Packing for a Girls-Only Backpacking Sheep Hunt with Rachel Ahtila.

Published 2024-03-20

By Rachel Ahtila, MYSTERY RANCH Hunt Ambassador

Give a girl a pair of boots, and she can conquer the world… but first let’s pack her bags!

There is something quite enigmatic about heading out into the mountains. Notable authors have done their best to harness the feeling, illustrate vivid pictures of the scenery, and craft the atmosphere of being out of doors and far away from creature comforts- but as timeless as words are, the experiences themselves remain priceless. Even now the places we yearn to adventure to are as untouched by time and industry as they were years ago, how we pack for these pilgrimages is ever-evolving to our advantage.

August of 2023, I had opportunity to put actions into plans, and bring dreams into reality when my dear friend, Kayla Read, and I finally had our ducks in a row (and not our usual ‘squirrels at a rave’ analogy) with dates marked out for a remote girls-backpacking trip. Planning for remote backcountry expeditions is something of our level of expertise, and the execution usually involves some hair-brained idea like packing horses into the wilds for a late-season hunting trip, -30*C snowmobile excursions, or something of the like. But when the opportunity to take a new backpack and system to the proving grounds came across our plate, we leaped at the opportunity.

Despite being devoted MYSTERY RANCH MARSHALL aficionadas, we pulled our new Women’s METCALF 100 backpacks from the boxes and set to work on learning how we could make this new matron a successful option for multi-day hunting expeditions. What better way to fully commit to this pack than take it directly to the proving grounds on a remote backpack Stone’s Sheep hunt. There would be no turning back, just straight faith and research. And after returning in one piece, and rather happy about our decision- I think I can safely say, with the sweat stains to prove we took the METCALF and put it through the ringer. A great addition to our success was using the ZOID BAG system, making our organization and load-carrying a success. Our unofficial motto would be ‘Go prepared, go organized, have fun, come out safely.’ With that, we threw a dart at the map with our ten-day window and ‘letter buck!’

There’s absolutely nothing worse than rummaging through your bag, trying to find your raingear, spare batteries, or something of circumstantial importance (usually with some level of urgency), and feeling like you are spiraling into an abyss of gear. Rain clouds don’t wait, and blisters rarely pop up conveniently. One thing that the new METCALF 100 boasts is the lightweight frame and bag- something we noted in direct comparisons between that and the MARSHALL. It has a large removable lid that could accommodate some of our immediate necessities, and where more organization was needed- we added the ZOID BAGS system to our arsenal for internal compartmentalization. While the METCALF has two side pockets and straps for securing the pack and the side load, we added the new SPOTTING SCOPE SLING to the fronts of our packs for added space and accessibility for my spotting scope. With a few differences to navigate, we learned how to ‘trial and error’ our accessories to utilize this pack to its best capabilities.

Here are some of our tried-and-true hacks on staying organized in the backcountry utilizing the METCALF 100 and the ZOID BAGS:

Let’s fill the ZOID…no pun in’tent’ed

The ZOID BAGS really shined for us for a variety of reasons. Firstly, I think we both dabble a bit on what most would call borderline OCD when it comes to the organization for the contents of our bags. It was super handy to be able to allocate ZOIDS for certain items or gear groupings depending on what we considered high use items that needed to be handier than others throughout the day. But where they really were helpful was helping fill the voids in our backpacks as we layered our gear when we were packing our bags. We used them as building blocks to help secure our loads within the backpack. A properly packed backpack rides better and is much nicer to rummage through when orchestrated correctly!

When it came to packing, we both found ourselves putting our lighter gear, our sleeping bags, and bed pads, down first in the very bottom part of our bags, then layering up accordingly. There is a handy access zipper that runs the length of the METCALF. On that side zipper access point, we would strategically place items (or ZOID BAGS) that we would want to be able to access in a reasonable amount of time. As we were sharing the distribution of the tent, I found myself putting it against that side of the pack. My theory is that in case of an emergency or storm front (of certain downpours and unfavorable doom)- we could put up the tent without having to remove the entire contents of our backpack and keep everything together under the protection of our rain flys while still having the backpack remain mostly packed… from years of experience- this is a savior in a bad case of weather assault. r assault.

Internally, I made sure that my heavier ZOID, the smallest bag, was near the top of my backpack. Usually above my food bag, and right underneath the folds of my rolled down pack. Because we diligently tried to keep our weights minimal, the smaller sized ZOID was perfect for my charging cords, tent repair kits, and power blocks.

The larger ZOIDS are very handy for bulky gear- think your puff coat, extra socks, and other clothes that you might want to consider bringing with you on your adventure. In the past, I would often stuff these clothing articles into any nooks and crannies as I was packing my bag- the major inconvenience always would be when I had to either find said pieces, or through up a tent in a hurry, or trying to break down my pack if we were stashing gear for an extended push. Seasonally, I know that I will always change up my coats and layering systems between the early season needs and later parts of the fall- and these bags definitely helped keep items compressed and wrangled into their allocated spots. But a hot tip for the minimalist packer- these bags also make a great impromptu pillow with a lightweight jacket stuffed in them! If you haven’t tried it, you can thank me later.

These lightweight bags are also excellent for leveling out your sleeping pad… It’s a fine art to scratch a spot on the side of the mountain that not only is going to work for popping up a tent but also trying to find the right level of comfort when putting your sleeping pad down. There’s nothing worse than sliding to the end of your tent in your sleeping bag if the pitch is wrong! Or finding that the Earth settled underneath you and there’s an inconvenient hole that you need to fill. I like to use them to build up any low spots underneath the pad and help cradle my sleeping pad so that I don’t end up a human accordion. Only weighing in just under a pound, the three-bag system sn’t mince on material quality or burden you with unneeded weight. In my opinion, they were the real MVP in backpacking organization.

Take it from me, I am the one who has always over packed. And I emphasize, always. Call it the guiding instinct, or my inner Girl Scout, I have notoriously always brought a bit more than what I needed. With that, I have had to learn to accommodate my extra gear, while carrying the load in my pack without physically maiming myself. A great deal of that comes down to where you are putting the weight in your pack and how well you are balancing your internal stacking.

Imagine I give you a backpack. For all intends and purposes, this backpack is a tube with a frame. Now if I start taking that pack and loading the heaviest items at the bottom, haphazardly, and without thought. How do you think that weight will sit on your hips? Will you be comfortable walking long distances over varying terrain, having to lift your legs, swing your body over downfallen trees, or lean in to start climbing up hill? An improperly stacked and strapped backpack feels much like a loose cannon of heavy and unsecured goods rolling around on your back that can end up in a great deal of discomfort!

One of the biggest mistakes we can do, especially as women, is to load our packs too heavily on the bottom. This might not seem like an important topic when you are carrying a pack with a few meager belongings, but where it does come into play in our physics is when we start adding substantial weight. Weight that we don’t want hindering our movement through our hips or putting any ‘back-ward’ pulling tension into our stance. A similar comparison can be made with the opposite effects if you stack all of the weight in your backpack too high on your back- the result can topple you forward and throw off your balance with the ‘top-heavy’ teeter-totter affect making you have to work to compensate. With the METCALF, we followed the same recipe of putting our lightweight gear (our sleeping bag, pad, and extra clothes) on the bottom of our pack and packed it all in quite tightly to take up the bottom surface area of the bag. Next, we stacked our food, that was stored in garbage bags (and arguably our heaviest items at the time before harvest) then our other heavier gear, and eventually the meat from the ram I was lucky enough to harvest. At the very top of my pack, or in the top pouch, I religiously have my rain gear, First Aid kit, PACK FLY, extra bullets, knives, matches/lighters and Firestarter, paracord, Leatherman, batteries, easily accessible and ready.

There’s a sense of due diligence acknowledged when you can head out to the back country and feel like you have the right tools to handle a plethora of variables that you could encounter. Knowing where your tools are and being prepared is key. There’s nothing worse than having to strip your pack off to throw up a tent when you can’t out run a nasty storm and ‘yard sale-ing’ your estranged gear across the side of a mountain. Or perhaps you have to respond to a first aid situation and timing is imperative. Often these scenarios are more realistic than people give credit. Weather happens, life happens, and preparedness saves a gal more often than not! Whether you are planning a multiday excursion, or a quick trip with your friends- these MYSTERY RANCH items `will fit seamlessly into your packing needs and help make your trip, and all of the gear you take, that much easier to bring, organize, and utilize.

Have any questions regarding this system, or looking for some feedback on your gear? Don’t be afraid to shoot @rachelahtila a message on her social media platforms.