So you’ve decided to try hunting. Great! Now what do you need to go out and actually do it? We’ll assume you’ve read our guides on how to select a weapon, how to get a license and any necessary tags, and how to stay safe in the wilderness, but there’s more to hunting than having a firearm, a sense of adventure, and the government’s approval. You need gear, both for your own well-being and because hunting isn’t nearly as fun if you’re discovering that the clothes you mow the lawn in aren’t enough to keep you warm, dry, or safe from every cactus you pass on the trail.
But just what kind of gear do you need? If you walk into a sporting goods store and tell them that you’re excited to suit up for your new hobby, the wrong salesman might send you walking out with everything from a jewel-encrusted titanium walking stick to a 400 dollar bird call that they swore makes you sound extra birdlike. But if you go too barebones, your hunt might very well end up being ineffective and uncomfortable. So here are the essentials. You’ll need to personalize these recommendations a little based on location—a hunter in Arizona will be facing different weather than a hunter in Alaska—but this general checklist will keep you happy and hale through the vast majority of hunts.
We’ll start with accessories, then talk clothing. And the first essential accessory is a backpack. Not the kind you used to lug to high school, but a big, sturdy backpack capable of carrying lots of equipment without falling apart on you while doing it. This is one piece of gear you don’t want to cheap out on, because discovering that all your other possessions have been falling through the bottom of your bag for the last three and a half miles will be enough to make you look into knitting as a hobby instead.
The first item put in your new backpack should be a robust first aid kit. A fire starting kit in case you get stuck in the wilderness overnight is also essential. You’ll also want a water bottle, and water purification pills in case the bottle runs out or somehow fails you. A flashlight with spare batteries, binoculars, bug repellant and bear mace are up next. Navigational equipment—a GPS, a compass, and a phone with an extra battery or solar charger—is also a must have. Make sure you’ve read our navigation guide and familiarized yourself with your GPS before heading out, because this is not a situation where you want to learn on the go.
Let’s not forget food. Granola bars, trail mix, nuts, and other protein packed snacks are great for keeping you energized and focused. Leave the meatball sub at home—anything smelly could spook pray and attract hungry predators that you don’t want to mess with. And get your snacks out of their loud wrappers and into quiet Ziplock bags before you leave the house, or every animal for miles is going to hear you open that crinkly pack of peanuts. On the other end of the digestive process, biodegradable toilet paper and wet wipes are a requisite too. And while we’re on the subject of cleaning up, garbage bags will help you keep the wilderness just as you found it.
A sturdy rope can be handy in a surprising number of situations, as can a package of zip ties, a pocketknife, and a towel. Less crucial, but certainly nice to have, are handwarmers and a cushion for the many hours you’ll likely be sitting around. Oh, and while you’re packing all of this, don’t forget the actual tools of the hunt, like ammo and a field dressing kit (and maybe your very own Primal tree stand). We know that sounds like obvious advice, but you’d be surprised what can slip your mind in the flurry of preparation. Running through an actual, physical checklist is a good way to ensure that nothing’s been forgotten before you strike out.
Now that your bag is full we need to consider what goes on your body. Most hunters follow what’s called the three layers system, which gives you the flexibility to stay warm when it’s cold but cool off when the temperature rises. The first layer is what’s touching your skin. Some hunters swear by wool, because it stays warm and dry in any weather short of the apocalypse, but others find it too itchy and prefer polyester. The downside there is that polyester traps scents, which may impact how animals (or your friends and family) react to you. Experiment a little and find out what you’re most comfortable in.
The middle layer provides insulation. Lightweight, breathable fleece is good here. Precisely what you decide on should be based on your climate—just a vest might serve one hunter, while another in a colder environment will want long sleeves. You want to be warm and cozy, but you don’t want to risk overheating because that will make your hunt uncomfortable in a hurry.
The final layer should be windproof and rainproof for when the weather gets serious. Don’t worry about insulation as much here; this is about keeping the elements at bay. This layer might spend more time in your bag than on your person, but when you do need it you’ll be happy you have it. Bigger isn’t necessarily better; if you’re bundled up in a jacket befitting an Antarctic explorer you will be uncomfortable and not especially quiet or graceful. You want something that’s lightweight and breathable, but still rugged enough to survive the elements. And don’t forget your hands, head, and feet. You can also use layers here as needed too, but in general lined gloves, warm socks and sturdy boots, and a good hat are the key to a comfortable hunt.
Comfort and flexibility should always be at the forefront of your mind. You are, after all, planning to spend hours upon hours outdoors. Don’t commit to a purchase unless it feels great on you, and always factor in your local climate. Those two factors will keep you from being overwhelmed by the huge number of brands and products available.
Finally, keep an eye on the cost of your equipment and clothing. If you go too cheap you might find that your cereal box compass has three wests and that “rainproof” means your jacket is intent on proving to you that it’s raining, but the high-end stuff can quickly price many people out of hunting entirely. You generally get what you pay for, so avoid the bottom of the barrel, but you don’t need $1000 Sitka pants when you’re still learning the ropes and figuring out what works best for you. A more expensive jacket won’t make you a better hunter, so spend within your means. If you’re really intrigued by high end gear, outlet retailers and clearance sales can sometimes make it available at a steep discount, so keep an eye out for deals. But don’t spend your first hunting season breaking the bank; get the basics at a modest price. Some online retailers like Outdoor Pregame offer exclusive discounts on products before the hunting season begins, so you can get your product ahead of time and be all set for the season. Eventually you’ll get a sense of what brands and products work best for you, and you’ll have a hunting kit that you swear by before you know it.