Friday, March 26, 2010

What's in your pack?

What do you all carry for a day pack, if you do, when chasing elk or deer?

I'll go first (and here provide the disclaimer that, while this post has links to various companies selling bits of gear, that's just for illustration purposes- those products linked are things I've bought that work well for me- this is not meant to be a commercial):

This pack is an Eberlestock J105, designed to be a fairly low-profile day pack which can expand to carry out an elk quarter. I'm a big fan of the idea of saving a whole round trip from kill to truck.

Cinched down for hunting:

Then opened up:

Near or far, uphill or down, I'd rather make that first trip with a load on my back. On the other hand, you don't want something too cumbersome or that's noisy at all during the times that you're stalking. Nowadays there are a number of packs out there designed to carry fairly small going in and pack a load coming out.

For years I carried a Nimrod lumbar pack (an early version of their Pinnacle model)that had a pack sack that you could unroll, fasten to the shoulder harness, and then use to carry out a quarter. I adopted the Nimrod a bit too early, later models have some improvements that would make it more comfortable and functional. The biggest problems with the Nimrod are that it has a pretty limited capacity when the pack sack is rolled and stowed, the padding on the shoulder straps is too soft, letting them collapse and get uncomfortable, and, more importantly, under a load the hipbelt rolls and fails to provide adequate support. I think the hipbelt has been fixed in current models by the addition of vertical stays. The Nimrod is fairly light and doesn't get much in the way when going through brush, both of which are very nice. While it does provide a way out with the first quarter of an elk, you only want to carry a front quarter, with maybe the backstraps, as the model I have puts some pretty good hurt on you when it is loaded up. Later ones might be better.

As for the Eberlestock, I'm still making up my mind about it. For the cons, first off I'm not fond of wearing a daypack all the time, as, even cinched down, it hangs up more then a lumbar pack when going through brush or ducking under limbs in the p-j. Also, the darned thing is heavy (9.5 pounds empty!)- the inevitable price of a really sturdy structure and heavy duty fabric, as well as a wealth of pockets. For the pluses, it is quite comfortable, carries a hind quarter comfortably (I've packed out five elk quarters, four of them hindquarters, and an oryx hindquarter along with the backstraps and head all in one go, with this pack at this point- no really hard carries yet, though) and those pockets do allow you to stash gear you seldom access well out of the way and not have to dig through it. Also, two large pockets are on the outside of the pack and compression straps once the main compartment is unzipped and loaded, which keeps the bits of gear out there from getting crushed, much.

In the photos up above, you'll see a rectangular opening at the top of the pack- that's a rifle scabbard that lays along the back stays.

I've used it when packing meat a couple of times, but generally I feel more comfortable carrying my rifle in hand with a load. It was handy walking out in the predawn dark on a muzzleloader hunt, as the un-capped rifle fit all the way down to the lock and I had both hands available for stumbling. As to the gear in the pack, first off alongside the rifle scabbard but opening from the other side of the pack and also right up against the internal frame are two pockets, the upper with a hydration port for a water bladder and tube. I don't use a tube hunting- one more thing to hang on brush- but the pocket does locate a water bottle nicely high and right up against you:

Growing up, we never carried water or packs, just threw a couple of candy bars in our pockets, along with maybe an apple. Of course, waffle-weave cotton longhandles and Levis, along with cotton t-shirts and cotton flannel or wool shirts were also what we wore. As I got older and started staying out a bit longer and ranging farther, I started carrying a bota bottle. Now I use a Platypus water bottle. The advantage of a soft bottle like this is not only that you can tuck it out of the way in a corner of the pack, but that you can squeeze the excess air out of it as you drink so your water doesn't gurgle or slosh, making your stalk the much quieter.

In the little pocket below the water bottle pocket I stash my first aid kit and two lights- the first a little headlamp that burns a long time on three AAA batteries, the second a little halogen flashlight that runs through batteries very quickly but that casts a bright beam quite a ways. The little first aid kit is augmented by a couple of WMI's handy little cut kits, which have what you need to take care of a gashed finger or hand in a little envelope, and extra moleskin. Cutting myself while field dressing or developing a blister are by far the most likely injuries in my experience. I also have a couple of feet of (orange) Velcro tape in that pocket, as it is really handy for holding things together or tightening things up.

Eberlestock put two long pockets on either side of the pack that open from the top or the sides. A spotting scope or tripod fits pretty easily. Not carrying either of those very often, I don't get a whole lot of use from the pockets but stash a ditty bag in each side with things I don't get into very often. Note that the pockets have a light colored lining, another nice touch.

One bag is stuff for handling a carcass.

A number of pieces of parachute cord or thin rope are really handy when dressing an animal out by yourself. Not only is it useful to tie legs off out of the way, but three times I've had to tie off a carcass I was field dressing to keep it from rolling or sliding down the hill I was working on. Also, at least three fairly long pieces are handy for hanging quarters that you are going to come back for. That's also what the game bags are for, one bag can stretch over two elk quarters and will keep off dirt and flies while you carry the first load out. I may have a bit more cordage than I need, but I can't recall ever thinking "Gee, what am I going to do with all this rope?" whereas I've wished for another foot or two of line on more than one occasion. The little ziplock has two of the big, 2.5 gallon ziplocks and a couple of 1 gallon ziplocks folded up in it, all for carrying and keeping clean heart, liver, tenderloins, and other bits of meat. I carry a pair of nitrile gloves or the long plastic "field dressing gloves", not so much out of worry about blood-borne disease as for ease of clean up. Once your hands get gory, you bloody everything you touch and even wet-wipes aren't great at getting the blood off. The Wyoming saw isn't absolutely necessary, as you can dress an elk without one, but it makes the job easier and, if you kill a bull elk, it is far lighter to carry out antlers on a skull plate as opposed to the whole head. Another option is to leave the saw in the truck and bring it to the carcass after the first load of meat is out. The marking tape (usually two rolls) is for finding my way back to the carcass. I don't mark right up to my elk, as I don't want anyone walking away with one of my quarters.

In the other side pocket lives a bag containing a very basic "stuck overnight kit".

Metal cup for heating water, very light nylon bucket for holding water, two ways of making fire, firestarter paste, film canister filled with cotton balls soaked in vaseline, candle (also a form of firestarter), emergency blanket (2), dry socks (not pictured), Cyalume stick for a nighttime signal and a whistle for a daytime signal. As you can see, I'm pretty concerned with fire starting. That's because if I'm cold and wet on a cold and wet night, my fire starting skills aren't going to be at their best and dry wood hard to come by. If it's dry and pretty weather, a fire won't be nearly as big a concern and I'll just need one of those matches ;)

Also in that pocket lives a little Otis gun cleaning kit. It has a nylon covered metal cable that can work as a ramrod and the whole kit weighs four ounces. If you jam the muzzle of your rifle in snow or mud, you'll really want a ramrod for cleaning that bore. It's a seldom-used item but a nice bit of insurance.

In the top pocket of the pack, which you access from the harness side, I carry the myriad little things I might want to access at any time. Scope cover (which I seldom use and may go away), ultralight tripod (camera is usually in my pocket), bandanna (dressed in synthetics and wool, a piece of absorbent cotton can be really handy), some energy in the form of chocolate and power bars, compass, (maps, too, if I'm carrying any of that area), spare rifle cartridges, spare .22 cartridges if I've got a pistol with me for small game, short piece of cord for carrying such small game, spare knife (very light), bit of duct tape, toilet paper, wet wipes, fleece beanie, and gloves. A neat trick is the fact that thirty .22 long rifle cartridges will fit in a film canister and not rattle.

One item of clothing I always carry is raingear, usually stuffed down in the main compartment of the pack. Some of the breathable raingear is really nice- quiet yet still waterproof- and forms the layer I'm most likely to be pulling on and off as weather changes, as well as the most important wind-breaking and water-shedding layer should the weather go bad. Most of the time I'll also wear or carry a fleece pullover.

This is more gear and pack than I really want to lug, but so far I'm willing to pay the weight penalty. All-up, this weighs seventeen pounds with a full (1 liter) water bottle and a .22 pistol on the hipbelt. The gear is intended for a long day hunting by myself- out before daylight and back in the evening, with the off chance of having to spend the night out or having a problem a couple of miles from a road in rough country.

So, what's in your day pack?


Heather Houlahan said...

Very nice. We don't have elk, and drag whitetails out dressed and whole, so carrying a quarter isn't a concern. I like that pack design. I also like the idea of a pack-mounted rifle scabbard, since our walks in can be through some nasty brambles and terrain, and I also carry a walking stick that has a little rubber Y-shaped rest at the top for a nice shooting monopod. But does the rifle stick up far from the top of the pack?

I think I'll do up a similar post about my SAR pack.

Platypus bladders are the greatest!

mdmnm said...


Thanks! I'd like to read about your SAR pack loading.

I've added a photo of a rifle in the pack- the rifle pictured has a 22 inch barrel and sticks up approximately 12 inches above the top of the pack and the scabbard extends ten inches below the bottom line of the pack. Ducking under limbs and such, it'll catch if you're not careful, but the buttstock isn't really higher than your head.

Eberlestock has a lighter version of this pack called the J104 that would be better if you aren't looking for the additional sturdiness for packing quarters and such. It still expands to carry meat, but isn't as heavily built.

Chas S. Clifton said...

Pretty similar, but I am compulsive about having writing materials.

Did I see a mirror in there? Also forceps for pulling cactus spines.

mdmnm said...


Mirror on the compass for sighting or signaling and big ol' tweezers (not as good as forceps for grabbing on, but a bit smaller) in the first aid kit. Writing materials are a good idea, I need to throw in a little pencil and a pad.

Matt Mullenix said...

That's some serious prep! I'll want to be in your compound when the end times draw nigh! :-)

Makes me think my local rabbit hunting gear (shears, tennis shoes, wal-mart bag) may be inadequate for elk.

mdmnm said...

You might want a couple more things, true. On the other hand, once it's all packed, it's still pretty grab-and-go.