Gear You Should Pack for a Backcountry Scouting Trip
This guest post is written by Andrew Spellman, a West Virginia University Reed College of Media alum. Andrew has a deep passion for his field of work. He is a writer and digital assistant with Project Upland and the digital editor at his hometown newspaper, the Ritchie Gazette.
Heading out into the backcountry for a scouting trip? Here are the items you shouldn’t leave home without
There are many puzzle pieces to fit together if you’re to have a successful hunt or series of hunts. From gear to scent control, from practicing with your bow to patterning your shotgun; there’s a lot to do to prepare.
Easily the most important factor to having a successful hunt is scouting. Scouting can occur year-round, though every segment of the year requires a different approach. But, for the sake of this article, we’re going to focus on preseason scouting and what you need to be successful and enjoy the experience.
Gear needed for preseason scouting
Before we break down the necessary gear to have for a preseason scouting trip, it should be noted that you don’t have to buy the most expensive brand name gear on the market. In some instances, I’m going to highlight a brand’s product that I enjoy and works for me (and that I recommend) but I want it to be clear you should buy whatever suits your needs.
With that in mind, let’s get started.
Protection for preseason scouting
There are a few things I’ll never head out into the woods without, whether for a day trip or multi-day stay in the backcountry.
The first piece of protection I won’t leave home without is a bottle of picaridin-based bug spray. Ranger Ready creates a fantastic product that works for all the nasty creatures that like to go after you, and after putting it through many tests, I can stand by it as one of the best options available.
Recently, Ranger Ready listened to its customers in the hunting community and developed an odorless set of sprays, both picaridin 20% and permethrin 0.5%, that don’t put you in danger of your target deer or a passerby busting you during the hunt. Further, Ranger Ready’s picaridin spray will protect you from biting insects for 12 hours and won’t harm your clothing or gear.
Additionally, before going out into the field, I’ll treat my clothing with Ranger Ready’s permethrin spray to give myself an extra layer of protection for up to 40 days or five washes. Note, however, that you don’t want to get permethrin on your skin, as it can be absorbed and can burn as well as a slew of other issues. Inhaling it is just as bad, if not worse, so be safe when treating your clothes, tent, or other gear. Once it dries it is safe to wear, but always follow the directions provided to you.
The second is sunscreen, as I run in many circles where someone has either battled or died from skin cancer.
Anything above SPF 30 is recommended by experts, according to the Mayo Clinic, but I also will wear a wide-brimmed ball cap, and, if possible, large-framed sunglasses to keep my face protected as much as possible. And, when the scouting is over and I’m hunting whitetail deer, I try to use an odorless sunscreen so I don’t alert the animal if applicable.
Clothing for preseason scouting
Speaking of clothing, a lot of us will do our scouting throughout the off-season, which often requires lightweight layers and changing clothes based on the weather. If you’re looking for sheds in March, you’ll need a layered system that allows you to stay warm and wick sweat, while on the opposite side of the spectrum an August trip into the mountains may call for a sweat-wicking t-shirt, light pair of shorts, and trail runners.
Regardless of the time of the year, I prefer to keep my clothing system as simple as possible. I begin with a base layer of a Merino wool t-shirt and boxer brief, a mid-layer hoody, a cold-weather jacket, a rain jacket, two different pairs of pants, boots (depending on the weather, either a mid-height hiker or taller hunting boot), a neck gaiter, a few pairs of socks, a hat, and a pair of gloves. Note: Not all of these will leave my dry bag, but are there in case of emergency, temperature drops, or an unexpected dip in the water.
Some may call me a sycophant, but I’ve dedicated my hunting clothing to First Lite. I prefer their clothing over competitors like Sitka and Under Armour, and find their camouflage patterns work best for the situations I put myself in. That being said, for my pants, I’m typically bringing a pair of Guide Lites for warm weather and a backup pair of Merino wool Obsidians if the temperature drops. For my tops, I always run the Wick short sleeve crew regardless of the weather, the Corrugate Guide jacket and Vapor Stormlight rain jacket in the warm weather (often switching the latter two if it begins to rain and temperatures don’t drop), and the Wick hoody and Uncompahgre puffy and Vapor Stormlight in cold weather. Further, if your backpack allows it, it’s worth packing your cold-weather gear even if you don’t think you’ll need it; the weather drastically changes in higher elevations and is sometimes unpredictable.
As for boots, I alternate between two sets of Danners: the uninsulated Trail 2650 GTX Mids in warmer weather and the 600-gram Powderhorns in colder weather. I’ll only pack one pair for scouting.
Finally, a note about Merino wool. First Lite’s Merino wool is not the same as it was decades ago. It’s superior for wicking sweat, killing odor (if washed properly), and keeping you warm when needed. It’s also light, and with certain technology such as Aerowool, it performs even better in certain situations.
Optics for preseason scouting
Just as with my clothing, when it comes to optics I like to keep this as simple as possible.
In West Virginia and Maryland, in many cases, I’ve been able to make my Vortex Crossfire 10×42 binoculars work. They have excellent range, work well in low light, and tuck nicely to my chest in their harness.
But sometimes you need some extra distance for those ridge tops, and the need for a spotting scope presents itself. They can be pricey pieces of equipment, but from the few I’ve tested, I prefer the Vortex Diamondback. In the few times I needed to use a spotting scope, the 16-48×65 fit the bill, because, let’s face it, we don’t have the rolling country some western states have. In the angled versus straight debate, I prefer angled; it works better for prolonged sits.
And what about that binocular harness I mentioned? I’ve come to love the FHF bino harness, as it’s tight to my chest, doesn’t interfere with my shooting, and offers excellent modularity. Since purchasing the base harness, I’ve added a bear spray holster to the bottom and the shoulder pads, and will soon add the rangefinder pouch.
Other gear to take on a preseason scouting trip
There’s plenty of other gear you could stuff into your backpack, but since we’re keeping an air of simplicity, let’s go over the other must-haves on an overnight or extended scouting trip. Take note that there are small items like dry bags or organizational bags that I recommend, but don’t dive into since these aren’t necessary for everyone.
First, shelter is key for an overnight trip. To keep weight down, look for light or ultralight tents or sleeping hammocks. The NEMO Hornet tent is a fantastic option, delivering quick setup and, when packed down, is roughly the size of a Nalgene bottle.
Next, you always need food and water. Fill up your bottle and/or water bladder at your vehicle and carry a water filtration device with you for refills. I typically carry two separate water filters (and sometimes even water purification tablets), one as a backup in case my first option fails. If I don’t take my purification tablets, I’ll simply boil the water before filtering it. Make sure you test your water filters before going out into the backcountry – you don’t want to find out you have a leaky o-ring when you’re five miles down the trail.
Freeze-dried food provides a nice pick-up in the morning or evening, but to shake things up consider taking food like Ramen noodles for a quick lunch. You want to be able to balance your calories, so pack snacks like peanuts, power bars, and candy bars just in case.
To bring everything together, make sure you have a cooking kit. These can be as simple as a JetBoil system or a small fuel canister and stove, such as the MSR PocketRocket and matching canister. Bring something to cook or boil water in, too, like a camping mug or small backpacking pot.
Lastly, make sure you have a bear-proof system that you can hang from a tree away from camp. Many outdoor stores sell bear canisters that allow you to store food and trash so you don’t have a visitor in the middle of the night. And, if you’re a fan of staying hygienic on the trail, make sure you tuck that into your bear canister, too. I’ve learned the best rule is: if it smells, lock it up.
And finally, there are two other pieces of equipment I’ll never leave home without: bear spray and a Garmin inReach Mini.
I cannot stress the importance of having bear spray. Oftentimes I’ll carry both spray and a pistol, but my first line of defense is the spray. It’s attached to my chest and ready to fire if needed, though luckily the only bears I’m coming in contact with are black bears, which typically don’t attack unless provoked or defending their cubs. My second line of defense is my sidearm, which is on my hip in case of an escalation. The inReach Mini is a satellite communicator that is one of those things you don’t think about the necessity of having until you need it. You never know what’s going to happen in the backcountry, so having the peace of mind that you’re able to connect to the outside world is priceless.
There’s plenty of other things you can take on a scouting trip, or need to. For instance, I do carry a camera and a water-repelling cover because I’m a photographer and enjoy documenting my trips. I also always have a pen and notebook with me to recount my day, take notes, or doodle.
And it goes without saying, you’re going to take other stuff – and you know that. You may never want to leave for a trip without fire starters and a lighter (me either), or you may take your cellphone because it has a GPS mapping system on it like onX Maps. You may want to take trekking poles, or a hatchet to prepare wood for a fire. Some may even want to carry in a small chair for comfort.
Whatever it is, if it works for you then stick with it. Take this guide as just that – a list to build your individualized kit.