“Backpacking” is the term used in English for the hunts where you spend more than a day hunting living only from what you can carry in your backpack, from the sleeping system to food and others, without any type of vehicle assistance. Definitely one of the purest ways of hunting, where you are completely autonomous and self-sufficient, your life only depends on you and your equipment.
This way of hunting is very common in North America, but not done that often in Europe since there is better access to the hunting grounds and there is always a shelter or little town close by. Despite that, this method can give you a different approach to your hunting area, opening a wide range of possibilities.
Last year in late November we went to the French side of the Pyrenees mountains looking for chamois, also known as “isard” in that area. Weekends that time of the year are really short since it gets dark really quick. To reach to the top area where most of the chamois population lives, we needed a couple hours hike up. If you add that we had to work on Friday until lunch time, plus a few other hours driving to the hunting area, that was almost condemning our Friday hunt. Backpacking in was going to allow us to hunt differently.
We arrived Friday in the middle of the afternoon with only three hours of daylight left. We loaded all the gear required for three days in the mountains and started heading up. By making camp at the top it was going to allow us hunting that same day on our way to the summit, without having to worry about the time to go back down. Even if the hike up was tough since we were carrying 30kg of gear and equipment, we didn’t have to worry about going up and down every day, which it was going to save us a lot of hiking. Once you have gained the altitude you can hunt from the tops without having to loose or gain a huge amount of elevation during the day.
Not only that but since you are sleeping at the top, you can be on the best hunting areas during the best hours of the day. You can not only hunt comfortably until the last minute of the day but also wake up already in the hunting area with the first light. This gives you a new point of view of your grounds since typically you don’t want to be that high so late or so early, since people prefer to hike up and down with a little bit of natural light. This experience proved that you should expect seeing game that you may have never seen before.
Backpacking for mountain game is the toughest and most physically demanding hunt that you can get on, so good training routine and proper equipment selection is critical for having an enjoyable hunt. I have been lucky to be in a lot of different backpack hunts around the world, chasing sheep and ibex between others. I would like to go in deep and share my thoughts, experiences, and lessons learned over the years about what you should consider when preparing your next backpack hunt.
It is the most demanding hunt you can be on since you are all the time loaded with really heavy weights. Your full body needs to be trained for those extended periods of time hiking under loads, and no matter how much you have trained, you will never be in good enough shape. I have analyzed my training routines and results, and over the years came with the following ideas.
-Be consistent: It is way easier keeping yourself in decent shape by doing little over the whole year than not doing anything during the winter since the weather is bad outside, and trying to catch up as the summer approaches to get in shape one month earlier than your hunt. It is easier said than done, but at least reserve a couple of days during the week to do something to maintain your shape. It doesn’t need to be extreme, sometimes with a small hike on the weekend, some running, or playing soccer with friends is enough.
-Take a break before a hunt: Leave at least a week or two with none to little training to let the body recover properly before a hunt. You want to get to it fully charged of energy, and not dragging a tired body from so much training.
-Break the routine: Hunting is a sport that requires a bunch of different skills so do a lot of different sports/exercises. Try to work all different aspects of your body by changing your routines. Work on your cardio, your strength, your endurance, your elasticity, everything plays an important role in the field. Have fun doing it and try to involve your friends, that will help you be more consistent. Getting bored is one of the key aspects of finding excuses for not working out.
-Recover: Let your body recover after an intense workout. Not always doing more is better, let your body some time to assimilate and improve for your next workout.
-Strength and Endurance: One of the typical choices to get in shape is start running. Cardio is important and for sure helps to get better, but should only be a complimentary exercise, since it is not the main skill you need for the mountains, and it is very aggressive impact activity for your knees. Hunting typically involves more strength in your lower body and overall endurance, than cardio. Be sure to don’t skip long training sessions and strength conditioning of your legs. Long sessions of walking can be more efficient than running since at lower heart beat rate we will burn those fats that we do not need.
-Hike with a heavy pack: The best training that you can do is mountain hikes with a heavy pack. Get your pack loaded with bottles of water, that way you can always empty the water on the summit to come down light so your knees will not suffer that much. Start with 10kg/20pounds and build up to 50kg/100pounds as you start feeling comfortable. Always train with your hunting boots and your hunting pack. Hiking with a pack works out your whole body core since you walk on an uneven terrain and the loads pull in every direction; you will gain balance and strength on your ankles, get used to your boots and pack;… so many benefits, the best thing to do for sure!
-Long term goals: The last thing would be to make long-term goals and plan way in advance of any hunt, things take time and there are no 30-day plans that work. The plan should be reasonable, don’t set goals that are too high, make goals that you can achieve.
Choosing the right equipment is critical for this kind of hunts and will make a huge difference. After trying most of the stuff on the market and committing every possible mistake, here are some ideas to consider.
-Keep it simple: Only bring what is strictly necessary. It is very typical to full the pack with a lot of things that you don’t end up using. I typically take out of my pack the things I haven’t used in the last couple of hunts. Just in case items typically never get used. Extra clothing should be good enough with an extra base layer and a pair of socks.
-Clothing: I changed a long time ago to build a system out of layers. It works great and allows you to adapt your body to the current situation as the conditions change during the day. A layering system consists of 5 layers: Base layer against your body; Mid layer to build a thicker layer between the outer and base; Outer layer protects you from external elements as the wind and light rain; Insulation layer creates the air chamber required to keep you warm; Rain Shell only used when it rains protect you from the nastiest conditions you can encounter. These layers are really light and packable, and how the technical materials used by some companies that specifically build gear for mountain hunts perform is amazing.
-Must bring: No matter how the weather looks like, or what time of the year it is, I always bring in my pack a rain gear set and an insulation set both for the upper and bottom body. In the case of an emergency, these two layer can save your life if bad weather comes or if you have to sleep overnight out of the tent.
-Framed Backpack: The choice of the backpack is critical, and when you are moving heavy loads a framed backpack is a must. What a frame does is that with its stiffness it can transmit the whole weight of your backpack to your hip, so you will carry the load with your legs and not in the shoulders, which would load up your whole body. Typically the frames were made out of aluminum, which makes the packs pretty heavy, but some years ago the first carbon frame backpacks were made. This packs weight the same as normal frameless packs, but have the capacity to carry incredibly heavy loads. Regarding size, for 3 to 10-day hunts, you will be looking at an 85-liter pack to fit all your needs.
-Food: We shouldn’t take more than one kilogram of food per day, including breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Focus on bringing high-calorie meals and specially based on fats, which will provide a more long-term slow energy than high sugar foods. A good rule of thumb is bringing 4.000 calories per day. Divide the food by days in zip lock bags to be sure every day you are only eating what you planned.
-Divide the loads: If you are hunting with a friend or a guide be sure to don’t bring duplicate items. Share the load between each other: One can carry the tent poles and the other one the tent fabric; the stove for cooking and the gas; the tripod and the spotting scope;… Hunt smart.
-Utilities: Bring an emergency kit since anything can happen up there. A couple of headlamps in case one fails would be the only repeated item I take. A small saw and some fire tablets can save your life.
-Optics: Good optics are heavy, but they can save you a lot of walking. I always use a 10×45 binoculars and a 65 spotting scope. Mountain hunting requires more patience than what people think. Sit down and spend time behind your glass, and by having a spotting scope you will be able to properly judge the animals without having to get any closer. Every pound of good optics worth it.
We spent a weekend of a lifetime. There is not a better feeling than the freedom a backpack hunt provides you. You can go anywhere, hunt without any plans and set up camp when you feel like to. You have all that you need with you, so there is no need to get back the same path that you came from. Sleeping under a sky full of stars, and eating some fresh self-harvested meat over the fire is something that only hunters can understand.
This kind of hunts can only be done with friends, or with great professionals. Sharing time inside the same tent when you are exhausted and surrounded by bad weather pulls the worst of the people out. I can not think of a better person than my friend and hunting guide Jordi Figarolas from Aventure Boreale. We end up shooting a gorgeous buck and an old female during the weekend. Both animals were shot in the last 15 minutes of daylight which made all the adventure worth it. The two animals that we shot have never been seen before, and it was a really good surprise for everyone.
You don’t have to travel far away from home to find the adventure you are looking for. Get out there, interact with nature and live the outdoors. Best of luck in your next hunts, be prepared and stay safe,
Photos: Alvaro Gonzalez Santillan @focusontheflymedia
KUIU Europe Ultralight Hunting
BACKPACK ITEMS AND WEIGHT
Backpack Carbon Frame KUIU Icon Pro 5200 (85liters) 2,5kg
Sleeping Bag KUIU Superdown -10ºC 0,75kg
Sleeping Pad Thermarest Neon Air Xlite 0,35kg
Tent KUIU Mountain Star 2P 1,4kg
Headlamps (x2) Fenix and Petzl 0,25kg
Food for 2 days 2kg
Water Bottle 1 Liter 1kg
Spotting Scope Swarovski ATS 65 1,7 kg
Tripod Manfrotto Carbon plus Gitzo Head 2,5kg
Photography Equipment Sony 7RII + 2 Objectives 2,5kg
Rain Gear Set KUIU Chugach Jacket Plus Pant 0,95kg
Quixdown Insulation KUIU Superdown 0,28kg
Extra shirt and socks KUIU Merino 0,35kg
Knives Kestrel, Fire tablets, Paper, First Aid, batteries,etc.. 0,5kg
Cooking station JetBoil + Gas bottle 0,5kg
TOTAL APPROXIMATE WEIGHT ON BACKPACK: 17,5kg
CARRY-ON ITEMS AND EQUIPMENT
Rangefinder Binoculars Swarovski EL Range 0,9kg
Rifle Bergara B14 Hunter 270W 3,2kg
Scope Swarovski z6i 2,5-15×44 0,57kg
Bipod, mount rings, and ammunition. 0,5 kg
Piolet trekking pole KUIU Stubai 0,53kg
KUIU Binocular Harness 0,22kg
Boots Scarpa Charmoz Pro GTX 0,75kg
Gaiters KUIU Yukon 0,34kg
Base Layer KUIU Merino 145 + Peloton 240 0,65kg
Outer Layer KUIU Chinook Pant + Guide Jacket 1,16kg
TOTAL APPROXIMATE CARRY ON WEIGHT: 8,8kg