Packing for a hunt – Do we really need all that “stuff”?

I would venture to say that the majority of hunters carry too much “stuff” (gear, tools, clothes, accessories, extra items, backup items, etc.) into the woods with them. I count myself among that majority, but I am looking to change.

There are many reasons that we all carry too much stuff. You could look at our modern society’s proclivity towards comfort. You could look at the force of marketing to sell us things that we don’t need, or convince us that we actually do need ACME’s latest innovation. You could look at the fact that, plain and simple, we all like stuff; especially new stuff.

Many hunters live by the motto…

I would rather have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.

That sounds good, but if I pack for a hunt according to that phrase then I can easily justify stuffing almost every single piece of gear, every single tool, and every piece of camouflage that I own, into my hunting pack. That motto can be helpful, if used with some discretion. But where do you draw the line? After all, you never know what may happen, right?

Maybe you are the guy with every single backup and emergency item. You have a solution for every problem. You pack extra tools, extra clothes, extra food, extra broadheads, extra this, and extra that. You have all the latest gear, gizmos, and gadgets. Maybe that is you, and maybe you are fine with that. Who am I to tell you what you should and shouldn’t hunt with?

(Actually, I would love to have you with me on my hunts. I just wouldn’t want to carry your load.)

Why Change?

My reason for changing what I carry is to become less weighed down, both literally and figuratively.

The odd thing is, I could have written this post last year, said all the same things, and every bit of it would have been just as true then. I am coming to realize that what we carry, and more specifically what we think we “need”, changes over time. I have never been the one to carry things unnecessarily, but I have come to a new place of questioning what is truly necessary on a hunt.

I want to be a more mobile hunter. I have scouted some spots that are far from trails, and even further from roads. Getting deeper will require going lighter. Ironically, going deeper will, in some cases, also require more gear. It is an interesting balance to pursue.

We don’t have stuff; it has us.

I have found that taking too much gear into the woods creates not only a burden of physical weight and volume, but also a mental distraction during the hunt. The irony is that many items we take with us are supposed to make things simpler, easier, and more convenient, but what often happens is that the item just becomes another “thing” to pack, keep track of, and attend to.

If we don’t make a conscious effort to simplify, then we will find ourselves spending too much time preparing to hunt, packing for the hunt, and setting up during the hunt. All of these things leave little time for, you know, hunting.

More stuff = more work.

Each and everything we take into the woods is something that must be packed, carried, kept, and often setup, maintained, and cared for. (Is the cartridge in my ThermaCELL full? Do the batteries in my GPS have enough juice? Did I top off my wind indicator? The list could go on, and on…)

My Grandpa was your classic “old school” hunter. He would head out with a rifle, a knife, and a smashed bologna sandwich in his pocket. He would hunt 13+ hours a day and that is all he would carry. I am not advocating foolishness, and I am not even necessarily advocating minimalism, but I want to raise some questions that I think we need to stop and consider.

When is enough, enough? Should I carry all of these “just in case” items? Has the hunt become too complicated? Is most of our modern gear a convenience or a distraction? Have we bought into “needing” too much hunting gear, gizmos, and gadgets?  Have we become too dependent on tools and trinkets?

Each of us needs to answer these questions for ourselves.

Packing for a hunt – Some considerations

I don’t have it all figured out yet. I don’t know if I ever truly will. Each trip can present its own challenges, requirements, and conditions, which dictate what gear may be necessary. The next section will cover some very practical considerations regarding the what, why, and how of packing for a hunt.

Alright, as I said earlier, I am in the process of changing what I carry into the woods on each hunt. Part of the problem is that, for me, a hunting outing can be anything from a 3 hour tree stand hunt that is within shouting distance of my parents’ home, or it could be a multi-night backpack hunt that is several hours from home and completely out of cell service. As you can see, those two hunts are polar opposites, and will therefore require vastly different gear. This leads me to my first point…

Assess Each Hunt differently

Each and every outing will likely have different gear requirements. These requirements are determined by several things, including: the length of the outing, the location and remoteness, the availability of communication, the weather, the terrain, etc. Part of my problem is that I have not been diligent enough to pack for each hunt individually. I have kept my pack loaded with all the “necessities” for almost every type of hunt; but obviously what is necessary for one hunt may be foolish for another.

If you really want to be smart about what you carry, and take only what is required, then it won’t be good enough to have your hunting pack loaded up with a standard set of gear for each and every hunt. You will have to…

Pack Smart

Assessing the gear required for each hunt creates a problem; that is, we will now have to potentially pack and re-pack on a regular basis. To pull this off, you have to have a master checklist to pack from. I have a spreadsheet will all of my gear, and then I mark each item according to whether it is required for every hunt, only for hunts away from home, only for multi-day hunts, only for hunts without cell service, etc. Having this spreadsheet makes it easy for me filter my gear list for a given hunt, and then to pack accordingly.

Not only will having a packing check list help you decide what gear you need for each hunt, it will also help you have a list to run through before you head out the door. How many of you have made your trek into the woods and then settled into your hunting spot and realized that you forgot something? The item you forgot may have been something small and non-consequential, or it may have been the release for your bow, stopping your hunt before it began. Either way, having a smart packing checklist will help you determine what you need, and make sure that you have it in your pack when you need it. Speaking of packs…

No Pack, Small Pack, Big Pack

The type of pack, or the lack thereof, that we take on a hunt is the thing that most influences what gear we take into the woods with us. If you have too much space in your pack then it becomes very easy to fill it with things that you don’t need. You look at a specific item and think,

“Well, I probably won’t need it, but I have the room, so I will go ahead and take it.”

Tell yourself that line a few times and before you know it you are heading into the woods looking like you just stepped out of a Cabela’s catalog and you are going on a 10-day hunt in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

I have packs that range from tiny to large; my goal is always to take the smallest one that I can get away with, or if possible, none at all.

Do I Really Need That?

Our strategy for determining what we take into the woods concludes with this point. We have to consistently, maybe even constantly, ask ourselves this question – “Do I really need that?” Many of us carry “just in case” items, but we fail to stop and realize that we have carried them for years and have never needed them. Now, I obviously don’t want you to risk your health or safety, but we need to stop and think about what we have never used, and likely never will. My general rule is that if I have taken something on a hunt 6 times and I haven’t used it once, then I need to consider not brining it at all. Additionally, I will look back at the end of each season and identify items that I have only used once, maybe twice, and decide whether it was worth packing along.

What, if anything, are you considering changing about what you pack into the woods this year?


Shawn Harrison

Shawn Harrison is our expert in hunting. He was born in Alaska, so hunting was his hobby since high school. Later, Shawn took a Hunter Training at Alaska Department of Fish and Game to structure his knowledge and now he is open to share his knowledge with our readers. Shawn is taking ‘Safety First’ approach on all of his trips, especially is some people are going hunting for the first time.