As I reflect back over the last several years of elk hunting I can honestly say, I've learn more by making mistakes than I have researching, reading, watching videos, and listening to podcasts. This holds especially true when it comes to my western gear systems.
Let me provide some context here. I am a western novice but quickly honing my elk hunting skills and knowledge. I've spend the last 15 years dialing in my whitetail game across the US. I have different gear systems for hunting whitetail in the big woods, agricultural ground, swamps, etc and I've learned I also need a specific system for different western hunts as well.
The challenge with western hunting gear, whether it be something key like a water filtration system or something really personable like your hunting arrows, each item needs to fit your hunt, hunting style, and preferences. We all hunting different, regardless of what tag we hold in our pockets. With that said, for whitetail guys heading west there are several items of gear that I feel are overlooked when considering the cost vs the hunt impact or in other words the juice is darn good for the squeeze.
Here are 3 inexpensive pieces of western hunting gear that will make a big impact on your next hunt!
1. Boot Insoles
If you plan to have a successful hunt as a western rookie, even outside of digital scouting, you will likely have to cover lots of ground. Areas are vast and animal densities seem to be in pockets. It not uncommon to donate boot leather on 10+ mile days in harsh terrain while carrying a pack. You better be physically capable of that output and also be prepared for proper recovery. Aftermarket boot insoles are one product that I've found that truly make a difference over a longer hunt, both in physical output and recovery.
There's a giant range of orthotic products with just as big of cost variety. Custom orthotics are no small purchase however from my experience just about anything is better than the flat cardboard insoles that come stock in your expensive boots. It seem crazy that you can spend $400 or more on a pair of hiking boots and still have the need to upgrade insoles. While it seems to me that good elk hunters "suffer well" having aftermarket insoles reduce that suffering. I cannot speak on higher end insoles, I can say for less than $50 you can get some benefits. Below are a few reasons aftermarket boot insoles enable you to put out more and recover faster.
Increased Comfort: Insoles can provide additional cushioning and support, which can help reduce foot fatigue and increase comfort on long hikes.
Improved Stability: Insoles can help stabilize the foot and ankle, which can provide better balance and reduce the risk of ankle sprains and other injuries.
Better Arch Support: Insoles with arch support can help distribute weight more evenly across the foot, which can reduce pressure points and improve overall foot function.
Reduced Pain: Insoles can help reduce pain caused by foot conditions such as plantar fasciitis, flat feet, and high arches.
Moisture Management: Some insoles are designed to wick moisture away from the foot, which can help keep feet dry and reduce the risk of blisters and other foot problems.
Custom Fit: Some insoles can be customized to the shape of your foot, which can provide a more personalized fit and better support.
2. Chlorine Tablets
Regardless of your water filtration system, chlorine tablets are something everyone should carry in their day pack. Whether you plan to just carry a few for emergency situations, a backup purification system, or your only water purification system, chlorine tablets are inexpensive, weigh next to nothing, and take up next to no pack space.
This recommendation comes from personal experience. My primirary water filtration system has been a plunger or press style filter, a Grayl GeoPress. The Grayl has treated me great over the years but on a quick 3 day backcountry trip on my 2022 elk hunt I ran into a problem that I was not prepared for. A filter clog. On day two, while gathering water from a hole the filter cartridge on my GeoPress got clogged to the point of no return...probably more user induced than anything. It was late at night as we were hiking back to camp and stopped to refill our daily water supply. After running about 12 ounces through the GeoPress, the cartridge failed. Luckily, I was able to use my hunting partners filter but the point here is a couple chlorine tablets would have been beneficial in this situation.
Outside of water purification, chlorine tabs also come in handy around camp. Whether you're cleaning your knife, meat bags, or other gear chlorine tabs make disinfecting possible where otherwise it would not.
Please do not write this one off and hear my case for including chapstick on my list. Regardless of how tough and hard you think you are, days of exposure to mountain wind and sun will take a toll on your lips and face. So you have obvious benefits of having access to chapstick but that is not why it made the cut.
Most western hunting rookies prepare for every possible scenario which ultimately leads to a far too heavy pack. I've been there..extra socks, expanded medical kits, extra items in your kill kit, etc etc. Using the boy scout motto of "Always Prepared" is a terrible way of thinking unless you use some discretion and common sense. Any time you can throw a multi purpose item in your western pack that is inexpensive yet yields high functionality within multiple use cases it's an extremely huge win! Here are a few use cases that most people don't consider:
Soothe Dry Skin: In addition to chapped lips, chapstick can also be used to soothe dry skin on other parts of the body, such as the elbows, cuticles, and heels.
Protect Cuts and Scrapes: Applying chapstick to small cuts and scrapes can help protect them from dirt and bacteria while also moisturizing the skin around the wound.
Lubricate Zippers: Running chapstick along the teeth of a stubborn zipper can help lubricate it and make it easier to zip up.
Prevent Blistering: Rubbing chapstick on areas of the skin that are prone to blistering, such as the heels and toes, can help reduce friction and prevent painful blisters from forming.
Waterproof Matches: Coating the heads of wooden matches with chapstick can help make them waterproof, making them easier to light in damp or wet conditions.
While most of your attention should go to bigger ticket western gear items like tents and packs, I hope that you give these three products a place in your pack. For an ultra low investment, these items can make a big difference on your next western hunt!
Author: Chad Sylvester, Exodus Co-Founder/Owner