By Rob Shaul
A couple days ago I returned from a 10-day backcountry bowhunt for elk.
The trip began the day after a significant, extended rain storm, and another storm hit mid-way through.
Temperatures were warm and mild – mid-to-low 30s in the mornings, raising to 70+ degrees in the afternoons.
I rented two llamas for this trip – a first! Generally my elk hunting is limited to no more than 3 miles from the truck because of the heavy pack out. Taking the llamas meant I could use them to pack the meat out, and so I no longer had this 3-mile limit, and went as far back as 12 miles from the trailhead on this trip.
- Tent: Seek Outside Cimarron Pyramid Tent – Prior to this trip I’d be hesitant to take the Cimarron Tent on a solo trip – due to it’s weight and size being perhaps overkill for a solo trip. But with the Llamas – I threw it in and am glad I did. This is a flourless shelter – which I really like – and it’s large for it’s weight. I could almost stand up in it. The extra room allowed me to store my bow and pack inside the tent, out of the weather, and easily cook inside. Set up is a breeze. Additionally, on this trip my goal was to find a drainage, set up a base camp, and hunt from there – this shelter proved perfect for this. In the future, esp. on backpacking trips where it’s more than just me, I’ll really consider the Cimarron as an alternative to my 1-man tent or bivy.
- Bag: Marmot Helium, 15-degree– I generally roll with a 20 degree Quilt, but opted for the Helium for this trip. Again, the Llamas allowed me not to worry too much about the extra weight and the full back and lower temp rating added comfort.
- Pad: Big Agness Rapid SL Insullated– For the past 10+ years I’ve used a Thermarest Neolite pad, but on several camping trips this summer, I found the pad not enough cushioning for my aging hips, shoulders and back. This Big Agnes bag is thicker, and replaced it in my kit. But … it’s also heavier.
- Ground Pad/Bivy: Outdoor Research Emergency Bivy – This simple “sack” bivy is no longer sold by OR … but for a flourless tent you need either a bivy or a ground pad. I wrapped my pad in the bivy, and slept on top of both in my bag.
- Pillow: Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight Pillow – I finally broke down and added a backpacking pillow to my kit this summer after 3 nights of fighting with my rolled up puffy as a pillow. Best addition I ever made! Huge difference in comfort and sleep quality at just 2.5 ounces.
Overall: System worked great. The Cimarron, like all single wall shelters, suffers significant condensation issues, but it’s so big, that avoiding touching the went tent sidewalls is easy enough. It held up through several nights of significant rain and wind. Sleep-wise, I wore my cloths (except wet pants and socks) and my puffy with hood, and was more than comfortable warmth-wise throughout the trip. Most evening temps were in the upper 30’s, but it did freeze my last night out.
- Base Layer: Sitka Gear Core Lightweight Hoody, Under Armor long sleeve crew base layer – The Sitka Core Lightweight Hoody is the best mountain base layer on the market right now. The 1/4 zip, and hoody make it incredibly versatile. It’s really warm for its weight, dries incredibly fast, and the hoody works for warmth and sun protection. On later-season hunts, doubling up base layers, I’ve found, is a light and easy way to add just enough needed warmth – which is why I took a long the UA long sleeve. In hindsight, I wished I’d had taken 2x Core Hoodies.
- Pants: First Light Corrugate Guide Pant
- I’ve had these pants for several years, and they are by far, the most comfortable pants I own. However, even thought a nylon blend, these pants soak up water like a sponge, and on this trip, due to wet foilage after significant rain storms, these pants were wring-out wet a significant amount of time. Several nights, I’d have to remove them to sleep or risk wetting out my down sleeping bag. In hindsight, I wish I’d worn thinner, nylon pants – which at least would have dried quicker. I do recommend nylon over polyester for softshell/mountain pants. Nylon dries quicker, and is more durable.
- UTrou/Socks: Outdoor Research Echo Boxer Briefs (2x pair), Darn Tough Merino Hiker Socks (2x pair) – Both utrou and socks are bomber gear.
- Mid Layer: Outdoor Vitals Ventis Active Hoody – I picked up this hoody earlier this summer and it worked well for my summer-time backpacking trips and it also performed well in the colder temps for this hunt. Mid-layers are tricky, as ideally they keep you just warm enough, but don’t require multiple stops to add/remove. Though this piece is advertised as an “active” insulation layer, I found it didn’t shed heat as advertised.
- Puffy: Arcteryx Atom AR Hoody – I chose a synthetic puffy over down this trip because of the forecast rain and this jacket was awesome. Arcteryx, is by far the best outdoor clothing company I’ve found when it comes to fit and this jacket is no different. Pricey, but fit is perfect and it performed flawlessly. Buy once, cry once …
- Rain: Arcteryx Zeta LT – Rain jacket no longer made by Arcteryx, and bit heavier than I’d regularly take on a trip but brought it along because of the forecast moisture. Another bomber piece of gear from Arcteryx.
- Footwear: Boots – Crispi Nevada Uninsulated; Sandals: Crocs Classic – I picked up these Crispi Nevada hunting boots last year at a significant discount and used them for hunting in 2021. I have a wide foot, and these boots are offered in wide widths. The boots have an awesome fit and worked well for me during last year’s dry hunting conditions. This year – I regret wearing them. Even though gore-tex lined, they wetted out fully after just a couple hours of walking through wet foilage and remained wet for most of my 10-day trip. Not only were these leather boots super slow to dry, but when wet, were very heavy. I’ll never wear leather boots hunting again and will from now on go with synthetic. Gaiters and/or rain pants may have helped keep them dry, but my sense is that eventually, any boots would have become wet. Leather boots take just too long (3 days) to dry, and on this trip, I had dry boots for just 2 of the 10 days. Crocs …. another “luxury” item I through in because of the llama support – and I’m glad I did! In camp, the crocs allowed me to remove my wet boots and socks. As well, I removed my orthotics from the boots, placed them in the crocs and wore the crocs to hike out 12 miles from my final camp. These soft sandals with the added orthotic support were perfect and will come with me on all future backcountry hunting trips.
- Pack – Kuiu Pro LT 4000 – I’ve used this pack for 2 years now and it’s proven bomber.
Overall: System failures with the pants and boots this trip. Lighter pants with a higher percentage of nylon (but less stretchy) would have absorbed less water and dried quicker. Synthetic boots, likewise, would have absorbed less water and dried faster than leather boots. I’ll make these changes next year, in addition to testing out other mid layer options in search of the perfect “active” mid layer piece.
- Stove, Pot: Jetboil Stash – perfect, compact, simple, lightweight system with an incredible fast boil time. The Stash is the best stove kit currently on the market. I took one small canister to keep with the stove in my pack (mid-morning coffee is a must) and a larger canister in the tent – and had plenty of fuel.
- Filter: Kataydn BeFree – simplest, fastest and easiest water filtration system on the market. Bomber gear.
- Spork – Titanium Spork – I’ve had a plastic spoon break on me before so but the bullet and spent $10 for titanium – and piece of mind.
- Cup – Super light, simple, collapsable plastic cup purchased years ago for a couple bucks.
- Breakfast: 1-Cup Store-bought Granola + Dried Goat Milk – another “luxury” afforded by the llamas. In the mornings I’d fill a cheap former yogurt container with granola, add a couple spoonfuls of dried goat milk (only powdered milk I could find in the store), add some hot water and I was set. Previously I’ve simply eaten a protein or Pro-Bar for breakfast but I found this fueled me better and I enjoyed it more.
- Lunch/Snacks: 2x Cliff Builder Protein Bars, 2x Larabar Cashew Cookie Bars, 1x GU Stroopwafel, 1/3 Cup Almonds mixed with 1/3 Cup Raisins – Prior to the trip I filled up quart-size freezer bags with this combo and each day I tossed a bag in the top of my pack as I headed out at first light. I had a previous 5-day backcountry trip earlier in the season and found my lunch wasn’t quite enough – so added an extra protein bar, Larabar and the almonds/raisins. This trip, I had too much food – and had 1-2x leftover at the end of the day. However, I like this “cushion” and don’t plan on changing. Previously, I’d eaten Pro-Bars, but find the Cliff Builder Bars to taste better, and come in at 1/2 the cost ($150 each vs. $3 each for the Pro Bar).
- Dinner: Peak Refuel Backpacking Meal – These are some of the more expensive backpacking meals on the market at $13-$14 each, but I was able to save a little by buying several at a time from my local REI store. I’ve found the Mountain House and Backpackers Pantry meals to be a little too much in portion size, and not have nearly the protein content of these Peak Refuel meals. As well, the Peak meals require only a cup or less of water – which can make a difference when camping far from a stream. I removed the meals from their packaging and placed them in quart-sized freezer zip-loc bags – which greatly reduces bulk and keeps things really simple. I just poor the boiling water into the freezer bag and I’m set. In the off season sometimes you can find these Peak Refuel meals online for 25% off – so keep your eyes open. My favorites are the Stroganoff and Chicken Pesto Pasta.
- Desert: 1-2 squares of Dark Chocolate and coffee (Starbucks Via)
Overall: Even though I’m constantly moving, I don’t have much of an appetite while hunting, and lost 10 pounds on this trip. I was really pleased with my nutrition/meals and don’t see any major changes for next year. Know, however, that I’m just 5′ 7″ (on a good day) and weighed 155 or so going into this trip. A larger person would require more food.
My fitness was a little suspect going into this trip. Knee pain this summer meant I couldn’t do as nearly as much uphill hiking as usual (knees hurt on the way down), and instead pivoted to long, heavy, sled drags and mountain biking to train uphill fitness. I didn’t notice much of a difference over past year’s performance that couldn’t be attributed to age … ie. I’m 54 and getting slower! So, overall, my sense is the drags and biking transferred fairly well to uphill movement – though if not for knee pain, uphill hiking repeats would be my go-to for training.
Recovery-wise, joints (knees, ankles, low back) were stiff in the mornings, but warmed up after 30 minutes of hiking. I took Advil with my morning coffee and that helped. Overall, by day 10 I was pretty hammered and would have needed to take a full day’s rest if I was going to continue in the field. My guess is that I hiked 5-8 miles/day, mostly off trail, and a lot of it through forest and deadfall.
Llamas? I rented two llamas for this trip from a local outfitter – which was a first. Each llama can carry 80 pounds of dry weight, or 100 pounds of boned out meat. They were super-easy to care for and handle. I’ve been on a horse pack trip before with horses and llama offer many of the advantages of horses, without the danger or drama. The first 3 days of the trip I was accompanied by one of my former athletes here in Jackson, and on day 2 week took the llamas down a super steep, muddy, unmaintained trail to a river bottom to hunt. The next day, they refused to climb back up the trail … so we had to work our way through a mile or so of deadfall to the maintained trail. This took 4 hours – because in many places the deadfall was too thick/tall for the llamas to pass through. Good lesson for me! Renting llamas isn’t cheap, but it is much cheaper than paying for an outfitted pack trip and is a true DIY option to get far away from the trailhead with significant gear for an extended trip.
Did I kill an elk? No … I had a few opportunities at 5-point bulls but held out for a 6 point. Came close, but never got a shot at one of these bigger bulls – I just couldn’t call one all the way in. However, it was a great adventure, and I’ve finally matured to the point in my hunting career where being out there is the most important, and filling my tag is just dessert on a experience.
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