Alright, at this point, my departure date is getting close enough that I think I can actually smell the sage brush that litters the steep mountains of Idaho. So, with that being said, let’s not waste any time with a lengthy intro. Instead, let’s jump right into my final product list.
EXO MOUNTAIN GEAR K2 5500 BACKPACK
I can’t stress the importance of choosing a quality backpack. And, while I have used a few good ones over the years, they all fail in comparison to the Exo K2 5500. This pack can simply do it all. I’ve tried to find a weakness in its design (maybe someday I might), but so far I haven’t.
The 5500 is a built around the companies K2 Titanium Frame which is vertically rigid, yet will easily move with you laterally. I have actually balanced my 220 pound body on this pack frame last fall to see if it would fail. It did not. The K2 Frame weighs in at 2lbs 12 oz. and is 25” tall.
I added the additional Meat Hauling Shelf to mine and gained an extra 2500 cubic inches. This shelf will actually rest between the frame and the 5500 pack so you can either add extra meat to your overall load or simply use the meat shelf alone to keep your pack innards free of blood and meat.
The K2 Frame also comes with various sized Hip Belts and an adjustable Lumbar Pad Foam that is covered in non-slip fabric to prevent pack shifting. In addition, the belt also has 1.5” of webbing that is great for holster attachments, pouches, etc. You can even micro-adjust the torso length of the pack from 16-21”. The cool thing is, any Exo bag will fit the K2 Frame. So, if I want a smaller pack than my 5500, I can simply add, say, the 3500 or 2000 pack to this frame.
The 5500 pack is the largest in the Exo Mountain Gear lineup and is perfect for big adventures in the backcountry. With just over 7000 cubic inches of carrying volume (side-pockets installed), this pack glides in at 5lbs 6oz. When combined with the frame weight, you are looking at just a touch over 8 lbs.
Now, that might sound heavy but consider this. Sure, you can get a backpack that will be lighter on the scales. In fact, I have some. But the difference between those packs and the Exo Mountain Gear K2 5500 is that this pack will make the same load feel much lighter than those other packs. In my opinion, overall lightweight features mean very little if a pack makes you feel like you’re carrying twice the weight. Know what I mean?
I can honestly say that, after carrying this pack around the Idaho Mountains last September, not once was I eager to take it off. Most of the time I’m counting the minutes until I can shed my load and take a breather. The Exo is that comfortable! And when you are climbing to 12,000 feet comfort is everything.
The 5500 also comes with a removable hood, roll-top closure system, water-bladder sleeve, zippered front access, 14 compression straps to secure just about anything, external stretch pockets, full-length side pockets (can hold rifles, spotting scopes, tent poles, etc.), 7 gear compartments, 20” side-zipper for easy access to main bag, angled-lower side pocket for access while wearing and internal Velcro strips in order to add separate mesh pockets. Lastly, the K2 5500 is made with 500d Cordura and 420d Diamond Ripstop fabric.
In my opinion, this is one of the best packs ever produced for hunting elk (or anything else) deep in the backcountry. I loaded it with enough food for multiple-days and gear and hauled it to upwards of 12,000 feet and not once was I uncomfortable. In short, this pack is the bee’s knees and will likely outlast me. My only complaint is that I haven’t put any blood on it…..yet.
SCHAFFER PERFORMANCE ARCHERY XV ARROW REST
We’ve all shot fall-away arrow rests or at least know someone who does. However, the Schaffer XV is unlike anything you’ve most likely seen. Instead of the arrow support arms falling forward, the support arms on the XV open up from the center out. In other words, it’s like taking your index finger and your thumb, placing them together and then opening them up.
The XV provides absolute containment. This means the arrow cannot move, make noise or fall off of the rest; no matter what position the bow is in. The rest can be activated when the bow is drawn or it can be locked into position prior to the shot. It has been speed tested at 418 fps and tips the scale at a feathery 2.5 oz. It also comes with mounting plates for the perfect custom fit.
I know, I could list a bunch of specs from any other arrow rest and blow your mind. So, what makes this one so good? A few things stick out in my head. I’ve filmed the rest in action myself and watched it open up long before my arrow fletching gets close to the rest and it’s the only rest that DID NOT require any movement when “Walk-Back” Tuning it. That has never, ever happened to me.
Despite using one of the most “popular” rests on the market, combined with several Mathews Flagship bows, there was always some movement required while performing the Walk-Back tune. Except this time. I like to think that it is due to the precision containment and lightning-fast way in which it lets go of the arrow.
I have been shooting this rest all summer and have never had to readjust it or reapply silencing material to the arms. It is whisper quiet, low profile, great looking (in my opinion) and performs every time. What else do I need to say?
MAVEN B.2 SERIES OPTICS
If the name doesn’t make things clear to you then the first time you gaze through a pair of Maven binoculars will. I’ve recently received this set of bino’s and I must say I see no reason why they will not perform in the high country where “good glass” is a must. Showing up on an elk hunt with good optics allows you to pick apart the terrain and find animals you normally would not see through a weaker set of bino’s.
I’ve compared these to many other brands I’ve used and even a few different brands that my friends use and the Maven optics are obviously brighter in low-light conditions. I also like the feel of the Maven’s and their ease of use when dialing the focus rings and individual eye pieces.
Maven makes clean, simple designs with the very best modern materials and technologies in order to create uncompromising gear; gear that carries “feel” of quality, yet, has the performance to back it up. Do not overlook this company.
SITKA BINO BIVY
A good Bivy system for your binoculars is critical when glassing and chasing elk. You don’t want a system that is bulking, in the way or cumbersome to use. The Bino Bivy System from Sitka is none of those things. It is a highly thought out, easy to use transport system for your glass.
With magnetic closure systems, easy to reach zipper handles, adjustable chest straps, spare storage pockets and a stout overall frame, the Sitka Bino Bivy rides so nicely on your chest you will almost forget it is there. And, just like everything that Sitka produces, this Bino Bivy is made to last.
The Bivy allows easy one-handed access to your optics with a lightweight suspension system, lens cloth, two exterior pockets and two lanyard straps.
Great looking, easy to apply and they do what they are supposed to do…..guide my fixed-blade broadheads with precision. I’ve yet to find anything better.
SONNY FITNESS STAIR CLIMBER
I know hunting fitness is all the craze right now and that is a good, positive thing. We need more of that in the industry. However, if you are planning to chase elk you may be under the wrong impression when it comes to training and what will really help you climb those tough mountains in September.
Honestly, in my opinion, the two most important parts of your body, the ones that need to be in shape, are your legs and your lungs. Period. Everything else is just an added bonus.
So, if you are like me and after work, your family and everything else in between you simply don’t have the time to devote hours every day to getting into “Elk Shape”, a simple stair-climber and a weighted backpack will do the trick. I filled mine with 45lbs and away I went.
Last year I devoted all of my training to my legs and my lungs using this method. And I can say with confidence that I literally ate the Idaho mountains up. And, the best part was I did it by spending 45-60 minutes a day on a stair-climber, in the comfort of my home, with my family still around. No long gym sessions away from the house. I just jumped on this thing while my body was in a “fasted state” and by the time I boarded the plane my legs and lungs were very strong.
It’s great if you have time to devote hours and hours a day to getting into shape for an elk hunt. I think that’s fine. But if you don’t, I promise this will do the trick.
I have NEVER shot my bow with a quiver attached while hunting whitetails or simply practicing. My bow just seemed to perform better without it. Then I tried a TightSpot quiver and my bow has never shot so well.
The thing I love about this quiver, among many things, is the fact that I can attach it and bring it so close to the centerline of my bow that it’s scary. This improves the overall feel of my bow and brings balance to it while also keeping my arrows within easy reach. That is something you want while chasing big-game animals in rugged terrain.
The TightSpot quiver has a ton of cool features that include one-hand detachment, up or down, forward or back and in and out adjustment capabilities, individually adjustable arrow grippers for a custom arrow fit, lightweight, vibration killing carbon construction and rubber dampening strips, acoustic dampening material inside of the broadhead hood (which is nearly unbreakable), tough materials and lastly, a Tailfan Design that allows the arrows enough space as to prevent your arrows fletching from vibrating together during the shot.
This is the sickest quiver I have ever used.
MONT-BELL DOWN HUGGER 800 #1 LONG SLEEPING BAG
When a freak storm hits in the backcountry, like they tend to do, you don’t want to climb into a sleeping system that you compromised based on cost. A sleeping bag is more than just a place to sleep. It could be your lifeline depending on the conditions you face. I chose Monte Bell for my last elk hunt and this year is no different.
By using strategic seam orientation and the stretch provided by gathered quilting, Mont-Bell offers a bag with unrivaled fit and comfort. The result is a sleeping bag that moves with you as you change positions during the night. This allows the 800 fill goose down to draw closer to your body, thus eliminating drafty dead spaces which lead to cold, sleepless nights on the mountain. Body heat should be kept in your sleeping bag.
The Down Hugger 800 weighs in at 3.2 lbs. and compresses down to nearly nothing. I was really amazed at how small I could make this sleeping bag. That freed up even more room in my Exo pack. The sleeping bag is filled with 800 Fill Power EX Down and is made of 20-denier Ballistic rip-stop nylon and a Standard DWR.
With a T Comfort rating of 23 degrees, a T Limit of 11 degrees, and a T Extreme Limit of -24 degrees, I slept in a Bivy-tent with mine at close to 12,000 feet elevation in mid-September and slept in warm and comfort all night. You will be amazed with this thing.
Steve Flores is the Editor for Appalachian Range Outdoors.