Backcountry Elk Hunting Prep

Back in mid January, I committed to making a DIY backcountry Elk hunt become a reality this September. After months of training (over 800 training miles & 100+ Crossfit workouts) and planning, we are about 2 weeks out from heading to Colorado.  This will be a “backpack” or “bivy” style hunt in that we will have no established base camp, rather, we will stay mobile on a day to day basis until we find what we are looking for. Our philosophy is that since we have no opportunity to scout and have no real idea where we may run into other hunters or, worse, outfitted pack camps, our best chances for success as well as an aesthetic experience will be found in a highly mobile, ultra light backpacking method of hunting. So, with the goal set to have pack weights of less than 40 pounds (including water) and a total load out (boots, clothes to be worn, weapons etc) of less than 50 pounds for seven days, each of us sorted through our present gear, upgraded where necessary, weighed, re-weighed, calculated, experimented, researched, asked for advice and compiled our gear. 



Gear List: 

  • Empty Pack: 82oz
  • Sleeping Bag + dry sack: 59oz
  • Tarp Shelter: 29oz
  • Trekking Poles: 18.8oz
  • Water Filter: 4.9oz
  • Sleeping Pad: 7.9oz
  • 2nd Merino shirt: 9oz
  • Down Jacket + dry sack: 20.5oz
  • Food: 160
  • First aid kit: 2.1
  • Water: 70.4 (2 liters)
  • Bladder: 6 oz
  • Extra Bladders: 3 oz
  • Rain gear (top & bottom): 34.4
  • GPS w batteries: 4.7
  • headlamp w/ batteries: 3.2
  • Spare batteries: 1.6
  • dry sacks: 2.5
  • bowl/cup/spork: 3.7
  • Fuel: 7.5
  • Lighter: .4
  • *Kill Kit: 16  (game bags, knife, 550 cord)
  • socks 2
  • Soap 2
  • Toothbrush/Toothpaste: 1.2
  • wipes/TP: 3
  • towell: .7


Base Pack weight: 555.8oz / 34.73 lbs

Bow: 96 oz

Clothes/ Items to be Worn: 

  • Merino Base layer pants: 9.1oz
  • Merino Base Layer shirt: 8
  • Outerwear Pants: 18.5
  • Gloves: 2.6
  • Merino Neck gaiter: .75
  • Merino hat: .75
  • Hat: .75
  • Optics + Harness: 35.2
  • Boots: 64 (size 13)
  • Socks: 4

Total: 143.65oz / 8.9 lbs

Total Clothes + Weapon: 239.65oz/ 14.97lbs 

Total Load Out (everything): 798.4oz/ 49.90lbs

Gear wise, I went back and forth on many items. Some of my existing gear was applicable, other items had to be upgraded for more specific purposes. In other cases, such as my bow (which was not purchased with ultralight hunting in mind) and my sleeping bag (which was light by the standards of the late 90s but not today), upgrades were financially not feasible this year. The backpack was the focus of much attention for several months. I do have several backpacks ranging from a dedicated “backpacking” pack that I purchased in 1998 to day packs for day hunting whitetails and small game to a mid size pack suitable for overnight and weekend hunting trips. The main problem with my selection of packs is that none of them are particularly comfortable for heavy duty hauling, which backcountry Elk hunting potentially requires.  Since we’ll have to be prepared move several hundred pounds of meat from a backcountry kill site back to the truck, I needed a pack that is capable of handling extreme loads yeth still maintains our ultralight ethos. Many conventional packs just aren’t designed to go into the 80, 90, 100+ pound weight range. There is an exceptional selection of such packs (dedicated to backcountry hunting) on the market manufactured by boutique companies. The time tested standard is the Kifaru pack and one of my partners went with this pack. The Stone Glacier was a pack that I closely considered as well. Kuiu and Mystery Ranch are also packs commonly used by serious backcountry hunters (my other partner went with a Mystery ranch). After much deliberation, I decided to go with the Exo Mountain Gear 5500. It is a titanium frame pack that is light, strong, simple and at a competitive price point for the high end pack market. 

Food: In order to hit a desirable weight to calorie ratio (general ultralight rule is 100 calories minimum per ounce) of food that I can find enjoyable to eat yet balanced with the consideration of practically in the backcountry setting, I went with a combination of dehydrated meals, jerky, pemmican, salami, dried fruit, drink mixes, almond butter, meal replacement bars, granola+dried milk+whey protein, energy gel shots (for hard climbs) and Starbucks Vias for morning coffee. 


Breakfast: Granola + Nuts + Dried Milk + Whey Protein, Dried Fruit (Mango, Banana, & Tangerine). 

-first 3 days is about 350 calorie breakfasts at 2.8 oz. 
-last 4 days, I increased the portions to get 400+ calories
(thinking here is that I’ll have some initial loss of appetite due to altitude and/or, I’ll need more fuel the last few days than the first few days). 
Lunch & Snacks: Pemmican (fat & protein), Venison Jerky (protein), Almond Butter (protein, fat, sugars), Dried Fruit (sugars/carbs & fiber), ProBars (protein, fat, carbs -heavy on the Greens and Fruit options), Gel Shots (carbs), Salami (fat & protein). 
Dinner: A mixture of Mountain House, Alpine Aire, and Backpacker’s Pantry dehydrated meals. My entire selection of meals are the “ethnic” options: Jerk Chicken & Rice, Sweet & Sour pork & Rice, Chicken Cashew Curry & Rice, Southwestern Style Masa with Beef, Thai Style Chicken with Noodles, Chicken Vindaloo, and (the more bland sounding) Lasagna with Meat Sauce. I also packed some dehydrated desserts consisting of Three Berry Crumble, Ice Cream Sandwiches and Neapolitan Ice Cream.  Most of the Dinners + Desserts came in over 1,000 calories. So, I’m running about 3,000 calories a day at 1.5 pounds (24 oz) per day. Given the terrain we will be hunting, this will surely be a caloric deficit, but should be just enough to keep hunger at bay. 
Supplements: Since my usual Paleo-esque diet includes massive amount of fiber in the form of greens, I included a green concentrate drink mixture, one serving of which provides two daily servings of fruit and vegetables. I plan to take two servings daily, which should provide a steady supply of fiber and nutrients in addition to what I get from the dried fruits and other foods. I also packed energy drink mix with a high vitamin concentrate as well as daily multivitamins and fish oils (Omega 3 Fats). 
At home, I would normally not eat grain (granola) or rice with any kind of regularity, however, under the circumstances, I hardly think that the daily intake levels of each are enough to cause me any problems (upset stomach, inconsistent energy levels etc) as I have done my best to maintain high levels of fat (which my body is accustomed to drawing energy from) and protein.
Training: Since we will be hunting in very difficult terrain, constantly on the move with camp on our backs and will potentially be required to pack very heavy loads of meat for long distances, off trail and through very difficult terrain, we considered physical preparation to be of the highest priority for this trip. The core of my training schedule consisted of a strength based Crossfit program (generally 4 times a week) split with rucking (trails, hill repeats, stair wells, stair climbers), cycling, and a bit of running (which tapered off over the months). My approach was to add strength where it counts most (legs, back and core), increase the amount of time I can operate at or very near my VO2 max (through the HighIntensity Interval Training/ Metabolic Conditioning workouts programmed at my Crossfit affiliate) and be comfortable moving under the weight of a heavy pack for extended periods of time. My training volume was generally 7-10 hours a week, some split days, and always with 2 rest days. Every 2-3 weeks, I would make sure to get 2 consecutive rest days and I took 4 consecutive days off 4 times over 8 months. These recovery days were not always easy to make myself do, but they insured that I made consistent gains (recovery is greater than 50% of any training program) as well as stayed injury free. There are many different approaches one can take to train for mountain hunting and mine is but one of them. Once my regimen has been tested in the mountains, I share more thoughts and details.  
Final thoughts: At any given time, one can be focused on anyone of the many facets of hunting. This could include being a wild game chef, a dedicated duck hunter, backyard squirrel hunting with a pellet gun, sitting in a treestand, being an athlete, dog training, planting food plots, hosting dinners, shooting, researching gear etc. For me, infusing more adventure into my hunting experience is presently the aspect of hunting that is most attractive. 

About Go Carnivore

Lifestyle of Meath Enthusiasts
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5 Responses to Backcountry Elk Hunting Prep

  1. Neal Zeller says:

    Well thought out and sensible. I’d say you’re ready. And no sign of the Lodge cast iron, sensible too!

  2. Go Carnivore says:

    2015 gear upgrade list:
    Quilt instead of sleeping bag should save 20-25 oz.
    Carbon bow instead of aluminum should save 40-50oz

    -sure am gonna miss the cast iron 🙂

  3. Nhill says:

    I look forward to reading your story. I did a lot of reading and pre-planning for a public land unguided elk hunt last year. Just don’t know when I’ll get to go……

  4. Pingback: Cold Weather Backpack Hunt |

  5. Dave says:

    Thanks for sharing the gear list. Much appreciated.

    Wish there are complete ones for backpack hunters are done more frequently rather than just a bunch of blank spots in Excel.

    Publishing them don’t make a whole lot of sense if there’s no data on weight even though brands and products are listed.

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