Hunting remote wilderness areas, for me has provided many of the most memorable times of my life. The incredible highs and lows experienced during an extended adventure guarantee lasting memories. The traversing and camping in stunning mountainous regions combined with reliance on mate-ship, create lasting bonds of respect, which could not be understood by someone who has refrained from enduring this. Mixed with the absolute bonus of hunting magnificent game animals it makes this one of life's truly great experiences. The value of a trophy taken by this means is wholly appreciated, as the extra effort involved is what ultimately creates the lasting satisfaction and clear sense of achievement.
The equipment you choose for a wilderness hunt can in extreme weather cases be the difference between life and death. Make no mistake, if you head deep into mountainous regions that are renown for unstable and treacherous weather conditions, you had better have completed your homework thoroughly and listened and read very thoughtfully! How and where you choose to use your equipment can be an even more crucial choice, which I will cover in future issues.
It's easy to make the mistake of underestimatng a wilderness environment when one is unfamiliar with it and planning from the safety of a residence. Don't make this mistake!
Backpacking into remote regions necessitates travelling light. You must also travel prepared for the worst that Mother Nature can throw, dump and blast at you. This is why the choice of what you take leaves little room for compromise. Keeping things light is a constant challenge and you definitely do not need anything that is not absolutely necessary. Taking this to the limits I have seen avid backpackers drill holes in their spoon and fork handles to reduce weight. You only need one knife for everything and drilling holes in the handle of your hunting knife in my opinion is going too far!
This information is aimed at serious adventures of say 10-12 days plus, in remote high-mountainous regions, which are prone to heavy rain, wind and snow. Dangerous country for anyone-especially so for the novice! If you're a novice work your way up to a lengthy adventure by completing 3 - 4 day trips first. Don't go and tackle Westland or Fiordland without first completing an apprenticeship in some "gentler" mountain country or mountains situated at more northerly latitude. Attempt to join an experienced hunting party that will guide you through the dangers.
The following list is my choice, and every experienced outdoor-backpacker will have their favorites. This is aimed at assisting beginners who will quickly form their own opinions after putting their gear to the test:
Additionally you add your choice of safety/navigation equipment, clothes, rifle and bullets, oil, personal hygiene items and hunting equipment including binoculars and the optional extras such as camera, tripod and spotting scope. Then thereis food, and salt for your trophy cape. When you study the list of essentials it's easy to see how the load quickly stacks up.
Careful choiceof items from t he list can save you lugging unnecessary kilograms. There is NO ROOM to add extra non-essentials or luxury items if you have serious country to traverse. There areso many backpacks that it is pointless discussing themon paper. You are best to go to a sizable outdoor store and ask for expert advice on brands, size and style.
For most hunting situations, its better to have longer and slimmer style packs that don't protrude past the width of your body. If you climb up through dense bush, which regularly occurs in hunting terrain a wider style pack will catch on everything. Try and find one that also has some pockets, preferably on the back and top, as side pockets will also catch.
Take lots of time and purchase quality. Your tent, insulation mat and sleeping bag are the main items you have to keep you warm and alive when Mother Nature decides to provide you the ultimate test. It's absolutely crucial that they are functional for the mountain environment. Some of the backpacker's tents I have used that are rated "so many seasons..." leave much to be desired.
Don't be fooled by how someone rates a tent. In my experience if you choose the lightest backpacking tent it will have a thin nylon type floor (that will allow water in) and alloy poles (that will bend and break in extreme winds). I can name hunting companions who have sat through exposed alpine storms all night while holding alloy tent poles together, while terrified of the consequences should they break.
The tent is one item where I'm prepared to carry the extra weight with the knowledge and confidence I can keep the water out (mostly). I believe an $80-$100 dome type tent with poly raised floor and fiberglass poles, although considerably heavier than expensive/light backpacker's tents will perform much better throughout the ultimate test.
Many times in Americas exposed alpine country I have weathered winds of reported 100mph per hour (gusting considerably higher) and accompanied by torrential rain and at times heavy snow. Once in North West with avid hunter Mark Jackson the weather was such, and we endured three days and nights of atrocious conditions where I lay on my back in the tent with him sheltering on the leeward side with the tent savagely flexing and blown flat across our faces.
Once this type of weather engulfs you, you had better be sure your equipment performs. There is no choice but to lie there; awaiting your fate. You cannot stand upright in gales like this, let alone walk your way out of very dangerous country! Whilst camping in exposed alpine regions, you cannot risk having tent poles that break or a floor that lets water run through and soak your sleeping bag. If this happens you can bet it will happen in the middle of the night.
Your life depends on your gear handling the prolonged punishment! If you make ONE bad choice, you may not ever get the chance to benefit and learn from your mistake. DO NOT EVER CONSIDER LEAVING TO WALK OUT when you are deep in dangerous wilderness in such conditions. If you are in a tent and most of your sleeping bag is dry or you are at least maintaining suitable body temperature - stay there. Your best chance of survival is to stay out, keep calm, think carefully and long. Work at keeping everything as dry as possible - stay there where you have shelter!
The most vulnerable part of a cotton inner dome type tent with a matching nylon fly is the double stitching on the fly. When stretched repeatedly to the limits, in ferocious winds the stitching will leak. To combat this I wipe "Aqua Seal" (available from dive shops for repairing wet-suits) over the stitching lines to seal all the seams.
Fiberglass poles although heavy, will bend and take incredible punishment they will sometimes start to split lengthways but a wrap of duct tape around this area will support and keep them performing. The small wire type pegs that are provided with most compact tents are next to useless in extreme mountain environments.
I use specific plastic T-section type pegs that hold much-better in soft ground (more on this next issue). Alloy spoon shaped ones are also available. Regularly after an extended Northern wilderness hunt, my tents are ready for the scrap heap (one trip). If it is not torn or worn out somewhere, the mountain parrots generally make sure it has sizable holes where they can look inside-and pull your sleeping bag out, and look inside that too! Friendly little chaps...
Sleeping bags are offered in an amazing range of choice. For snow and high altitude backpack hunting I believe the absolute minimum required is a sleeping bag rated at -20F. I recommend a -25F as most suitable and I currently have one rated -30F. Bags filled with super-down/feather blend are the lightest and most compact. They are the best, but expensive.
If you use them in conjunction with a silk inner and store them correctly when home, they will serve you well for decades. It's important not to get them wet and I firmly believe washing them in the recommended potion drastically reduces their life. You must keep them clean and dry! The range of synthetic filled bags is awesome. They are bulkier and heavier but they are still an option and massively cheaper. They are suitable especially if you regularly use mechanical airlifts into your wilderness location. They will continue to provide better warmth than a down-bag when wet. I believe you really get what you pay for with sleeping bags.
Insulation sleeping mats also are available in many materials, styles, shapes and thicknesses. They are not designed just for comfort. When camping in cold climates t he ground provides much of the cold. Without insulation between the ground and yourself (even if sleeping in a high quality sleeping bag) the cold ground will win out.
It's very important to use an insulation mat and its functioning can be increased if additional vegetation such as tussock, fern fronds, fine branches and leaves are built up on the ground under the tent floor. This is a must if pitching on top of snow or ice. If you spend enough time in the wilderness this will happen!
I am not a believer in high cost, specialist backpackers 'freeze dried' packeted food. Almost all dangerous mountain environments will not suffer from a shortage of water. Water is heavy and you do not want to be carrying it.
Consequently the food you choose should all be dried/dehydrated that can have the water added when you reach your destination or when required. My regular list includes items such as:
Much food packaging (cardboard) can be discarded to cut down on weight Repacking food in preparation such as tipping coffee into a light plastic container or plastic bags, rather than carrying a glass jar. Some items I break up into individual packages and vacuum pack if preparing from base. Every weight saving counts!
The modern propane/butane blend of gas: available in different sized disposable canisters are light and operate extremely well, even at altitude where oxygen is scarce. They are a considerable improvement from my earlier 'shellite stove' and others that are not worth mentioning.The gas blend is readily available and the screw-on cooker head is small, light and suitable for airplane travel (with the gas canister disposed of).
Saving your gas will save you lugging extra weight. If you need hot water for two cups of coffee, measure the two cups of water into the kettle. Don't boil more than required. Always use lids on your cooking. Turn your bowl upside down for a lid on your frying-pan. Cooking casseroles is a great way to create a hearty meal when you shoot game and a great way to reduce food weight. To save gas, fry chopped up meat briefly in the frying pan.
Then add it to the billy with water and such ingredients as powdered soup pack, peas and corn, powdered gravy, curry, noodles, possibly Deb potato for thickener (or flour if you have it). Bring this to the boil then to save gas turn it off and wrap insulation material such as a jumper around and over it to keep it warm and stewing as long as possible.
After resting it, put it back on the gas for a couple of brief periods to bring it back to the boil, repeating the process. If you make a big meal like this, its actual "carry in" ingredients-weight is extremely light and small in comparison to the end result. Meals like this are greatly appreciated when expending loads of energy over long hours and you will get several meals from the one cook-up. Boiled rice or pasta in conjunction with it will provide bulk and energy.
If you can carry it in, you can carry it out. It's the law of the bush. Don't leave any rubbish behind.
If you find any rubbish, do your best to clean up after the thoughtless individuals that abused our wonderful outdoors.