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With the growing number of hunters roaming the Victorian high country many hunters are exploring the idea of backpack hunting. Even the hunters who have been backpack hunting for many years are finding their previously remote and unexplored areas under pressure from people testing the water in country requiring some extra physical and mental effort. This has put pressure on those who yearn for quiet untouched pockets of country to push harder and further into deeper country.
As with other animals pursued in countries like BC, Alaska and New Zealand, Australian hunters are beginning to embrace the lightweight mobile backpack hunting method.
The advantage of this method of hunting is that it enables us to carry our camp on our back and break down where we finish. Some of the best areas, which hold good quality mature animals, are far from tracks or designated camps. The mature animals, which have avoided hunters and hounds, learn to expose themselves for small periods in hard to reach areas. With our ultra light mobile hunting method we are able to sit out these animals in prime time and camp right amongst them.
Physical fitness is the first thing we need to focus on when we are going to travel large distances with pack and rifle. It is not uncommon for a well trained hunter to pack 15 – 20km with relative ease. Its important to train for long periods spent walking with the full pack and weight of a rifle also. With a good fitness base you can be more confident walking into remote areas with the knowledge you can walk out.
Additional fitness and low body weight also reduces the amount of food needed for a trip. On our last New Zealand backpack hunt, due to the distance we needed to cover and the vertical meters climbed daily we dropped our food to around 500 – 600 grams per day, about half what is normally required. This would never have been possible if we were not fully trained.
A pack is the first requirement. These days with high tech materials such as carbon fibre frames, ultra light woven fabrics, which are twice as strong at half the gauge of the fabrics of old. We often see hunters looking for the largest capacity pack on the market. One major thing to consider when looking at pack size is; Can you physically carry a pack of 120litres loaded? Not many can. If that capacity is needed then a revisit of the other gear might be worth a look. Generally a pack of around 70 -80 litres is ample. Most quality packs are around the 2kg mark these days and manufacturers of quality hunting packs include, Stone Glacier, Exo, Mystery Ranch, Kuiu, Kifaru and Cactus all making top notch products which are built for hunters.
Shelter is the next requirement and this comes in many shapes and forms. A bivvy bag is all that is needed for mild weather; ultra fast and light weight mobile hunting. MSR e-Bivvy is a mere 300 grams as is the SOL escape bivvy at less than half the cost. These are ultra light shelters for mild or consistent conditions. A heavier duty bivvy like the Snugpak series, OR and Black diamond are more suited to heavier use and harsh weather however we believe with the quality tents available if we step up to a bivvy of 1000 grams or more in weight it is too close and less flexible than a great tent.
A fly can add comfort and versatility to a bivvy camp especially if it’s a shared camp with more than one hunter. Again there are many fly’s available, we pack the One Planet Sand-fly pro if there’s more than one hunter. Fly’s are usually around 500 – 1000 grams but add lots of dry ground space to cook and live under if conditions are not great.
One Planet, MSR, Exped, Black Diamond, Eureka and Mountain Hardware are a few excellent quality tents and most have tents close to the 1200 gram mark. We are using the One Planet Goondi One with nylon liner and 30d outer shell. We never pack the pegs and most always use trees or rocks. Remember to line the rocks with tussock, moss or some other soft ground litter as too often have we seen tents flapping in big wind due to the guys being severed by abrasive rocks in high wind. A nylon liner as apposed to standard mesh adds warmth to the tent reducing bag weight in most cases at very little weight disadvantage to mesh. 30d outer fly with four guy lines provides very good strength and as we are mainly using the tents in an Alpine environment we find it beneficial to use the heavier duty outer giving the tent true four season capability. The 15d and 20d outers found on many tents are a great lightweight option however tend to rip in high winds. Again this is why we love the Goondie as it allows you to mix and match outers and inners depending on the situation.
Personally I like the free standing idea of a tent that can be pitched wherever needed and provides warmth and security if conditions really turn against you however for early and late season hunts an ultra light bivvy provides a fast and mobile shelter.
Sleeping bags and Mats are the next major addition to a backpack hunters kit. Great quality manufacturers are giving us awesome choices here and there are many to choose from. Thermarest have been the industry leader; however we have found the new Sea to Summit range much more comfortable and less weight and harder wearing at half the cost. They are built with an egg carton type design and have increased support around the upper body where it is needed. With this design it allows the mat to be wider and longer and the design itself helps stop the roll off effect synonymous with nearly every other mat.
Warmth of a bag is a question, which has many dependants. A quality tent and mat will increase the warmth in a bag. A well-fed and hydrated hunter will sleep warmer than a flogged out one. Some people are warm sleepers and others cold. Females sleep colder than Males, so as you can see it is difficult to put an accurate assumption on which bag is best suited to each situation. If we were to carry a little extra weight in two items the sleeping bag and mat are those we would choose.
We run the One Planet series bags which are just one of many great bags on the market. The down in these bags is coated with DWR which reduces the need to stress about the bag becoming moist. It also allows you the ability to go to bed with damp clothes and dry overnight otherwise only achievable with synthetic bags. A good quality bag utilising 800 loft down and quality outer and inner fabrics should not weigh more than 1kg and the Cocoon series from One Planet are well below this in fact their -11 bag is around that mark with stuff sack.
To insulate or not to insulate is the next great mat debate and we have found that utilising either an emergency space blanket which most hunters carry anyway or the extra insulating layer between your bag and mat provides huge insulation quality. Laying my Swazi Tahr jacket between the ground and my mat adds incredible warmth. We normally run two mats for different uses, a Sea to Summit comfort light insulated for New Zealand and high alpine climbs and hunts in Australia and the Sea to Summit ultra light non-insulated for most other hunts.
A quality clothing system is a must for ultra light backpacking. It is essential every piece has at least one function. We wont go into too much detail here, this was covered in last issue pretty thoroughly as much as saying Swazi makes great gear and this is what we use. Sitka, Kuiu, First Lite, Hunters Element, Stoney Creek all supply good gear to the Australian hunter. Less is best here and good quality gear will reduce the need for multiple pieces and reduce bulk and weight.
Stoves are a big talking point and its for very good reason the Jetboil is really the go too item. MSR have great fuel stoves also however the Jetboil is a super fuel-efficient and lightweight stove. For most hunts I carry a small aluminium billycan and on long trips an ultra light pan for cooking harvested meat. It is much lighter than any stove. The Jetboil certainly serves its purpose in New Zealand and above the snow line or in really rough weather it allows you to cook in the tent vestibule.
Food for an overnight hunt can be as simple as a couple of sandwiches or bagels are great as they keep better and a couple of energy bars in true mountaineer fashion. No need to cook and more time can be spent hunting.
For most other circumstances dehydrated meals are best and are a great way to recharge at the end of a hard and cold day on the hill.
We are making our own dehydrated meals now and there will be more on this subject in future issues. These provide great nutrition are better tasting and don’t contain the rubbish and preservatives often found in commercial dehydrated meals.
Breakfast is usually oats, which are simply prepared adding water. Lunch is usually quality energy bars to the value of around 500 calories such as those found in most supermarkets or chemist warehouse these days. A cup of soup in cold environments can provide a kick. A snickers or mars bar is normally added to the mix for after dinner. A quality multi vitamin is a good addition and a protein recovery powder drink when on extended hunts. Electrolyte tablets such as hydrolyte are very good to rehydrate tired muscles. No Doze tablets are great if you feel a bit tired and need a bit of an extra push to get back to camp or to the top of the next ridge. All these things will help you hunt harder and recover quicker despite running on the lower end of the calorie bank.
We have tested a mass of gear through the years and are constantly evolving gear and methods. We have found in most cases Australian and New Zealand made high performance gear out performs and outlasts imported products, not in all cases but most. We believe this is because in Australia and New Zealand we are lucky enough to be able to hunt any time we wish and in some very hard country and environments. In most other countries the gear is lucky to see as many hunting days in its life as our gear would endure in one season. Aussie and New Zealand gear is very functional and built to last.
This covers most of the major gear needed for ultra light mobile backpack hunting. I have included a packing list which is pretty much what we use and most of the Guides and hunters we work with in BC, New Zealand and Alaska are using similar methods and equipment.
– Outer Shell: we use Swazi Tahr jacket and Overpants
– 1 Light weight Base layer: many good ones available
– 2 Mid weight insulation layer: again many good ones but we love the micro shirt from Swazi
– 1 Insulation layer: normally a heavy to mid weight fleece
– 1 Light weight pants
– 1 Long underwear
– 2 Merino underwear
– 3 Max Quality socks
– 2 Mid weight glove
– 1 Goretex Overglove
– 1 Balaclava or beanie
– 1 Cap
– Quality boots: we are using Kenetrek and Danner
– Sleeping Bag: One Planet Cocoon -8
– Sea to Summit sleeping mat: either the ultra light non insulated or insulated comfort light depending on conditions and time away
– Bivvy: Just started with the SOL escape
– Fly: One Planet Sandfly
– Tent: One Planet Goondie one or Formidable
– Either Jetboil or aluminium pot depending on area. Don’t forget your Spork!
– Pack: we are using Stone Glacier and Cactus NZ
– Rifle or Bow
– GPS, compass and Map
– Game Bags: My Slice Of Life are building awesome bags for hunters
– 1 knife: a well honed Svord will cape and break down a full animal without any worries as well as take care of all your camp duties. My Slice Of Life supply these also at good prices. Not a fan of scalpel type knives but each to their own.
– Headlamp: small Petzl Tikka
– 1 2lt platypus bladder and 1, 1lt Nalgene bottle
– Fire kit: 2 lighters, flint and cut up bike tube
– Electrical tape
– Prescription medicine and toiletries
– First Aid kit: don’t carry much, some quick clot and the game bags and electrical tape can be used for most emergency’s. Some painkillers are handy.
– PLB or sat phone
– Food (around 1kg per day) Can be reduced
– Spotting Scope and Tripod (optional)
– Ice Axe
– Walking poles
– This covers everything needed for extended hunts into backcountry in Australia and New Zealand. Some items can be dropped in place of others obviously.