Working out might not be as sexy as buying a new bow, but it can help improve your hunting in a way that most equipment promises but fails to do. For most hunters, working out or training can be an afterthought. If you’re a Western hunter, this probably doesn’t apply to you, but for those east of the Mississippi, fitness can be an overlooked aspect of your hunting regime.
If you’re looking to improve your hunting overall but not following a consistent workout routine, you’ll benefit more from incorporating fitness than you would from buying the latest gimmick. While some gear might qualify as a necessity or make hunting more comfortable, possessing a certain level of fitness can give you immediate and long-term success in the field. This especially applies if you have several decades of hunting under your belt.
Getting started can be the hardest part. If you’re on the fence about joining a gym, buying equipment for your garage, or working out in general, you probably have some hunting gear that you can use to improve your fitness. The good news is, it doesn’t take much to get started.
Here’s a list of hunting and angling gear that secretly doubles as workout equipment.
Hunting Fitness Gear You May Already Have
Coolers have come a long way. They can handle an extreme amount of weight and force. Because of this, they make great additions to your home gym.
The YETI Tundra works great for keeping your backstraps or hindquarters cold, and it happens to make a great platform for box jumps. During the height of COVID-19, my wife and I decided to invest in a home gym. We splurged on some bumper plates and a sweet barbell but still needed a few missing pieces.
One day, box jumps came up in a workout. We didn’t have a box, so I took a YETI someone gifted me years before, stacked some weights on it to adjust the height, and I haven’t thought about buying a box since. The Tundra is sturdy enough for bears, box jumps, Bulgarian split squats, and weighted step-ups. Just be sure to weigh it down so it doesn’t tip over during your workout.
Your Hunting Clothes
The clothes you wear to hunt are made for moving, sweating, and getting after it. Though you aren’t going to want to hit the garage in your late-season cold-weather gear, your base layers and early-season garb will do just fine.
KUIU has apparel specifically designed for training and fitness, but the 120 Crew makes a rugged workout shirt. This shirt is an excellent lightweight base layer for warmer hunting temps, and its quick-dry, odor-resistant merino wool makes it an ideal workout shirt.
I’ve worn this shirt on dozens of hunts — from velvet season whitetails to late spring gobblers — and countless workouts. And, no, my shirt doesn’t have that lingering gym smell a lot of workout clothes get. The Active Merino 105 also makes a great base layer or standalone shirt for early-season hunts or running.
Editor’s note: “As a ‘shapely’ woman, I hate tank tops. But the KUIU Women’s ULTRA Merino 145 Racerback Tank is nearly perfect. It is the first tank top I’ve owned that I wear working out, as a base layer, and in the field.” — Hunt & Fish Editor, Rachelle Schrute.
As for women’s-specific hunt apparel that pulls double-duty in the gym, check out Alpine Fit. The brand is making base layers that feel like butter and integrate anti-odor tech. They breathe so well that whether you’re trail running, working out in your garage, or layering them under your hunting clothes, you’ll be satisfied with your choice.
Another huge perk of Alpine Fit is, well, the fit. They have two shape options aimed at fitting women’s bodies better.
Editor’s note: “The Bushwacking Leggings from Alpine Fit may be my favorite pair of leggings of all time. I hike, ride my bike, work out, and just wear them on the daily. I never thought I’d toss a pair of leggings in my hunting pack, but these have made the cut. I’m not saying they’re cheap, because they aren’t. The investment is well worth it. They’re rugged and stupid comfy.” — Hunt & Fish Editor, Rachelle Schrute.
Your Hunting Pack
Rucking is a great way to get your heart rate up and build endurance, and it most closely resembles your time in the woods: carrying a heavy pack over long to mid distances. You can take any hunting pack worth its weight (no pun intended), load it with heavy-ish item(s), and start walking.
You can also treat your hunting pack like a weighted vest, load it with something heavy, and then do bodyweight exercises like squats, pull-ups, dips, or lunges. My go-to hunting pack is the KUIU Venture Divide 3000, but most packs will work just fine.
The K4 Pack from EXO MTN GEAR is a pack that has beat and exceeded expectations in the field and for training. The shifting frame moves with you, making it ideal for packing it heavy for a workout. If you need a pack that is capable of doing it all, this is one of our favorites.
Your GPS Watch
With so many smartwatches available today, odds are that you have one. Whether it’s fitness-specific, a general smartwatch that does it all, or a hunt-specific watch, you can use it to help monitor and push your fitness levels.
With GPS, inReach capabilities, and preloaded sports apps, the Garmin Instinct Solar makes an excellent watch for backcountry hunts or personalized workout routines. But even if you don’t plan on hunting the backcountry, the Multi-GNSS support and TRACBACK features make it easy to navigate deep public lands.
These features also allow you to track everything from your hunting routes to your heart rate, so you can dial in your strategic hunting access and running splits.
Like me, you probably have a pile of mismatched ratchet straps occupying a corner in your garage or the back of your truck. Throw these over some rafters or a pull-up bar and connect them. You can then use the straps to perform ring rows or dips if you have limited equipment.
Oh, and these particular exercises translate to pulling your bow back. Just make sure there aren’t any obvious tears or frayed ends on your straps.
Gear Aimed at Hunting Fitness
If you’re ready to buy some gear to get you in shape, there are countless options. Some hunt-specific brands are making fitness gear and programs that may just tickle your fancy. These are some of our favorites.
KUIU Training Gear
I mentioned the KUIU 120 Crew earlier, but the brand has a dedicated workout apparel line designed to help you get in shape for the field. Obviously, you don’t need to have hunting-specific fitness clothes to get you in shape for the season. However, just like anything in life, if you love hunting, why wouldn’t you want to buy performance fitness garb from a hunting brand?
We’ve tested parts of the KUIU line, including the Pursuit Tech Pant and the Training Tech Shirt at GearJunkie, and so far, we’re impressed. These pieces have performed just as well as the fitness industry standards we’ve always used. And they just happen to match everything else in our closet.
You don’t need a hunting-specific training program to get in shape for the mountain or the field, but it helps. MTNTOUGH is different than many programs in that it isn’t aiming to make you look good. It’s working toward making you an efficient hunter. From heavy-pack ruck marches to improving cardiovascular strength and leg capability, the workouts are tailored to make you the most efficient hunter you can be.
The program is app-based and can be done from anywhere. We’ve used and reviewed the program here at GearJunkie, and we can attest that it hurts in all the right ways. With onboarding programs for those just starting out or intense programs for the already-strengthened backcountry hunter, it has programs for just about everyone.
General Fitness Gear Can Aid in the Journey
This final list doesn’t have to do with hunting or angling, but these are cheap, effective items that can help improve your fitness and make you a better hunter.
Look at most professional sports training, and you’ll find a jump rope appears in almost every one. That’s because jumping rope has been proven to improve cardiovascular training and hand-eye coordination, both of which will benefit you in the field.
If you really want to get serious about jumping rope, check out our own Adam Ruggiero’s review of the Crossrope. Is it a $200 jump rope? You bet it is. Shockingly, though, he loves it.
Kettlebells are a cost-friendly and versatile piece of training equipment. You can use a single kettlebell to perform kettlebell swings, rows, squats, presses, and oblique twists — the list goes on. If you only buy one piece of workout equipment, it should be a kettlebell.
Weighted medicine balls or wall balls are another versatile piece of equipment that won’t break the bank. The odd shape is great for targeting muscles you typically wouldn’t with standard free weights or dumbbells, and you can use it for everything from wall balls to overhead lunges.
What makes the 75 Hard program specifically great for hunters is the routine, the discipline, and the time frame. For western hunters particularly, you can start that clock ticking 75 days before you start serious scouting for the season.
The simple combination of combining a decent diet with twice-a-day workouts and little lifestyle improvements can help get you on track for a more successful trek up the mountain. The requirement for an outdoor workout and the accountability of the app really is effective.
You don’t have to pay a penny for it, either. If you want greater accountability, though, there is an app that will set you back a whopping $7.
Final Thoughts and Words of Inspiration on Hunting Fitness
Fitness doesn’t have to be complicated to be effective. In fact, the opposite is true. Just as the latest hunting equipment isn’t going to make you a better hunter, the same goes for working out. You don’t need a home gym to get fit, but a little creativity and sweat can make those long treks in the dark a bit easier.