I hate not having something I need when I’m hunting. Unfortunately, the choice often seems to be either toting around a good-sized pack or doing without something I need. By finding compact, light gear that still gets the job done, though, you can have both mobility and the stuff you wish you had when you need it most.
“Freezing out” on stand is a common hunt-ender, especially during the late bow season. We all know that layering is the best way to adapt to changing temperatures, but bringing along extra clothes means carrying extra bulk. I’ve found the answer in a down sweater. For some reason its sleeves add warmth that a vest doesn’t. Mine weighs a mere 6 ounces and stuffs into a 4”x9” bag. Added under a regular hunting jacket, this gossamer piece of gear makes a huge difference when the chill starts to creep in.
Another weapon against the cold is a silk balaclava. It takes up about as much room in your pocket as a hanky, yet this full-face head cover insulates way out of proportion to its size. A third tried-and-true cold-stopper is a compact neck gaiter. A lot of heat escapes through the collar opening of a jacket, but a gaiter seals off this critical gap.
Total weight of all three of these items is just nine ounces, and they can be used in combination or individually as the temperature dictates. All three together probably extend your comfort range by as much as 20 degrees.
Early morning may hold promise of a beautiful day ahead, but by lunchtime a cold rain might be falling, making me regret leaving that parka home. Getting wet when a fall drizzle moves in is not only uncomfortable but can also trigger hypothermia. Carrying a regular-sized rain parka “just in case,” though, is often prohibitive due to bulk, so many hunters just take a chance that the weather won’t turn for the worse. Recent developments in light-weight compact rain gear, however, have allowed hunters to cover their bets (as well as their bodies). My camo rain parka stuffs into a compact bag and weighs only half a pound. It’s also an effective wind-breaker, so it serves double duty.
Full-sized binoculars are great when scanning the woods for a tell-tale horizontal shape or an antler tip, but the weight of a pair around the neck and their tendency to get in the way of a bowstring are two reasons I prefer something smaller. A set of 8X compacts has a narrower view than the big models, with only a fraction of the bulk or weight. They’re hardly noticeable hung around the neck, and they can be slipped into a vest pocket easily.
It’s possible to go even smaller. As a north-woods hunter, I’ve found that a monocular is all I really need to separate the bucks from the brush. Although it lacks the power to evaluate antlers or study game over longer distances, my little Zeiss 5X is great for defining exactly what I’m looking at. It’s incredibly light (a bit over half an ounce) and takes up as much room in a pocket as a couple of tubes of Chapstick. You’ll hardly know it’s there until you need to get some clarification on something that seems out of place.
If you hunt when the weather is warm and insects are a problem, there is also mini gear to deal with them. A head-net that stuffs into a pouch that fits in the palm of your hand can protect you from gnats and mosquitos, especially if you don’t want to douse yourself with DEET. Mine is non-reflective and doesn’t cut off a lot of light, so I can shoot while wearing it. “Deerfly patches” (2 ½” x 5 ½” double-sided sticky sheets that are worn on the top of your cap) take up no more room than a small piece of paper and keep biting flies at bay, while a lightweight gizmo called a “tick key” is the surest, easiest way to part company with those pervasive parasites once they’ve burrowed into you.
A camo bandana makes a good back-up for a hat that becomes lost or is too hot to be comfortable. I also carry a blaze-orange rag that I wear to soak up perspiration in the event I’ll be hauling a deer out. When tied to a tree branch, its bright color doubles as a marker.
The Small Stuff
The “light and compact” idea extends to what you use to pack your gear in, too. Various sized “organizers” are becoming popular, and for a reason. An organizer is a thin, pocketed, soft case with lots of elastic loops and compartments. Small, loose things like extra broadheads, a sharpener, a stick of glue, a lighter, extra bow string, band aids, toilet paper, and the like can all be carried in one place so you don’t have to root around in various pockets to find them.
My organizer and all the aforementioned mini-gear doesn’t even require a small daypack. I can put everything mentioned into my shoulder bag and still have room left for a water bottle and my lunch. The total weight of everything (including the pack) is less than 3 ½ pounds. And thanks to its belt snap, the pack doesn’t pivot to the front where it could get in the way if I need to draw while wearing it. A large belt pack would probably hold everything, too, as would a small, integral quiver/pack that Cat-Quiver makes.
There’s probably more “mini-gear” out there that I just haven’t found yet that would be valuable to have on a hunt. The best places to look for it are not always in the hunting catalogs. Some of my best finds have come from prowling the back-packing magazines and canoe-camping catalogs, where hikers and trippers look for compact, lightweight, yet dependable gear.
By going the small and compact route, you can take along more gear to cover more bases while reducing the bulk to a manageable point.