May 30, 2023
MODERATION. This inherently boring word is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “the avoidance of excess or extremes, especially in one’s behavior or political opinions.” Fear not, as this article deals firmly with the former, not latter. It will delve into why moderation can not only become a useful tool but an invaluable asset while pounding the mountains for days at a time.
Like most young hunters who study under the tutelage of Mother Nature, I started my backcountry education the hard way. My first solo overnight pack weighed in close to what my current seven-day pack does and didn’t have enough room for an elk tenderloin if I’d been successful. I was not, but I headed off the mountain determined to have the skills and gear necessary for another try the following year.
Many years and overnight trips later, I found myself with the needle pegged on the opposite end of the spectrum with a substantially lighter payload but a bare-bones camp as welcoming as a tarp and sleeping bag could be. It was clear, despite my trial and error, there was going to have to be some moderation incorporated as I slammed from one extreme to the next. Deciding to ease back on my skeletonized approach, I’ve been incorporating small additions to make camp a place to rest and recharge, maximizing time afield. Read on for some camp ideas and items to keep you in the backcountry longer and hunting harder.
The rule of thumb for backpacking is to have as much of your gear perform double duty as practical to cut total weight (sporks, anyone?). Backcountry hunters carry more gear than the average backpacker, so this axiom applies doubly to us. Below are some key pieces that come in handy for several uses on a prolonged hunt or are just too important to skimp on.
One is good, two is better. Malleable water bladders, like those made by Platypus, can be molded to fit in small spaces between rocks to capture small trickles of water, funneling even the slightest amount of water into a bulk storage container. Hardsided bottles work like a foam roller at the gym—fill with water and use them to roll out sore muscles and speed recovery to hustle back up that ridge the next day.
Utilize it for its intended purpose in an errant rainstorm. When back at camp, use it to cover your pack outside to save vestibule space for the night. If hauling water—or if you’re in need of a wash basin—it can be used as a temporary reservoir to carry or hold several gallons for dishes or a quick rinse.
Lightweight, waterproof bags are a superb way to store gear and sleeping bags when away from camp above timberline. If the worst happens and your shelter becomes compromised, you’ll have dry clothes and a sleeping bag to survive until a more permanent solution becomes available. After a successful hunt, they can be loaded with cooled meat for a mess-free ride out of the backcountry or stuffed with gear and strapped externally to a full pack.
LUXURY CAMP GEAR
Muscles relax and heal when at rest so quality sleep is of utmost importance on multiday trips. Hunters are tempted to cut weight here by using small pads and bags, but I prefer a thicker, slightly heavier setup. There’s only a finite amount of time to rest before the next day’s hunt, and I try to turn the tide in my favor any way I can. Hunters can even consider carrying a lightweight cot such as the Therm-a-rest Ultralite Cot to get them up and off the ground. These backpacking cots are lightweight and pack down small for easy carry.
Another luxury item to consider is an ultralight titanium wood burning stove like those from Seek Outside. Made specifically for backpack hunting, these stoves break down into pieces and weigh mere ounces to give you a stove to warm your tent after a cold day on the mountain. Of course, you need a tent that is compatible with a stove-pipe port, but resting warm next to a wood burning stove is worth the extra weight and new tent.
Incorporating different pieces of gear last fall allowed three of us to ride out four straight days of terrible weather at camp while we waited for our target sheep to make a mistake. We kept our morale up by hydrating, napping, and playing cards (a three-ounce addition to a pack). Once the storm broke, our first clear-weather day found us rejuvenated and ready to burn some boot leather.
Having a pound or two of “luxuries” like playing cards, a set of dry bags, or even an inflatable pillow can add a necessary boost when hunts drag on into the championship rounds and hunters must dig deep to get to the final bell. Incorporate a handful of luxury items into your pack this year; odds are you won’t notice the weight penalty but will certainly reap the rewards on an extended backcountry adventure.
TREKKING POLES AND TARPS
Most hunters are familiar with the direct benefits of hiking with trekking poles by now, including muscle and skeletal support as well as a handy front or rear rifle rest when needed. My go-to tripod by Spartan Precision allows the legs to unscrew and extend into trekking poles when auxiliary poles are needed for heavy pack outs after the hunt. Additionally, when paired with a lightweight tarp a hunter has a mobile shelter to ride out storms or bivy out for the night with a nominal weight penalty. The tarp may be set up at camp as an auxiliary storage area or “living room” during layover or weather days, providing a welcome change of scenery after days in a two- or three-person tent.
UTILIZE THE TOPOGRAPHY
Setting camp on a knob with a commanding view may seem like a good idea but will leave your shelter prone to fickle mountain storm fronts. The last thing a hunter wants is to return to the remnants of a wind-ravaged shelter. Find a small bench on the lee side (the side opposing the prevailing winds) of a ridge or knob and set camp there; this will cut back on your scent broadcasting over a larger area as well. Guy out your tent or tarp with reflective lines to avoid an after-dark wreck and use plenty of rocks or extra-long stakes to secure your shelter against strong mountain wind gusts. A loose or torn fly can soak the contents of a tent faster than you can ask, “Did anyone bring an extra set of camo?”