To borrow a tired sales pitch phrase, it comes down to 3 things; Needs, Wants and Delights.
As many of you know, I’ve just returned from a 15 day winter bowhunt in Canmore. And as requested, I’ll break down what was in my pack for this trip and what would not be in my pack if I were to ever do it again.
(By the way, my two favorite pieces of gear are now in my guide Alan's pack, where they will see far more use than I could ever put them through. They were a pair of Kahtoola Micro-Spikes and a Thermarest Neo Aircore Sleeping Pad)
My biggest risk on this trip was falling off the mountain and accordingly, I think my footwear was the most important gear choice I had to make. And trust me, I wrestled with it, just ask tthomas!
I went with my Han-Wag Alaskan GTX boots with an older pair of knee high EMS Gaitors and a traction aid called Kahtoola Micro-Spikes. I also had a pair of Kahtoola Aluminum Crampons but when I asked Flint which he thought I should haul up the mountain, he picked the Micro-Spikes because they are easy on/off and he figured I would use them more often. It's no fun trying to strap on crampons with frozen fingers, and forget doing it with your gloves on.
Well Flint was right, I lived in these things and I have absolutely no doubt that I would have fallen down the mountain multiple times without them.
I had used Yak-Trax before on other hunts but they never held up. Like the Yak-Trax, the Micro-Spikes are a rubber slip on system that resemble tire chains but they are far more durable (in my experience) than the Yak-Trax. I wore these for 13 straight days over all kinds of nasty terrain and they held up perfect.
I got a lot of pre-hunt advice saying "if you are in a place where you need crampons then you shouldn't be there" but quite honestly, I didn't find that to be the case. The Micro-Spikes were low profile enough that they never interfered with walking, even on rock, so I essentially wore them the whole trip. And it sounds overly dramatic but I wouldn't be surprised if they saved my life. We hiked very steep grassy slopes daily that were honestly treacherous with the fresh snow. And the pack out multiplied that factor because of the additional weight in our packs.
Quite simply, I would never consider this hunt without some sort of traction aid and these things just worked great.
When we recovered the ram there was only one practical approach and that was off a high, steep ridge down a steep snow covered chute between the cliffs. Al knew we were taking a calculated risk and he was very clear when he said to me: "make every step count".
I played those words over and over the whole way down. I never lifted one foot unless the other was firmly kicked in and biting into to the slope, most often just on the very edge of the boot sole. And I had the luxury of two solid pole plants, one above and one below me to steady me as I made each step.
And as I mentioned before, the poles were invaluable on the way out as a means to rest the heavy pack and take the weight off my back without having to take off the pack.
I'd be interested in hearing about the rest of your gear; such as clothing, essentials, optics, archery equip, etc. I bought a neo air for my elk hunt this fall and I absolutely loved it as well. Do you have a gear list for this hunt?
I've found that I can be miserable all day on these mountain hunts but as long as I have a comfortable refuge to crawl into at night I can bounce back, day after day.
I hate mummy bags and can not sleep in one because I am very claustrophobic. I need a roomy bag that I can roll around in.
So for this trip I used a Big Agnes Deep Creek 15 degree bag with a Big Agnes Buffalo Park 40 degree over bag. Additionally, I used a Thermorest Neo Air Pad.
I had the Deep Creek bag and loved it on other trips but I knew a 15 degree bag wasn't good enough for this hunt. I phoned the folks at Big Agnes and was actually thinking I needed a new (and expensive) ultra cold weather bag and they instead suggested the over bag idea. The Buffalo Park only cost 99 bucks and they said I could realistically expect it to add a 25 degree rating to my Deep Creek bag, getting me to a net of around minus 10. And because of Big Agnes' unique light weight design with no insulation in the bottom of their bags I was able to keep my system (with the pad) under 6 lbs (they figure that the insulation in the bottom of a bag is useless once your body weight compresses it so they build a sleeve into the bottom of the bag for your pad to slide into instead, it's light weight and your bag never slides off you pad anymore, it's really a great and innovative system).
The Neo Air Pad is a totally new concept by Thermorest and it is an absolute winner. It uses a thin reflective layer inside the pad that uses your body heat to warm you as you sleep. It's kinda like those old "hot seat" ass pillows we all used to use (showing my age), when you touch the thing you can actually feel it getting warmer. Plus the baffles in this pad run the width of the pad rather than the length which I think is superior because you get a super firm pad without that "beach raft" feel.
On the nights that it was minus 40 or colder I did have to wear extra clothing and use toe warmers but with the roomy comfort of the two big bags and the fantastic heat reflection of the Neo Air pad I was very comfortable despite the extreme conditions.
Oh, and the Ambien TR (time release) also helped a great deal and were ultra-lightweight!
This is a photo of the pillow/stuff sack (yellow/green), filled with various gear and strapped to the outside of my pack on the way out because there was no room inside with the Ram's cape, head and horns.
I also always strapped my bow safely to the back of my pack unless we were in hunt mode. I didn't want to risk falling on my bow if I took a spill, which I did a few times. That also kept both hands free for my trekking poles, which was crucial.
I've hunted whitetails a lot in Alberta so I have a pile of cold weather bowhunting experience. I've learned that it's so important to regularly draw your bow to keep it limber and keep the creaks out. It also saved me a blown opportunity at my ram when I discovered that my release was jammed with ice an hour before I got my shot. Had I not done my practice draws that morning I would have been hammering my trigger on that ram and it would not have fired.
I normally shoot a light draw weight (62 lbs) and a short draw length so I keep a broken elbow on my bow arm and have no clothing interference issues with string clearance, even with bulky cold weather gear.
I also was constantly checking my sight and drop away rest as well for ice/snow build up.
You can see my bow with sling strapped securely to my pack on the way up the mountain in this photo.
I'm looking at a topo of the area and the elevations were no higher that 2400 meters (about 7800 ft).
The pack review is next (tomorrow).
I've lost about 20 lbs since June, about 5 while I was actually on the trip (which I've promptly put back on!).
Interesting question on the ice axe. Brent Sinclair (a very accomplished and experienced guide and a living legend) guided a bit on this hunt and I noticed he used an ice axe that extended into a hiking pole. Really cool item. It would be great to have as a fall arrestor in case of a slip but the trade off is one pole vs. two (because I don't think you could practically handle two at a time) and I love the stability of the two pole system. I was never in any terrain extreme enough where I needed an ice axe to navigate.
Don't really have a gear list but will list most of the stuff I packed on this thread.
Kelly, you really need to stop making me pi$$ myself with these inside jokes of yours!
If so,how much time did you spend in Pacs and did you pack them for your day hunts?
Also, I had a lightweight pair of boot blankets that I slipped over the Hanwags whenever my toes started to get cold.
I also packed a bunch of chemical toe warmers but never used them except for sleeping; a few of the really cold nights my feet were chilly inside my bag so in addition to a couple pair of wool socks, I wore a pair of insulated North Face camp booties and added the toe warmers for the deluxe treatment.
I have two pair of the Hawags and although they are the same size one pair fit a bit bigger. I used the bigger pair so I could fit a thin pair of liner socks, a med pair of wool socks and a heavy pair of wool socks. This is what I wore everyday in Canmore and it worked great.
The liners are super thin and really help eliminate hotspots and blisters. I used to have problems with blisters on these mountain hunts but my guide in Alaska last year on a Dall Sheep hunt lent me a pair of liners and it solved my problem. I'll never do a mountain hunt again without them.
Alan suggested I take his extra pair of gum boots (they are an all rubber felt pack boot) because he was concerned about ice dams and some creek crossings on our original pack into our first camp. I did haul those heavy things in and out of camp 1 but never used them.
If I were going back I'd confidently use the same footwear system, again; the Hanwags, thin sock, liners, 2 wool socks, gaitors, micro spikes and the boot blankets. And I would also take the North Face camp booties and a half dozen pair of chemical toewarmers. The only change I'd make is to leave the other 10 pair of toe warmers and the gum boots in camp.
I also made sure my Hanwags were recently dressed with a couple coats of Nikwax silicone treatment and new laces. One final thing that really helped was I did a little Internet research on hiking boot lacing techniques. It was surprising to me how many ways there are to lace up your boots. I experimented with a few of these during my training hikes and came up with a way that worked best for me and it really kept my boots from loosening up during the day. That always used to happen to me and I frequently had to tighten my laces during the day, which would have been no fun with my gloves off in that cold weather.
Can't believe I can talk so much about footwear, don't get me started!
I borrowed this Mystery Ranch BDSB pack from a buddy last year for a Dall Sheep hunt in Alaska and it carried a monster load on our pack out.
I'm sure you will get to your gloves... interested in knowing what gloves you used and what you had to remove to shoot.
Anyway, the BDSB is no longer in production. I think the capacity is around 7400 ci and it can expand to haul stupid loads. I think the closest MR makes now is the Kodiak at 7000 ci.
I know the MR packs start out heavier when empty (mine is around 10 lbs, I think, with a few accessories). But I can tell you that the extra few pounds is never noticed when I'm hauling 100 lbs plus off the mountain.
Also, the MR easily allows my bow to be safely strapped to the pack.
I love this pack. Especially after this hunt.
Ned, I do see the 7500 as a pack bag option for the NICE Frame but for some reason, my NICE Frame has never really fit as well for me as the G6000 I use to have or this BDSB. It's hard to explain but the NICE Frame doesn't seem to stick to my back as well as the other two packs so for really heavy loads these work better for me.
I had several strap options with extra straps I ordered from MR so depending on how much was in my pack, I had the flexibility of always being able to securely pack the bow.
I modified my pack a bit by adding waist belt pockets and putting orange cord on all the zipper pulls so they are easier to see.
The 6500 would be fine for the majority of the trip but as you can see from the above photo, once the ram was in the bag I was out of space and had to strap a lot of gear on the outside of the pack, and again, this pack is 7400 ci.
One thing worth mentioning, because I shot my ram on Saturday and didn't recover him until Sunday he was very stiff by the time we got to cape him. It took three hours just to do the legs and it was a really tough job (for Alan) in the bitter cold. I was in charge of trying to keep a big bonfire going while he worked on most of the caping job.
As a result, the lower legs (from the knee joints down) had to be cut and left in for the pack out. They were just too frozen to get the hide off on the mountain.
As a result, it made for a more awkward load (and heavier) to be stuffed into the pack, which I'm sure ate up some space.
If you already have the 6500 I'd just go with that but if you don't you may consider the 7500. Or I can lend you my BDSB (which I'd be happy to do) when you go.
(As an aside, based on what I've been reading online, I strongly suspect we will see a shift from Sitka Gear to Kuiu as the go-to mountain hunting clothing in the next few seasons. I corresponded with Jason Hairston, the force behind Kuiu and the founder and CEO of Sitka Gear, with the hopes that I might get my hands on some Kuiu gear a little early to field test on this hunt. Unfortunately, I didn't come up with the idea to reach out to him until a few days before my departure and we just couldn't work it out. We both wish now that we could have for sure. It certainly would have been an extreme opportunity to test that stuff out.)
For the majority of the hunt I wore one layer on my legs, a pair of Sporthill 3SP XC Pants. These things are simply awesome. They are super tough, lightweight enough to hike in all day, somewhat wind proof (Sporthill claims up to 35 mph and I agree with that) and very warm for the weight. The also dry out very fast. This was my first hunt in them and I was really impressed with the 3SP fabric. It's also stretchy so it makes my normally flat a$$ look half decent, which the wife seems to appreciate around the house.
On my upper body I wore a synthetic tee shirt (north face) with a First Lite Chama long sleeve Merino Zip T and a lightweight Primaloft vest from Mountain Equipment Co-Op.
That was all I really wore while I was hiking, which was for most of this hunt (with the exception of gloves/hats, which I'll cover later).
Whenever we stopped for any length of time and and I started to cool off I had a pair of Brooks Range Pants and a Brooks Range Jacket (from Barney's Sports Chalet in Anchorage AK) that I threw on over the light layers mentioned above. These pieces are expedition weight and are seriously warm/windproof. The pants zip to the hip so the easily went on/off over my boots, spikes and gaitors, which was key.
I also had a Patigonia synthetic insulated sweater that's no longer made but very similar to the Nano Puff Pullover. I used this around camp and on the mountain when it was a little too cold for just my light layers but not cold enough for the expedition weight Brooks Range layers.
I also packed a layer of Under Armor Cold Gear 3.0 (top and bottom) and a layer of Justin Charles Merio Wool (top and bottom) but never wore any of these except to sleep in. If I did this trip again I'd leave one set of these at home, probably the Under Armor.
I had a Sitka Celcius Jacket but only wore it once and mostly just used it as an extra layer under my sleeping pad. That would stay at home next time as well. I had a hard time not bringing a pair of Sitka pants but the Sporthill's were the perfect weight, somewhere between my Sitka Ascent pants (which I thought would have been too light for this trip) and my Sitka Mountain Pants.
You may notice in my photos that I usually have on two different pair of gloves. That's because I used a super thin merino glove liner from Ibex on my shooting hand. My release straps over this glove and I found that it did not change my point of impact when shooting like other thicker gloves did. I wore a heavier synthetic liner glove on the other hand and a pair of Stoic Welder Trigger Mitts that I scored on Steep and Cheap for 50 bucks (they rocked, by the way). I had a few extra pair of glove liners that didn't get used and would be left at home next time.
I love Sitka Gear and I use my Celsius jacket whenever I'm in a cold treestand but it was too heavy to hike in and not as warm as the Barney's Brooks Range Jacket so it really didn't get much use on this one.
Practically speaking (from an equipment standpoint), this was really more of a mountain climbing/hiking trip than a hunt. I really didn't need camo or quiet hunting clothing. I needed lightweight, high quality gear that made these extreme conditions bearable. The warmth to weight ratio on the stuff I used was the most efficient way for me.
I packed the Celsius Jacket so I found a use for it but it would not be in my pack the next time around. It's all about the weight savings. I always come home with a few pieces of gear that surprisingly got little or no use on a backpack hunt and that's the ultimate test for me on how to minimize my future loads.
Jeff, I'd be a little nervous if you were also taking an ambien. I mean, someones gotta be able to wake up and scare the bears away, right?
Thanks for taking the time.
I guess that gear keeps you relatively dry, and still hold some heat when climbing/hiking? Never realized the body could make that much heat I guess, overcome that kind of cold. I've never done a real active hunt in those conditions. Snow yes, below zero? No. Never.
If I take anything from your experience it's even when super cold you still have to be able to layer down fairly light. Much lighter than I would have thought you could get away with.
Great insight and info. Thanks.
A lot of it is in your head, I think if I knew it was 40 below I would have automatically put on every piece of clothing I had before I stepped out of the tent. That was an advantage of not having a thermometer.
Again, I'm referring to what I wore the majority of the time. I did wear some extra layers on the really cold mornings. I had a Sitka Mountain shirt and the Patigonia synthetic sweater as well as back up, both of which got some use, even when hiking, on the coldest mornings.
I also wore a pair of the merino base layer bottoms one morning under the Sporthill pants but that seemed like too much for those long pulls up the mountain so I stuck with the one layer after that.
I'm one of those guys who shows up at the airport for every trip with two checked bags at 49.5 lbs each and a heavy carry on. I like to take everything I can but after these trips are over it's always a surprise to me how much stuff is unnecessary. Especially on a backpack hunt.
We actually had to slide and let him go another 200 yards down the mountain before we got him in a safe place to work on him.
That covers the "Needs" on my gear list. I'll do the "Wants" next.
I'm a fixed blade guy and have used Slick Tricks for the past few years. This is only the 2nd hunt I've ever used a mechanical head (I also used the same set up on a Mt. Caribou hunt back in September). The accuracy and wind dynamics of the mechanical were trade offs that I was willing to make for these two mountain hunts. The Caribou shot was 40 yards with a moderate crosswind so they may have helped there but the ram was close so I'm sure the slick tricks would have worked as well.
One other thing worth mentioning, I had a modified quiver that held 8 arrows so I didn't need to pack an arrow tube on this trip. I did haul a few practice arrows but I just strapped them to the side of my pack and pretty much left them in camp. (There was nothing soft enough to practice shoot into).
I too wear a lot more clothing when I'm in a treestand in cold weather. But again, from a physical standpoint, this was more of a mountain hiking tour than a hunting trip. Trust me, even in those bitter cold temps, you really can't wear too much clothing when your humping up/down these steep slopes or your be sweating your butt off in no time. But the expedition weight pants and parka came out pretty quick whenever we stopped to glass for a while.
I finally flushed you out "Greg"!
Yea, it was a Swacker (sp) but please don't start calling me "Catfish"!!!
Greg's my buddy who talked me into using the Sonoran...um...Swacker heads this year. He's lurked the bowsite for years and very rarely posts but when he does it's usually memorable. We had a great time last night laughing about this over a bottle of George Dickle.
We also howled over some Busta' Rhymes YouTube videos after Greg asked me how I came up with my Bowsite handle. (His music videos are hysterical)
Not mandatory, but close, I wanted a good lightweight and compact choice for both digital and video cameras.
I borrowed a Sony DCR-SR68 that uses hard drive memory vs. a tape or media card. The unit is tiny and very lightweight and has great battery life. It froze (literally) the first day in a pocket on my waistbelt but I learned to keep it inside my vest throughout the rest of the hunt and it worked great. I have about 1.5 or 2 hours of memorable video as a result, including some great footage of my ram rutting a ewe shortly before I shot him. Awesome.
I used a Canon PowerShot SD180 IS digital camera for my still shots. It's a 12 mega pix camera and delivered some great shots. Again, this thing is very compact and light and has great battery life. I took 681 awesome photos on this trip.
Again, I had to keep the camera and extra batteries warm (close to my body) to keep them working through out the hunt. Getting back to town for a few days in the middle of my trip helped as I could re-charge my batteries.
One thing that was interesting as shown in the attached photo, I had to time my photos and breathing because if I shot a photo while I was exhaling this is what I got.
I've used the Zeiss Classic's (in 8x30 and 10x40) for years and am a big fan of Zeiss glass. On my Dall Sheep hunt last year my guide used a tiny pair of compact Leica 10x25's that really rocked.
I wouldn't consider these for any low light viewing but in bright (snowy) use these little glasses are awesome. And again, the weight savings was significant.
I kept the glasses in a tiny sill nylon stuffsack while they were around my neck so the snow and ice on the lenses would be minimized. Still, it was a challenge keeping the lenses clear. I had a microfiber cloth handy and used it quite often.
I also used a Nikon Archers Choice tilt compensating rangefinder. Al had a pair of 10x Leica glasses with built in rangefinder and we were constantly comparing distance readings on various uphill and downhill targets. It was obvious through this exercise what a difference the angle can make on the take off in the mountains.
How can you not love this guy?
In addition to the ice jam in my release, I did notice a few of my arrows were losing fletching just before I got my shot opportunity. I build my arrows and am anal about cleaning, preparing and gluing my fletching. I routinely grab my arrows by the fletch to remove them from targets and never have any delamination failure but in these frigid conditions some of my fletching did fall off.
Unlike most of my equipment failures, these were fortunately noticed BEFORE I got my shot, which I correctly took as a very good omen (Al actually spotted a loose fletch in my quiver the morning I shot the ram).
I carefully inspected all of my arrows and found a few that were still holding the fletching tight and rotated these shafts to the front of my quiver.
A few hours later one of those few remaining good arrows was passing through my Ram.
Usually these are the type of issues that cost us trophies of a lifetime but I guess the stars just aligned on this one.
Curious what gear Allan used? Looks like a lot of old school gear, probably works as well or better than some of the new stuff :)
Any tips from his gear you can pass on to us
You said you built your own arrows (good job). Curious as to the cement you used? Or would other cements have the same effect?
Now I'm gonna be getting screamed at "what are these arrows doing in my freezer!"
There was some dancing for sure but the transom dance can really only be done in the company of swimsuit clad young lady's. And there was an extreme shortage of those on the mountain.
Good solid questions Jeff!
He seemed unaffected by the cold no matter what he wore, until it came to trying to cape the ram. His hands/fingers did take a beating doing that.
But to answer your question, he had a pair of "longhandles" under his wool pants on the bottom and a sweatshirt or sweater, light fleece jacket and a heavy camo coat that he wore on top. Really basic, simple stuff and no high tech gear. Made me feel like a total wuss the whole trip.
We had a wood stove in our first wall tent camp but my Jetboil would have been sweet for the backpack camp later. Melting snow, making tea/coffee/hot chocolate and heating water for our Mt. House meals. The campfire worked but is was kind of slow.
A piece of white shoe string!
The last thing I thought I should mention is the most important thing any of us take on these trips and that is our body.
Unfortunately, I am either all in or all out on this subject. When I'm in, I'm in and my workouts and nutrition are automatic but when I fall off it can get ugly. I swear, if I was content with just whitetail hunting I would weigh 250 lbs by now for sure.
But these mountain hunts demand the conditioning. I am sure plenty of guys that are not in decent shape get away with it and kill sheep but I enjoy these hunts so much more when I'm in at least half decent shape.
All I really did in preparation for this trip was a daily 1 hr hike with my pack. I have a good hill nearby and I slowly worked up my pack weight from about 30 lbs in June to around 60 lbs by Sept. I missed a few days here and there but did at least 6 days a week throughout. I lost about 20 lbs over all and hope to stay on course and keep it off this off season.
That's about it, you guys can let me know if I missed anything.
Great info, Busta!
I don't have a list Cory, but I may put one together. If I get a chance to do it I'll pm you.
Congrats again and thanks for the great review! Elliott
Also, here's my gear list as promised:
Mystery Ranch G6000 BDSB Pack (w/extra straps) Bow/Quiver/Arrows/Primos Cable & String Cover/Carter Release Big Agnes Deep Creek 15 d bag Big Agnes Buffalo Park 45 d Overbag Thermorest Neo Air Core Pad Thermorest Pillow/Stuff Sack Zeiss 10x25 Binos Nikon Tilt Comp Rangefinder Sony Mini Video Camera (+ xtra Batt’s) Canon Digital Camera (+ xtra Batt’s) Lense Cloth Black Diamond Trekking Poles Wide Mouth Nalgene Water Bottle Han Wag GTX Alaskan Boots EMS Gaiters Kahtoola Aluminum Crampons (?) Kahtoola Micro Spikes (?) Light Boot Blankets North Face Camp Booties 3 PR Heavy Merino Wool Socks (Smartwool) 3 PR Medium Weight Merino Wool Socks (Smartwool) 3 PR Synthetic Sock Liners (North Face) 3 PR Smartwool Merino Boxers First Ascent Merino Long Sleeve Zip T Smartwool Long Johns Justin Charles Merino Shirt & Bottom’s Base Layer Under Armor 3.0 Base Cold Gear Top & Bottom’s Sport Hill 3SP Pants Mountain Equipment CO-OP Primaloft Vest Barney’s Brooks Range Jacket and Pants Patagonia Synthetic Sweater Sitka Celsius Jacket Sitka Mountain Shirt Ibex Merino Glove Liners Stoic Welder Trigger Mitts Sitka Gloves North Face Glove Liners Ibex Merino Beanie Sitka Beanie Shearling Wool Trapper (Savage) Hat North Face Synthetic Face Mask Justin Charles Merino Neck Gaiter Chemical Toe Warmers & Hand Warmers (14 ea) Montana Doe Decoy (no stakes-use arrows) Foam Butt Pad Ace Knee Brace (x2) Mini Head Lamp MP3 Player Leatherman Bow Press (Bowmaster) Allen’s-String Wax-Xtra String & Cables (w/peep, loop & nock) Personal Hygene & Meds (+ sedatives)
Thanx again for sharin all this