Clay Hayes likes to go light but have enough gear to both survive an unexpected night out in the wilds and deal with an elk if he is lucky enough to get one down.

“I don’t like to carry a bunch of stuff with me. I like to be lightweight; I like to be mobile. The total weight of this pack with all the stuff in there is only 12 pounds,” he said. “I don’t usually carry a bunch of water with me, because where we hunt there is a bunch of streams, and I just carry a water filter and use that.”

He carries a bugle tube to call bulls. His is simply a whiffle ball bat with the ends cut off and covered with vet-wrap to dampen the sound of brush scraping against it.

“Bugle tubes are just whiffle ball bats that sell for $45. You can get this at Walmart for like $3 and cut the ends off and you are good to go,” he said.

He carries a paper topographical map and prefers it to a GPS device.

“You can spread it out and see all the benches and valleys, and it’s not on a little bitty screen. Topo maps don’t run out of batteries. It will always be there with you.”

He often carries a compass and is never without a headlamp. Almost never.

“I made the mistake one time of forgetting my headlamp and had an elk on the ground in the evening, and skinning out an elk in the dark is something that will teach you not to forget your headlamp,” he said.

He also carries a tiny keychain photon light in his pack as a spare.

He has a carbide knife sharpener.

“It’s really handy for keeping an edge on your knife,” he said. “An elk is a big critter. They’ve got a lot of hair, and hair dulls a knife.”

Hayes glued a piece of leather to the back of it to use as a strope.

“A lot of times you don’t need to sharpen your knife,” he said. “You are just hitting it on this strope, and it’s enough to bring that edge back.”

One key piece of equipment is a container, known as a Bot, made by Vargo Outdoors.

“It’s a water bottle, it’s a cook pot, it’s a storage unit. Versatility is one of the things I look for in my gear. If I have the option to carry one item that is going to do multiple jobs, then I am going to pick that item. It just saves space and weight.”

If it’s cold, he carries a small stove that attaches to a small isopro fuel canister. He can use it to mix up a freeze-dried meal or just to boil water for a cup of tea. The water for tea or meal is boiled in the Bot.

A small water filter eliminates the need to carry large volumes of water.

When it comes to survival and utility, paracord is one of the most important items in his pack. Hayes goes with military specification paracord he says is much higher quality that commercial cords. The good stuff has nine nylon strands in the center of the outer sheath. If needed, he can pull the inner strands out, separate them and use a single strand for emergency fishing line or to stitch something up.

“On my hunting boots, I’ve actually got my laces replaced with paracord,” he said. “That gives me an extra 12 feet.”

He carries small steel rings to pair with the cord to make a block-and-tackle, useful for maneuvering a dead elk or hanging elk quarters or his pack to keep it away from bears.

A blister can ruin a hunt. Hayes heads off blisters by covering hot spots on his feet, should they develop, with medical tape.

“You can make it so you don’t get a blister,” he said.

He always has a lighter with a few wraps of duct tape around it. He also caries a ferrocerium rod, as a backup fire starter.

“A lot of people call this flint and steel, but it has nothing to do with flint and steel,” he said. “You can take this and put it on a carbon steel blade and make sparks with it.”

A big, sturdy trash bag serves multiple purposes. It can be used to create a makeshift shelter in foul weather or as a tarp to lay elk quarters on.

Of course he always has a pocket knife, some foul weather clothing and game bags in the pack as well.

A video with more detail is available at

Barker may be contacted at or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.

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