An Ode to the Packout – Looking Forward to When We All Get Back Outside Safely

Published 2020-05-19

By: Tim Hoffer, North American Sales Manager – Hunting

I dropped my trekking pole. There it was, just resting a few feet from my boots in the snow. I was perched on a steep, snowy, rocky hillside with a stupid-heavy pack on, loaded down with a boned-out mule deer buck, rack, my rifle, tripod, optics, and other hunting-related detritus. I was tired, and my quads were yelling at me to stop, and the thought of having to kneel on this damn hillside to grab it was not making me happy. But down I went, doing a herky-jerky, off-balance lunge, grunting like some cave-dwelling Neanderthal the whole time. I grabbed the pole, stood up, and almost tipped over backward. It would have been funny to watch, but I was relieved that my balance settled in before the heft of the pack took me head over ass down the slope. Cinching the waistbelt, I kept on slogging across the scree-covered hillside. Did I mention it was cold? I should have been skiing…. the pitch of the freaking hillside was black-diamond terrain. And why is deer meat so damn heavy?

Obviously, hunting is a remarkable way to enjoy yourself in nature, full of beauty and scenery. It is also many times a good old fashioned sufferfest, aka the Packout, and it is fantastic in its own way. Let me explain:

  • Hunts that end in a packout mean you likely hiked into some really good country, that steep, gnarly stuff that required some serious effort and provided you with tons of beautiful views and solitude. You also filled your tag out in all that wildness. Nicely done.
  • Packouts require you to be in relatively good (or great) shape or have a willingness to suffer tremendously. Both are good traits to possess and will serve you well in life.
  • When you and/or your hunting partners know you may be packing out inordinately large amounts of meat, you usually plan and pack accordingly. Good boots, a good pack, a headlamp, and a sharp knife are more important to you than a suitcase full of cash once you hit the hills. Really? Gear is that important? Have you ever packed out a bearskin in a fanny pack? No. The answer is no. Stop asking dumb questions. The RIGHT gear is important.
  • Crawling is an acceptable and sometimes preferred method of ambulation during a packout, especially when navigating overgrown deer trails up a stupidly steep hill. Trust me. I do it on a regular basis. If deer can do it, so can you. Be the deer.
  • Long, demanding packouts teach you more about personal limits and humility than a thousand self-help books or some podcast you just heard about “bio-hacking” and “redefining personal growth”. Stop listening to that nonsense and just go carry a pack approximately 50% of your own body weight up and down a hill, preferably in a snowstorm at night. There. You just “transcended your own mortality” or some other crap. You’re welcome.
  • Food never tasted so good as when you top out on that last big uphill push. Pulling out a half-smashed Baby Ruth or Payday from my pack leaves me cradling it like some rare artifact, a look of wonder and desire in my eyes. Yes, it was that good. I also wept a little once remembering a cold beer was waiting for me at the truck in my cooler, a few long miles away, like a long-lost lover. Apparently, I am really in tune with my emotions or really enjoy alcohol and junk food while hunting. Don’t judge.

Photos by: Jay Beyer

  • But the best part of a packout is when it is all over, and you slog that last few yards to the tailgate of the truck and drop that SOB of a pack off your back. That bizarre feeling of weightlessness hits, and you look up at where you just hiked out of and cannot help but smile. I have a hard time smiling though because I am usually stuffing my pie-hole with candy bars and swilling that lost lover of a beer, but you get the idea. The funny part is you immediately start thinking about next season and doing it all over again. Start hiking, kids, the mountains will not get any flatter.

Happy hunting…