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Choosing a Shelter for High Altitude Hunting: Luxury vs Necessity

There is much to consider when preparing for a high mountain hunt such as one for Dall Sheep or Mountain Goat. Many folks will only go on such a hunt once in a lifetime, and so it is important that you select the right gear so as to make the experience as pleasant and successful as possible. If you have never been on such a hunt, packing for one can be a tough row to hoe, as every gear company is vying for your dollar and trying to convince you that you will not be able to live without their particular product.

In the case of hunting shelters, as with most gear, it is a matter of weighing luxury against necessity. Sheep and goat hunting generally involves hiking countless miles in steep, rough terrain. The type of terrain that can be tough to hike without a pack, let alone with 40 plus pounds strapped to your back for days or even weeks on end. The point is, weight is always the over-riding factor. Sheep and goat hunters often have a saying when talking about gear; “every ounce counts”! Simply put, ounces make pounds and pounds slow you down, require more energy to move, and are just physically harder on your body. While this may seem like common sense, every year I am surprised at the amount of gear some hunters take into the field, and if I am to be honest, how easily the weight can add up in my own pack if I am not careful. As a result, over the years I have striven to lighten my load and have found several methods of cutting weight that when put together add up to many pounds of savings.

Let me start out by saying that there is no one “right way”. These methods are what I use and what works for me and my adventure needs. In comparison, my hunting partner and 60th Parallel team member John Whipple has a slightly different regiment of gear that he employs on our adventures. Each person has his or her own little luxuries that they are willing to part with, and those that they are not. That being said, here are my thoughts and tips for choosing a shelter.

Tent vs Bivy vs Tarp Shelter

One of the quickest ways to reduce the weight of your pack is the selection of your shelter. Shelters commonly employed include the 4 season tent, the 3 season tent, the bivy, and the tarp shelter. The trade-off is always weight v. protection. It is very important that you match your needs for a shelter system to the demands of your adventure, so that you take the absolute minimum amount of weight required for the job, but ensure that you will be adequately protected from the elements with at least a modicum of comfort. Example; I own a bivy and a four season solo tent; my bivy weights roughly half (32oz) of my solo tent (56oz). My solo ten, a Hilleberg Akto, is one of the lighter four season tents on the market, weighing less than most 3 season tent, so if It is an earlier season hunt where the weather is typically warmer, I will take the bivy to save the 1lb 4oz difference. In a later season hunt, I will invariably take the tent as the temperatures drop and snow is likely. Innovations are being made all the time, and there are many good options out there. Living and hunting in Alaska, I prefer Hilleberg brand tents and OR brand bivys. They have both proven that they can hold up to heavy rain, snow, high winds, and all the other terrible weather that seems to befall you in the mountains.

Other factors to consider are your method of transportation to the hunting site. If I am flying in bush plane, I will usually take a larger base camp tent, and then bring a very light weight option, usually the bivy for “spiking” out. If I am hiking in to the hunting area, then I only take one shelter, but it is usually a tent, as it is my only line of defense against the elements. There are other things to consider besides pure survival; To drive my point home, my bivy does cut my weight back substantially, but I also lose some rather nice amenities. Things such as head space to sit up in and move around, a vestibule for gear storage, shelter rigidity, and less insulation. Now to some of you this may not seem like much of a sacrifice, but if you have ever been weathered in your tent for several days to a week you might change your mind about switching to a bivy. In either case, owning a light-weight bivy and four season tent, provides me with the flexibility to satisfy my adventure needs.

Last but certainly not least we get to the most extreme of shelter system; Tarp Tents! For those of you that don’t know much about these systems they are super light, basic, and self-explanatory. A tarp tent system usually is a specially designed medium weight tarp that is staked down and propped into position with your trekking poles. These systems typically weigh a pound or less, but also provide you with the least amount of protection from the elements. As far as amenities go, one retains one's head space, but loses insulation, a shelter floor, and over all shelter rigidity. Again, the previously mentioned amenities may not matter to some of hunters as much as others. To me a shelter’s rigidity means a great deal, but then I have experienced 70+ mph winds for several days while being pinned inside my tent that thankfully held up to the test. It’s for this reason I personally have never used a tarp tent, mainly because I would rather carry a few extra ounces on my back and have peace of mind that I am better protection from the elements, just in case Mother Nature decides to flex her muscles. However, for those of you that want to lightest option on the market short of no shelter at all, the tarp tent is a viable option. In my humble opinion, I believe tarps tents have their place in early season hunts and are a great light-weight alternative, if one is willing to take a slight gamble with the weather. A viable alternative to the tarp tent if you are using a Hilleberg tent or similar system where the outer tent/rain fly attaches to the poles, is to pack the outer tent/rainfly and the poles, while leaving the inner tent and tub behind. This creates a stable enclosed shelter that is nearly half the weight of the full tent.

In conclusion, be sure to do your research and fit your shelter to you and your adventure’s needs.

Good Luck and Happy Hunting!!

Casey L. Dinkel | Co-owner

60th Parallel Adventures

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