How To Cut Your Backpack Hunting Weight
Posted by Nathan Coleman on 22nd Jun 2018
Want to cut your backpack hunting weight? Don’t know where to start?
Big game hunting while living out of a backpack is an elite (crazy) sport, and the weight you carry is critical. This isn’t about what you should do or not do, it’s more about how to THINK about your backpack hunting weight, how to strategize and decide logically what to cut and what to carry.
Why is backpack hunting weight important?
Well, simply put, pack weight doesn’t matter that much if you hunt the flatlands. But when you’re in the steeps backpack hunting, you feel each ounce, you intimately know each pound, and you hate them.
Weight hurts on a backcountry hunt in the mountains. It hurts your ability to gain elevation quickly, it hurts your speed, your endurance, & your recovery time. In all these areas a lighter pack is superior to a heavier pack, but you need to maintain functionality for whatever trip you have planned.
Function is important for backpack hunters. You need the ability to navigate rough country off trail, and because seasons are often short, you are forced to brave whatever weather conditions persist. A hunter needs the ability to glass, harvest, and ethically process game...and pack out heavy loads of meat.
This creates a gear list longer and heavier than a backpacker because of the increased functionality necessary.
Cut your backpack hunting weight strategically, be smart about it. Start by answering these questions:
- How much time do I carry each item in my pack? (Time Weight)
- What percentage of my total pack weight is this item? (% Weight)
- What will it cost to cut the weight of this item? (Cost to Cut)
“What percentage of my backpack hunting trip will I be carrying this piece of gear?”
Time Weight matters more to destination hikers, fishermen, and hunters than it will to backpackers doing point to point, sections, or thru’s.
A hunter normally packs into an area, drops camp, and spends a day or few days in the area looking for game.
In this case the backpack, spotting scope and tripod, and day gear that is always carried has a high importance, while shelter, sleeping gear, and food have less importance.
A heavy backpack in this scenario hurts more than a heavy tent.
A thru hiker is carrying camp on her back each day, so for this backpacker everything is important from a time weight perspective.
If you’re going to compromise on heavier items, do it on gear that stays in camp.
“What percentage of my total pack weight is each piece of gear?”
Typically the heaviest non-consumables will be the Backpack, Sleeping Gear, and Shelter.
Why does this matter? Because you have the opportunity to cut more weight from your heaviest items than you do from your lighter gear.
Sure, saving 7 grams by trimming the borders of your map or a 1/2 ounce by cutting the handle off your toothbrush is great, but you get further faster by cutting 3 lbs from your pack weight or 2 lbs from your sleeping bag.
In today’s market any hunting backpack over 5 lbs is overweight. There are too many capable lightweight backpacks out there to justify a pack over 5 lbs.
Sleeping bags are another big one. Many older style sleeping bags will weigh 4-8 lbs for a 0° to 20° temp rating. There are high quality bags and quilts on the market that will cover that temp rating and weigh under 2.5 lbs, and in some cases just over a pound.
Solo shelters should be under 3 lbs for high altitude and strenuous trips, unless you have a real need for a four season freestanding tent. Two people sharing a tipi should shoot for 2.5 lbs per person. If you upgrade to a hot tent by adding a lightweight wood stove, 4.5 lbs per person is very doable, with lots of space.
Cost to Cut
“How much will it cost per ounce of weight savings to upgrade this piece of gear?”
Budget is always a part of the equation. High tech advanced materials and cutting edge manufacturing costs more than run of the mill gear, and lighter higher quality gear is priced accordingly.
X-Pac backpack fabric is many times more expensive than most other pack fabrics, down is more expensive than many of the heavier synthetic substitutes.
These are facts, but the way you need to approach this end of the equation is common sense.
I hear tales of people paying $300 to have the bolt on their rifle skeletonized. Weight savings - .5 to 1 oz.
With $300 I could hire a personal trainer, and lose way more than an ounce…
Decide what makes sense to you, but paying more than $10 per ounce saved on gear is significant to me.
That’s after factoring in the gain from selling the older heavier gear and buying the lighter, better gear.
Defining Backpack Hunting Weight
People list too many weights, especially for backpack hunts. “My pack weight is 32 lbs for 10 days…” Yeah, maybe - IF you’re not counting water, food, and other gear not in your pack.
For the sake of comparison, I look at several different weights.
- Base Weight
- Pack Weight Without Food & Water
- Total Pack Weight
- Total Skin-Out Weight
Base Weight is your Backpack, Sleeping Pad and Bag, and Shelter. On a lightweight hunting trip I will want to be under 10 lbs base weight, and likely at or under 8 lbs. 6 lbs is a stretch but very doable. (To see some product combos that hit specific weights, check out our Hot Tents and Hunting Backpacks.)
Later seasons change things as you need more insulation and the desire for a packable wood stove becomes stronger.
After a day of rain, sleet, snow, howling wind, sleet, freezing rain, and more wind - returning to a hot tent and firing up your lightweight wood stove to cook a meal and dry your boots can be the difference in hunting hard for the length of your trip or packing up and leaving early.
Comfort is sometimes worth the weight.
Backpack Hunting Weight Without Food & Water
This is a good number to track simply because it is your “gear”. Everything in your pack that you don’t eat or drink, including kill kit and game bags.
For an experienced backpacker or hunter the list of gear doesn’t change much except to account for weather conditions.
For the beginner, learn what you don’t need. You’ll tend to take “what-if” items that you don’t use, and whose function can be duplicated by another piece of gear.
Pick good stuff, learn to use it, and learn to use it multiple ways if possible.
For instance, the down hood on a sleeping bag is single purpose right? If you take a quilt and a hooded down jacket instead then the “hood” for the quilt is your jacket - but this is suddenly a multipurpose item, saving weight.
My non-consumable pack weight will run 28-34 lbs for most hunting trips, varying mostly with optics, insulation, and comfort items that I take or not, depending on the trip.
Total Pack Weight
You’ll feel this one every time you shoulder your full pack. Experience and common sense rule here again, as conditions and nutritional needs dictate what your consumable weight is.
One spot I hunt starts with a 2000 foot climb in 2.5 miles in full sun with no water until I reach my camp spot 3-4 miles from the trailhead. I take 3L of water with me starting the climb and drink most of it by the time I reach the first good resupply point.
Dry ground requires a lot of water portage. Frequent streams mean little storage need.
Food is more personal. Some people have fast metabolisms and need more food, some require less.
I generally take around 1.5 lbs of food per day for a total of 2200 calories, and I’ll lose seven pounds in five days of hard hiking with a lot of gain.
With 3 liters of water and 10 days of food I can get my total pack weight down into the 43-48 lb range, or up to the 52-54 range depending on the trip.
Total Skin-Out Weight
This is an important number, as it is what your body is truly supporting during your trip. The weight of clothing, boots, hat, knife, keys, optics, & everything can easily add 15 lbs on top of your total pack weight.
And these items that are worn but not looked at often enough from a weight perspective are important because they have an extremely high time weighting. If you’re awake and moving, you’re always wearing clothes, shoes, & belt.
My total skin out weight for a 10 day hunt in late October at 10,000 feet will likely run in the 60 to 63 lb range, with the variables being weapon, optics, clothing and insulation. I could go much lighter than this, but not without compromising function and comfort that I value.
Reducing weight while maintaining function, durability, and comfort in these shadow categories is a huge plus to your overall endurance and performance while “out there”.
Cutting your Backpacking Hunting Weight
Using your head to think about and evaluate your gear choices - instead of buying into hype - is key to reducing weight and increasing function and efficiency.
For the hunter, hard eye the gear that is carried all day, every day. Cutting ounces here is multiplied by the hours carried.
Backpack, rifle or bow, binoculars, spotter and tripod, clothing, footwear, rain gear, kill kit, knives and tools, electronics, first aid and survival kits all need to be judged harshly.
Once you identify the gear that you could upgrade to lighter choices without losing function, determine your cost per ounce for the new gear, and whether it makes sense for your budget.
After lightening up your gear, I hope you work less and have more fun on your hunt. This is what it’s about - going further, faster, and being less tired.
Backpack Hunting Series
Want more articles on Backpack Hunting? Read more in this series: