The best hunting gear for a road trip
My wife and I had the opportunity to test out a lot of equipment on a recent hunting trip across the country. From the Colorado Rockies to the Tennessee Swamps, we hunted highland birds, deer, waterfowl, squirrels, and moose while we lived on our truck. If you hit the streets and just want to hunt, the following gear will help you along the way. Everything is robust and reliable enough to withstand months of traveling on the road.
This suitcase will secure your bow, period. I have so much faith in her that sometimes I just leave her outside, whatever the weather. You can toss it in the back of a pickup truck, let it rain and snow, pull out your bow and go hunting. It also has space for the extras – essential when you are miles away from an archery store. You can store loads of arrows, broadheads, an additional trigger and some string wax in the various pockets. It’s not the lightest bow case, and it definitely takes up space, but you can be sure that it will stand up to any flogging.
You can stack creatures from coast to coast, but if you can’t get the meat home, it’s not worth stepping out of the front door. When we started our trip we wanted a cooler that could hold anything, so we decided on a Yeti Tundra 160. If you are traveling with friends and have multiple trailers, this is the cooler for you. And if you have dividers, you can use half of the cooler for your groceries and half for frozen meat. When you’re not on the go, it’s perfect for aging roe deer roosts when it’s too hot outside and you don’t have space in your fridge.
There are prickly things all over the country that can make bird hunting in the highlands miserable. In thick blackberries, these fellows are like body armor. In the desert they keep cactus thorns in check and in the forest they keep rose bushes out of their thighs. Unlike brush pants, you can take them off when it gets too hot or when you can find gentler coverage.
When my wife was looking for a pair of boots that were both comfortable for long truck trips and tough enough for the trail, she picked a pair of Lowa Explorers. They are sturdy and lightweight and are well suited for hunting in autumn to moderate winter temperatures. They’re also not too bulky or stiff so they don’t get in the way while driving. Lowas really shine when you have a load on your back and these are no exception. I personally carry the Tibet for hunting most of the year. I’m wearing my second pair and they haven’t let me down yet.
I first tried an SX4 on a turkey hunt two years ago. I was impressed with how light and soft it was. When the time came to bring a solid, general-purpose shotgun for this trip, we decided to go for a 20-gauge SX4. With several screw-in throttles, it is at home in the duck blind or when hunting pheasants in the maize field. The SX4 also ate every shell we’ve been through, from light grouse loads to full-blown 3-inch magnums. It’s also cheaper than other premium autoloaders. For under $ 1,000, it’s hard to beat.
I’m not a huge fan of disposable hunting knives. It’s not that they don’t work, I’m just used to bringing either a solid blade or a folder into the field. And for a folder, Gerber’s DTS is a good choice. It’s light, good for horse or ATV hunting (fixed blades can land where they shouldn’t be if you fall off a horse or four-wheeler), and it holds an edge. To hold this edge, the DTS also has a “tendon tool” made of D2 steel for cutting joints and hard skin. Anyone who’s cracked a joint with their knife knows how bones can dull a blade, and the tendon tool protects your main skinning knife from abuse. I also like that it is orange and easy to find on the ground and has a reflector to pick up light in the dark.
Not all car awnings are created equal and the Alu-Cab Shadow awning is in its own league. It’s a big investment, but if you hunt in large areas with little tree cover, it really is a win. We used ours to give our dogs some shade on an unusually hot Minnesota day. It’s easy to set up and take down and has a coating that reflects the sun. Some people have compared the temperatures under the Alu-Cab awnings and the competition, and the Alu-Cab is cooler.
Space was scarce in our motorhome with a cargo area, so we needed chairs that had a small footprint when stowing away, but were still comfortable. The Klymit Timberline gave us that in spades. They pack about the size of a large thermos and can be stowed almost anywhere. They are also easy to assemble. I also like that they are small enough to fit in a plastic carry case – which makes them easier to keep dry in the back of an open pickup truck.
I used this lantern at camp in case the lights on our truck went out, but now I bring it with me to almost every backcountry hunt I have. A lantern is definitely a convenience when trying to pitch a lightweight backpack – a headlamp or two is usually enough. But this one is an exception because it has two functions: light and power. The light is nice, but what is even nicer is the ability to be used as a battery backup for your phone. It’s rechargeable and uses AA batteries so you have two solid battery options.
Before I got the gas growler, I relied on green propane bottles to power my cooking stove. They’re great, but they have their drawbacks. For one, they will burn easily if you use a portable stove for days on end. Second, if you run out of gas, what do you do with the canister? I have a bunch of used or half-used green propane bottles at home and I am not sure how to get rid of them. Ignik changes all of that. A large initial investment compared to the green bottles, but it is worth it. You get more capacity – one Ignik refill is the equivalent of five green bottles – and pound for pound, it costs just a fraction of the disposable items.
I had a couple of small grills, but at some point they all burned out and started to fall apart. The PKGO is very different. It is made of cast aluminum instead of sheet metal and the hinges are part of the cast. The cast iron grids offer two levels so you can get the food closer and farther away from the flame. The smoke vents are also easy to use and have not yet been shagged to the point of getting stuck. But the coolest thing about this grill is the flip kit. You can take the lid and turn it into another grill, so you have twice the grill space in a small package. When your two-person hunt turns into a four-person hunt, you can feed everyone. So far we’ve used it everywhere in both configurations and it doesn’t disappoint.
Large woolen blankets have been taken camping for hundreds of years. Why? They work no matter what. It’s easy to forget about wool these days, especially with so many synthetic / down options. But unlike down comforters, wool doesn’t melt and spill feathers all over the place when it comes into contact with a hot charcoal from the fire. It also keeps you warm when it’s wet and increases the heat rating for any sleeping bag. We have a queen size blanket that folds in half to double the warmth and we’ve been using it for years. Place it on the floor of a tent to get your feet off the ground, fold it into a dog bed, wrap yourself around the fire in it, or roll it up and sit on it like a stool.
The benefits of wool don’t stop with a blanket. I’ve switched all of my base layers from synthetic to wool over the years for one reason: it doesn’t smell. Wool is antimicrobial. You can wear it for days and you won’t smell terrible. It is also breathable and wicks away sweat. Indeed, if I could only choose one expensive piece of equipment for hunting, it would be a nice set of woolen underwear like this one from Smartwool. I combine them with what I like to call DEFCON-1 cold days Filson heavy merino underwear. The Filsons are a bit looser and fit well over the Smartwool, and when worn together it’s an incredibly warm combination.
I like to hunt with riflescopes with first focal length because the dimensions of the reticle remain the same regardless of the magnification. (However, the size of the reticle increases). This makes long shots easier in hot situations since you don’t have to choose a turret – you can simply adjust the shot with your reticle. I also think it’s good that the RS.1 is available without a cartridge-specific tower. This allows me to hunt at different heights and on different rifles and simply use a ballistic calculator to get my leftovers. The RS.1’s turrets are capped so you won’t bump them while hiking, and they can be adjusted with your fingers when not open. Paired with a light rifle (like the Springfield waypoint), it’s a solid setup for everything from Rocky Mountain Elk to riverbed whitetails.
Read more: One Wild Ride: A hunting road trip across America
For years I hunted with a traditional external packing frame. I liked how stiff the metal frame was compared to internal frame packages. But when I wanted to upgrade to something newer, I went for the Sitka 6500. The backpack has an internal metal frame that is a perfect platform for heavy equipment and animal roosts. So far I’ve helped pack three mule deer with it and every time I’ve done it perfectly. The straps are strong and well padded and the backpack is adjustable for different body types. If I don’t use it to the full, I use it as a daypack and tighten all the lashing straps so that there is little space. I’ve found it’s small enough not to get caught on the brush, and when you’re shooting an animal it’s nice to be able to expand it out to wrap meat. There’s also a front chamber that can separate the meat from the rest of your gear so you don’t get it all bloody.