These 9 items fall into that category for me that get put off and often forgot about. You could purchase this entire list for $70, and yet it could have more impact on your hunts this fall than almost any other gear if the situation arises. I have found all of these items incredibly useful in the past, and I hope that you find this list helpful as we head into the fall hunting seasons.Read More
A few posts ago I shared some thoughts as to why a tarp is my favorite shelter for backpacking and back pack hunting. If you missed it you can read that here. In that article I mentioned that I primarily use two tarp sizes, a 10x12 and a 9x5. This is about my 9x5 tarp, which is my go to option for solo backpacking and hunting.The Kifaru sheep tarp is a product I picked up over the last winter after having my old 9x5 tarp (Jimmy Tarps) rip apart on me last fall. Since that time, and after going through the spring hunting seasons with it, I have really come to enjoy the Sheep Tarp, and like it quite a bit better than the cheaper competitor that I had before.
I don't think I need to explain what 9'x5' looks like, you get the idea. However, if you're new to using a tarp, or new to this size, the important takeaway here is that it's small. A 9x5 tarp provides about the minimal amount of space necessary for one person to hunker down with his/her gear at either the foot or head end of the laying position. When pitched I some sort of a-frame, there is only about 3.5' or some of width underneath the tarp. This provides just enough room for a nights sleep for one person.I will be the first to admit that this isn't the most luxurious size of tarp, but what you gain for giving up some room is pack space, The stuff sack that is sewn to this tarp lends it to look about like a Nalgene bottle in stature when stored. However, if you cram it into a tight spot in your pack its more like an average to slightly large apple in size. That is with the 75' of guyline I have tied to it at all times, but more on that later. You also gain a weight savings over the larger tarps.
The Sheep Tarp weighs in at around 11 ounces with my guyline tied to it. Its closer to 9.5 ounces out of the box. That kind of weight is pretty damn impressive for a solo shelter that you can easily sit upright underneath. It's no secret that the fastest way to cut pack weight down is to minimize the weight coming from the so called "big 3." Big 3 meaning your sleeping bag, shelter, and backpack. Having a shelter under 1lb sets you on your way to have a sleep system that all together should be easily under 4lbs.Now a 9.5 ounce tarp of this size is fairly average for a nylon variety, which shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. There really isn't a whole lot of ways to cut weight on a tarp outside of making it smaller or using lighter materials. If I was concerned about weight to a larger degree, I would opt for a cuben fiber tarp, but from what I have seen of the couple cuben pieces ive had, it's durability as a fabric is a major concern. It would also cost at least an extra $100 if not more.
So why did I purchase this tarp over all the other options and why do I like it so much? My first answer to that question is... Durability. If you know Kifaru, you know that their products are built to last and this tarp is no different. After being underwhelmed by how my last tarp held up, I didn't want to be dealing with that scenario again. The nylon blend that Kifaru uses is proprietary to them as far as I know, and it is very durable. When I bought the sheep tarp I knew that I was getting a very high quality, and high tensile strength fabric, which was one of my main considerations when shopping for this.Another reason that I love this tarp is because it has so many tie out points. I wish more companies would add additional tie outs. In the scheme of things an extra 4-6 tie out loops around a tarp don't add much more than an ounce or two of weight, and they allow you to pitch a tarp in dozens of more ways than you could without them. I feel like this is especially important on a 9x5 tarp, because sometimes you need to get fairly creative in dealing with what you have when a storm comes in. The extra ridgeline tie out points make all the difference in being able to pitch this tarp in a manner that will get you through a storm comfortably as opposed to being awake all night as the rain blows in.
Probably the most basic and easiest pitch to envision, this is one that I still use a lot when the weather is good to fair. It allows for good head height for sitting underneath the tarp, and is very simple to set up. In the picture below I have used two trekking poles to suspend the ridgeline, and then stake the 4 corners and one middle tie-out on each long side. Often I use trees to suspend the ridgeline at either one end or both if I can manage, as they are quicker to tie off to, and are more rigid and stable that trekking poles. However, if the right trees aren't around my selected campsite then trekking poles or a couple of stout sticks are my solution.I typically pitch in the a-frame configuration when I don't expect much rain or just want some shade in the middle of the day to take a nap. If I expect a clear night I would also pitch this way just as a precaution so that I don't have to get out of bed to avoid a little rain shower passing over in the middle of the night. With the sheep tarp and its size, I like to have the ridgeline at about my sternum in terms of height.
I will admit that I don't really know the proper name for this configuration, but this is the pitch I use when I expect the weather to be moderate to shitty. I've heard it referred to as the tetra wedge, but I'm not so sure someone else didn't just come up with that on the fly either. What it is though, is essentially a modified a frame. This pitch is one that I really like, and one of the main reasons I bought a sheep tarp over its competitors. Without the additional ridgeline tie outs, this configuration doesn't work. This is also one of the best pitches I've found to seal out some bad weather in a small tarp.The important thing to note when setting up this way is to place the end that is enclosed, preferably towards your feet, in the direction the wind is coming. This will seal out all of the windblown rain and keep you and your gear nice and dry. With that in mind its fairly simple, start by staking one of the narrow ends to the ground, and then suspend the ridgeline with a pole or tree on the opposite end. From there grab the ridgeline tie out closest to the end that is staked flat, and using a trekking pole or overhanging branch, tie upward tension on the tarp so that it gives room for you to lay underneath. After that is done it is simply a matter of staking out the remaining two corner and 1-3 more guyouts on each of the long sides of the tarp.
When you buy your Sheep Tarp, there is a bit of guyline included but not much, and not of a kind that I like in the least. The two things that you also will need to purchase are cordage and stakes. For cordage, I will save you the effort of looking and just tell you to order 1.2mm z-line. It took me years to discover this stuff, and honestly there is nothing else like it on the planet. It weighs less than an ounce for 50' and its strong enough to hang at least two elk quarters from one piece (I've done it). It also has no stretch, and it tangles much less than other options. I have had z line on anything that I use cordage on now for years, and there really isn't a reason to go with something else. The fact that it hasn't made its way into REI or some place similar by now boggles my mind.I personally have around 12' of cordage on each of the ridgeline tieouts. I then added 6' roughly to each of the remaining 10 tie outs around the perimeter of the tarp. Lastly, I have two 10' sections of cordage that I keep in my stake bag to use in a situation where I implement my storm pitch from above, where I will tie a 10' section on to a ridgline point. I leave all of the perimeter tie outs with cord attached in the stuff sack, but for whatever reason I prefer to remove the cordage from the center tarp tie outs and keep them in my stake bag. Either way it doesn't really matter, but leaving the cordage around the tarp perimeter makes setup much faster. This is also another reason to use the Z-line I mentioned because it tangles minimally in the stuff sack.Secondly you'll need to buy some tent stakes, or use ones that you already have. I usually try to carry 6-8 stakes, and they are usually a mix of some ultralight carbon ones as well as some DAC aluminum v-pegs. The v-pegs are what I use for ridgelines and high tension points, and the ultralight carbon stakes usually hold side guylines in place. Whenever possible I tie off to trees, logs, or rocks as well as they usually hold far better than a 5" stake can. Often I carry less stakes than spots that I tie the tarp off to, but between using natural tie off points, and occasionally fashioning my own stake from a stick, I've never been in a situation with 6-8 stakes that I couldn't make work.
Are you thinking about making the Kifaru Muskeg your latest purchase? Well after getting mine in the mail last week hopefully I can shed some light on my feelings and thoughts about it, and why I think it may be my favorite pack to date after trying well over a dozen different models in the past. There are several things that I am loving about this new design right out of the box.
Duplex Lite Frame
First off I want to mention the new frame which has been paired with the release of the Kifaru Muskeg. The duplex lite is quite possibly the most significant upgrade to this new pack over the hunting frame/woodsman combo I had previously been using. The differences looked subtle at first, and I wondered how much difference I would really notice, but as soon as I tried it on I had no more questions. The simple addition of the horizontal crossmember to the frame makes the frame leaps and bounds more rigid horizontally, which was my only real complain with the older version.Also, although I obviously don't have a ton of time under this pack yet, it seems that the breathability and airflow for the wearer's back will be much better. For someone who sweats a lot, and who has had heat stroke twice, this is also something that I care a bit about. The new lumbar pad on the duplex lite is also a little better in feel in my personal opinion, and as before, Kifaru still has the best hip belt that I have seen on any pack, any where. The hip belt alone is what convinced me to switch to a Kifaru backpack in the first place.
This bag really is my favorite to date. I have griped a bit in the past about there not being a great offering from Kifaru in the real of 3,000-4,000 cubic inch bags, which is the sweet spot for what I like in a pack. The Woodsman was an appealing option when it was released, and it served me well over the last year. However, I had some things that I didn't particularly care for personally, but this muskeg has addressed those.My main complaint with my previous pack was that the compression straps were on piece that ran fully around the bag. Sometimes this works great, but at times it leaves a bit to be desired. Specifically with the use of the meat shelf, the compression system of the woodsman was impossible to get as tight as I wanted it at times. The muskeg now has separate compression on both sides of the bag, and it runs in the proper direction as well (meaning the buckle end is towards the frame not the middle of the bag.)I also really like the incorporation of the xpac fabric, and the overlayed 500d cordura in all of the spots where it is likely to encounter the most abuse. This allows for a pack with a few extra features at a similar weight to one that has no features, or at a lighter weight than one made of only 500d. A couple of my favorite features on the pack are the small slot pockets for tripod legs on both sides of the pack, and the side zip entry.I have long viewed a side zip entry as the best possible zip access for a bag from a bowhunter's perspective, because you can access the bag without removing a bow that is cinched to the pack. The zipper on this bag, and on the xpac belt pouches for that matter too, is the smoothest and best feeling waterproof zipper I have seen on any bag. Usually waterproof zippers are stiff and a pain to use, but this one is fantastic, and probably even better than the zipper on the 500d bags. I also am enjoying the slim outside pocket that runs down the back, which will allow me to stash my hat, gloves, and an empty water bladder in a spot that is easy to access.The 3,000 cubic inch version is an extremely sleek and slim pack which I really like about it, however, the great part about the muskeg is that Kifaru has offered it in 3 sizes so that you can tailor the bag to the amount of space you need. After several initial loadings of the pack with all my archery elk gear, it seems that I can get all my gear plus about 6 days of food inside this bag for me. I would be able to stretch this pack out for 10+ days by leaving my camera out, but instead I will most likely attach a guide lid in the case of trips beyond the 5-7 day mark.If you have a system of ultralight gear that is minimal and very dialed, then the Muskeg 3000 might be right for you. For general backpacking use I think most people would find the 5000 cu in model most effective, and for those with cold weather gear or long extended trips, the 7000 inch bag may be the perfect fit. Whichever one you pick, this is a pack that I am really excited about wearing for the upcoming fall, and probably well into the future. It has everything I need in a pack while being able to maintain the compact feel that I like on my back.
When I first was able to start spending some money on higher end gear back in 2010, the first purchase I made was a good sleeping bag. I had froze my butt off too many times in cheap 40 and 50 degree sleeping bags, because they were the only way I could afford a bag that was around 2 pounds in total weight. The old adage of picking two of the three qualities between lightweight, quality, and price held true. A $80 2lb bag that is rated at 40 degrees is a recipe for a lot of miserable nights, and after several years of putting up with not sleeping much at night in the woods, I knew where I first wanted to spend some money.When it comes to sleeping bags, there are a few various factors that separate them into categories. The first will be down vs. synthetic, to put it simply. Both have their advantages, and not all down and synthetic bags are created equally. The other main choice is going to be the temperature rating. While the EN test rating does provide some baseline numbers to go off of in backing up a manufacturers claim on warmth, it is still largely subjective, and different companies rate their bag on different figures from EN testing, while others don't use the test at all.The other factors are obvious but just as important. The amount of weight you want to carry, and the amount of money you are willing to spend for a sleeping bag are both going to frame your decision. So now, more in depth information on how you can find your ideal sleeping bag.
Fill Type- Down vs Synthetic
Let's start with down. Most high end bags are going to be filled with goose down. The advantage to down is that it will give you the lightest weight bag for the warmth that you are looking for. In other words its warmth to weight ratio will be the highest. Quality down gear also lasts a very, very long time when treated properly, and can have a lifespan of well past 10 years. Down is also the most compressible option by far, often yielding a compressed sleeping bag that is half the size or smaller of an equal synthetic bag. All this makes down seem like the ultimate backpack sleeping bag option right?Unfortunately down has one major draw back, and that its useless if the bag is wet. Down dries incredibly slowly, and once it becomes wet, the feathers flatten, the loft of the bag is lost, and it no longer provides insulation. For the majority of backpackers and recreationalists this isn't much of an issue. The majority of people backpacking don't spend much time outside when the weather is bad. However, for a hunter this can become a major issue as the we plan our trips around season dates, and not weather.A couple things to keep in mind when going with a down sleeping bag is that you will need to do your absolute best to keep the bag dry. This includes avoiding outside moisture and inside moisture both. A good stuff sack, a good shelter, and dry clothes to sleep in are all an absolute must in my opinion when it comes to a down bag. If however, you are planning on using your sleeping bag in conditions that never break above freezing, down will simply be your option. If all the water around you is frozen, you wont be worried about water soaking into your down near as much. On the flip side, a packraft hunt where you are living on the water probably isn't the ideal situation for a down bag.Lastly, down is tedious to wash, and often is best done by having someone else who specializes in it wash it for you. Both the process of washing, and the long process of drying are tedious and must be done carefully to avoid destroying your sleeping bag.
Down Fill Power
Fill power is something that I find is often misunderstood. Simply put, the number of fill power is the amount of space 1oz of down will occupy when full lofted. So 1oz of 900 fill power down will fill 900 cubic inches of space when fully lofted in a cylinder. Typically you will see sleeping bags from 650 fill to 950 fill. The higher the fill power rating, the lighter your bag will be, because it takes less ounces of down to occupy the lofted space needed for insulation. However, each step up in fill power will also take a step up in price, as it requires a more premium and select type of goose feather.The other thing that I feel is more important to note is that a bag with a lower fill, like 650 down, will not be less warm. It just takes more ounces of down to get the same warmth, so you will get a heavier product in the end. Fill power numbers will apply the same to down jackets and garments as well. There is an argument that fill ratings above 850 are fragile and can degrade quicker, but I am not completely sure if this has solid proof, but it is a theory to be aware of.
Synthetic insulations, on the other hand, perform virtually the same when wet as they do when they are dry. In my opinion, the main reason to go to a synthetic sleeping bag is if you are worried about water contacting your sleeping bag. They will generally be heavier, bulkier, and slightly shorter in lifespan than a good down bag. However, for certain hunts, the ability to go to sleep in wet clothes and wake up with them dry is a major benefit. Synthetic sleeping bags also dry much faster than down in the field, and they can be washed much more easily at home with proper precaution.The types of synthetic insulation are endless at times it seems, as many companies have a name for their own take on a synthetic insulation. It is impossible for me to list all of the variations of synthetic insulations, but I will say that the best one I have used personally for a sleeping bag is probably Apex Climashield. As a synthetic its very efficient for its weight, and it compresses decently well. It also handles moisture extremely well, and would be my choice when I need a synthetic bag. For jackets and garments, I prefer primaloft and Apex alpha, but I can touch on that much more in depth in a separate post.
Personal preference and needs are really the entire game when it comes down to picking what temp rating you need. In general, I would recommend that you pick a bag about 10 degrees colder than the temperatures you expect to be sleeping in on most nights. However, like I mentioned before, there isn't a great temperature testing standard which to compare all sleeping bags to across the board. From what I have seen, bags that are cheap, and/or seem to be incredibly lightweight for their temp rating usually are too good to be true.Personally, I would recommend the following temperature bags for these times of year, but keep in mind that women and people who get cold often while sleeping should probably lean towards a bag with some additional warmth.40°+ Summer use and occasional 3 season use in warm climates30°- 35° Light 3 season use in good weather15°- 25° Solid 3 season use for mountain hunting-20°- 10° 4th Season use in very cold conditions.Out of these 4 categories, I will say up front that I would recommend down for the upper and lower ranges, and consider the debate between down and synthetic for the middle two groups. The reason for this being that temps above 40 degrees wont likely experience bad weather, and even if it were to occur, the temperatures will not threaten personal safety assuming that you have a decent clothing system. Also storms that occur in warm weather are short lived, and you will most likely have time to dry gear out the following day, or even sooner. On the cold side of the spectrum, weather well below freezing eliminates most of the possibility of water getting into a down filled bag. Synthetic bags much below 20 degrees also become so bulky and heavy that I don't consider them a good backpacking option.
Quilt vs. Sleeping Bag
With as popular as the quilt has become in recent years, I feel like I need to address the topic a little bit at least. This past winter I bought a quilt and tried it for a few weeks of hunting. Last week I sold it and went back to a sleeping bag. While my opinion is probably somewhat biased, the quilt just wasn't for me.Typically I am not someone who gets cold sleeping, but with a 10 degree quilt I would find myself waking up even on 40° nights slightly chilled due to the quilt shifting and becoming drafty. The more I used it, the better I did become at managing the quilt, but it still wasn't as secure or comfortable to me as a sleeping bag. The other part of the equation that I believe that led to me sleeping colder was the lack of a hood on a quilt. There is so much heat loss through your head, that I would consider a down hood a must for any quilt use in relatively cold weather. A stocking hat simply didn't cut it for me, and left my head and face cold.There were some things I did really like about the quilt though that I will mention. The first of those was the weight. Cutting the bottom of your sleeping bag out cuts weight no matter which way you look at it. You get more thermal efficiency for the weight and bulk you are carrying in your backpack. The second was that the quilt was less restrictive. When sleeping in a quilt you don't end up getting wrapped in your sleeping bag as you roll over during the night. This makes it comfortable to sleep in, and very versatile to use.While the quilt wasn't my favorite, I still wouldn't recommend against people trying them if they are interested in doing so. I actually slept very well in mine the majority of the time, but with fall approaching I am anticipating spending several nights in the woods well below freezing, and I just didn't feel like the quilt was going to cut it for me. However, in fair weather or for hammock camping (which I really enjoyed with the quilt) it is a very hard option to beat.
I hope this has put a good dent in the surface of sleeping bag research for you, and given you a few things to think about. One thing I didn't mention was the introduction of water resistant down. I'm aware of it, and I have tried it, but from my personal experiences, it doesn't live up to the hype. I don't believe that it is a bad thing to have, as it wont hurt the performance of the down, but I really haven't seen it help a whole lot either after trying several companies products which include it. I believe there is a reason that the companies making the highest quality down gear aren't using it, and I tend to view it more as gimmick than a necessity.Lastly, if you're looking for a product suggestion or have a question on something I didn't cover, please comment below or reach out to me on social media. I'd also greatly appreciate it if everyone gave this blog a follow as it will help me to continue creating content.Cheers
Over the next several weeks, as you prepare for the fall hunting seasons, I want to share what I have learned over the years in terms of gear. Good gear can make or break a hunt, but there are also priorities when it comes to choosing what to spend your hard earned money on. Is it better to upgrade your sleeping bag, or buy a gps? Will expensive broadheads benefit you over the economical option? Is a 20d nylon better than a 10d nylon? These are real questions that can often be confusing and take a lot of time to sort through.Over time I have been fortunate to try a ton of different gear, but unfortunately most of it was through trial and error by buying the same item multiple times from various manufacturers until I sorted out what I really needed. What I came to find over time, was an understanding of what specs matter, which ones didn't, and how to base my purchases based on how those specs related to what I knew I needed.I relentlessly pick apart my gear list every winter and evaluate how every item I packed worked, didn't work, or maybe wasn't used. After doing this for multiple years now I feel like I have figured out quite a bit, but I also still seem to have room for change every season. Just this last week I decided to once again change my sleeping bag, rain jacket, and to try another puffy jacket. (Those reviews will be coming up at a later date as well.)
What I Need
In the coming posts I will document what I have learned to date, and where I am still searching for the a better fit in my gear arsenal. But for now, I want to hear from you. What gear are you researching? What do you have questions about? What gear has been great and what has given you trouble? Please comment below and subscribe!
A couple weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to win a pack from Mystery Ranch from their #hauloffame photo contest on Instagram. They were gracious enough to pick my photo, and then let me pick out a pack paired with their guidelight frame. A week later it showed up on the front porch. This will be my initial thoughts and impressions about the pack, and later on this fall, after I get to throw some elk meat in it a time or two, I will write some more about my thoughts on it.To be completely honest, I had a Mystery Ranch pack, well packs actually, in the past. I had a crewcab, Metcalf, and dragonslayer at different points in time, but I sold those off about 5 years ago to explore other options. Since then, I have used both Kifaru and Stone Glacier with great success, and have had a few packs from both of them respectively. Originially, I had some things that I didn't particularly like about Mystery Ranch's old NICE frame, but from initial impressions it seems that they have fixed the majority of what I disliked about that system. Below are the areas that I felt like my old Mystery Ranch pack lacked in, and how I feel that the issues were solved in the newer version that has been out for a few years.WeightThis is the obvious one in my opinion. Not everything about a pack can be summed up by total weight by any means, but it does factor in, at least to me. The crewcab pack I had back in 2012 weighed in at 7lbs and 14oz empty and without add on accessories. To me, an 8lb empty pack is overkill, even for the level of durability that a mystery ranch product provides. Stone glacier has proven that an incredibly durable and reliable pack can be built for well under 5lbs, and even under 4lbs in some of their products, while still remaining capable of carry weights into triple digit figures.I was happy to see that when I put the pintler on the scale it was much closer to the 5lb mark than it's older predecessor, thelongbow, was on the NICE frame. It still won't be the lightest pack on the market, but they've cut the weight down enough to make it a competitive option while still providing a very good frame for load hauling.Load Lifter/ Frame HeightThis is probably the number one reason I had sold my NICE frame and pack bags originally. The old frame had no functional shoulder lift other than a glorified stabilizer strap from the shoulder straps to the top of a short frame. Around the time I sold my NICE frame Mystery Ranch did come out with an add on accessory that I believe was called a lift kit, but it added even more weight to the old design, and just seemed like too much of a bandaid to me.The newer guidelight frame addressed this issue in its design by providing a taller frame and plenty of lift for people of average height. It may have adequate lift for longer torso sizes as well, but I can't especially comment on that as I am only 5'8". There is plenty of rigidity in the frame to get the lift needed, and the angle is adjustable at least on the lower side where it attaches to the shoulder straps. I also like that the frame attachment for the load lifter and the upper compression straps come from the same point on the top of the frame, which helps the two opposite forces balance each other out some and eliminate some stress.Waist BeltWhile not a deal breaker before the old waistbelt was a standard outward pull belt. While functional enough, it lacks the ability at times to get enough tension on the belt to switch a load fully to the hips. I'm once again, the guidelight frame addressed this and includes a center pull belt that tightens much more easily and smoothly than the old design. The belt is also better ergonomically fit wise in my opinion, and more comfortable from my initial impressions with some weight in the pack for brief stints. More testing of it this fall though will help me decide if it's as effective as I think it will be.Load ShelfAt the time the NICE frame was released the load shelf idea wasn't nearly as popular as it is now. There were people, including myself, who were strapping meat between the bag and frame still, and it worked just fine. The guidelight has what Mystery Ranch refers to as the overload feature. This means there is a panel sewn to the bag and buckled into the frame underneath the bag for extra space when the two are separated.The extra panel isn't necessary to pack things in this location, as I've done it plenty of times without this feature. However, it's a nice add on feature that certainly doesn't hurt at all when getting some extra gear or meat on your pack.The shelf on this pack is well designed and quick to access. Some other packs can take quite some time to get everything readjusted and tensioned correctly for the shelf to carry well. The design on this pack is well thought out and works efficiently, letting you turn a small pack into something to carry your gear plus 60lbs or more of meat at the same time. I am also very fond of having good compression at all 4 sides of the frame, which this pack does very well.SummaryOverall I really like this pack so far. It solves every issue I had with my previous Mystery Ranch pack, at least on first appearance. The tri zip design of the bag is also why I chose this bag when they gave me the option. It's by far my favorite design of any bag I've used, and it's incredibly organized and easy to access all of your pack contents at any time. It's also one of the easiest designs to load when packing up.It seems every bit as quality as the American sewn packs I've had from Mystery Ranch as well as other companies, and I don't have any initial reservations about quality. It also includes some of the great designs that Mystery Ranch has developed over the years like the adjustable yolk for torso length sizing. The bag attachment system is similar in that it is also a very elegant design to seamlessly accomplish what it need to and do so in a very easy manner for the end user.Overall I'm very excited to put a little bit of time under this pack and really give it a spin in order to compare it to a couple of other packs from Kifaru this fall. I'm not sure that I will prefer it any more over what I have been using, but it's a worthy competition and a very good option, especially at retail price of under $500.Look for my full detailed review on this pack later in the year.
Last week, I went on a spur of the moment trip with a good friend. Monday night we decided to take a trip to Idaho to do some bear hunting before the season closed at the end of June. Tuesday morning rolled around and we started making our way east. We had no real plans to speak, or any specific areas in mind, but after some debate and a couple phone calls we hired a pilot and got dropped off in some of Idaho's most remote wilderness via airplane.We spent 5 days backpacking, hunting, picking mushrooms, and enjoying a wilderness that is of a scale so large its hard to wrap your mind around at times. The bear hunting was slow, in fact we only saw one bear which Joe was able to take. Below are some photos from one of the most unique trips I've experienced to date.
Over the last few years, it has seemed like floorless shelters have been the hot new thing. However, my absolute favorite of floorless shelters is nothing new at all. The tarp has been around for a very long time, and for good reason. Very few things can compete with a tarp on an all around scale that involves, weight, livable space, and versatility. So, I thought I would sit down for a moment and write some of my thoughts as to why the tarp is my ultimate 3 season shelter for backpacking and hunting.WEIGHT VS. SPACEA tarp packs an incredible punch when it comes to this first category. I mainly use two tarps currently, one being a Kifaru Sheep Tarp (roughly 9'x5') and a Hilleberg Tarp 10 (roughly 10'x12'). The Kifaru is under 1lb, and the Hilleberg is well under 1.5lbs after I switched guylines from what it originally came with. Its nearly impossible to find a good tent that weighs less than 2lbs, and when you do, the amount of space is miniscule compared to what either of these tarps can provide. I often pitch either of these tarps 5 or 6 feet off the ground so that I can walk in and out of my shelter, which is a luxury that's impossible with just about any backpacking tent. A 10x12 tarp, at less that 1.5lbs, is more than a comfortable amount of space for two people plus gear.VERSATILITYAnother major advantage that I find to tarps, is that they can be pitched in about as many ways as you can imagine. This is especially helpful in hunting situations where you find yourself far from anything resembling a suitable campsite many times. A tarp can be pitched over a deer bed for example giving enough extra space for gear, and just enough of a flat spot for one person to sleep in. A tarp also serves a good sun shade in the middle of the day, or a quick pop up shelter to hunker under in a thunderstorm.It seems that even though I use a basic a-frame pitch most of the time, I never pitch a tarp the same any two days on a trip. Being creative to make use of a combination of trees, rocks, stakes, and whatever else you find is the real freedom that a tarp comes with. Almost any situation that I seem to find myself in, I can come up with a way to set up shelter for good or bad weather.SIMPLICITYNot much could be more basic than a flat piece of fabric for a shelter, and the fact that there are no poles to break, no zippers to fail, and no space requirements to deal with really lets me adapt to wherever I find myself at the end of the day. A simple shelter makes for fast setup and takedown, and just one less thing to worry about while backpacking.MY TARP SETUPThese are a couple things that I have found useful while tarp camping over the years and they have helped me become more efficient at doing so.The first thing I will mention is having good guyline. The best that I have been able to find is 1.2mm Dyneema from ZPacks.com that is called zline. It has virtually no stretch to it, it will hold several hundred lbs, and it weighs .55oz for 50'. Its incredible cordage, and I would say that its the best utility cord/rope that I could imagine finding. For example on my Hilleberg tarp, I over half a pound by switching the guyline, and I think this guyline performs better than what was on it originally to boot.My next tip would be in how you tie on your guyline. Learn how to tie a friction hitch, and tie one to attach the tarp on every guyline. Having the friction hitch on the top end of the guyline will allow you to adjust tension without having to re-tie or adjust you stakes or tie-down points. This makes things much faster and simpler in the field, and can save several minutes every time you set up your tarp. These knots will take the job of a line runner or tensioner, but without adding a piece of plastic to the guyline to get tangled in your stuff sack, or just add weight to your overall setup.Finally, I try to carry a few good, strong tent stakes and couple extra 10' sections of cord. The tent stakes are obvious as to usage, but I will say that I prefer a good strong DAC aluminum v-peg. For me, these have been the strongest and I rarely end one even when kicking them into the ground. Several companies sell them, but I am still using a set that came with a Hilleberg tent because I really love the yellow color which seems to really help me keep from losing them. The extra guyline I also keep in the bag that stores my tent stakes, and I use it anytime I want to add some length to a ridgeline, or maybe reinforce the stability of a pole holding up an end of the tarp. Having a couple pieces already cut to 10' or so and with your stakes makes life a lot easier when you find that you need to reach a little farther to tie off.
The ever popular "Bino Harness" seems to have taken the industry by storm over the last couple years, and at this point it seems that everybody is making one. So, with as popular as it is, I thought I would share what I like, and what I carry in it.With so many options, this is obviously a thing of personal preference, and for me, the FHF gear harness has worked out about perfectly. It has just enough space to carry exactly what I want on it, but while still maintaining a low profile on my body. It also needs cleaned in a bad sort of way by now...So for starters, my binoculars obviously go inside the main compartment of the pack. I carry a pair of razor 10x42s with an outdoorsman's stud mounted to them to adapt to my tripod. I have played around with keeping the outdoorsman's adapter post in my bino pack, but honestly I haven't found the need to. Anytime I am using a tripod then I need to be packing my tripod around which involves my backpack. Simply put, I like keeping the post in the hip pocket of my pack where I can get to it easily any time I break out the tripod. A knock against the FHF harness I sometimes hear is that it doesn't have full closure to protect your glass from dirt. I leave the lens covers on my binos all the time so that negates that issue and keeps the eyepiece end free of dirt and dust.Next off I'll mention game calls. You wont see any in the photos basically because it's not elk season right now. One of the things that originally appealed to me about the FHF harness though was the two slotted pockets on the lid for diaphragms. I like these so much that I would wear this harness for calling even if I never needed my binos. They're always at my fingertips, and it allows them to still dry out after I take them out of my mouth. I also always keep an open reed cow call in the mesh side pocket on my ride side, which I tether off with a short piece of cord. I like it on my right so that I can drop it and let it hang if I need to draw my bow in a hurry, and I don't have to worry about it ever coming in contact with my bowstring on that side of my body.In the long vertical pocket in the front I keep my pocket knife which is currently a benchmade bug out. Its a great EDC blade made from S30v, and this is a place where I can always get to it quickly for any time I need it around camp at night or throughout the day.In the left side pocket I keep my flashlight/ headlamp. This one is a zebralight H32 and it runs off of a cr123 battery. I like the cr123 for a couple reasons. Mostly, a single cr123 contains more power than 2 AA batteries, yet it weighs less than one. It also is a more compact battery which allows for a small light. This lamp fits into a great head strap that makes it a phenomenal headlamp. I keep the head strap in my pack for when I want it, but I carry the light on my chest in case I need it in a pinch if it gets dark on a stalk and I have to find my way back to my pack. This lamp puts out up to 480 lumens, yet I can still get 11 hours out of it on medium output which is what I typically hike with, or up to 8 days on the brighter of the two low settings which I use in camp.Next, in the zippered front pocket I keep a spare cr123 battery, and a mini bic lighter. These are pretty self explanatory. I have other means of starting a fire in my pack, but I like having a lighter on me at all times just in case, and this one in my harness is the one I use on a daily basis to light a stove, start a fire, ect.In the flat pocket on the back of the harness I keep my license and tags, a tyto 1.1, and some replacement blades for the tyto. I'm a big fan of scalpel blades for breaking down game, and I've never had an issue with breaking them. They're razor sharp and I can carry the handle and 5 blades for well under 2 ounces (yes I know there are no blades in the container in the picture.) The tyto and blades are flat enough that I can't tell a difference in the feel of the harness against my chest whether they're in it or not. I also like the plastic blade case from havalon so that I have somewhere to put the dull blades, as well as somewhere to put a blade that is still sharp when I am done using the knife.Carrying this stuff on my chest allows me quick access to the things I use frequently, and it's also just enough to get me by and get me back to my pack after a stalk, even if that is in the dark. I will most likely add a rangefinder pouch back onto the right side of the harness for bow season this year, but lately while I had been rifle hunting for bears I preferred to keep it in the hipbelt of my pack since its a little less critical to have at my fingers.I fully subscribe to the theory of having your gear organized and in the same place 100% of the time so that when things happen quickly, you're organized, prepared, and don't need to make any more movement in close than is necessary.
In June of 2017 I got word that I had finally drawn an Oregon antelope tag on my 13th year of applying. Anyone who has spent much time around Oregon's tag draw system knows that antelope tags are not abundant by any stretch of the imagination. Originally I had expected to draw a tag in 2017, but after a rough winter during late 2016 and early 2017, the tag quota for several units was cut in half. Luckily I was still able to pull a tag for the Owyhee canyon lands and desert.Rifle antelope hunts in SE Oregon aren't overly difficult, and the success rates are very high on average. So, in other words, this hunt isn't a harrowing story of perseverance or endurance, but rather a good time hunting with a friend for a couple days in some of the historic country of Southeastern Oregon.A couple days before the opener, myself and Remington Clark loaded up some gear and headed out for what would be about a 10 hour drive from one corner of the state to the other. The 400 mile drive put us into my unit at about 2 am, when we rolled out a couple of bivy sacks and sleeping bags and called it a night. The next morning the sun rose to reveal the vast expanse of prairie and sagebrush for miles and miles. I had never hunted in anything close to this type of terrain, and for me, the distances were incredibly deceiving. Things that looked two miles away would often take us 5-6 miles of walking to reach and much more time than we would anticipate.[wpvideo YBM53pte ]Friday was our first day on the ground, and we spent it driving, hiking and glassing to get a general feel for the area before the season opened on Saturday morning. We found a few antelope, but no bucks really to speak of. The real surprise however was the sheer number of coyotes that were in this country. To see 20 a day in the Owyhee seemed like nothing special, and more of the norm for a day of driving and glassing.Friday night we set up an actual camp on top of one of the higher hills we could find, which gave us a good vantage of a 6x8mile chunk of flat plateau below us. When Saturday morning came, we woke up and within about 30 minutes we spotted a buck from camp. He was by himself, and he fed up through a chute in some rimrock and onto the flat above it about 5 miles in front of us.We drove about 3 miles closer to him, and then hiked for the remaining 2 miles to close the distance. When we got where we had last seen the buck, I was able to still hunt and spot the buck bedded in some sage brush. I belly crawled in to 110 yards, and then proceeded to shoot over his back and watch him run off.[wpvideo byhPS20t ]The rest of the afternoon we drove, hiked and shot a coyotes. Still I didn't feel like we were seeing the numbers of antelope that we should have been seeing, so we decided to take a drive and move about 20 miles east in the unit. This turned out to be a good decision as we immediately started seeing a lot more game.Around 4 pm we got out of the truck again to take a little hike to a high point to glass some taller sage brush country that was much more featured with topography. Immediately we spotted a buck with about 25 does 1800 yards in front of us. The stalk pursued as we weaved our way through draws and dry creek beds to a point where we get in front of the herd. After about 45 minutes, we were in position as the antelope fed by us from left to right at a couple hundred yards. I was able to wait a couple minutes until the buck cleared the surrounding animals and gave me a good, broadside shot.Remington went and got my pack which was about a mile and a half behind us back in the truck while I quartered the antelope and prepared the cape. I loaded it in my pack and within 2 hours of the shot, we had the meat submerged in ice. I bring this up as a point because I have heard negative things about the taste of antelope meat, but from my one experience it may be the best game meat I have ever had in my freezer.
To start off, I'm going to stay away from the word ultralight. I've spent enough time around and with the backpacking crowd to know that ultralight base weights would be under 10lbs. While for hunting this list is pretty lightweight, its not as light as it could possibly be, but rather its as lightweight as I need it while still being functional and durable for my use.Secondly, this is just for informational purposes. I'm not trying to convince anyone to go out and buy stuff on this list. I honestly don't care what gear someone uses, but for those who always have questions as to how I hunt with a certain weight of pack, maybe this will answer some of that.I have set up my gear over the past 10-15 years so that I am more easily able to hunt with everything I need on my back for the full duration of the day. I find that for me, this gives me more freedom to hunt effectively, and to use the entire time of the day more wisely as I don't have a need to return to base camp for lunch, or to sleep at night. My goal for this has always been sub 30lbs with a week of food, and with a spotting scope and tripod. Also, I own a lot of other gear than what is on this list, and it gets substituted in when appropriate based on temperatures and weather forecast. I wrote this list up as what I tend to use most often in the shoulder seasons of Spring and early Fall.When temperatures drop significantly, or when the weather turns bad things like a bigger shelter or raingear are something I often add in my pack. Game calls would be another thing that comes along when appropriate. However, this list should give a general idea of what type of gear I have found useful over time. I have paid for all of this myself as of now, although I did get a few things at a discounted prices through friends or contacts that I know. That being said, I'm not taking a check to support any of the companies listed, and I want to make that known upfront.Over time, I have researched every single item on this list from the smallest of things to the biggest, and have usually tried 3-10 of one item in the field before I have found the one most suited to my use. This list wasn't thrown together. Rather it was researched for thousands of hours and field tested for hundreds of days.If anyone has questions about a product and my experience with it, or as to why I chose it over something else, please don't hesitate to comment below or email me.
For several years now, and maybe even long enough that I don't remember a different way of thinking, hunting bears in the spring has been one of my favorite times of the year. Something about the snowmelt, the green-up, the sunshine, and the rain make April and May one of my favorites times of the year outside.2018 started off fast for me in terms of bear sightings. My very first day out was on Wednesday of the opening week, and within 30 minutes I spotted a great bear in a spot that I just had no way to get at during that day. Another hour later I bumped into a small blonde bear at about 40 yards. This all happened within a couple hours in a unit that I had never hunted before, so I was feeling pretty good about things. I hunted the next evening as well and spotted another couple bears of average size, and at long distance.[wpvideo uPxnhw3a ]By Friday afternoon I decided I was going to hike into the spot where I had seen the bigger bear from on my first day afield. I loaded up my pack and made my way 9 miles over roads that were covered in 2-3' of snow so that I could spend the night on the edge of a melted off south facing slope. The hike in was fairly straight forward. A decent amount of the snow pack was frozen making life a lot easier, and after a few hours I reached my intended spot. Within a few hours that evening I turned up 5 bears, and had a couple walk by within 100 yards of me, but I just couldn't seem to relocate the big boar.[wpvideo d0HUWaz1 ]After finding a spring on the sideslope, and locating a bench in the timber that was semi-flat, or at least flatter than everything around it, I rolled out my sleeping bag and tarp and called it a night. The next morning was fairly slow, and I then proceeded to hike back to the truck as I had some work I needed to do on Sunday. Unfortunately during my short 24 hour trip, the snow pack had softened significantly though, and I spent the majority of the 9 miles back sinking in snow to between my knees and my waist. The hike was painstaking, but eventually I made it with soaked feet, sun blinded eyes, and tired legs.After my long snow walk, I decided I would wait a week or so to open up some more country before really hitting things hard again. By this point the big bear had moved off the open slope and up into pocket meadows buried in thick timber. I had found some sign of this on my overnighter but I just wasn't able to bump into the bear in person.Fast forward a week and I again spent a few days hiking and glassing. I would spend any evening I could working finger ridges up and down to glass effectively what was beside and below me, and then returning to the main ridge to repeat the process. I saw bears every night, but most all of them were young bears, with the occasional average 200lb type bear. I repeated this for a few evenings over the next week, and kept buying my time. I really had no rush as the bear season in Oregon is 6 weeks, and I had only used about half of it thus far.That brings us to Friday, May 11. I drove as far as I could until I hit the snowline once again, and then I put my pack on and headed out with enough gear for two nights. I kept my pack light, at around 18-20 lbs so that I could move freely for the next couple days and not worry about being bogged down. I hiked over a mile or so of snow, and then the road continued downhill and eventually cleared up which made walking easy. After about 4 miles, I finally peeled off on a ridgeline and headed cross country for another 1.5-2 miles to reach a spot I had found on a map. To me it looked like the perfect vantage to pick apart the surrounding canyon which had the feeling of an amphitheater.I reached my intended spot at around 2:00 in the afternoon, and I sat down to glass and eat a snack. After grabbing some food I popped up my tripod and binoculars and started to settle in for the next 6 or 7 hours before dark. Within 10 minutes I spotted my first bear of the day.I watched closely as I ate. The bear was slow and methodical as he walked, which is something I look for in determining the age of a bear. An old bear has a very different demeanor than a young bear. I decided I though this bear was old. Another 15 minutes went by and he came all the way out of the brush into the open and I could see it was clearly a boar. His front legs were thick, and his chest was large. For the remainder of the next hour I watched this bear feed across 3 draws and into a tightly tucked draw where he fed for about 30 minutes before moving into the brush and out of sight.This is happening about a mile in front of me, and across a canyon between myself and the bear that spans a elevation loss of about 2500 feet. I was debating on whether this bear would stay still or not for a play, and then he made up my mind for me. After being in the brush for 30 minutes, I saw him briefly come back out of the tree line and then go right back in. It seemed now was as good of a time as ever to try to make my first play of the season, on my 10th day of hunting.With the wind direction I decided I would have to go around the top of the canyon even though the distance was much longer. It turned the approach into roughly a 3 mile move for me. I quickly packed up my things and went on my way. An hour of hiking at a good pace put me above the bear, and to the south of him on a north facing slope that was adjacent to where I had last seen him feeding.I spent the next hour slowly working and still hunting my way down, keeping watch of both the area below me where the bear could be bedded up in the timber, and the area across from me where he had been feeding. A large majority of the time, the south facing slope was obscured from view as I couldn't see out of the thick conifers I was picking my way through. (As a side note, I know a lot of people hate to still hunt like this, but I find it very effective and enjoyable once I've spotted an animal in the immediate area.) At about the one hour mark, I picked up a movement of the bears head as he was feeding through a brushy patch of alder.I sat down and pulled out my rangefinder and read the distance. It came back with 140 yards, and a downhill angle of 39 degrees. Did I mention this country is steep? 39 degrees was an angle across the draw and at least 100 yards or more up from the creek bottom. The slope I was standing on was approaching 50 degrees, with several cliffs ranging from 5-30 feet in height. I took my pack off, placed it between my feet, and rested my rifle on the top of the pack frame. It took him a good 5-10 minutes before I could see a small window in the alders to shoot through, but eventually the shot presented as a quartering to angle. The bullet entered between his neck and shoulder and never exited. Within 5-10 seconds the bear had expired, and I could see where he now laid.After about 30 minutes of navigating cliffs, and improvising a small rappelling system with some vine maple to get down the last cliff I made my way over to the downed bear. I spent a good portion of the remaining daylight skinning the hide, and boning the meat, and then proceeded to pack one load up hill to the road I had walked in on. By the time I got to the top and set up camp it was dark. I ate a meal, pitched my tarp and went to bed.The next morning I was back up at 5:30 when I returned to grab the rest of the bear and move that load to the top of the canyon as well. I packed up my camp once I got the second load out, and stashed the bear in the snow with the plans of driving 3 hours around to get my truck to the other side of the 1 mile snowdrift I could not drive across. Luckily for me, I got some help from two guys in a Jeep that is much more snow capable than my dodge 2500, and they were able to move me and my bear the rest of the distance back to my pickup, for which I gladly gave a set of 6 point elk antlers I had found a couple weeks before.