No Perfect Formula

Let’s be honest, carrying around a heavy backpack while hunting isn’t fun but being miles away from the crowds is.  Backcountry hunting and the gear we take in can be as much of an art as it’s a science.  There’s no perfect formula.  All of us have different systems and equipment we take on the mountain.  Here are some ways we’ve shaved weight for backcountry hunting this year.

The Backpack

Lets start with the backpack itself, the foundation of backcountry hunting.  Some of us not long ago carried backpacks that weighed in at over 7 pounds empty.  Since switching to the EXO backpack with their titanium frame and modular bags we shaved a bunch of weight.  Another way this backpack system is saving us weight is it’s modular.  What used to happen is we’d purchase a pack as big as possible for multiple night backcountry hunting and compress it down for day hunts.  Now with the EXO being modular we don’t need to take in more pack than necessary, we’re able to match the bag to the trip.  That old heavy pack did a good job at expanding and compressing to meet needs but we were always carrying the weight of the large bag, even for day hunts.  If we’re staying a week in the backcountry the EXO 5500 bag is great, 3 days the 3500 works awesome, or for day hunts we can use the 2000 bag.  Being able to match the bag to the trip minimizes the need to carry weight you don’t need.  That coupled with the titanium frame and weight savings design we have lightened our load quite a bit.  The fit and comfort are top notch and carrying a heavy load is much more comfortable which makes a heavy load feel lighter.  Another way to shave ounces is to minimize the compression straps, buckles, and accessories like pouches that aren’t needed.  Every ounce adds up at the end.  There are some great lightweight modular pack systems out there that can help you shave backcountry weight, find one you like, we did.


The Exo frame and modular bags fit any hunting and hiking situation.

The Take Home Message

  1. Packs themselves can differ in weight.  Look for a light one that is well built like EXO Mountain Gear.
  2. Don’t take more pack in than you need.  Modular packs that you can switch out bags allows you to match the pack for the hunt.  No need to carry more bag than necessary.
  3. Minimize the stuff you add or have hanging on your pack like compression straps, pouches, patches, etc…

Sleep System

We all want a comfortable and warm nights sleep in the backcountry.  If we could comfortably and easily take the bedroom mattress we would but that just isn’t possible.  When we started backpack hunting we took the absolute warmest sleeping bag and the plushest sleeping pads we could find.  We’ve slowly widdled down weight over the years on our sleep system.  With the sleep system it’s easy to think you need your zero degree sleeping bag “just in case” but often times you don’t!  Same goes for your sleeping pad, leave the plush over insulated stuff at home if you can, it comes at a cost in weight.  Match the insulation to the season.  Bring a super light pad with little to no R value on those early hunts because that’s all you’ll need.  Same goes for your sleeping bag.  Bring that 30-40 degree bag if that’s what the weather dictates, it’s lighter.  Also we’ve discovered the ENLIGHTENED EQUIPMENT backpacking quilts.  These things are extremely light (around 16 ounces) and despite our skepticism they work!  The theory behind them makes sense.


Here we take the Enlightened Equipment down quilt on another backcountry hunt. Super light weight and plenty warm.

Once your laying in your sleeping bag you’ve compressed the underside insulation and virtually lost any insulation value it had.  Let your sleeping pad provide the insulation from below.  For warm archery hunts a light sleeping pad with little to no R value may be what you need.  For cooler situations match the sleeping pad to the temperature with an insulated pad.  The quilts have saved us a bunch of weight and depending on what you have it can be up to 2 pounds.  Another bit of weight savings advice, go with down, it’s always lighter.

The Take Home Message

  1. Don’t over carry the extra weight of over insulated sleeping pads and bags.  Insulation comes at a weight cost.  Match the insulation to the trip.
  2. Enlightened backpacking quilts are awesome, light, and work!
  3. Always go with down, it’s lighter.


Shelter is one of the most important things you’ll take with you into the backcountry.  It’s also one of the heaviest items you will take with you.  The key to saving weight on your shelter is to minimize.  Minimize the size of the shelter and minimize what you pack in for the shelter.  Take a shelter with as little footprint as needed to fit you.  Also, if possible, you can leave the stakes home and utilize rocks and trees to secure your tent/fly.  There are several options out there from ultralight tents to floor-less tepee’s and tarps.  If you can keep a single person tent around 2 pounds that’s great, tarps can come in at under 1 pound.  Something we’re going to try this year is a nice backpacking tarp in conjunction with a bivy.  Something else we’ve done is if we’re going in with a buddy we’ll take in a shelter that will fit the 2 of us and divide the weight by splitting up the shelter components.

Take Home Message

  1. Minimize.  Don’t carry more shelter than you need and minimize what accessories you carry.  If you can get away with using rocks, trees, or logs to tie down rather than stakes this could save some weight.
  2. There are several nice ultra light tents and tarps.  Don’t be afraid to try something different.
  3. Share a shelter and divide the weight if hunting with a partner.
Living quarters inside a floor-less shelter. PC: Jordan Budd

Living quarters inside a floor-less shelter. PC: Jordan Budd

A Few Other Take Home Tips

  • Buy a scale.  It’s kind of like a diet for your backpack.  The only way to know what your dealing with and if you’re succeeding in losing weight is a scale.  The scale is also something visible, tangible and provides a measure of success.  Knowing what each item “costs” in weight also helps you pack strategically.
  • Leave the stove home.  There are lightweight meal plans for backpacking that don’t require a stove, fuel, and spork.  Go ahead Google it and you’ll find some cool ideas.
  • Share the load.  Chances are you are going with a buddy into the backcountry.  Consolidate other equipment besides shelter as mentioned above.  One stove and one water filter can serve multiple people.
  • Boots.  This is something ultralight backcountry hunters are starting to examine more that some of the ultralight backpacking community already discovered.  Those big sturdy boots hunters have come accustom to wearing aren’t always necessary.  Consider a traditional full grain leather, sturdy over-the-ankle, pair of hunting boots that weigh around 4 pounds vs. a light mid hiker made of leather and synthetic material that weigh in at just over 2 pounds per pair.  Now imagine taking 75,000 steps on a hunt.  Each steps forward is lifting 1.5-2 pounds more with the heavy boots…75,000 times!  There’s information out there that says that weight can take a toll.
  • Lastly, every one who gets into the backcountry deserves a luxury item.  Bring something that’ll make the trip a little more pleasant.  A book to read, journal, or some kind of treat to celebrate a harvest.  By golly you deserve it.

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