Investing in high quality gear is important and modern equipment can make a serious difference in terms of comfort and performance in the field. Simply making the purchase however falls far short of being field ready. Testing and breaking in boots, packs, clothing ahead of the season is a critical step that will prevent blisters, failures, and general breakdowns when that gear should be helping you push harder on hunts.
Here are a few things to consider in advance of the hunting season:
Testing New Clothing
New clothing might fit perfectly off the shelf but that doesn not immediately translate into all day field comfort. Every individual has a slightly different body type and wearing pants, shirts, socks and jackets on a few full day pre-season hikes will ensure everything feels great. The base layers are especially important because they make constant contact with your skin. A baselayer that doesn’t fit quite right can form hotspots and cause discomfort on a long hunt. Test everything thoroughly, wash and test again. If the clothing feels good after a few days of hiking and moving around the woods, it will perform well on a hunt.
Break In Your Boots
Hunting boots are your lifeline in the field and a pair that fails can ruin the entire trip. An ill-fitting pair of boots will discourage you from pushing over that next ridge and ultimately limits your range and hiking capabilities. Anytime you purchase a new pair of boots, get them out on hikes throughout the summer to help along the break-in period. Even wearing the boots around town will help them conform to your feet.
Using new boots is obvious but what about that favorite pair of hunting boots that performed well over the previous season? Materials contract and boots that once fit perfectly can still require a few hikes before they feel just right again. In some cases, it’s as much a matter of training your feet to work in the boots again. Work your favorite pair of hunting boots into a summer hiking routine that will ensure they are ready for opening day.
Don’t forget that great boots will never live up to their full potential with sub-par socks. Never wear cotton in the field. Instead, get a few pairs of merino wool or a merino-synthetic blend socks that are designed for hiking. We personally use these Kenetrek socks.
Wear Your New Pack
Packs are often overlooked but the straps and general fit is really important while hunting. This proves especially true on multi-day backcountry hunts that require full days of walking with a loaded backpack. Hot spots frequently form on the shoulder strap contact points and on the chest and waist strap regions. Rubbing on the back and lower back is not uncommon either. Take a few summer hiking trips or ideally, backpacking trips. These trips serve a double purpose by testing the pack while creating an opportunity to play with weight distribution and hunting gear. Anything that proves as dead weight can be removed to lighten the load come hunting season.
If the straps are rubbing hard, try adjusting the length to ensure your hips are absorbing some of the load. The straps themselves are rarely the problem and training hikes are the perfect opportunity to find the sweet spot while conditioning your body to function with the pack.
Gear Up Early
Don’t wait until the last minute. Start your hunting gear prep now to avoid stress right before the season. If you need suggestions, check out the gear we carry here on our website. We only sell items that we personally use in the field. We’ve tested them all and we stand behind them. Please contact us if you have any questions.
By Zach Lazzari | Photos by Ryan McSparran