Elk and deer season has come and gone in Idaho. My first full season of hunting exclusively in the state taught some valuable lessons. One of the best parts of hunting the West is the landscape and seclusion, but with this enjoyment comes the need to have gear that can withstand a beating and preform as expected. This year I hunted from early September till December, in steep mountain terrain to gentle hills, and with temperatures ranging from 90 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit. This part of the East to West series will outline my clothing choices and those parts I consider crucial to having a great experience and living to hunt another day.
This was my biggest wake-up call. Coming from treestand hunting where a pair of Muck boots or insulated Rocky’s is all a hunter needs to stroll to his stand and back, the rugged up and down the country of Idaho caught me unprepared on an early spring bear hunt with some friends. The lightweight hikers I had chosen would have been fine on a prairie, but after 10 miles of rocky terrain and willow choked drainages, I needed better.
Your feet are your life and they need to be protected and supported. With this in mind, I set about educating myself on footwear. I learned that arch support and traction to side-hill down or up a 45-degree slope with a 50+lb pack full of meat requires a boot built on a ridged chassis with a lacing system that emphasizes keeping the heal in place and an out-sole designed to grip dependably while shrugging off the sharpest rocks. This is an area where you truly get what you pay for. Expect to spend anywhere from $250.00-$400.00 for a dependable pair. Also, realize that these are an investment and that if you only spend 7 days a year hunting mountainous terrain, they should last a decade.
I chose Zamberlan 547 Sherpa and could not be happier. They combine a full rubber rand, excellent Vibram out-sole, and a strong supportive ¾ shank. Boots of this type are considered mountaineering design, and I feel they offer some serious advantages when it comes to abrasion resistance and climbing or side-hilling. More than a handful of times I relied on their rigidity to support me while descending rocky slopes. As with any boots from the factory the insoles need upgrading to a better more supportive design. Superfeet and Sole make some great ones that allow better shock absorption and arch support. REI is a great place to both try out boot styles and insole fitment, as they will let you bring in your boots and try out the insoles before you buy. Other manufactures to consider when shopping for boots are Crispi, Kennetrek, and La Sportiva. To get a better sense of what boot will benefit you for your situation, I urge you to watch or listen to The Gritty Bowmen episode 29.
If you even consider hunting the west in cotton socks, please seek counseling! Wool and wool hybrid socks are the best and only way to go. They will provide the best temperature control by allowing your feet to wick away moisture, and stay warm, or in the case of lightweight versions dry and happy in hotter weather. Wool also provides better abrasion resistance, reducing the likelihood of blisters and hot-spots. I wish I would have learned these advantages 10 years ago when running and hiking with a pack and rifle was a part of daily life. Firstlite and Smartwool both have great versions to choose from.
Western hunting is active hunting and takes surprisingly fewer layers than one might think. I found that a good lightweight full sleeve top and hunting pants were generally all that was required when hiking hills and hunting in September into October. I would pair these with a thin outer jacket, an insulating layer, and a beanie in my pack for when I stopped moving or glassing. This paired with a set of base layer leggings, if you are prone to cold legs, should suffice.
I never left the trailhead without a pair of Firstlite Red Desert boxer briefs. They provide comfort and support for excellent thermal regulation. In over 50 miles of hiking, I never experienced a single chaffing or rubbing issue. I would also wear a pair of lightweight gloves to cover my hands during bow season and a slightly heavier pair during rifle season. I wore a mixture of gear from Kuiu, Firstlite, and Kings. All three provide good quality gear with Kings being the more economic brand for those who may only hunt the west once or twice. Firstlite’s Aerowool is exceptional for hotter temps and Kuiu’s synthetic insulated jacket is simply incredible at providing warmth in a small packable lightweight form. This jacket was ALWAYS in my pack, as I knew if I got stranded on the mountain I could survive cold nights if needed.
In our next installment, we will delve deeper into what pack I used and what was inside that proved valuable. Stay Tuned.