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4-Year Gear Test: Hunting Editor’s Tried-and-True Favorites

27 noslerThe author waits with her 27 Nosler in between two game trails; (photo/Nicole Qualtieri)
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For 4 years, I put piles of hunting gear to the test. Here are my all-time favorites that made it to the top of that pile and stayed there.

Being GearJunkie’s first long-term Hunt & Fish Editor was an honor, a privilege, and just a bit of a gear overload. The cardboard boxes started coming back in the summer of 2018, and — Smash Mouth-style — they never stopped coming. I got things I asked for, things I’d never ask for, and things I never even knew I should ask for.

God bless the mail folk who put up with the deluge, for they are the holiest among us.

That said, more than a few pieces of gear stood out. My kit is, for lack of a better word, insane. And as a kid from working-class America who bought most of my nice things secondhand, I’m often flummoxed as to how I ended up with some of the best hunting and fishing gear on the planet.

It would be a disservice to keep this information to myself. And, of course, I’ve shared thoughts on a lot of these pieces in the past. But I think a Best of the Best is necessary.

So, I picked my favorites of the faves. For this iteration, I’ll focus on my favorite hunting gear. Below, in no particular order, is the gear that I am forever bound to as an outdoorswoman and as a bonafide GearJunkie.

Editor’s Picks: My Ultimate 4-Year Hunting Gear List

NEMO Stargaze Chair

Person sitting near campfire in NEMO Stargaze Recliner Luxury Chair
(Photo/Lindsey Mulcare)

Likely my most-used camping item in the past few years, NEMO’s Stargaze Chair ($250) rules the roost when it comes to sitting comfortably on the go. The swinging, reclining camp chair is a constant topic of conversation as soon as I begin setting it up, and it’s fought over among anyone in its vicinity.

After a few years of regular use, it still retains the same comfort and durability it had upon arrival. It’s fun, it’s comfortable, and I wish I had a few more of these so that I’d never have to give mine up to another booty ever again.

Check Price at REICheck Price at Backcountry

27 Nosler with Leupold’s FireDot Duplex Riflescope

nosler model 21

Shooting the 27 Nosler is an experience. The thing’s a lightweight cannon. But it’s a cannon that delivers. Combined with Leupold’s exceptional Firedot Duplex Riflescope, the thing shoots out to my personal maximum ethical shooting distance of 400 yards like a razor-sharp knife slices through butter.

I killed my 2021 pronghorn at 307 yards without a blip of inaccuracy, and the only downside was that I lost meat from the sizeable hole it punched in the smaller doe. This rifle not only extended my confident shooting range but it also notched my street-cred tag with how badass it is. It’s easy to hike with, trustworthy, and a serious firearm for serious hunters.

Do I recommend this rifle/scope combo for an all-around western mountain hunter? I do. Every day of the week.

Check 27’s Price at NoslerCheck Firedot’s Price at Scheels

HOKA Stinson Shoes — Women’s & Men’s

HOKA ONE ONE Stinson ATR 6 Trail Running Shoes
(Photo/Backcountry)

After years of knee issues, my dedication to HOKA ONE ONE’s plush sneakers only continues to double down. Initially, I balked at the sheer size of the shoe, but after experiencing it as a runner, a hiker, a backpacker, and a hunter, I don’t want to take any chances wearing shoes that can’t give me the same degree of both stability and comfort.

The Stinson ATR 6 ($170) is one of many that I’ve worn in the Stinson series, and it continues to deliver. For those of us who need a little more shock absorption, HOKA steps in and offers comfort where pain used to live.

Check Women’s Price at REICheck Men’s Price at REI

Exped Duramat Sleeping Mat 

Xped Duramat Sleeping Mat 

I thought I’d never find a sleeping pad that would hold up to the way that I treat the dang things. And yet, the Exped Duramat ($170) exceeds my expectations. I often sleep next to two snuggly dogs when either truck, tent, or night sky camping. And though their intent is nothing but cuddles, they aren’t exactly easy on sleeping pads. More than once, I’ve been deflated by their scrambles.

Not so with the aptly named Duramat. It’s easy to blow up thanks to its swingable Schnozzel Pumpbag. It’s down-insulated to a 4.8 R-value for crazy people like me who camp in cold conditions. And the heavy-duty 75 D/170 D recycled polyester exterior protects your comfort for the evening. Best pad yet, and still kicking after a year of camping adventures.

Check Price at REICheck Price at Backcountry

Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody — Women’s & Men’s

patagonia nano puff

There’s never been a jacket that I’ve loved as much as my Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody ($279).

As a Montanan, the midweight layer was always an arm’s length away, shoved into some crevasse in my rig, pushed to the bottom of every pack, at the ready to save me from the ever-lurking frigidity. I wore it in sleeping bags as another layer against the cold of night, threw it on for countless treks on my horse, hiked, grocery shopped, and rolled the window down in cold weather.

This workhorse of a coat kept me warm but not too warm for years. And I even went so far as to repair it multiple times before it got into a war with my puppy that it just couldn’t win. I nearly wept at the loss. This is the perfect jacket. Don’t sleep on it. But I do recommend sleeping in it, should that winter wind blow a little too cold.

Check Women’s Price at REICheck Men’s Price at REI

DECKED Drawer System

decked drawer system install
I did this!; (photo/Nicole Qualtieri)

Yo. I feel the loud Italian in me start to rise when I think of how much I want to proselytize about DECKED and the epic drawer systems they’ve made for dirt road gearheads like myself. I’m not sure how I lived with my short-bed Chevy Silverado 1500 prior to the DECKED system, but these days I’m spoiled rotten with lockable drawers and a perfect sleeping platform for my travels.

I keep survival kits, firearms, camping supplies, medical kits, tools, and seasonal gear in my DECKED system. I tuck bear-spray canisters, sleeping supplies, and horse treats into the little wells in each corner. And I put the whole thing together by myself in just a few hours. Honestly, this system is impressive from a UX and UI perspective. It’s worth every penny.

And if you drive the kind of rig that begs a little organization, head to DECKED. They’ll get you set up. And you can check out my review of putting this thing in my truck all by my lonesome.

Check Price at Decked

Mystery Ranch Pop Up 38 Backpack

Pop Up 38

Every hunter has a backpack brand preference, and mine forever will be Mystery Ranch. The Bozeman, Montana-based shop builds, in my opinion, the most comfortable weight-bearing pack in the business. And part of its success is that Mystery Ranch has never shied away from building a slightly heavier pack with more padding, cushion, and shock absorption than you’ll see in the ultralight packs.

I’ve packed both in and out heavy in Mystery Ranch’s packs ($375). My hips never bruised. My shoulders never rubbed. Was I sore? Was I miserable and exhausted? Yeah, I was. But I’ve never dealt with equipment-related injuries. I’ll cut the end off my toothbrush, pack ultralight clothing, and pay extra for the ultralight gear, but I won’t skimp on my pack’s padding or basic creature comforts like exterior water bottle pockets and heavier zippers. I wish more folks understood this. They’d likely be a lot more comfortable.

I’ve loved multiple Mystery Ranch packs over the years, but the Pop Up is my favorite. It’s the perfect day hunting pack, with all the bells and whistles I love, and all the comfort offered by the brand’s dedication to necessary padding.

Check Price at AmazonCheck Price at Scheels

Swiftwick Pursuit 6 Socks

Swiftwick Pursuit Hike Six Medium Cushion Hiking Socks

When I first began writing for GearJunkie, I was a doubter when it came to socks. It wasn’t entire doubt. It was an “any sort of wool sock will do” kind of doubt. My eyes glazed over when anyone tried to tell me how great a brand’s socks were. I took an internal nap. And I did anything to avoid the subject of socks.

I, dear friends, was wrong.

Socks matter. And a blister from a crappy sock can ruin not just one day but multiple days in the field. Swiftwick beat out the dozens of socks I’ve worn over the years. It’s a cycling brand, but it focuses on performance beyond biking. I especially love the brand’s lightweight collection, including the Pursuit 6 hiking sock ($24). The compression-like fit leaves little room for error, and if I could wear Swiftwick every day, I would.

Get ’em. No regrets.

Check Price at AmazonCheck Price at Swiftwick

YETI — All of It

YETI Crossroads Offers Organization to the Maximum
(Photo/Nicole Qualtieri)

When I think about YETI, I realize that the brand permeates my daily life in ways no other brand does.

Every morning, I reach for a YETI coffee cup. On every hunting trip, multiple YETI coolers are in my truck. And actually, the Roadie is always in my truck, ready if needed. My dogs eat out of YETI bowls; I travel with YETI luggage (read my full review here). I have multiple Camino carry-alls, and I use them constantly. And I feed my horses from YETI buckets that store their grain. I’m sure I’m missing something, but it’d almost be embarrassing if it wasn’t so useful and durable. The brand just doesn’t typically swing and miss.

I’m here for it. YETI all day, every day. No shame in my over-committed YETI game.

Check YETI Price at REI

Filson 3-Layer Field Jacket

filson 3-layer field jacket

I’ve worn what feels like a million coats since I started at GearJunkie. I’ve destroyed most of them; I don’t have a fastidious nature when it comes to clothing and I don’t simply sit around in these very nice coats.

The one coat that is almost always within arm’s length is my Filson 3-Layer Field Jacket ($395). It’s designed to be an upland hunting jacket with big pockets for shells, zipped pockets for other things, and a large back pocket for birds. It’s made out of what must be the most durable waterproof fabric known to man.

Currently, it’s unavailable via Filson’s website but you can track it down in a few spots. It’s saved me in downpours, kept me warm in snowstorms, stood up to hazing by horses, hunted up a storm, and really, it just always looks new. This, if you can find it, is the best coat I’ve ever worn. And thanks to Filson’s quality, I expect to have it forever. And perhaps, one day, pass it on to someone else.

Check Price at Amazon

First Lite Kiln Base Layers

First Lite Kiln Hoody & First Lite Kiln Long Jane

Everyone needs a great base layer. In my humble opinion, First Lite makes the best on the market. I’ve worn the Kiln base layers for years, and my original pair is still going strong. Wool simply has staying power, and the washability of the Kiln makes it easy to keep in the rotation of cold-weather clothes.

To me, this midweight baselayer set is also the most useful. It’s not so thick that it’s burdensome or so thin that it doesn’t insulate. And honestly, I just don’t look forward to even trying another base layer. The high-waisted leggings are perfect for the female form, and the hoodie is a go-to for any day the wind thinks it’s going to change my life with a chill.

‘Fraid not, wind. Not in the Kiln base layer anyway.

Check Hoodie Price at AmazonCheck Pant Price at Amazon

onX Hunt

onx32

There are iPhone users. And there’s everyone else. Then, there are onX Hunt users. And everyone else.

I honestly don’t know how regular people get by without onX. The app is a subscription-based service that is beyond expansive, but most will tout it as the best way to delineate public lands from private or to understand places that are in and out of bounds for use.

And I use it to figure out property lines and boundaries, of course, but after years of dedicated use, it’s a waypoint-dotted journal of my travels around the United States. It’s both a time log and a keeper of my outdoor memories: here’s where I camped, here’s where I filled my first pronghorn tag, and here’s where I’m going next.

And really, it’s a comfort. The breadth of information and ease of use makes traveling and exploring simpler than it’s ever been in human history. I can’t imagine using anything else.

Check Price at onX Maps

Benchmade Altitude Knife

Benchmade-Altitude-Hunting-Knife

Another discontinued piece that will always continue in my heart, the Benchmade Altitude Knife ($313) is my favorite of every knife I’ve tried. The bright orange hunting knife is light, light, light and sharp, sharp, sharp. I’ve tried a LOT of hunting knives in my time afield and I kept going back to the Altitude.

Perhaps it’s a lady-hands thing, but the handle shape worked best for me. Many folding knives were too bulky and often my hand hurt after breaking down an animal by myself. The Altitude centers on a more finessed approach, and its CPM S90V stays sharp with little need for resharpening. I typically can get through one or two animals before paying attention to the blade at all.

And though it’s discontinued, it’s still widely available. And often at a discount. Hurry, while the getting’s good.

Check Price at Amazon

Garmin in the Field and on My Wrist: Mini 2 & Venu 2

garmin inreach mini

Another brand that permeates my lifestyle is Garmin. And the one thing I think every human should have in their vehicle at all times is a juiced-up Garmin Mini 2 ($400), ready for action.

The Mini 2, to me, is the best of all worlds. It easily connects to my phone to text people through satellite communications when I’m off grid. And it offers the peace of mind that, wherever I am, the SOS button is not far away. I have taken it backpacking, camping, on rivers, hunting, and on any trip where I knew I’ll be out of service for a substantial amount of time. It’s never not worked. And it’s small enough to pack in a pocket, a purse, or a backpack.

Thankfully, I’ve never needed it. But I’ve been close and having it helped me maintain a sense of calm that otherwise might not be so easy.

I literally never thought I’d become a wristwatch person until I tested a few Garmins and found myself tied to the numbers. The Venu 2 ($400) stands out as my favorite. It’s a beautiful watch, with a touch screen, a long battery life, and tons of information that’s helped me get fitter and lose weight. I love wearing it, and I feel naked without it these days. Weird, but true.

Check Mini Price at REICheck Venu 2Price at REI

Stone Glacier Chilkoot Sleeping Bags — 15-Degree & 0-Degree

Stone Glacier Sleep System

A nice sleeping bag can be the difference between a completely awful night and one slept soundly. This really isn’t something to mess with when you’re in the elements, and Stone Glacier’s Chilkoot sleeping bag series is the best I’ve used.

I’ve used both the 15-degree ($549) and 0-degree bags ($599). As a cold sleeper, I’ll almost always reach for something warmer in alpine climates. There’s something downright dreamy about both bags, really. They are cloudlike and comfortable, wrapping the tired in puffs of 850+ fill, power-treated, gray goose down. And though they are made for backpack hunters, I love having one of these in my rig at all times should any emergency befall me.

I’ve battered these things, and though they’re light, they haven’t broken down on me. And I sleep pretty dang well when tucked in its cocoon in the cold mountain air. Expensive? Yes. Worth it? Definitely.

Check 15-Degree Price at Black OvisCheck 0-Degree Price at Scheels

Sitka Gear Timberline Pant — Women’s & Men’s

Sitka Gear Timberline Pants
The author’s 2018 mule deer buck and her Timberlines; (photo/Nicole Qualtieri)

My favorite pants remain Sitka Gear’s nearly indestructible Timberlines ($249). Invest in a pair of these and you’re set. Reinforcements everywhere guarantee durability. A million pockets offer functionality. But really, they’re comfortable, windproof, difficult to stain (believe me, I’ve tried), and downright bombproof.

I love a lot of Sitka’s outerwear. But the Timberlines set the bar for hunting pants. A lot of brands aim to compete specifically with this pant, and I still think it’s the best on the market. Plus, it’s offered for both men and women in a wide range of sizes.

They’re awesome. They continue to be awesome. And they will forever be awesome. Read my full review here. 

Check Women’s Price at Sitka GearCheck Men’s Price at Sitka Gear

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