Packing Smart

By Teresa Patterson

In Omnia paratus. A term I learned in Latin class which means “prepared in all things”.  I have to admit, I am a planner. I like to be prepared. I know at times it drives my family crazy, but it’s who I am!  I tend to be this way while hunting. Well, those that hunt know that you really never know what will happen while afield.  But you can prepare before time by doing your scouting, planning a spot to sit and so on. When I hunt, if the conditions are right I like to go in before daybreak and leave when shooting hours end.  So I prepare and plan on what I take to make my all day sit comfortable by taking a backpack.

Deer hunters have used packs for centuries.  Native Americans had pouches made from deerskins that would hold various items and gear.  Even Daniel Boone and Annie Oakley would fashion a variety of pouches and packs. Today’s hunters should be no different.

My dad would pack so many things and his backpack was so heavy I thought he was crazy.  Until one day I needed something while hunting and didn’t have it. At that point I figured I would rather have and not need than not have and need. The problem is, you’ll be carrying said items around on your back. These necessities must be useful, appropriate and as light as possible.

Many hunters determine what they need in their day hunt packs just through trial and error over the years. The best way to figure out what you need is to get out there in the field and experience the tribulations of being a hunter. However, if you are new to the hunting sphere you may not know what to carry in your day packs. So, whether you’re a seasoned or novice hunter, here are some tips on items I carry and why in my backpack.

Hunting License

Put your hunting license in a plastic bag to protect it from the elements. The last thing you want is to cross by a game warden and your hunting license to be illegible because it got wet.


Hydration is important any time of year. There are many things you need for survival, but water is definitely the most important one. I believe this is the most important item to carry in your hunting day pack. In fact water is one of the heaviest things I carry.


Always take food with you. Even if you only plan to hunt for the afternoon — take snacks. When you’re hunting all day, you tend to get pretty hungry. If you want to limit your weight, mixed nuts, any kind of jerky, and high-calorie protein bars are what I take to fuel me and eliminate bulk and weight.


I don’t leave home without my Buck Knife.  A good field dressing knife is pretty important to any hunter’s daypack.  Make sure you have a sharp, strong blade while you’re afield.


On the off chance that you might have to track an animal that you shot as sunset quickly approaches, there is a good chance that you could be tracking that animal well into the night. Is it easy to get turned around out there? Yes!  I went out one morning a few seasons ago without a flashlight because I was hunting an area I hunted many times. I ended up tripping in a hole, felt a pop as I twisted my ankle. I figured it was sprained, but I pushed on. It was the last day of archery for goodness sake and the rut was in full swing.  I went too far left through the brush and I might as well have been inside a box. Not to worry, I thought, fighting a mounting sense of panic. Simply retrace the last 20 yards I just took. Which I did about 25 times. Easier said than done with a sprained ankle. Completely disoriented. I stopped, took backpack off, got out flashlight and I  found my way with ease … realizing I was only about 8 yards from my stand. Moral: Leave the hero stuff to Wonder Woman. It’s cool on TV; it’s stupid in the woods.


A rangefinder is small and fairly lightweight. It’s important to carry a rangefinder with you when you’re hunting. You want to make sure that you can make an ethical shot. If you know you can’t make a 300-yard shot, but you see a trophy buck through your binoculars, then that would be an irresponsible shot to take and you could potentially wound that deer and never recover the animal. I carry mine in turkey, archery, rifle, etc.

Baby Wipes

Baby wipes could be used for any number of things whether you have to go to the bathroom out in the woods, get mud and dirt off your hands before you eat, wipe any blood off of you after field dressing an animal, clean your knife off, etc.

Fire Starter &

Waterproof Matches

It’s always smart to carry a lighter because you never know what you might need it for. Whether you need to start a fire because you are hurt and need to call attention to yourself, you need to burn the end of some paracord to solidify a knot, etc.

First Aid Kit

Whether you get a blister on your heel from your boots, or cut yourself with your knife, you should carry a small first aid kit in your hunting pack. It can be as simple as two or three band-aids.  antibacterial cream, hand sanitizer, paracord and anti-itch cream. I carry band aids, a tourniquet…my dad always told me to carry one for an emergency, an aspirin and antibacterial cream in a packet.  Nothing big, all lightweight but good for an emergency.

Hand Warmers

Everyone that has ever hunted with me knows I am the hand warmer queen.  They are lightweight and work so well. I take one even in early season archery. Why?  If you’d get lost or hurt and need to spend time in the woods at dark, Fall nights can be chilly and you will be glad you did.  Colder weather I take more. They are a great way to stay warm without the bulk of clothing for all day sits.


I can’t tell you how many times a little extra rope has come in handy when tying a deer to a deer cart or sled, or in the stand, etc.  Not a lot just enough paracord to be useful.

Phone Charger

I carry a small compact charger in case my phone would go dead and I need to notify someone I have a deer down, don’t worry I’ll be late getting out…and by the way can you let the dog out for me….or I need help.  Chargers go dead too. So that is why I always carry the next item.


No not one as an app on my phone.  The good old fashioned compass. If you would get lost, and your phone is dead at least you have an old fashioned good ol’ compass.  They can help!

Flagging tape

To help mark a blood trail or notify searchers if you are lost which way to look.

These are the basics I carry regularly in my pack.  The list of recommended items will vary, depending on the time of year, location and species you are hunting. Things as game calls, scent spray, orange hat or vest, etc.  I also carry small plastic bags to carry the heart out or any dirty paper towels, plastic gloves, etc. I carry my items inside the pack in a large garbage bag. Helps to keep them dry in case of rain.

In speaking with Warden Bert Einodshofer of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, he states, “Every year there are hunters reported lost in the woods. We have already had several reports this year in Archery and the numbers increase during the rifle deer and bear seasons. Even if you have been to the same spot to hunt a hundred times, if the fog rolls in, it gets dark, you can find yourself lost very easy. It can happen to anyone. Things don’t look the same when it’s dark or even after a fresh blanket of snow.  A person may have a medical emergency or twist an ankle and you may be far in the woods or mountain, you need to be prepared to spend a night in the woods.

The best advice when hunting is be prepared for an emergency.  A few simple items can help. One we always suggest is a box of waterproof matches. Know also that electronics can quit working for many reasons so take a map of the area with you or a compass and know how to at least orient yourself with North, East, South and West to help with your sense of direction.   I also suggest an extra set of batteries for the flashlight you carry. Most hunters carry a knife and it’s a good idea to make sure it’s a sheath knife that you carry on your person. If the hunter would be in a treestand, hopefully they are using a safety harness. If they would have an unfortunate accident in falling from the stand, you would not be able to reach your pack hanging that has your knife.  If you have a sheath knife on, you would have the ability of cutting yourself free if you would happen to be tangled up.”

Another suggestion that Warden Einodshofer suggested was something my dad always carried and encouraged everyone to.  A whistle! Warden Einodshofer stated, “Having a whistle is a great idea. A person can only yell for so long before becoming hoarse.  Plus, it expends a lot of energy. Having a whistle is a great way to help alert someone to your location. “

Warden Einodshofer advises, “Always tell someone where you will be with a note, text or phone call before you go.  If you do find yourself lost, stop, relax get yourself comfortable and wait for daylight. Panic can set in during the darkness and you are at risk for injury.  Hopefully you have packed items with you to be prepared for an emergency scenario.”

Many hunters have limited time afield.  I know when I do get out I want to make the best of the day.  Having a backpack for necessities helps with my comfort during the hunt and piece of mind should an emergency arise.  Backpacks are made in so many shape sizes and materials. Choose a pack that fits well, a quiet material, and one that will fit your needs. A little preparation can help for an enjoyable and safe day afield.