What to Pack in a Hunting Backpack

Man with Hunting Rifle

The success of a hunting trip is largely dependent on the gear you pack for the trip. You have your permits, rifle, and shells, you have done your research regarding the best places to find game, but without the right gear on hand, you will not be able to get through the night comfortably, in case of an overnight hunting trip, and concentrate.

Man with Hunting Rifle

Planning and research inform you what to pack in a hunting backpack and is the key to ensuring that you pack the right set of gear for a hunting trip. The planning and research need to be done only once when you buy all of the gear for the first time. During subsequent hunting trips, you won’t have to go running to a store at the last minute, because you have all you need.

At the end of each hunting trip, you should take stock of the gear to ascertain all of it is in good condition. If anything needs to be replaced, do it as soon as you’re back home. That way you won’t worry about replacements before the next hunting trip.

There are essentially two types of hunting trips. There’s the day trip and the overnight trip. Which one you opt for depends on a number of factors, including personal preference, the distance of the hunting zone from where you stay, the game you want to hunt, among others. The type of hunting trip dictates what to pack for a hunting trip.

You want to pack all of the essentials, but at the same time, you don’t want the backpack to be too heavy as you might have to trek or hike long distances through uneven terrain with the backpack.

Selecting the Backpack

Before you can get down to creating a checklist for what to pack in a hunting backpack, you need to select the right backpack. It will be carrying all of your gear and you want it to be the right fit for the trip. It goes without saying that a hunting backpack needs to be an all-weather, rugged backpack. It will get scratched a million times by thorny bushes and shrubs as you make your way through to wilderness. It will have to withstand rain and other natural elements as well.

Rucksack

The next key aspect of the ideal hunting backpack is comfort. The shoulder straps and hip straps should be well padded and comfortable over long hours. The hip belt should relieve the pressure off your shoulders as much as possible. You should try out a few different backpacks before picking one.

Ideally, you should buy from a store, so that you can wear the backpacks with some weight in it to check the comfort levels. In any case, you will have to adjust the fit of the backpack by adjusting the strap positions to get the perfect fit for you. Remember that each person has a different type of body and the stress points differ as well. So, while you should take on board recommendations regarding the best hunting backpacks from experienced hunters, you should nonetheless check the backpacks for yourself and determine which one is the best fit.

Typically, hunting trips last for a day or two. So, you don’t need one of those 80-liter backpacks that are meant for backpacking trips that last for months. The ideal overnight hunting backpack is between 30 and 45 liters. It’s big enough to hold a lot of gear, but not so big that it becomes difficult to maneuver through rough terrain. A 30-liter backpack with a number of pockets and pouches is often better than a 45-liter backpack with just one main compartment. In regards to backpacks for day trips, a 15-20 liter backpack is sufficient.

If possible, head out for a couple of short hiking trips before the big hunting trip. This will provide you with more information about the backpack such as the problem areas that need fixing, or if you need to tinker with the fit a little more.

Hunting Backpack Checklist

This is a comprehensive checklist for what to pack in a hunting backpack. The items meant specifically for an overnight trip have been marked to indicate the same. All the other items are meant for both day trips and overnight hunts. The basics such as rifle and camouflage apparel have not been included in this checklist. The reason being that you will be wearing the camouflage attire and the rifle will not be carried in the backpack.

Group of Hunters

Water

There’s nothing more important than water for a hunting trip, irrespective of the length. Even if you’ve been to the same area of the woods multiple times and know the location of a spring or river with clean drinking water, you should pack in as much water as possible before heading out. Hunting backpacks have water bladders that allow you to store your water supply while occupying the minimum space possible.

If your backpack doesn’t have one of these water bladders, you can use Platypus collapsible water bottles to store your water supply. While figuring out what gear you need to carry for the hunting trip, keep in mind that your water supply will account for the majority of the weight in the backpack. Hence, pack the other things accordingly.

Compass

It cannot be stressed enough how important a compass is. It’s a relatively small piece of equipment that’s easy to overlook while packing. But it could be the difference between you getting lost in the woods or successfully tracing your way through it. Most modern-day hunters use a GPS unit and you should too, but carry a compass nonetheless.

Unlike a GPS unit, compasses don’t require batteries to operate and don’t breakdown easily. You can tuck it away in one of the pockets in the backpack and forget about it till you need. But add it to the top of the checklist to ensure you don’t miss out on packing it.

First Aid Kit

Don’t rely on luck or chance to get through a hunting trip unscathed. Accidents and injuries are bound to happen in the woods. So, keep a basic first aid kit handy in the backpack. Is there a chance that you might not need it during the trip? Yes. Do you want to be without a first aid kit when you suffer a serious cut or bruise? No. Will it add a lot of weight to the backpack or take up a lot of space? No. Should you include a first aid kit in the list of what to pack in a hunting backpack? Yes.

The first aid kit should include some antiseptic lotion or cream, bandages, pain killers, digestion medication, water purification tablets, hand sanitizer, and duct tape. You can expand this depending on your requirements. You can also get a first aid paracord bracelet kit.

Hunting Knife

Knife

You need a sharp, strong and durable field dressing knife. It’s a must for a hunting trip. Some hunters carry an extra pocket knife as well. Make sure that the knife you pack has been sharpened just before the trip and has a strong handle, with a comfortable grip. A doggy grip increases the chances of an accident. It might slip out of your hand and cut you, especially since it has been recently sharpened. You get knives with replaceable handles as well, which is a good option for hunting trips.

Flashlight or Headlamp

The standard flashlight you have at home won’t work for a hunting trip. You need a tactical flashlight that’s waterproof. You will need it to locate things inside the backpack at night. It will come in handy when you want to find your way to the campsite or away from the campsite to answer nature’s call. It will also be useful when the weather suddenly takes a turn for the worse during a day trip and you need to find your way back to your vehicle.

The obvious advantage of a headlamp is that both your hands remain free. You can use it as a substitute for the flashlight or you could carry both. Headlamps are particularly useful during overnight hunting trips.

Rain Gear

You might not need it at all during the trip, but it’s best to carry rain gear nonetheless. The difference between a raincoat and rain gear is that the former is a single piece of garment, while the latter consists of a waterproof jacket and pants. Raincoats are effective but restrict movement to a certain extent.

Rain gear is a better option because it enables agile movement. Preferably, the rain gear should be made of a material that wicks away moisture. This is important because you don’t want rain water to spill in and wet your clothes. Rain gear is especially vital for overnight hunts.

Failure to carry rain gear means you expose yourself to potential hypothermia in case it starts raining. Lightweight rain gears are available that can be folded and stuffed into one corner of the backpack.

Food

Carry protein bars and a Ziploc bag full of dried fruits and nuts for a day trip. That should be enough to get you through the day. You can also carry sandwiches if you like, but it will take up more space. For overnight hunts, you will need to carry some more food. Beef jerky is the perfect food for overnight trips, along with high-calorie protein bars.

Camp Cooking

Cooking Equipment (Overnight Trip)

For overnight hunting trips, it makes sense to carry a portable cooking system like Jetboil and a bunch of freeze-dried meals. It’s very easy to use and you will have a hot meal at the end of the day. You can carry a Jetboil during a day trip as well, especially if you’re on a hunting trip with a group of friends.

It will be a good experience to find a nice spot to cook in the afternoon and share anecdotes. Solo hunters can carry these as well, though it adds a lot of weight.

Gloves

Gloves are important for a few reasons, including protecting your hands in cold weather, protecting your hands from cuts, scrapes, and other injuries, camouflaging your hands, or protecting your hands during the process of field dressing. We often move our hands a lot more than we realize. 

Abrupt movements of uncovered hands stick out in the woods and alert the game you’re tracking. Wearing gloves helps blend the hands into the surroundings. If you’re hunting in warm weather, a pair of lightweight mesh gloves is good enough. In colder weather, you will need a pair of good quality leather gloves. Pack a spare pair of gloves just in case the one you’re wearing gets damaged, especially during field dressing.

Camo Masks

Just like bare hands can alert the animals, the same holds true for a bare face. You need a camouflage mask or camouflage paint to blend your face with the surroundings.

Sleeping Bag and Sleeping Pad (Overnight Trip)

If you plan to stay overnight and continue the hunt in the early hours of the next morning, you will need a sleeping bag and a roll-up sleeping pad. Ultralight variants of both sleeping bags and sleeping pads are easily available at an affordable price.

The sleeping pad might seem a bit too much for a hunting trip, but you will be glad you carried it. Since it hardly adds any extra weight, there’s no excuse to not carry it. You will get a good, comfortable night of sleep and feel recharged and fresh for the hunt in the morning.

Campsite

Game Calls

Game calls are essentially small instruments that produce a sound to draw different types of game towards the hunter.

Trash Bags

Pack a set of trash bags to clear any leftover food, plastic wrappers or any other form of trash you might potentially leave behind. Store the trash bags in one of the pockets in the backpack and dispose of them when you get back home.

Game Bags

These are meant for the game you hunt. You need proper game bags to pack the heavy pieces of meat. Regular trash bags are much thinner than game bags and easily tear, leading to leaks. Plus, you can buy reusable game bags.

Hunter in the Woods

How to Pack a Hunting Backpack

Now that you have a comprehensive checklist for what to pack in a hunting backpack, let’s take a look at how you should pack all of these things into the backpack. You will be packing quite a few things into the backpack even for a day trip, so you need to pack it in an organized manner.

The reason you need to pack it an organized manner is that you want to be able to find what you need quickly and without rummaging through the backpack and making noise, which might scare away the game you’re tracking.

  • Things that you either need after the hunt or at night (in case you will be staying overnight) will go into the backpack first. So, the sleeping bag, game, field dressing gear, etc. will be packed at the bottom of the backpack. When the time comes for these to be retrieved, you will have ample time to dig them up. Plus, these things will form a solid, stable base for the backpack.
  • Your backup and weather-related gear should be packed in next. These include your rain gear, spare gloves, extra jacket, etc. You don’t need these things immediately, but in case there’s a change in the weather conditions or an unexpected circumstance occurs, you want to be able to reach them relatively easily.
  • All equipment connected directly to the hunt should be packed at the top. These include your binoculars, compass, GPS unit, rangefinder, extra shells, game calls, etc. You want easy and immediate access to all of these things. Since most of these things are quite small, they tend to slip through the gaps and slide towards the bottom of the backpack, which defeats the purpose. In such cases, you will have to pack them in the external pockets and pouches. This is one more reason to test the backpack after you buy it.
  • The food should be kept in Ziploc bags and stored at the top as well. Freeze-dried meals can be packed at the bottom of the backpack because you won’t need them till nightfall. If the water is stored in the water bladder, then there’s not much you need to do. If you’re carrying collapsible bottles, slide them along the sides of the backpack. If there are big enough external pockets, the bottles can be stored there as well.
Hunting Pack and Rifle

The Final Word

Except for a few major items that get added for an overnight hunting trip, you will be packing the same set of things. Keep a checklist handy while you’re packing to ensure you don’t miss out on anything. And remember to carry a big roll of paper towels. These are more durable than toilet paper and can be used to wipe dirt off your face and hands.