While most hunters agree that a backpack is an essential tool for all types of hunting, they often have different views about just what should go into them.
I’m a pack junkie. I have packs from more than 15 years ago and some I’ve gotten recently. Big daypacks, small waist packs, shoulder strap packs, packs with lots of pockets for too much stuff and others with too few pockets to hold enough. Packs with belts that cut into my waist, others with enough padding to be comfy for days. Packs with bad zippers and packs with uber-zippers.
Deer hunters have used packs for centuries, maybe even longer. Native Americans had pouches fashioned from deerskins — some plain and some decorated with beads or shells. Europeans, Asians and Africans of olden times had similar pouches and bags for their gear, muzzleloader items and anything else they needed to carry in the field. Daniel Boone and America’s pioneers fashioned a variety of pouches and packs from skins and canvas.
Today’s hunters are in good shape when it comes to packs, with super designs, high-performance fabrics, great zippers, a variety of sizes and lots of options. You can get a basic pack with a few pockets or some- thing to go off the grid for weeks with enough room to pack out big game with ease. My packs include an SJK Tactical Flush 750 for quick minimal trips, one each from Tenzing (the TC 1500) and Alps (the Crossfire) and an older Badlands Superday. Sometimes I grab my well-used Cabela’s waist pack when I just need to carry a few items.
My gear? At the minimum some fire starting tools, extra knife, whistle and a measure of paracord. I’ll have those whether I’m hunting deer or raccoons at night. But for deer hunting I’ll also have scent control wet wipes (remember, they serve double duty), grunt call, extra bow release, extra ammo, pocket-size survival blanket, snack bars or trail mix, Rigid Industries Halo 800 flashlight, water, compass and a ThermaCell if it’s early in the season.
For cold, late-season hunts, I’ll pack Huntworth Ranger gloves, a wool beanie and a Sitka neck gaiter, too.
I don’t mind having a pack with lots of stuff. As my father said when I was young, “Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.” I agree. So do other hunters, as you’ll see by these accounts of what these veteran deer chasers carry in their packs.
Ted Nugent, Texas Musician, Philanthropist
I began carrying basic survival gear following a scary night in 1969 in the deep forests of northern Michigan tracking a buck in what turned out to be a blinding blizzard. I swore to never be unprepared ever again. I use a very old, soft, heavy-duty wool Critters Getters medium-size backpack. I take with me on every outing no matter how close or far from home/camp I might go.
My must-have items include lots of heavy paper napkins for toilet paper, overall cleanup and possible extra fire-starter; a fire-starter kit with waterproof matches and lighter; wax-coated tinder; a small but effective first aid kit; length of strong parachute rope; heavy-duty extra-large plastic garbage bag for a possible shelter; small file; small knife sharpener; small Buck axe; saw and large Buck knife; compass; water bottle; small tin cup; water purification tabs; soup cubes; large heavy-duty neckerchief; 24×24-inch weatherproof square of Marathon Seat Cover material; compact rain poncho; spare TruFire release; varmint call; wind detector; Bushnell rangefinder and binos; spare Mossy Oak gloves and facemask; two bowhanger hooks; a roll of electric tape and orange surveyors tape; any meds I need; Ace bandage; spare socks; high-quality flashlight and spare batteries; energy bars, spare ammo if I am firearm hunting and a couple of spare Rage broadheads.
My pockets and belt are always full of daily necessities such as my handgun, spare mags, belt tool, handkerchief, pocketknife, clip knife, reading glasses, Chapstick and a few other goodies. I always bring my bow or gun up with a tow rope, but carry my pack over my shoulders as I climb my always rock solid and short ladder stands. All of my stands have a pack and bow hook for hanging and if I hunt on someone else’s property, I use the spare hooks in my pack.
Design your ultimate backpack: I like a single large compartment with good-sized (and) deep side pockets and a good-sized front auxiliary pocket.
WATCH: Is This the Best Backpack for Deer Hunting?
Dan Schmidt, Wisconsin D&DH Editor-in-Chief
For bowhunting at home, I’ve been using the Fieldline Pro Series 252 fanny pack for several years. It’s perfect for bowhunting, featuring one larger compartment for binocs, ThermaCell, etc., and lots of smaller compartments for essential gear. When traveling out of state, I go with a larger pack for all-day hunting.
A few seasons ago I tested out the Rutbuster pack from Timberhawk. It was my all-day companion for four straight days — and more than 40 miles hiked — in northeast Oregon. The Rutbuster has so many bells and whistles I can’t mention them all here. You’re just going to have to check it out for yourself. I will say this: The ergonomic waist belt saved my back while hiking the rocky hills to get my deer.
Design your ultimate backpack: For me, the perfect pack is mid-sized with just the right amount of pockets for essential gear. Zippered closures with pull tabs and extra inside compartments with fasteners to keep important items such as truck keys, etc., are important, too. I’ve tried hydration packs but have found that a couple of exterior water bottle pouches are much more convenient.
Then again, I’m a deer hunter; all-day elk adventures would be a different story, I guess. On my fanny packs, I like that I can extend the waistband and attach the pack to the trunk of a tree at shoulder height. This allows me to reach gear easily without making too much movement or noise.
Gordy Krahn, Minnesota D&DH Editor
I probably have a half-dozen packs of various shapes and sizes, each designed for different hunting situations. But I typically use the same pack 90 percent of the time out of familiarity. I know each pocket, each nook and cranny, intimately, and can always find my gear quickly and quietly, even in the dark.
Most of my hunting is geared toward half- or full-day ventures, so I gravitate toward a small- to medium- sized pack whether I’m run-and-gun rifle hunting or bowhunting from a treestand. One reason for this is that no matter how large my pack is, I manage to find a way fill it with gear, most of which I never use. That’s one reason I go with a smaller pack and try to pack smartly.
My everyday pack is a medium-sized backpack made by Blackhawk. I really like the pocket configuration and I’ve used this particular pack so much I know exactly where to find every piece of gear without having to think about it.
I imagine the things I have in my pack are similar to what most hunters carry. More important is that I know where each item is. I don’t want to have to search 12 pockets to come up with my spare bow release should I need it. I carry rattling antlers on the exterior of the pack and calls in a pouch on the side. I carry the things that I won’t need in a hurry, such as field-dressing tools, fire-starter, tools, first aid kit and such in the inner, more inaccessible pockets of the pack. Those items I might need in a hurry – grunt call, pruning shears, flashlight, toilet paper – I keep in the outer pocket where I can get to them quickly.
I don’t like climbing into a tree- stand with my pack on, so I typically attach it to a pull-up rope and retrieve it once I’m settled in. I use the pack as an organizer when I’m in my stand so I need it handy. I use a screw-in hook and position the pack off to the side at about waist level. This way I can access anything in my pack without creating a lot of movement. If I’m bowhunting, I don’t like a lot of things hanging from my neck that might interfere with my draw. I open the main compartment of the pack and put the things I need quick access to, such as my bino or a grunt call, in open view so I can easily access them.
Design your ultimate backpack: Good pocket configuration is paramount to a good pack. But it’s not necessarily how many pockets you have but if they make sense for the type of hunting you do. I like a large, pocket-less main compartment to store clothes and other large gear items. I typically dress in layers when hunting and I need a place to put discarded clothes as the day warms up or a place to keep my rain gear. I also want some webbing on the exterior of the pack where I can attach extra clothing, especially clothing that’s gotten wet.
As far as size, I always go with the smallest pack that will get the job done. That might mean a very small daypack for a treestand hunt, or a large frame pack if I’m hunting the outback for several days and might have to pack out meat.
Brad Rucks, Wisconsin D&DH Advertising Sales
I have two. One is a large fanny pack I use during the early season when I’m the hunter, and the other is a full-size backpack when I’m the cameraman or for hunting once it gets cold. The fanny pack is a Scent-Lok model I have had for years, and the full-sized pack is made by Alps. I started carrying a pack during the early 1990s, and to be honest I think I started because I kept everything in my pockets. As I changed clothes I kept forgetting things that I’d left in my other set of clothing.
I always use a hook to hang up my pack, then open the outside pock- ets to reach my essential gear. And I always hang the pack opposite of my bow at seat level. The gear I take includes an extra release, grunt call, PackRack rattling system, doe bleat, hand saw, EZ Cut clippers, scent elimination wipes, small bottle of scent elimination spray, wind puffer, head lamp, flashlight (2), pull rope (2), three screw-in hooks, Real- tree EZ Hanger, Ozonics unit, knife, gutting gloves, camera, SD cards (for changing trail camera cards on my way in and out of stands, Celestron FireCell (absolutely love this thing) gloves, facemask, stocking cap, rattling antlers strapped to the back and a water bottle.
Design your ultimate backpack: I like a large pack with a padded back rest that allows air flow, lots of pockets in the inside so everything has its place and some pockets on the outside. But more importantly, I’d want heavy-duty packing straps I can attach extra clothing to for long walks to the stand.
— Alan Clemons is DDH’s Online Managing Editor.