack and what is in it will help you use your gear better and hunt more efficiently.
Author: Aaron Hepler, Exodus Black Hats Team Member