The second day of my first bowhunting road trip to Kansas was looking perfect. The sun was about to make an appearance on the horizon and it was a cold, crisp morning during the rut. Everything pointed towards the possibility of seeing a good buck that day. Sitting in my treestand, I heard footfalls through the dry leaves—a deer was coming. I slowly took my bow off the hanger and clipped my release to the string just as the deer was about to appear in my shooting lane.

CLINK! Something fell from my hand and hit the aluminum stand on its way to the ground. My release came apart in my hand and I couldn’t draw the bow. The buck took off, and I got a good look at it as it ran away.

Fortunately it was a small buck, or I would still be losing sleep over the experience even today. I was able to cut a piece of barbed wire and twist it in place to make the release functional for the remainder of the day, averting a disaster that could have ruined the rest of the hunt.

Since that morning, I never leave home without a spare release. That’s just one of the things I carry in my backpack when I hunt. I confess that I am not a minimalist when it comes to hunting gear and I carry a lot of stuff with me. But I often hunt miles from the truck, and having an item with me can make the difference between making that walk an extra time or not.

What follows is a list of some of the uncommon things I carry with me most of the time I deer hunt. Of course, I carry the “standards”—extra SD cards for trail camera checking, a rangefinder, a field dressing knife, a water bottle or hydration bladder, a deer call, a spare release, a flashlight and headlight, a wind checker puff bottle, a camera, my deer tags and licenses, and so on. There are also some situational items I’ll carry depending on the specifics of a hunt.

But there are also some items I bring that most hunters do not usually think to carry with them. They all serve a purpose and can make your day go much smoother if you have them along. I’ll deal with each of them separately.

Heading into the woods without the right gear can mean a short day when a long day is needed. A few things can make all the difference.
Heading into the woods without the right gear can mean a short day when a long day is needed. A few things can make all the difference.

1. Zipper-lock bags

Zipper-seal baggies for keeping used scent and lure items such as drag rags or scent wicks. Putting the smelly stuff in a zip-tight bag really helps keep the rest of your stuff from smelling nasty.

2. Wet wipes

Wet wipes and be used to clean up after field dressing a deer, or if you have to take care of business in the woods. They’re way better than toilet paper.

3. Brush nippers

Brush nippers. I cannot believe how much I use these. I snip that one branch that is going to mess with my trail camera photo, I clip a branch out of my way that might interfere with a shot, and sometimes I just use them to trim around where I am sitting in a stand so I do not have a twig poking at the back of my neck. The one I use is a multi-tool made by Avid and it has several other tools attached.

4. Rope

A haul rope for pulling stuff up into the treestand. This makes life so much easier than trying to carry things up into the stand with one hand or in your pockets. It’s much safer, too.

5. Zip ties

Zip ties come in handy in so many ways. I use them to attach a tag to the carcass, for tying branches out of my way, for temporarily attaching things to my pack or stand, attaching a lure dispenser to a branch, and even for fixing things that break. I carry a couple of different sizes and never leave home without them.

6. Properly-equipped pill bottle

I’m always sure to carry a small pill bottle with four things in it:

  • Benadryl to take care of any allergy, beesting, or bad reaction to a plant.
  • Ibuprofen to treat headaches, the pain of a turned ankle, a sprain, or just sore muscles from more physical exertion than usual.
  • Aspirin. Aspirin can fend off a mild heart attack—it’s surprising how many people have heart attacks in the woods. Chewing a large aspirin tablet while you wait for help to arrive can mean the difference between life and death.
  • Diarrhea medicine for…well, you know, it might keep you in the woods longer.

7. Plastic garbage bag

I also carry a plastic garbage bag. I have used one many times to put over my pack to protect electronics during a rain. My new Tenzing pack has a built-in rain cover that comes out of a zipper, so I may eliminate the garbage bag if I find I never use it any more.

8. Lighter

A cigarette lighter allows me to burn the ends of rope, seal plastic, and if needed, start a fire in a pinch. I never realized how handy this item is until I started carrying it; I’m surprised how often I find a use for it.

What do you carry in your pack that other hunters might leave out?

Follow Bernie’s bowhunting adventures on his blog,

Images courtesy Bernie Barringer

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34 thoughts on “8 Items You Never Realized You Need in Your Hunting Backpack

  1. I like the pill bottle idea. I can see them being pretty loud bouncing around so Id add throwing a few cotton balls in there to keep them in place and quiet it down. Thanks for the tips.

    1. I carry zip lock bags everywhere I travel, whether hunting or on vacation. Instead of twist ties, I carry the small plastic pulls that electricians use for attaching tags. The cotton balls in the pill bottle is a great idea. Thanks!

  2. I carry a whistle, the same model refs and umps use. lightweight and LOUD, among other things such as an extra knife, sharpening stone, tp(makes for good firestarter, too) lighter, small 1st aid kit, drag strap, camera, cellphone, etc. used to carry a compass, but now I usually hunt in well known areas.

    1. A compass is really not a bad idea if you are far from home. We rely too much nowadays on cell phone mapping and GPS maps, but batteries can go dead and cell phone coverage can be bad in many places. A compass is light and doesn’t take much room. Glad you mentioned it.

      1. I carry toilet paper not only for the obvious reasons but to aid in tracking a wounded deer. Hanging a little TP on a limb every time you find blood helps mark the path the deer took. It will also dissolve and be gone after a good rain.

    2. For a fire starter aid, stuff a quart Ziploc bag with lint from your clothes dryer. If you split firewood, collect the fine strand-like bits of wood and mix in with the lint. This makes excellent fire starting material.

      Ziploc bags also work as trash carriers for used wet-wipes, wrappers and whatnot so you leave the woods clean.

      And while I have a decent 1st-Aid kit in a pack, I use a surplus 30-rd M-16 pouch on my belt stuffed with some 1st-Aid/Survival supplies in case I can’t reach my pack.

      1. fire starter the girl scout way… egg carton (paper ones work better), dryer lint, parfan.. stuff egg with lint, pour wax over lint, close carton, when ready to use, tear off one egg holder, put on top of kindlin’ , and light

      2. That’s a good suggestion, Sandy. I simply use dryer lint and slivers of wood in a plastic bag. It’s lighter and smaller (plus the paraffin won’t melt on a hot day) for those who are backpacking or traveling light. Once the fire is burning a bit, adding a bit of nutmeat (Pinenuts, walnut, cashew from your trail-mix) will cause the fire to flare up from the oils, getting the kindling or main wood burning.

        Then again, I also carry a magnesium fire starter in my 1st-Aid/survival pouch.

  3. Good items mentioned by all. I carry a spare mag for my sidearm, extra knives and sharpener, lighter plus cotton and small waterproof fire starting material. Add the plastic bags, zip ties, rope, wet wipes, hand
    warmers, nitrile gloves for dressing the deer, headlamp to get into my stand in the dark, 1st aid kit, compass, and a small ration of jerky with a camelpak of water that fits inside the backpack. I tend to stay in the field most of if not all day

  4. I carry a small “space” blanket in case I don’t make it back to camp. Some homemade fire starters (paraffin wax set in egg carton sections filled with dryer lint. It will burn in a rain). Also when bear hunting I carry a can of black pepper to sprinkle liberally over any cuts or exposed meat, and the entirety of the inside of the carcass. It keeps flies from enjoying my harvest and leaving me with their “presents”.

    1. Oh also a compass…… I hunt a well known area that changed my perception completely on a foggy, misty, overcast evening. I had about 2/3 mile walk to get out. I lost direction and wound up back at my stand by the time it got so dark I couldn’t tell where I was. I had no choice but to use my internal compass and pick a direction and go. Luckily I was able to pick the right direction based on where my stand was and my understanding of where camp was in relation to my stand. When I did make it back to camp I found my group trying to decide if they should head out to find me. It was about 2 hrs after sundown when I made it back. I didn’t have a phone or gps at the time, but it reinforced the NEED for a compass. I never go without it.

      1. This is one reason some of the hunters I know also pack along radios. The GMRS radios can help locate a lost partner and just come in handy at times. Some guys use their portable HAM radios too.

    1. I don’t know if the pee smell really bothers deer. I killed a buck that walked up and peed 10 yards from me just as I finished peeing. I’m gonna pee in the woods from now on!

  5. Compass .extra cell that calls 911 only which is any cell that holds a charge no contract plan etc F.Y.I only.water purification straw.a small belt that u may need to stop bleeding from a fall etc . fire starter. Protein bar. Allergy meds.small mirror for sos reflection just some of many to help someone out while packing there’s.

  6. knife, compass or gps, spare batteries, water, trail mix or granola bars (unwrapped to keep noise down), swsater, headlamp…

  7. hang onto that empty trash bag. let’s face it guys, how many of us have been 30-60 ft up a climber stand and had that sudden erge to go poop and can’t climb down without making a big mess? i have had to take a dump out of my climber once or twice until i figured out to take a empty trash bag with me for that OH SH** moment, believe me there’s nothing worse.

  8. Kinda reminds me of my ready to go kit I keep in the trunk: Duct tape, a few rags of small and medium sizes, zip ties, a good hunting knife, a saw for cutting bones etc., a couple of big plastic garbage bags and a good handful of different sized ziplock bags, a decent rope (will hold a good amount of weight). All these are quite useful. Just be sure you aren’t stopped by the police, you’ll be in trouble……

  9. I always carry a Teflon fish fillet glove for my “off knife hand”! Enhances grip on hide/tissues and protects against a “slip of the knife”. An ounce of prevention/protection……. !!

  10. I bring an extra pen to fill out tags, an extra knife and sharpener, garbage bags, fire starter, ace bandage, travel size bottle of dead down wind, extra gloves, bow tool, shoulder length disposable gloves for field dressing, gum-o-flage, multi-tool, first aid pouch, extra release, imodium-ad, advil, whistle, Thermocell with spare pads and fuel cells, snack bars. wind powder, zip lock for tenderloins (keep them from drying out)

  11. Going to affirm the need for a compass. $15 or less gets a decent one that takes up absolutely no room and weighs nothing. Even in woods I’m quite familiar with I get turned around constantly, and I have a good sense of direction. I always seem to have cell coverage, but if I ever lose that and/or my phone breaks I could find myself wandering around like a fool in no time–plus one day last week I was *sure* my phone’s compass was not right for a moment, and sure enough it wasn’t.

    Also get a whistle. $7 buys a ridiculously loud one on amazon. Takes up no room and you won’t be able to scream if your lungs are semi-toast from an event.

  12. some duct tape and a laser pointer – during rain, at dusk, or both, i’ve shot deer, and the last place i’ve seen them trot off 50 yards away. b4 i climb down, i tape the laser to my stand, tape it “on”, and point it to where i last saw the deer b4 i lost sight of it. its SUPER helpful, especially in the rain.
    can also be used for signalling if things go wrong (mine is a dual purpose flashlight/laser pointer).

    -a bright colored bandana has several uses….sweatband, signaling, a makeshift filter if stuck out over night, wound care, etc
    -one or two of tthose cheapie 60×60 folded up mylar blankets
    -waterpoof matches and wet stuff (burns anywhere).
    -a life straw

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