Backcountry Archery Elk Clothing System

Backcountry Archery Elk Clothing System

By: Drake Dury

Fog covered the basin like a low cloud and the perpetual sprinkle thoroughly coated the vegetation with mountain mist. Visibility was limited to a hundred yards and the Elk were not making their presence known. Refusing to give up, Luke and I marched through the wilderness in search of a goal line that seemed to move just as fast as us. At this point, we had spent five days in the backcountry investigating the mountain for signs of life beyond the Pine Squirrels and Ruffled Grouse. Prior to leaving Southern Illinois, we planned what clothes to bring and in the spirit of “counting ounces” we both decided to leave the gaiters and rain pants behind. Fast forward one 24 hour drive and five days, the water had crept into my boots and soaked my pants to the knee. Luke was also experiencing a similar fate. For the remainder of the trip, warm damp became the new dry. 


A fully thought through clothing system can make or break a hunt physically and mentally. Physically speaking a good system can mean the difference from being comfortable or winding up with hypothermia and mentally it can mean the difference between being positive or destroying your confidence. When talking about clothing, I want to note that “counting ounces” is not always the best idea. Yes, you do not want to bring a bulky set of Drake Waterfowl Bibs, but if by “counting ounces” you choose to leave the rain pants behind that is not a wise idea. Specifically in this article I am going to be discussing my experience in the September Elk woods and what pieces of clothing should find its way into your pack. 


Base Layers

In my opinion, base layers totally depend on the person. My body tends to run hot, so for most active days in the Elk woods I leave them in the truck. On my trip we experienced temperatures ranging from twenty-five to sixty-five degrees with the average temps being low to mid fifties, so staying warm without base layers was not a problem. If you tend to run cold I would recommend lightweight merino wool base layers or if in a really wet environment, lightweight synthetic for the faster wicking ability. My final verdict is in the month of September I will most likely leave the base layers in the truck unless some unseen weather happens upon arrival.


Socks and Underwears

Socks are a vital piece of clothing that is vastly overlooked here in the Midwest, but crucial in the mountains. All day your feet are getting hammered with steep vertical inclines and endless walking, which makes foot care a main concern. If your feet get blisters due to lack of proper socks your hunt will be miserable. Wool socks are your best option. I still remember the day I switched from hunting in cotton socks to wool and since then it has totally changed my overall foot care and performance. There are some backcountry hunters that choose to only bring one pair of socks, but I am not that hunter. For me, two pairs is the desired amount because it allows me to switch out my socks daily to ensure I have at least one pair of dry socks. I highly recommend the First Lite Mercury Lightweight Crew Sock which I will link below. 


Underwear is a different story. One pair of underwear will suffice for me in the backcountry. Cotton underwear is an absolute no go in the mountains. Cotton tends to stretch and lose its comfort after being worn and it does not wick moisture which can lead to uncomfortable situations in the wilderness. Luckily there is a fix. Synthetic underwear reigns supreme for me. Synthetic material does not stretch like cotton so it allows for a feeling that remains throughout the entirety of the trip and synthetic material has an uncanny wicking ability that allows for the escape of moisture. I recommend Reebok Men's Pro Series Performance Boxer Brief Underwear that can be found at any ol’ Walmart.

Boots and Gaiters

For the same reasons expressed in the section on socks, boots are the most important part of your footwear system, so do not skimp on quality boots. During this hunt, I used the Cabela 8” Tactical Trainers that are now discontinued. These boots have a Gortex shell and weigh 1.45 pounds per boot. Cabelas does not specify the flex rating on these boots, but I would say it would come in at a flex rating of two. These details are all important for providing yourself with the optimal tool for the job. When selecting a boot you should take into consideration previous boots you have worn and try to extract what features served you the best and incorporate that into your new backcountry boots. For me, the boot I prefer on a September backcountry Elk hunt weighs 1.5 pounds or less per boot and has a flex rating around a two. This provides me with boots that are light enough to not fatigue myself on the mountain yet stiff enough to traverse even the most technical terrain. Last September, Luke and I found ourselves looking down on Mountain Goats in the steepest terrain with no problems arising from our footwear. For the upcoming season I will be looking into the Crispi Lapponia II GTX. 


Gaiters are one of the items I decided not to bring on my first backcountry hunt and boy did I regret it! After the trip was over, Luke and I took to the internet and started researching what gaiters to buy and we ended up settling on the Peax Storm Castle Gaiters. Disclaimer-I have not yet used the Storm Castle Gaiters so I am not recommending them I just simply am stating which ones I purchased. The main point is take your gaiters!


Shirt and Pants

By now you probably realize that cotton sucks and for your shirts and pants this same rule still applies. DO NOT BUY COTTON. In the warmer months such as September, I stick mainly to Synthetic materials because of its superior moisture wicking ability. In the mountains, one way or another you will have to deal with moisture whether that comes in the form of sweat or a high alpine thunderstorm the ability to dry quickly is vital. The shirt I chose to wear while on this trip was the Ol’ Tom Flyweight Shirt. You can replace this honestly with any shirt that fits your preference, but for me this shirt allowed phenomenal breathability and moisture wicking. I have spent many springs chasing Turkeys in this shirt and have grown quite accustomed to it. 


When it comes to the pants I believe I found a little hidden gem. Wrangler Outdoor Flex Waist Cargo pants can be found at Walmart for about $30 and they are extremely durable. I wear these pants on hikes, at work, hunting, etc and I have found no flaw in them. The Wrangler pants do a great job of wicking moisture, which as you read in my earlier story became very important. I have nothing against the bigger hunting brands, but whenever I can save some cash for a similar product I will. 


Outerwear and Rain Gear

The outerwear is where I provide insulation to my system. My outerwear was the First Lite Sawtooth Jacket. I chose this jacket because it had more applications for me back in the Midwest than a puffy jacket. The Sawtooth is made of Merino wool and provided excellent insulation in the early Montana mornings. Luke decided to go with the Killik Summit Primaloft Puffy Jacket and also it performed well in the mountains. 


If you have made it this far in the articles chances are you remember my story about Luke and I being completely soaked from the waist down because we left our rain pants at home. With that being said I cannot stress this enough TAKE A COMPLETE RAIN GEAR SET!!! The weather in the mountains can be unpredictable and many times a surprise high alpine thunder storm will arise without warning so it is best to be prepared. It is also important to note that rain gear also serves as a quality windbreaker that retains body heat. Oftentimes in the morning Luke and I would put on our rain jackets for added insulation and wind protection. This system of using the rain gear as a windbreaker allowed us to withstand colder temperatures without packing more layers. When I take a late season backcountry trip, I will use this same tactic to allow for more comfortable glassing as well. On this trip Luke brought his Killik Summit Axiom Rain Jacket and I brought the Mossy Oak Camo Rain Jacket. Next time we will be taking the corresponding rain pants as well. 


The last little clothing item I take is a beanie to keep my head warm when I sleep or glass.



September Archery Elk hunting does not need to be anymore complicated, and picking the wrong clothes can complicate a trip quickly. I hope this article was an exhaustive resource that would help guide you through the intricacies of planning your first or twentieth backcountry Elk hunt. Some main takeaways I want to remain with you is prioritize your feet, bring a complete rain gear set, and cotton is your enemy. Good luck with the application season and I will see you on the next one. God Bless

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