Hunt Gear Checklist: Full list for October Solo Deer Hunt

This is the full list for a solo deer hunt in the La Sal Mountains of Utah.  Late October.  Temperatures ranged from 20 degree overnight lows to mid 50s during the day.

 

Weight in Ounces
Clothing:
Julbo Venturi sunglasses with Zebra light lenses and cloth bag 1.4
Smartwool Merino boxer briefs (2 pair) 2.6 ounces each 5.6
First Lite Obsidian Pants 22.6
Kuiu Peloton 200 zip-off bottoms 8.5
Orange Icebreaker merino t-shirt 5.5
Orange Patagonia Nano Air light hoodie 11.8
Orange Cashmere Watch Hat (Golightly Cashmere) 3.1
Orange Buff 1.3
Orange Cap (LL Bean Technical Upland Cap) 2.2
Zamberlan Lynx Gtx Mid height Hunting Boots 64.4
Patagonia Expedition wool socks x2 (7 ounces per pair) 14
DeFeet ET Dura glove 2.2
Dachstein fingerless mittens with fold over cap 5.3
Mountain Laurel Designs rain mitts 1.6
First Lite Brambler gaiters 11
Patagonia Fitzroy Down Parka (Orange) 21.1
Orange Patagonia M10 Anorak 8
Kuiu Teton Rain Pants 6.9
 All Clothing and Footwear Subtotal 181.6  (11.35 pounds)
Shelter and Sleeping Gear
Locus Gear HAPI Pyramid tent 16
Mountain Laurel Designs Duo cuben fiber groundsheet (also can be used for meat processing or as a pack rain cover) 3.5
X-Therm inflatable pad with bungie cord 15.6
Klymit Cush inflatable pillow with fastex buckle strap (also used as rear bag for shooting) 3.9
Marmot Helium 15 degree down bag 32.5
 Shelter and Sleeping Subtotal 71.5  (4.47 pounds)
Cooking and Water
MSR Reactor stove with 1 liter pot and small gas canister, fire steel and small pack towl 22.5
MSR Dromlight 3 liter water bladder and tube 6.1
Chlorine Dioxide Water purification tablets 1
MSR Trailshot water filter 5
Titanium spoon with long handle 0.4
Titanium cup with lid 2.5
Gallon ziplock freezer bag for trash. 0.4
Insulated meal pouch cozy (Wilderness Dining brand) 1.8
Critter proof food bag (Ursack Minor) 2.7
 Cooking and Water Subtotal 42.4 (2.65 pounds)
Backpack and Trekking Poles
Leki Speedlock Carbon Ti trekking poles with photo adapter 15
McHale Super INEX Pack modified for hunting 114
Peregrine Ultralight daypack 3.3
 Backpack and Trekking Pole Subtotal 132.3 (8.27 pounds)
Personal Gear
Paracord survival bracelet 1.9
Lighter 0.7
Hinderer XM-24 folding Knife 7.7
Smith’s Knife Sharpener 0.8
Petzl Zipka Plus 2 headlamp with red L.E.D. 2.5
Diaper wipes (or toilet paper for cold weather) 4
Toob toothbrush and Toms toothpaste 1.6
Hand sanitizer 0.8
Map 3.8
Compass (K&R Alpin) 2.3
First Aid Kit 13.1
Sun screen 1.4
10 meters of 1.3 mil cord 0.9
 Personal Gear Subtotal 41.5 (2.59 pounds)
Camera and Electronics
Ricoh GR Camera 8.7
Suunto Ambit 2 Watch 3.1
Delorme InReach 6.7
Android phone (Galaxy S8+) with Backcountry Navigator GPS app, and Strelok Pro app 7.8
Spare battery for phone with integral USB plug (Jackery Bolt 6,000 mAh) 6
Earphones in cuben fiber bag 1.4
 Camera and Electronics Subtotal 33.7  (2.11 pounds)
Shooting Gear, Optics, and Kill Kit
Christensen TI/TH Rifle (6.5 Creedmoor); Kahles 624i scope; Neopod bipod; and Slogan rubber sling with Maxpedtion pouch. 146.4
Soundgear earplugs 1.7
Traditions muzzle protector gun condom 0.2
Ammunition carrier and 6 rounds of ammunition 7.4
Zeiss 8×32 Binoculars in Outdoor Vision Bino Harness 34.7
Kowa TSN 554 Spotting Scope in neoprene case 32.7
Windicator 1.4
TAG Game bags with latex gloves 9.3
Granite Peak Tripod  9.7
 Shooting and Kill Kit Subtotal   243.5 (15.2 pounds)

Total Weight, From Skin Out (no food or water)  

746.5  (46.5 pounds)

 Water is 2.2 pounds/liter    (Generally have no more than 2 liters)
Food 1.5 pounds/day
Dutch waffles
Granola and powdered milk
Biltong
Hot cider mixes (0.8 ounces each) and hot chocolate
Maple Almond Butter (1.2 ounces each)
Bridgeford French Toast sandwiches (4.2 ounces each)
Trader Joe’s dried apricots
Mountain House Freeze Dried dinners (5 ounces each)
Trader Joe’s chili mangoes
Heather’s choice packeroons (2.6 each)
Costco chocolate coconut almonds
Cashews and/or almonds
Greenbelly meal replacement bars
Gnocchi
Pesto Sauce packs
Salmon
Cheese
Salami
 Instant Oatmeal
In the Truck
Cooler and ice
5 gallon water jug
Extra socks
Crocs shoes
Extra gloves
Phone charger
Extra battery for phone
Truck Tools and Recovery
Bushranger air jack
Recovery bag with winch, straps, and hardware
Tool bag with tools
Trax
ARB Air compressor
Axe and saw
Tire chains
Black Diamond backcountry snow shovel

Hunting Gear Checklist Part 4: Cooking Gear and Water

Cooking Gear and Water    

Total weight in ounces:  42.1   Total weight in pounds:  2.6 pounds

MSR Reactor stove 1 liter pot, gas canister, fire steel and small pack cloth.  22.5 ounces
The MSR Reactor is the most powerful stove I know of.  It easily outperforms the popular Jetboil stoves, particularly in colder conditions or wind.  It doesn’t simmer, it’s really only good for boiling water or melting snow at full blast.  Since that’s pretty much all I’m doing when I hunt, it’s my stove of choice.

MSR Dromlite 3 liter water bag with hydration tube   6.1 ounces  This is a decent, lightweight water bag.  I prefer water bags to bottles, because a water bag doesn’t make much noise.  Half empty water bottles tend to slosh and make noise when you’re walking around.

MSR Trailshot water filter.    5 ounces  This is my back-up option if I can’t find water that is clean enough to just use my chlorine dioxide tablets with and need to filter water with lots of sediment or other dirty stuff in it.  It’s small and compact, and doesn’t weigh much.   Performance so far has been fine.

Titanium spoon in bag.   0.5 ounces

Wilderness Dining pouch cozy   1.8 ounces   This is used to put your freeze dried meals in, after you’ve added the hot water.  It keeps them hot while the meal is re-hydrating.  Especially useful at higher altitudes and colder temperatures, it ensures that your meal re-hydrates before your water cools down.

Ursack Minor critter proof food bag     2.7 ounces  Better known for their bear proof food sacks, this company makes this lighter weight bag that keeps out small critters.  Useful for storing food in while you are away from your camp.  It is insurance against coming back to camp and finding that squirrels or marmots have eaten all your food.

Chlorine Dioxide water purification tablets.  1 ounce  Very lightweight water purification option.  Minimal chemical taste to the water, provided you let it sit for about an hour.  I hate pumping filters, so this is my go-to method of purifying my drinking water.

Titanium cup with lid.  (Evernew 500ml Mug/pot)   2.5 ounces.

Cooking and Water

Cooking and Water supplies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hunt Gear Checklist Part 3: Rifle and Shooting Gear

Rifle and accessories

Christensen Arms Summit Ti/Th  6.5 Creedmoor rifle with thumbhole stock for deer
For elk, I use a slightly heavier, RBros Rifles LW Hunter  300 Win Mag rifle
Both of these rifles are top quality.  At 100 yards, they will consistently shoot groups of 1/2 inch or less.

Christensen Arms Rifle is 99.4 ounces; Scope 33.6 ounces; Bipod 4.2 ounces; Sling 6.2 ounces; Talley Rings 5.7 ounces

R Bros Rifle is 105.5 ounces; Scope 33.6 ounces; Bipod 4.2 ounces; Sling 6.2 ounces; Rings 8.1 ounces

Rubber gun sling (Specialty Outdoors)   or Slogan Outdoors   These rubber slings are terrific.  They keep the rifle secure when over your shoulder.  They provide excellent support when the sling is used to steady the rifle for shooting, and they can be looped, backpack style over both shoulders for secure carrying over rough terrain.

Here is a VIDEO that shows the basics of a rubber sling.

Neopod ultralight bipod  This rifle bipod weighs next to nothing.  Bipod and all the hardware for attaching it to the rifle weighs a total of 4.2 ounces.

Kahles K 624i rifle scope  with AMR reticle and left side windage adjustment.    34mm tube, 6-24x magnification 56mm objective lens.  With Vortex flip up lens caps.   This scope is one of the lighter weight scopes with a large 34mm tube and relatively high (24x) magnification.  Optical quality is excellent.  I’ve found it to be durable, and consistent with its elevation adjustments.  The reticle design works well for holding for wind and elevation when you don’t want to dial your turrets.  Center illumination is good for low light.

Kahles AMR Reticle

Kahles AMR Reticle  I typically dial the scope for elevation, but hold for wind.  This Christmas Tree design makes wind holds easy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soundgear Earplugs with extra batteries  These are electronic hearing protection that fits in your ear as opposed to ear muffs that go over your ear.  They weigh next to nothing, and provide decent sound protection coupled with adequate hearing.

Maxpedition D-Bag pouch (mounted on gun sling)  I keep some Zeiss lens wipes, the wrench for my scope, and some Traditions Muzzleloading rain Gear  muzzle protectors in this little pouch.

R Bros 300 Win Mag

R Bros 300 Win Mag  (I don’t use the cheek pad any more.  Found it wasn’t needed.)

Christensen Arms Summit TI/TH rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor

Christensen Arms Summit TI/TH rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor  Maxpedition pouch on the sling.

Leki Carbon Ti Trikking poles, (15 ounces) which I use for walking and supporting my tent, also make decent shooting sticks, for supporting the rifle when I’m not prone or shooting using my backpack as a support.

I have been using the Sig Sauer Kilo 2400 ABS Laser Rangefinder for the past 5 months.  I have bee very impressed with this piece of gear.  Range finding is fast, accurate, and consistent out to at least 1400 yards, even on minimally reflective targets.  The built in ballistics software is easy to use, interfaces with my smartphone for easy input of custom ballistics data, and provides very accurate firing solutions.  It’s small and lightweight (8.1 ounces).  It’s the perfect rangefinder for hunting.  It was expensive, but worth the money.  I carry it in a FHF rangefinder pouch attached to my bino harness.

 

Hunt Gear Checklist Part 2: Shelter and Sleeping System

Part 2.  Shelter and Sleeping

With my shelter and sleeping gear, I try to walk the line between light weight and function.  It’s really important to get a good night’s sleep, and your shelter needs to be able to protect you from nasty mountain weather.

Shelter

I use a floorless shelter that utilizes a trekking pole for support.  I’ve been using floorless pyramid tents since the 1980’s.  The weight savings over a traditional tent is significant.  People who haven’t tried tipi style floorless tents tend to worry about not having a floor.  There are only a few limited situations where I’ve found this style of tent to be lacking.  The first is bug season.  If mosquitoes are plentiful, then I want a tent with full bug netting, like the Hyperlite Echo, reviewed HERE.  However, most of my hunting is in the mountains in September or later, when bugs are not an issue.  The other situation where floorless tents are less than ideal is for day after day of heavy rain.  In such situations, it can be a challenge to try to find a dry spot to pitch the tent on.  However, I solve that potential problem by bringing a lightweight polycro groundsheet (which I can also use as a groundsheet for butchering meat.  I don’t use it unless it’s raining.  It generally just stays in the bottom of my pack.

Sleep

Shelter and sleeping gear for a late September deer hunt in Northern Idaho.

My current tent of choice is the Locus Gear Hapi DCF.  It’s constructed of cuben fiber and weighs under 12 ounces.  It sleeps 2 people, or one person with lots of room for gear.  (2 people plus gear is tight, but workable.)  This is my tent for solo and 2 person hunts.

Locus Gear Hapi tent

Locus Gear Hapi tent

For hunts with 3 people, I have a larger pyramid tent, the Bear Paw Luna 6, also made with cuben fiber.  The biggest problem with this tent is that it’s hard to find anywhere to pitch it, as its 10 feet by 10 feet size is larger than most of the flat spots you find in the mountains.  However, at 25.3 ounces, it’s a very light weight multi-person shelter.

Sleeping bag

I use down bags exclusively for hunting.  The weight penalty for a synthetic bag is just too high.  If I were hunting in rainy Washington or Oregon, I might consider a synthetic bag, but for the Rocky Mountain areas that I hunt, down works.

In addition to down fill, another feature that I consider critical in a sleeping bag is a wide fit.  I’m a big guy, so a wide fit is more comfortable.  Even more important, a generous cut of your sleeping bag allows you to wear your insulated puffy jacket to bed in cold weather, effectively lowering the temperature rating of your sleeping bag.

The sleeping bag I choose depends on the temperatures I expect to encounter.  Here are my top choices:

Marmot Hydrogen 30 degree down bag 21.6 oz (1 lb., 5.6 oz)
Marmot Helium 15 degreee down bag 32.5 (2 lbs, 0.5 oz)
Marmot Lithium 0 degree down bag 41.9 (2 lbs, 9.9oz)
Valandre Shocking Blue 0 degree down bag 48.2 (3 lbs, 0.2 oz)

The Marmot bags are all of somewhat standard design, with the Valandre Shocking Blue having a very large girth, allowing for minimal compression of a puffy jacket layer.
I reviewed these (and other ) sleeping bags in depth previously, and that review can be found here: 

The bag I use most often is the 15 degree Helium, which seems to cover me for most of the conditions I encounter while hunting.

Sleeping Pad

The NeoAir XTherm inflatable mattress is the best all-season pad I’ve used.  It’s warm, reasonably durable, and relatively light and compact.  (Weight is 15.6 ounces, and it rolls up into a small package.)  I am getting old, and have old aching bones and joints, and the XTherm provides enough comfort and cushioning to ensure I get a good night’s sleep.  I generally use it right on the ground, and so far, haven’t managed to pop in on a sharp stick or rock.   I have a full review of this pad (along with several others) in the blog post here:  

Other accessories: 

I am a side sleeper, so I need a substantial pillow.  I use the Klymit Cush, which weighs only 3.9 ounces, and serves double duty as a rear shooting rest/bag for my rifle, and a cushion for my butt or back when glassing.

Instead of a regular sleeping bag stuffsack, I use a Zpacks pillow dry bag.  It’s a cuben fiber dry bag with an inside face of soft fleece fabric.  Weight is less than 2 ounces, and it allows me to fill it with spare clothing and use it as a pillow, with the fleece providing more comfort than a slick cuben fiber fabric would.

In wet conditions, I use a Mountain Laurel Designs cuben fiber ground cloth.  or a a lightweight polycro groundsheet.   It also makes a good ground sheet for keeping meat clean while field dressing an animal.  Weight is 3.5 ounces.

Gear Weights:

Shelter and Sleeping Gear total weight  (ounces) 70.9
Total weight in pounds. 4.4 Pounds
Locus Gear HAPI Pyramid tent 11.6
Mountain Laurel Designs Duo cuben fiber groundsheet (also used for meat processing) 3.5
8 tent stakes 3.8
X-Therm inflatable pad with bungie cord 15.6
Klymit Cush inflatable pillow with fastex buckle strap (also used as rear bag for shooting) 3.9
Marmot Helium 15 degree down bag 32.5

Hunt Gear Checklist Part 1: Introduction and Clothing

Hunting Gear and Clothing:  Intro and Context

This is part 1 of my post on hunting gear and clothing.  A few notes about this list to provide some context:

I hunt deer and elk.  My hunts are all self guided.  I tend to backpack hunt, generally 3-8 miles from my vehicle.  I don’t have pack animals.  Everywhere I go, I walk.

I hunt public lands in Utah, Idaho, Arizona, and Colorado.  (Thinking of hunting Montana in the future.)  Because I only started hunting a few years ago, I have not accumulated significant preference points in any state.  My hunts are generally over the counter, general season tags, or easy to draw limited entry units.  I try to hike in to places that other hunters don’t go.  Terrain is usually high country; either heavily timbered, or more sparsely covered high mountain terrain.  Temps can range from hot (Utah early season) or cold and snowy (Colorado 3rd rifle season.)

I’m a meat hunter.  I don’t have any place in my house to hang a taxidermy head.  I will keep antlers, but have no real use for a big mounted trophy.  Because of this, I don’t really care about an animal’s “score.”  Given two healthy, legal targets, I will opt for the smaller, younger one, on the assumption that the meat will be better.  (I prefer females to males for the same reason.)   You will see this preference reflected in some of my equipment decisions.  For example, I don’t need a giant spotting scope to count antler tines, so I generally bring a smaller lightweight spotting scope.

Most of my hunting is solo.  (Another reason I prefer to harvest a smaller animal.)  I generally plan on spending 5 or 6 nights on a given hunt.  I’m getting older (in my 50’s) so I try to keep my pack weigh down as much as possible.

A final note about my hunting gear.  I’ve tried not to make any compromises with my gear.  With very few exceptions, if I’ve chosen to take a particular item of clothing or equipment on a hunt, it’s because I believe that it is the absolute best piece of clothing or equipment for the purpose.  After a few years of hunting, I have refined and honed my hunting clothing and equipment over and over again.  I have finally got the list to a pretty stable state.  Stuff that doesn’t work or is not needed has been trimmed from the list, and many items have been changed out for things that work better.

My "trophy" Elk tenderloin medallions.

My “trophy”
Elk tenderloin medallions.

Clothing:

Hunter Orange.

Idaho and Arizona do not require hunter orange.  Colorado and Utah do.  Because of this, when I’m hunting in Utah or Colorado, I don’t bother with camo on my upper body.  I just wear orange clothing.   Most folks wear camo and an orange vest.  I opt for just wearing orange clothing and not bothering with a vest.  I’m not convinced that camo clothing makes a huge difference in how easily elk or deer can spot me, particularly at rifle hunting distances.  Furthermore, the orange vests that I have tested with a UV light have glowed like crazy, indicating they have heavy optical brighteners in their dyes.  My orange clothing doesn’t glow under a UV light.  (Deer and elk are sensitive to the UV spectrum, so generally, UV optical brighteners are bad because they make you more visible to your prey.)

Camo clothing for an Idaho Deer Hunt

Above:  Camo clothing.  Below, orange clothing.

Hunter Orange Clothing

Hunter Orange Clothing for Colorado and Utah

Hands.  

DeFeet Duraglove ET Wool   These are great lightweight gloves made from a blend of synthetic and merino wool.  Good dexterity for fine tasks (including shooting.)  Compatible with phone touch screen.  Good grip.  Durable.

Dachstein boiled wool fingerless, mittens, with fold-over cap.  These are my go-to cold weather hand gear.  They are warm, windproof, water resistant, and easy to convert from fingerless to mitten configuration (just fold over the finger cap.)  These mittens provide warmth for my hands, while the fingerless feature makes them easy to shoot with without removing them.

Simms Freestone fingerless, fold over mittens  This is my warmer weather version of the Dachstein mittens.  Same features in a lighter weight fleece version.

REI Minimalist Rain Mittens.    Waterproof, seam taped rain gear for your hands.  Ultralight fabric is not very durable, but I only wear them if it’s raining, and it doesn’t rain much where I hunt, so it’s not a big problem.

Head

Golightly cashmere Expedition Weight Hat  (Replace with orange Golightly cashmere watch cap for Hunter Orange states.)   These hats are warm and super comfortable.  I wear them in cold conditions and for sleeping.  They are ridiculously expensive, but buying them is a fiscally irresponsible decision I have never regretted.

Golightly Expedition Hat

Golightly Expedition Hat

 

Buff headband/neck gaiter  (orange for Hunter Orange states, camo pattern for Idaho)  This is an indispensable piece of clothing.  It’s a sweat band in hot weather, a neck gaiter, and an ear band in cold weather (Sometimes a warm hat is too much, and all I really want is something to keep my ears warm.)

Outdoor Research Sunrunner cap  (I tie-died this cap to give it a more camouflaged look.)  Replace with LL Bean mesh and cool-max hunting cap for Hunter Orange states. (The Bean cap is discontinued, but Headsweats makes a similar cap.)  Keeps the sun out of my eyes, and absorbs sweat.

Julbo Venturi sunglasses with Zebra Light lenses.  These sunglasses are made for trail runners, and they vent well and resist fogging.  The photochromatic “Zebra Light” lenses adjust to allow for good vision in shadows and bright sun and glare.  Comfortable, and durable.

Base layers

Smartwool boxer briefs   Merino wool underwear is low stink and comfortable.  I generally will bring a spare pair on a multi day trip.  (This and my socks are my only spares)

Kuiu Peloton 200 Zip-Off  long john bottoms  These long johns are genius because they have full length zippers that allow you to take them off and put them on without removing your boots.  This is a common feature for raingear, but Kuiu is the only company I know of that does this with base layers.

Ibex merino t-shirt  (orange for Hunter Orange states.)  Low stink.  Comfortable.  Doesn’t dry as quickly as synthetic, but more comfortable.  Not durable.  Knit wool fabric won’t stand up to bushwhacking very well.

Primary Layer; Pants  

FirstLite Obsidian Pants  These pants made from woven, ripstop merino wool are my choice for early season hunts and any time when I’m not expecting snow or wet conditions.  I don’t like belts, and these work well with suspenders.  They have a high waist that fits well and is comfortable under a backpack hip belt.  They are a replacement for the Kenab pants, and have better pockets, and a more durable fabric.  Not at all water resistant.  Not great for snow or wet conditions.  They will get wet and don’t dry as fast as some other pants.

Sitka Timberline Pants.      These are my pants of choice for wet and/or snowy conditions.  They have some water resistance and dry quickly.  The seat and knees are waterproof, so you can sit or kneel on snow and not get your butt or knees wet.  Good suspenders.  Comfortable under a pack hip belt.  Knees have removable knee pads which are flexible and comfortable.  High waist and suspenders.

 Primary Layer; Torso

Voormi Blur Jacket   This is my camo layer for Idaho or Arizona, when I’m not worrying about hunter orange requirements.  It’s a nice, hooded softshell jacket, made of a merino wool blend.  It is weather resistant, and will shrug off light rain or snow.  It has a wide temperature comfort range.  Two chest pockets and two handwarmer pockets provide ample storage.  The Blur Jacket is one of several similar hunting oriented tops in Voormi’s clothing line up.  There is a similar top with many of the same features in a pullover version, the Voormi Two Pocket Hoodie.  All of Voormi’s clothing is made in the USA from American sourced materials.

Voormi Blur Jacket, Firstlite Obsidian Pants

Voormi Blur Jacket, Firstlite Obsidian Pants and Firstlite Brambler Gaiters

For hunter orange states, the Voormi Blur jacket gets replaced with an orange Patagonia Nano Air Light hoodie.  This is a lightly insulated softshell with excellent breathability and good stretch.  Not as warm or wind resistant as the Voormi Blur, but lighter and better for high exertion activities.

Rain Gear

I don’t hunt in any states where it typically rains a lot.  My primary concern with rain gear is that it is light weight.  I don’t really care if it’s durable, as I don’t really plan on wearing it all that often.

Kuiu Teton Rain Jacket   (Replace with Patagonia M10 Anorak for Hunter Orange states)  These are some of the lightest rain jackets available.

Kuiu Teton Rain Pants  Light weight.  Full side zips make them easy on and off without removing boots.

REI Minimalist Rain Mittens.    Waterproof, seam taped rain gear for your hands.  Ultralight fabric is not very durable.

Kuiu Teton Rain Suit

Kuiu Teton Rain Suit

 

Puffy Jacket  I always carry a puffy jacket.  I want insulation that I can layer on top of my other clothing for times when I am stationary and not generating heat.  Hooded jackets are warmer than non-hooded versions.

FirstLite Uncompahgre Puffy Insulated Jacket This is a nice insulated jacket.  It pairs well with my Voormi Blur softshell, and keeps me warm and toasty when glassing and hanging around camp.

For hunter orange states, I use the Patagonia Fitzroy hooded down parka.  This is a very warm, very light down filled puffy that is great for really cold conditions.

Glassing in my Uncompahgre Jacket

Glassing in my Uncompahgre Jacket

Feet

Gaiters keep rocks and sticks and moisture out of your boots.  I wear the FirstLite Brambler Hunting Gaiter,  except in early season, when I prefer a shorter, more breathable gaiter.  For early season, where snow isn’t an issue, and I’m pretty much just keeping rocks and sticks out of my boots, I opt for the Kennetrek Hiking Gaiter.  They are light, stretchy, and breathable.

When I’m backpacking and hiking (not hunting) I seldom wear boots.  I pretty much just wear lightweight trail running shoes.  However, after trying to wear trail running shoes while hunting, I’ve found that I prefer more substantial footwear.  When I’m hunting, I tend to travel off trail most of the time.  Boots provide more protection and comfort off trail.  The loads I’m carrying (especially if I’m packing out meat) also tend to be heavier than typical backpacking loads, and I find that I want a bit more support than trail running shoes provide.

My primary boot of choice is the Zamberlan Lynx.   These are high quality, Italian boots that are waterproof, comfortable, and great for cool to cold weather.  One thing I really appreciate about these boots is that they come in both regular and wide widths.  I have a somewhat wide foot, and the wide width fits me perfectly.  They are very nimble, with a grippy sole for scrambling over rocks.  Their mid-height construction doesn’t bind or constrict.  These are great boots, and I use them for everything except hot, early season conditions.

Zamberlan Lynx

Zamberlan Lynx

The Keene Liberty Ridge hiking boots are my choice for early season warmer conditions.  They are a bit lighter than the Zamberlans, but still provide good support.  They are water proof.  They don’t come in different widths, but they have a relatively wide fore foot, so they fit my feet well.  As a bonus, they are made in the United States.

As with my merino boxer briefs, I generally bring a spare pair of socks.  I wear merino blend socks pretty much exclusively.  Nothing surpasses wool for sock material.

With my Keen boots, I wear Lorpen Merino hiking socks.  These socks are comfortable, durable, and maintain their shape well.

With the Zamberlan boots, I wear Patagonia Expedition weight merino hiking socks.  I don’t think that these socks are still made by Patagonia, which is too bad, as they are great socks, with good cushioning and excellent warmth.  A good warm, thick sock like these allows my feet to stay warm and comfortable in cold temperatures.  I find that even in more mild conditions, the thick terry-looped merino interior absorbs any sweat from my feet and my feet stay comfortable and don’t feel too hot.

Item weights:

Clothing:
Julbo Venturi sunglasses with Zebra light lenses and cloth bag 1.4
Smartwool Merino boxer briefs (2 pair) 2.6 ounces each 5.6
Sitka Timberline Pants 32.7
First Lite Obsidian Pants 22.6
Kuiu Peloton 200 zip-off bottoms 8.5
Merino t-shirt 5.5
Voormi Blur Jacket 26.3
Orange Patagonia Nano Air light hoodie 11.8
Expedition weight Cashmere Hat (Golightly Cashmere) 5.3
Orange Cashmere Watch Hat (Golightly Cashmere) 3.1
Orange Buff 1.3
Outdoor Research Sunrunner Hat 2.9
Orange Cap (LL Bean Technical Upland Cap) 2.2
Keene Liberty Ridge Mid height Hunting Boots 51.4
Zamberlan Lynx Gtx Mid height Hunting Boots 64.4
Lorpen mid weight wool hiking socks x2 (2.8 ounces per pair) 5.6
Patagonia Expedition wool socks x2 (7 ounces per pair) 14
DeFeet ET Dura glove 2.2
Dachstein fingerless mittens with fold over cap 5.3
REI eVent rain mitts 1.6
First Lite Brambler gaiters 11
Kennetrek Hiking gaiters 5.5
Patagonia Fitzroy Down Parka (Orange) 21.1
First Lite Umcompagre puffy jacket with hood 22
Orange Patagonia M10 Anorak 8
Kuiu Teton Rain Jacket 9.6
Kuiu Teton Rain Pants 6.9

Optics for Backpack Hunting in the Western Mountains

Glassing for Javelina in Arizona's high desert

Glassing for Javelina in Arizona’s high desert

I hunt public lands in the Western states.  I’m not a particularly skilled hunter, so I look for an edge by using my legs to travel far enough from roads and access points that I can minimize competition from other, more experienced hunters.  Because I’m usually backpacking, carrying all of my gear for multiple nights out, I tend to obsess over my equipment choices, and they tend to get refined each season as I gain more experience.

Good quality optics are key to hunting the mountain country in the West.  Being able to glass over long distances allows you to scout terrain and locate animals at the speed of light rather than the speed of your legs.

Based on the recommendations of pretty much every hunter I knew, I started out with a set of Swarovski binoculars.  The general consensus is that Swaros are “the best” binoculars.  I picked a 10×50 EL model, which is generally considered to be one of the finest binoculars available.  I was not disappointed.  These were excellent binoculars.

After a while, I moved to the Leica Geovid HD-B rangefinding binoculars, also 10 power (10×42.)  The Leica has optical performance comparable with the Swaro, and had the advantage of integrated rangefinding and ballistics (when it worked.)  My review of the Geovid is here.

I didn’t carry a spotting scope.  I’m not counting tines on antlers, (I’m pretty much a meat hunter, not a trophy hunter,) so I figured I wouldn’t need one.  The 10 power binos were my all-in-one optics solution.  However, on a couple of hunts, I glassed animals from far enough away that I needed a higher power optic to determine if I wanted to shoot them or not.  In one instance, I was looking at a deer, and I couldn’t make out if it was male or female, as I couldn’t even tell if it had antlers.  A higher magnification spotting scope would have made identification easier.

I lost my Leica Geovid binoculars on a hunt.  This gave me the excuse to revisit my hunting optics.  I decided to go with a lighter weight binocular combined with a lightweight spotting scope.

After a fair amount of online research and some in-person testing of various binoculars and spotting scopes, I ended up with a pair of  Zeiss Victory 8×32 T* FL binoculars and a Kowa Prominar TSN 554 Kowa 15-45x55mm spotting scope.   This combination, combined with a Sig Kilo 2400 rangefinder is working out well for me, and I think that I may have found my perfect optics kit for the kind of high-mileage high altitude hunting that I do.

Kowa 554 Scope; Granite Peak Tripod; Zeiss 8x32; Sig Kilo 2400

My backpack optics kit:  Kowa 554 Scope; Granite Peak Tripod; Zeiss 8×32; Sig Kilo 2400

Zeiss Victory 8×32 T* FL Binoculars   (21.8 ounces)

The Zeiss brand is not as popular with hunters as the ubiquitous Swarovski, but they are also top tier binoculars.  These 8×32 have a wide angle of view (64 degrees,) combined with excellent optical quality.  The image from the fluorite lenses is sharp and clear, and I don’t notice any flare or chromatic aberration or other optical flaws.

The 32mm objective gives up some brightness compared with the larger 42mm objective, but in actual practice  I have found the the dawn and dusk performance difference to be negligible.  However, the difference in weight and size is significant and  very noticable.  Weight on these is 21.8 ounces, compared with 37.5 ounces for the Leica Geovid 10×42 and 29.7 ounces for the Zeiss 8×42.

Eye relief is good, and I can pretty much just put them up to my eyes and see, rather than worrying about finding an eye relief sweet spot.  Ergonomics are excellent, both bare handed and wearing gloves.  Focusing is smooth and consistent.  The best feature is that these binos are really small and compact (5 inches long by 5 inches wide.)  I can wear them all day long, and never really notice them.  I can glass with them for long periods with no fatigue.

I’ve been happy with the switch to the 8×32.  I’m not sure I would use these for mountain hunting without the addition of a higher magnification spotting scope, but as the binoculars in a bino-spotting scope combination, they are perfect.

Kowa Prominar TSN 554  15-45 x55mm Spotting Scope  (29.1 ounces)

This is a relatively new spotting scope, introduced in the summer of 2017.  I used mine for deer and elk hunts in fall of 2017, and a spring javelina hunt in 2018.  Based on this, plus lots of use birding, I believe that this may be the perfect lightweight spotting scope.

It has a 55mm objective lens, which is small by spotting scope standards.  The 554 uses polycarbonate plastic construction to cut down on weight, but it doesn’t feel cheap or “plasticy” at all.  It has a substantial, quality feel.  Optical quality is terrific.  I’ve peered through other compact 60mm class scopes, and the Kowa is head and shoulders above anything else I’ve seen.  I think that most smaller objective scopes tend to be lower quality entry-level optics.  The Kowa, in contrast, utilizes their top of the line fluorite crystal for the objective lens and ultra low dispersion glass for the rest of it.  It’s the most expensive compact scope I know of, and it’s clear that the money has gone into the lenses, as the view through the scope is great.

Ergonomics are excellent as well.  I particularly like the Kowa focusing system.  The dual focusing knobs (one for quick and the other for fine focus) work very well.  The scope is so small and light, I’ve even used it occasionally without a tripod, resting it on a rock, tree limb, or backpack.

Maximum magnification is 45x, which is significantly less than a full size scope (My 88mm Kowa has 60x magnification.)  In practice, however, I’ve found 45x magnification to be more than adequate.  Most of the time, I’m glassing at no more than 25x.

Using premium glass in a lightweight and compact design is unique.  I’m glad that Kowa took the step to pioneer this market segment, as the 554 scope is now a regular addition to my hunting optics load out.

As of this time, Kowa does not sell a fitted case for the 550 series scopes.  However, I found an Op/Tech neoprene spotting scope pouch that works reasonably well.  Supposedly, Kowa will be coming out with a fitted case for the 554 some time in 2018.

I use the Kowa 554 spotting scope with a light weight tripod.  (Tripods reviewed HERE) The beauty of the lightweight spotting scope, is that its light weight means that I can use a lighter tripod as well, compounding the weight savings.

Bino Harness

A good bino harness is essential for holding your binoculars; keeping them close to hand, but also controlling them and preventing them from bouncing around.

I have owned and used a number of different bino harnesses.  My first was the S4 Lockdown X, which was somewhat minimalist.  I moved to a FHF Bino Harness because I wanted better pockets and more modularity.   Eventually, I got an Alaska Guide Creations bino harness because the fully enclosed design provided better protection from dust and debris.  I liked the pockets as well.

Alaska Guide Creations does not make a bino pouch that is sized to fit my smaller 8×32 binoculars.  After some research, I opted for the Outdoor Vision bino harness.    It has become my favorite of all that I have owned.   I like the top closure.  It folds out, away from your body, so the lid stays open and out of the way when you are using the binos.  The magnetic closure is quiet and secure.  It is rather slim and compact, but still manages to include a couple of pockets for a Wind checker powder bottle (Windicator)  and some emergency items (Spyderco Manbug G10 knife   Spark Lite Firestarter kit)  I keep these in my bottom pocket  (which also holds a rain cover for the case.)   This, coupled with a FHF pouch for my rangefinder, is my standard rig now.

optics-4

Outdoor Vision Bino Harness with FHF rangefinder pouch

Outdoor Vision Bino Harness with FHF rangefinder pouch.  (I have found that the bino harness is the best place to hang my sheath knife.  No interference with pack belt.)

Other (Heavier) Optics

Although the 8×32 binos and the Kowa 554 spotting scope are my standard hunting optics, there are times when I use heavier, full size binoculars, and a full size spotting scope.   I use the Kowa Genesis 10.5×44 binos, and the Kowa TSN 883 spotting scope.  With the TE-11WZ wide zoom eyepiece,  the 883 spotting scope provides a 25-60x magnification range.   Objective size is 88mm.  Weight of the 883 spotter is 75 ounces.  Weight of the 10.5×44 binos is 34 ounces.

Zeiss 8x32 and Kowa 10.5x44 binos side by side

Zeiss 8×32 and Kowa 10.5×44 binos side by side

Optical quality of these Kowa binos and scope are outstanding.  To my eyes, they are every bit as good as the comparable Swarovski offerings I’ve used.

They are big and heavy, but when I’m hunting from the car, just carrying a day pack, sometimes I will lug them along.  Kowa is a lesser known brand compared with the Big Three of Zeiss, Leica and Swarovski, but I think if they had better marketing, hunters would be flocking to Kowa in droves for the excellent optics and reasonable pricing.

Kowa 554 and Kowa 883

Kowa 554 and Kowa 883

Conclusions: 

It’s taken me a fair amount of trial and error to get to this point in my optical kit.  However, after using various premium optics, my current combo of the Kowa 554 lightweight spotter coupled with the lightweight Zeiss 8×32 binos really seems to cover all my bases.  The binos are light and great for glassing large areas.  The 554 spotting scope is light as well, and allows me to zoom in on animals or areas of interest.  It saves pounds of weight compared with a traditional, full size bino and spotter combination.

Lightweight Tripods for Backpack Hunting

Choosing equipment for backpack hunting is difficult.  Hunting is a gear-intensive activity, but carrying all of that gear into the mountains can be way too strenuous, so it is important to assess the weight of every piece of gear you carry.

Hunting optics are one of the heavier categories of hunting equipment.  I have tried to keep my optics as light weight as possible, while still maintaining the ability to see long distances.  I have recently begun using a lightweight spotting scope.  (the Kowa TSN 554 reviewed here)  in conjunction with a pair of 8×32 binoculars.  This combination saves weight over full size binoculars and spotting scope, but still allows me to pick out animals several miles away.

However, using a spotting scope effectively requires a tripod.  Without a tripod, the image is too shaky to see clearly.  Unfortunately, even most “lightweight” tripods are pretty heavy, with most of them weighing as much (or more than) my tent.

In an attempt to shave some weight off of my pack, I have been trying out three of the lightest tripod solutions I know of:  The Trailpix tripod adapter; the Granite Peak tripod, and the Sirui T-024x.  After the fall deer and elk season, and a spring hunt for javelina, here are my thoughts on these systems.

Top to bottom: Trail Pix; Granite Peak; Sirui

Top to bottom: Trail Pix; Granite Peak; Sirui

Weights for the three tripods:

Granite Peak Tripod and ball head   9.7 ounces

TrailPix trekking pole tripod adapter with ball head   5.2 ounces
Fizan trekking pole for Trailpix   5 ounces

Sirui T-024X Traveler Light Carbon Fiber Tripod with C-10S Ball Head    33.7 ounces

Hunting Use

When using a tripod for photography, most of the time, I am standing up.  However, when using a tripod for mounting a spotting scope for hunting, the majority of the time I am using it while sitting on the ground.  So, it’s important that the tripod supports the scope well while relatively low to the ground.  Often, I’m using the tripod with my legs under the tripod legs.

When glassing a mountainside, the tripod needs to be able to adjust up and down easily.  That is because when you are glassing a steep mountain, you need to be able to raise and lower the tripod so that you can glass with minimal strain on your neck.  (Adjust the tripod, not your neck and back.)

It’s also important that the tripod is able to be deployed quickly.  Although most of the time, I’m not in a huge hurry, if the tripod takes too long to get set up, then I’m less likely to use it.

Sirui T-024X Traveler Light Carbon Fiber Tripod with C-10S Ball Head

Sirui Website

The Sirui T-024X can handle a full size spotting scope

The Sirui T-024X can handle a full size spotting scope

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sirui is a traditional tripod design, but made from lightweight aluminum and carbon fiber to cut weight.  It has 3 section extendable legs, and an extendable center column.  It comes with a nicely made ball head that is smooth and secure.  My only complaint about the ball head is that the detachable plate secures to the scope with a bolt that doesn’t have a D-ring, so to secure it to the scope, you needed to use a screw driver.  I replaced it with an aftermarket D-ring model I bought from Amazon for $4, and it is now much easier to secure by hand.

D-ring on screw makes it much easier to secure by hand

Aftermarket D-ring screw makes it much easier to secure by hand

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In use, the Sirui tripod was very user friendly.  It works well for sitting on the ground or sitting on a log, and is quite easy to deploy.   Vertical adjustments are simple, as it has a locking center column that provides lots of vertical adjustment.  A quick twist of the center column locking collar, move the column up or down, then a quick twist to re-lock.

This tripod handles larger, heavier spotting scopes too, and easily worked with my full size 88mm spotter with no problems.    Overall, this is a versatile and easy to use tripod, and a good choice for folks who want to carry a heavier spotter and/or want the full features of a traditional tripod design.

Trailpix Tripod Adapter

Trailpix Website

Trailpix Tripod

Trailpix Tripod

The Trailpix adapter is made to be used with your trekking poles.  It’s a plate with a ball head that attaches to the tips of your trekking poles to turn them into a tripod.  You just insert your pole tips into the adapter plate, then secure them with some thumb screws.  It is surprisingly stable.

One obvious issue is that most people only carry 2 trekking poles, so a 3rd pole is required to complete the system.  Trailpix provides a shockcorded aluminum pole for use as the 3rd pole, but I found this to be not very practical, as it was too tall to use comfortably when sitting, and there was not easy way to change the height.  Instead, I just carry a third trekking pole.  I stripped the handle off of it to reduce weight.  (Marmots had already chewed much of the handle off anyway, so I wasn’t too worried about ruining the pole for other uses.)

The Trailpix system is quite clever, and makes use of trekking poles that I already carry with me.  In use, it is very sturdy, and had no issues supporting my lightweight spotting scope.  The ballhead is decent, and was easy enough to adjust and secure.  while not as smooth as the Sirui, it was adequate.

The Trailpix system has a few limitations for hunting.  The first is that it takes a bit longer to set up.  Inserting your trekking poles into the adapter and adjusting them to the right height takes longer than the other lightweight options reviewed here.  The biggest problem, however, is that the Trailpix system is not really designed for use while sitting on the ground.  The angle of the poles is fixed and there is no adjustment.  This means that when the poles are adjusted very low, the angle isn’t wide enough for maximum stability.  You can make it work, but it’s not ideal.

Once set up, vertical adjustment can typically be done by simply adjusting the height of a single pole, which is not too bad.

The genius of the Trailpix system is that it utilizes the trekking poles that you are carrying with you anyway.  However, this is also a possible negative, as I also tend to use trekking poles for supporting my tarp, and also use them as shooting sticks for resting my gun on while shooting (when I’m not shooting prone.)

Overall, the Trailpix is a decent system, but if they made a version of the plate with a wider pole angle (for lower to the ground deployment) it would be much better.

Granite Peak Tripod

Granite Peak Website

The Granite Peak Tripod is made in Montana by the folks at Kramer Designs.  They are a hunting focused company best known for their lightweight rifle bipod, the Snipepod.

Kramer Designs Granite Peak Tripod

Kramer Designs Granite Peak Tripod

 

The Granite Peak is a shockcorded aluminum pole system with an ultralight custom made ball head mounted to it.  The poles are pretty much similar to aluminum tent poles.  The poles attach to the ball head with sockets that are infinitely adjustable in angle, so you can spread the legs in any direction you want, from flat to vertical, front to back.  It looks pretty flimsy, but in practice, it supports my lightweight spotting scope adequately.  (There is an optional string attachment for suspending a water bottle or other weight in the center of the tripod to add stability, but I haven’t found it to be necessary in most conditions, and it tends to get in the way of my legs when I’m sitting with the tripod legs deployed over me.)

Infinitely adjustable ball/socket joints

Infinitely adjustable ball/socket joints

The Granite Peak tripod comes in different sizes.  I originally ordered the 33 inch legs, but after some use, went to the 42 inch legs, as I found that when sitting on a steep slope, I wanted the extra leg length for the downhill leg.  It’s pretty simple to reduce the leg length, as you can just fold up a couple of the leg segments and then secure them with the velcro tab that is permanently attached to each of the legs.

In use, the Granite Peak works pretty well.  The infinitely adjustable legs in their sockets makes the tripod very easy to set up on uneven ground, and also makes it easy to adjust while in use.  (Just grab a leg, and push it back or pull it forward to decrease/increase height.)  Stability is adequate, but the legs have some flex in them.  In windy conditions or at higher magnifications, I have found that a hand on the tripod to steady it is often helpful.

The ball head is an ultralight custom machined item that works adequately.  It is a little bit fiddly when compared with a regular ball head, but gets the job done.  With most other ball heads, it’s not too hard to find a sweet spot of adjustment that allows you to maneuver the optic while providing just enough friction to prevent the optic from flopping about.  The Granite Peak ball head goes from locked to floppy very quickly, and finding the correct friction setting for scanning and panning takes a bit more effort.

Overall, the Granite Peak system is very well thought out, and extremely versatile for varied terrain and body positions, provided you are using a lightweight optic.

Summary

I have summarized my findings in the table below.  The scoring for the Stability, Ball head, adjustment and deployment is on a 1-5 scale, with 5 being the top score.

Weights:

Granite Peak Tripod and ball head   9.7 ounces

TrailPix trekking pole tripod adapter with ball head   5.2 ounces
Fizan trekking pole for Trailpix   5 ounces

Sirui T-024X Traveler Light Carbon Fiber Tripod with C-10S Ball Head    33.7 ounces

Stability Ball Head Function Ease of Adjustment Ease of Deployment
Trailpix 3.5 3.5 3 2.5
Granite Peak 2.5 2.5 5 4
Sirui 4.5 4.5 4 4

Conclusion

So, after a long season of use, scouting and hunting, which of these would I recommend?   For backpack hunting use with a lightweight spotter, my favorite is the Granite Peak tripod.  The ball head is somewhat compromised due to it’s extreme light weight, but it is adequate, and the overall design of the tripod is extremely versatile.  I can live with the decreased stability in return for the other advantages.  Weight is less than 1/3 of the Sirui, which is one of the lightest traditional tripods on the market.

For day trips, when I’m not carrying much weight, I tend to go with the Sirui, because it can handle my big spotting scope, which I don’t mind carrying if I’ve only got a day pack’s load of gear.  If I was going to spend most of my time glassing with my spotting scope instead of my binos, I would opt for the Sirui.  However, I tend to glass at least 80% of the time with binos, and only use the spotter for checking out specific locations of interest, so the Granite Peak is adequate for my typical use.

If they came out with a Trailpix with a wider stance (making it more useful for sitting) it would be a contender because of its stability and heavier weight bearing ability, but right now, it’s surpassed by the Granite Peak.

My Quest for the Perfect Elk Hunting Pack. The McHale Critical Mass INEX

Review of the McHale Critical Mass Backpack

McHale INEX pack

McHale INEX pack

McHale Website

I’ve pretty much abandoned large backpacks for backpacking and climbing.  With modern, ultralight gear, I very seldom carry more than 30 pounds, and usually my pack weight is much less, generally less than 20 pounds fully loaded.

However, backpack hunting is one endeavor when I still require a pack that can comfortably carry large loads.  Even though I try to minimize my gear and clothing weight, if my hunt is successful and I kill an animal, I’m going to be carrying out a very heavy load of meat.  This is particularly true for elk hunting.  Elk are big critters.

Hunting packs have a lot of requirements, some of which conflict with each other.  They need to be compact and comfortable enough to allow you to move off-trail easily and quietly, without catching on branches and getting caught on things.  They need to be light enough to not unreasonably add to your load.  They need provisions for carrying a weapon.  They need to be able to carry a week’s worth of gear and provisions.  They need to be durable.  And, when you’re hauling out meat, they need to be capable of controlling and carrying really large loads, sometimes in excess of 100 pounds.

When I first got into hunting a few years ago, I figured I needed a special hunting pack.  So, I bought and used packs by Eberlestock, Mystery Ranch, and Badlands.  They had some great, hunting specific features, but I really didn’t like using them for meat hauling.  With 100+ pounds of meat and cargo, they were not as capable as I would have liked.  The waistbelts sagged, the frames didn’t transfer weight efficiently to my hips.  My shoulders and hips and back got sore.

With these shortcomings in mind, I abandoned these hunting packs, and went back to using my tried and true McHale Super INEX Alpineer, which I’ve owned since 1995.  This pack has many hundreds of trail miles on it, and I’ve carried some really huge loads with it.   (There is a review of this pack on my old website HERE.)

The McHale pack turned out to be a very good all around hunting pack.  It can easily transform from a short, squat nimble pack into a tall loadmonster by adding or removing the “bayonet” stays that lengthen the frame.  When hunting, I generally keep the pack in the shorter configuration, and only utilize the bayonet frame extensions when meat hauling.  For carrying heavy weight, I still have not found anything that is its equal.  I once carried out close to 200 pounds in this pack when a couple of buddies and I carried out the meat and head of a big bull elk in a single trip.

Elk Down! Now the hard work of meat hauling is about to begin

Elk Down! Now the hard work of meat hauling is about to begin

Hunting Modifications

I was pretty happy with the McHale pack, but after a while, I decided that some modifications to this pack would make it even better as a hunting pack.

I contacted Dan, originally thinking I would buy a whole new pack from him, but he suggested that I just modify my existing pack.  (This was awesome, as I could continue to use my trusty pack and it saved me a lot of money too.)

The modifications I requested were as follows:

I wanted the back pad to be re-worked to incorporate a 1/2 body length evazote pad that could be used as a sit pad or for sleeping on.  (I sometimes use a very light Klymit X-frame sleeping pad, and this evazote pad would provide some insulation, which the Klymit design lacks.)   This pad is also great for long glassing sessions too, providing a comfortable pad to sit on.

I wanted a roll top closure and deletion of the top pocket.  I don’t use the top pocket much, and converting to a roll top design would save weight, while maintaining water resistance.

I wanted an exit port for a hydration tube.

I wanted a larger right side pocket to accommodate the butt of my rifle, to make carrying the rifle easy.

I also wanted fastening points for a Kifaru Gunbearer, so I could carry my rifle in a way that made it quick to deploy.

Dan agreed to do all of these modifications, and a few months later, after paying a very modest fee, I had my pack back, better than ever.

Using the modified McHale this hunting season has convinced me that it is the ideal hunting pack for my style of backpack hunting.  It easily swallows a week’s worth of gear and food.  The pack has three spaces; a lower compartment, an upper compartment, and a large exterior pocket.  All of my gear and extra clothing fits nicely into the lower compartment, where it’s easily accessible with a couple of zippers.  The large exterior pocket holds things like map, compass, and headlamp, and my food and water goes in the upper compartment.  Fully loaded, there’s still tons of room for meat.

McHale Pack, loaded for a week of hunting

McHale Pack, loaded for a week of hunting

This pack is easy to carry while stalking and moving over rough ground, and it’s also comfortable to carry, mile after mile.  I can hike all day and my hips and shoulders do not ache.  The McHale design of the hip belt (which is larger than any other hip belt I’ve seen on a pack) really spreads the weight out, transferring the load to the hips without creating pressure points or rubbing.     The shoulder straps separate the strap adjustment from the load lifter adjustment, a feature which, as far as I know, is unique among backpacks.  This allows the pack to be snugged close to the body without pulling the shoulder straps up off of the shoulders, greatly improving stability.

Fully loaded with hunting gear. Still lots of room for meat.

Fully loaded with hunting gear. Still lots of room for meat.

The pack is not ultralight.  As modified, it weighs 7 pounds, 2 ounces.  That is about a pound heavier than some of the popular hunting packs from Mystery Ranch, Kifaru, Kuiu, etc.  However, this includes the weight of the foam pad, which can be detached from the pack and used as a sit pad or sleeping pad.  Also, the volume of this pack is larger than other hunting packs.  (The McHale is over 8000 cubic inches or 131 liters!!)  Given the load carrying capacity, I’m happy to trade an extra pound for the heavy-load comfort that this pack provides.

McHale packs are expensive, but they’re worth every penny.  They are hand made in Seattle to your body’s measurements and to your custom specifications.  The variations and options are endless.  You can get any size you want with any features that you want in a choice of various high tech fabrics.

On every hunting forum I’ve frequented, a common question is, “what is the perfect hunting pack?”  In my opinion, it’s a McHale pack.  Most folks haven’t even heard of these packs, but the combination of huge load carrying capability, quality construction, and customizable features puts the McHale packs in a class by themselves.

 

 

Review of the Leica Geovid 10 x 42 HD-B EDITION 2200 Binoculars

These binoculars are marketed as the Leica Geovid 10 x 42 HD-B EDITION 2200 model.   Leica’s “Geovid” range of binoculars all feature integrated laser rangefinding.  The “10×42” indicates that they are 10 power magnification, with a 42mm objective lens.  The “B” in “HD-B” means that they have on board ballistics software.  (I assume that the HD means high definition, but I’m not sure.)  The “Edition 2200” indicates that they are designed to range out to 2200 yards.

Leica Geovid HD-B 10x42 Edition 2200

Leica Geovid HD-B 10×42 Edition 2200.  It’s a good fit with the Alaska Guide Creations bino pack.

The Leica Geiovid HD-B binoculars feature an integrated laser rangefinder, temperature and pressure sensors, and an inclinometer to measure angle slope.  These features, combined with on-board ballistics software, allow a shooter to acquire a target, range the target, and calculate a ballistics firing solution so that you can accurately adjust your rifle’s optics for the target’s range.

That’s a lot of tasks for a single piece of equipment.  This review will evaluate how well these binoculars perform these various tasks.

Optical Quality

The Geovid HD-B binoculars have outstanding optical quality.  Before I purchased the Geovids, I was using Swarovski’s top of the line 10×50 EL binoculars.  After I got the Geovids, I kept the Swarovskis and used the two binos side by side under all sorts of conditions.  The optical quality of these two binoculars was so close as to be indistinguishable to my eyes.  In particular, I had expected the Swarovskis, with their larger, 50mm objective lens, to have superior performance in low light conditions.  However, when I looked through both binoculars side by side at dawn and dusk, there was not any discernible difference between the two.  I had originally planned on keeping the Swaros, but after several months of owning both the Swarovskis and the Leicas, I ended up selling the Swarovskis because I simply could not find any situation in which they outperformed the Leicas, and the Leicas have the advantage of the rangefinder and the ballistics calculator.

I’ve seen online debates about color rendition and chromatic aberration and other comparisons of Swaro and Leica glass, but the real world bottom line is that you will not be disappointed in the optical performance of these binoculars, even if you are accustomed to very high performance optics.  (I certainly wasn’t)

Build Quality, Design, and Ergonomics

The Geovids weigh 37.5 ounces.  This is pretty much identical to the Swarovski EL 10x50s, which is not bad considering the Geovids have a built in rangefinder.  The Geovids came with a case and strap, but I don’t use the Leica accessories, but rather use an Alaska Guide Creations binocular pack and harness, which protects the binoculars and has pockets for various odds and ends like lens cleaners, spare battery, hunting tags and licenses, and other miscellaneous things.

The binoculars are waterproof (I haven’t tested this, but I’m willing to take Leica’s word on this.)  Ergonomics are good, and the open bridge design makes them easy to grasp and hold.  The two buttons (one for the rangefinder and the other for the other functions) are close together, which can make it easy to mistakenly press the wrong button when wearing thick gloves, but the buttons have different feels to them (concave vs. convex surfaces) so if you’re using the binoculars with bare hands or sensitive gloves, you can tell which button you are pushing.

Adjustments of the eye cups and the focus and diopter adjustments are simple and easy.

My only complaint regarding build quality is that the lens covers for the objective lenses don’t stay on that well.  They are always just falling off the lenses, even when I don’t want them to.  (They are attached securely, however, so even when they fall off of the lens, they remain attached to the binocular body and don’t get lost.)  I never really had this issue with the Swarovski lens covers.

Glassing in my Uncompahgre Jacket

Glassing with the Geovids

Rangefinding Performance

These binoculars are claimed to have an effective range of 2200 yards.  In real world use, I have never been able to range anything out that far.  Performance is best in cloudy conditions without direct sunlight.  Dawn and twilight generally result in optimum ranging.  Reflective objects are supposed to be easier to range, but I’ve found that sometimes they can be harder than softer objects like trees.  I think that may be because if the reflective object is oriented the wrong way, it deflects the light away from you, so you don’t get a good return signal.  Generally, this is an issue with flat rock surfaces.  Round boulders are good targets.

Hand held, I can range deer pretty reliably out to about 700 yards.  For accuracy beyond about 700 yards, it really helps to use a tripod or rest the Geovids on a pack or a stump or some other means for keeping them absolutely steady.  With a tripod or other rest, I generally can range targets out to 1100 yards or so pretty reliably.  Maximum range in ideal real world situations for me seems to be about 1700 yards.  Anything beyond that seems to be extremely conditions-dependent and unusual.

If there is snow on the ground combined with bright sunlight, the Geovids struggle to accurately range deer sized targets beyond 400 yards.  (Again, using a tripod helps, but not as much.)  Cold, winter conditions have been a challenge, as a result of the reflective snow and also (I believe) the cold’s drain on the unit’s battery.  I’ve been in winter situations where I’ve been unable to range targets at 250 yards.  Heavy falling snow pretty much shuts the rangefinder down, making it useless for ranging anything.

Rain doesn’t seem to affect ranging capabilities much.  When it’s raining, it’s generally overcast, so the lack of direct sunlight seems to offset whatever interference the rain may have.

Range is 916 yards

Range reads 916 yards  In normal conditions, ranging to 1000 yards is pretty routine.

ranging-2

Display shows 74 clicks of elevation adjustment (7.4 MILS)

When compared with the two other rangefinders I’ve owned and used, the Geovids are significantly better performers than the Swarovksi Laser Guide, and significantly worse than my Vectronix PLRF15.  The Geovids are probably twice as effective as the Swarovski Laser Guide, easily ranging targets that are outside of the Swaro’s effective range.  The military spec Vectronix can range several times further than the Geovid, and can range smaller targets in worse conditions.  However, it has inferior optics (only a 6x monocular) and doesn’t have any of the other ballistics or weather features of the Geovid.

Cold Weather Performance

This is the biggest problem I have found with the Geovids.  The rangefinding function stops working when the temperature drops much below freezing.  A fresh battery doesn’t seem to help either.  Ranging performance pretty much drops to zero when it’s cold.  I don’t know why this is the case, but it’s been pretty much consistently useless in cold conditions.  Because of this, I can’t really recommend the Geovids for hunting in cold conditions.

Ballistics Software

The Geovids have onboard ballistics software that provides a vertical ballistics firing solution out to 1000 yards, incorporating pressure, temperature, and angle.  Past 1000 yards, the Geovids will provide a range, but no ballistics firing solution.

The software part of the package is where Leica has room for the most improvement.  The web based software for the Geovids is really bad.  There’s no convenient way to save and tweak your ballistic data and rifle profiles.  Every time you go to the web site, you are basically starting over with your ballistics inputs and profiles.  Other modern ballistics software has easy and convenient ways of storing and modifying multiple ballistics profiles.  Leica really needs to raise their game when it comes to their software user interface.

You can use a microSD card to store a custom ballistics profile in the Geovids.  However, the microSD card can only hold a single profile, so if you want to use the Geovids with different rifles or different loads, you have to change out the microSD card, which is a serious pain in the butt.  The card is seated in a tiny slot in the battery compartment that is very hard to access with fingers.  I bought a small tweezers to make removing and inserting microSD cards easier.

Leica's ballistics web page where you enter custom load information

Leica’s ballistics web page where you enter custom load information

The software is a bit glitchy. Notice how my bullet weight has been set to 0.

The software is a bit glitchy. Notice how my bullet weight has been reset to zero.  Losing input data when you navigate between screens is a common issue.

In order to true up my Geovid software to match my real world ballistics, I pull up my real-world adjusted drop chart that I have created using my Android’s Strelok Pro ballistics app, then I tweak the ballistics coefficient and/or velocity in the Geovid ballistics software profile until the Geovid drop chart matches my Strelok chart.  I’ts clunky, and takes more effort than it should, but ultimately, it provides ballistics data that matches my real world DOPE very closely.

Drop table can be used to synchronize Leica ballistics with real world DOPE

Drop table can be used to synchronize Leica ballistics with real world DOPE

I use rifle scopes with Mil reticles, and the Geovid can be set up to give me a firing solution in 1/10 Mil clicks, which is fast and simple.  I see the number of clicks, divide by 10, and that’s how many Mils I need to adjust for.  For those who work in MOA, the Geovid supports MOA too, as well as calculating drop in inches.

The software accounts for vertical drop only, and there is no provision at all for horizontal windage.  That’s OK with me, however, because I’ve pretty much got my 10mph wind values memorized out to 1000 yards, and they don’t change much due to atmospheric conditions.

My complaints about the clunkiness of the interface aside, the ballistics software is pretty good.  With some work and tweaking, it provides accurate firing solutions out to 1000 yards.  It’s not great, but ultimately, it gets the job done.  If Leica were to license the software and interface from Strelok, or Applied Ballistics, or one of the other state of the art software packages, that would be great.

Overall Conclusions

For long range target shooting, I don’t use the Geovids.  They don’t provide ballistics solutions past 1000 yards, and their rangefinding capabilities pale in comparison with my Vectronix PLRF15.  For long range target shooting, I use my spotting scope to examine the target, my Vectronix PLRF15 to calculate range, my Kestrel to provide wind, pressure and temperature data, and my Samsung phone with the Strelok Pro app to calculate a firing solution.  This is extremely accurate and reliable, but it takes forever.  When you’re shooting at a steel plate or a milk jug, it really doesn’t matter how long you take to generate a firing solution.  However, when hunting animals, time can be a real constraint.  The elk will likely just walk away by the time you’ve figured out your turret adjustments.

The Geovids provide a very rapid tool for generating a firing solution on a game animal target.  The added advantage that the Geovids combine several functions into a single tool make them even more attractive.

Conclusion

If it were not for the miserable rangefinding performance in cold weather, I would be happy with the Geovids.  However, given that I hunt mostly in the mountains, where cold conditions are common, the Geovid doesn’t cut it as a hunting tool for my purposes.

For a some very good and in-depth reviews of the Geovids on another blog, you can go HERE for a video review, and HERE and HERE for reviews of the Geovid and a detailed explanation of its ballistics functions.  My conclusions are similar to his, although he seems to have better results than I do ranging things over 1500 yards.

Utah General Season Elk Hunt

This is the tale of my recent elk hunting trip to the Uintas. Spoiler alert! I did not get an elk. This story does not have a happy ending. There will be no delicious elk bourguignon; no bacon wrapped elk tenderloin; no elk burgers; no elk stew. I am a bad hunter. If I were living in a hunter-gatherer society, I would be of the lowest status. My tribal name would be, Uwangalaama, which, roughly translated means, “He whom the elk mock.”

Nevertheless, even though I am a failure as a hunter, I had a lot of fun. I started out heading up to the high Uintas, following an abandoned ATV trail in my 80 Series Landcruiser, bumping over large boulders, deep washed out gullies, and heavy mud; crashing over the occasional downed tree, marveling at the total bad-assery of Toyota’s last great off-road vehicle, manufactured in the days when Landcruisers were not designed for going to the mall.

80 Series Land Cruiser

80 Series Land Cruiser

When I drove far enough down the track that I would be pretty much impossible to rescue if I got stuck, I stopped and set out hunting. I headed toward a spot that I had scouted out several weeks ago and had seen elk. After several hours of hiking, I found a tree which an elk had used to rub his antlers on. It was a fresh rub, and the bark was still moist and the gash was just starting to weep sticky resin. From here, I followed the elk’s tracks through the forest, encountering some very recent elk droppings.

Eventually, I heard sounds of the elk in the thick forest. I dropped my pack, and began creeping up on the elk, trying hard not to make any sound. I was feeling very Natty Bumpo, and was stoked that I was about to bag an elk my first day of the hunt. However, there were so many downed trees, it was like playing Jenga on a mound of Pick up Sticks. I was about 30 yards away when I snapped a big twig. The elk (a little spike antlered bull) popped his head up and took off. There was no way to get a shot off. The thick timber was a curtain that did not allow a clear shot, even at 30 yards.

The heavy timber and deadfalls made travel difficult

The heavy timber and deadfalls made travel difficult

Not wanting to let this elk that I had tracked down escape, I followed him. Trailing was initially quite easy, as he was moving fast, breaking branches and leaving deep tracks in the dirt. Eventually, however, I lost the track. Worse, I realized that I had no idea where I had left my pack. I headed back in the direction I thought my pack was, and soon was not entirely sure where I was in relation to my pack or my vehicle. It’s just a big, thick forest, and all the trees look pretty much the same, and there are no landmarks. So, I did what I always do when I get disoriented (note, “disoriented” not “lost.”) I used the expanding spiral. I didn’t find my pack, but I came across the elk tracks and my tracks. By back-tracking I was finally able to make it back to my pack. This was good, because I didn’t have the gear on me to spend a comfortable night out.
Fresh Elk Rub

Fresh Elk Rub

I collected my pack, breathed a sigh of relief, and set out to track the elk again. It took me a while, but eventually I picked up what I thought was his trail. I followed it for a while, and again heard sounds of an elk ahead. This time, I marked my pack’s location with my gps on my watch, and this time, I moved so slowly that I would not make any noise at all. I slithered towards the elk like the Grinch stealing presents on Christmas Eve. However, when I was no more than 20 yards away, the wind shifted, blowing my scent toward the elk. I felt it shift, and a few seconds later, the elk popped his head up and took off. I tried to get a clear shot, but as before, the dense timber would not allow it. I did see that it was a different elk than the first one.

After that, I hunted a bit more, and finally settled in to a spot by a small pond, where I would spend the night. The pond had lots of recent elk sign around it, and two intersecting game trails. However, no elk appeared. I decided to forgo a tent and sleep out under the stars because the weather was beautiful and looked likely to remain so. Howling wolves later on made me question that decision, but while they woke me periodically with their howling, they did not come near or gnaw on me in the night.

High Uintas Pond

High Uintas Pond

The next day, I saw no elk. I followed fresh sign, and fresh tracks, but didn’t see any actual animals.
Sunset on the mountains

Sunset on the mountains

I decided to hike over a big ridge into the next drainage. It was even further from any road or trail, and I figured there might be elk there that had not been scared by hunters. On a steep descent down into the valley, I blundered into another elk. He was a big, fully grown trophy elk. (Bigger than I wanted to pack out, really.) He was there for about 2 seconds, and then he disappeared into the thick timber before I could even get my gun to my shoulder.
Uinta aspen

Uinta aspen

The next couple of days were frustrating. I tried to find places where the elk would be in the open, but while I saw recent elk sign in the meadows and clearings, I saw no elk. Generally, elk hunker down in deep timber during mid day, and are mobile and active in the morning and evening. That’s when they go out into the meadows and clearings and do elky things like browse on green grass and lichen and socialize, etc. However, we had a really bright, almost full moon. It was lighter at 3:00 a.m. than it was at twilight because of the moon. Because of this, the elk didn’t need to move around in the morning or evening. They could hunker down until late night, and then come out and frolic in the moonlight.

R Bros 300 Win Mag

Perfect ambush spot for the elk that didn’t show up to be ambushed.  

I put this theory to the test one night when I couldn’t sleep. I got up at 2 in the morning, and crept to a large meadow near where I was camping. Sure enough, there were four elk in the meadow, and possibly more in the dark timber surrounding it. The moon was so bright that I could see them clearly, and could have had an easy 120 meter shot. However, legal hunting time ends a half hour after sundown, no matter how bright the moon. Inexplicably, I brought my (useless) rifle with me to this late night elk soiree, but neglected to bring my camera, so I was not able to capture any images of these ghostly elk.

Midnight Moonlight

Midnight Moonlight

My last night in the woods, the beautiful weather took a turn for the worse. It began to rain heavily, and the wind picked up too. I set up my tent in the middle of a meadow to lessen my chances of a dead tree falling on me. In the night, I was visited by an unknown animal. It woke me up with loud wheezing panting right next to my tent. Not knowing what else to do, I growled loudly at it, figuring that a loud growl was the universal animal language for “I’m sleeping. Go away.” The heavy breather mystery beast apparently got the message and left me in peace.
Cougar Den

Cougar Den

I woke up this morning to snowfall, and hiked out in snow, which made the forest magical. Hunting is unlike any other outdoor activity that I do. When hunting, you move very slowly and are so focused on your surroundings, you see everything around you. You notice little things that you would likely just pass by if you were just out hiking. I saw a cougar den, interesting rocks and trees, lots of animal sign, and even a few elk. Although I didn’t fill our freezer full of elk meat, it was still a terrific experience. I spent five days alone in beautiful, rugged, remote country. I didn’t see another human being that entire time. I didn’t have phone, email, or internet. I’m already looking forward to next year.
hunting-7

Watching and waiting

The Old Gods are watching

The Old Gods are watching

hunting-16

Fallen Aspen Leaves after a storm