Essential Gear for Backpack Hunting in the Wilds
Adventure is yours to define and is different for each and every one of us. One thing is certain: we all have a need for it to some degree.
I find adventure through hunting on Do-It-Yourself hunts all over the country, but one place that I will never miss a year is within the PA Wilds. The opportunity to see the leaves change colors in the fall, trek through the snowy mountainsides in the winter, and listen to the turkeys light up the woods in the spring gives us ample opportunities to get outside to enjoy nature and hopefully bring home some wild game meat for our families.
To take it one step further and really get away from the hustle of everyday life, I like to go on weekend-to-weeklong backpack hunting trips.
When I first started hunting elk in the Rocky Mountains, I would pack into the mountains with everything I needed for the next 7 days on my back – including camp, food, water (or ways to filter water) and all of my hunting gear. It wasn’t until I did that out there that I realized that we can do that in Pennsylvania, as well. Within the Pennsylvania Wilds, there are many remote places that are almost cumbersome to get to for a day hunt, but are easily possible when packing camp in with you for a few days. Going into these areas far away from roads usually means you will be all alone hunting fairly unpressured game in their natural environment. I don’t know about you, but I go into the woods not wanting to see other people. With this type of hunting, you will need some additional gear to keep you safe.
Here are some gear items that are essential for completing these backpack hunting trips:
- Backpack hunting trips require a bigger backpack than you would normally take on a day hunt. Typically they have a larger capacity and some sort of an internal frame to carry the weight better. Backpacks ranging in the 3,500-6,000 cubic inch size range will work well depending on the duration of your hunt. The internal frame is also critical for hauling out your meat if you are successful. On these types of hunts, dragging a downed animal just isn’t possible.
- A shelter of some kind will be required. I’ve used small lightweight backpacking tents and hammocks with a tarp, depending on the weather conditions.
- Sleeping bag
- A down or synthetic sleeping bag will help keep you warm and comfortable. I use a sleeping bag rated for 25 degrees that I can leave vented open in warmer weather, and I add clothing layers to sleep comfortably in colder weather.
- Sleeping pad
- An inflatable or rollup sleeping pad will make your night’s sleep much more comfortable than staying on the ground. A cot is typically too bulky and heavy to pack in on one of these hunts.
- I recommend bringing in dehydrated meals that you just add hot water, to eat in 20 minutes or less. This requires a small stove, fork and a lighter.
- When you are living outside in the elements for days on end, your clothing layering becomes very important for comfort and safety. If you remember “cotton kills” you are off to a good start. Polyester and merino wool clothing from your socks and underwear to your outer layers will make you more comfortable and keep you safe in the field. To understand proper layering systems, check out this other article I wrote in depth on the topic here.
- Utilizing a 2-3L water bladder, I will fill that up for the hike in, but it’s tough to bring enough water for your entire stay. This is where water filtration comes into play. Water filters come in many shapes, sizes and styles, but the important thing is to ALWAYS filter your water no matter how clean the stream looks.
Meat processing kit
- As mentioned above, you will need to break down the animal in the field and “pack out” the meat. I put together a kit inside of my backpack that includes field dressing gloves, a knife, game bags for keeping the meat clean, a contractor bag to lay the meat on while preparing to take it out, flagging tape for tracking, and paracord for hanging the meat to cool.
For detailed information on all of the items I’m carrying in the field for backpack hunting whether out west or in the PA Wilds, check out this gear list here.
If you would like to try something different this year and add some more adventure to your hunt, I would recommend giving backpack hunting a try! Please review the rules and regulations below to understand where you can and cannot camp.
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