Story by The Mountain Project / Photos by Jay Park
Our friends at The Mountain Project launched a great new film on their South Island tahr hunt in New Zealand, and you can watch it below.
The boys debriefed us on their hunt and how their gear performed in the field. They saw a fair bit of weather in big mountain terrain, putting a bunch of our products through the paces. The team compiled their reviews, and we’re sharing them here to give insight into their system and how it can apply to your own mountain hunting.
We call our channel The Mountain Project — which is odd considering we're based in Arizona. The state isn't exactly known for its mountains (though we do have them). We chose that name because the mountains are where our hearts always are. A few years into making YouTube videos, we got to Alaska to hunt Dall Sheep. A year later, we were in the Northwest Territories hunting rams and caribou. And a year after that, we were hunting tur at 13,000 feet in the Caucasus Mountains of Azerbaijan. We've always loved the thin alpine air and the animals that call the mountains home.
Our last mountain hunt was in 2019. So when we drew a coveted landing permit for a West Coast Tahr block on the South Island of New Zealand, we immediately set to work scouring Google Earth. Luckily, our friend Joe Fluerty, an experienced New Zealand guide, would be hunting with us. This removed any pressure to arrange logistics. All we needed to do was book the long international flight from LAX to Queenstown and show up in shape to get up the mountains where the tahr live. Joe handled everything else.
When Joe strongly suggested we bring ice axes and crampons, we knew this would be a legit mountain hunt. The question now was, what else should we pack? What would be the essential gear we couldn't leave behind? And what would be superfluous?
We each packed differently. We each learned a lot. Below are our top 3 gear suggestions for hunting the Southern Alps, based on our trip. However, the gear isn't specific to New Zealand. It is helpful inspiration for what to pack regardless of which alpine mountain hunt you're packing for.
Packing for New Zealand was particularly tricky for me. I needed to pack my mountain gear, my camera gear, and I was the only one bringing a rifle onboard two international flights. Complicating this, I would extend my trip by a week to visit my kids, who live on the North Island with their mom. This meant an additional 2 domestic flights on Air New Zealand, which is strict on baggage limits and weights for checked bags and carry-ons. So I need to pack as minimalistic as possible while still having enough gear to pull off a successful trip.
My most essential gear on this trip was my footwear — socks, boots, and gaiters. If we weren't being rained on, we were crossing meandering rivers multiple times throughout the day. Early in the hunt, I stepped in the river above my gaiters, but my feet did not get wet. The trip would have been very different if I had to do it with cold wet feet. The Stone Glacier SQ2 Alpine Gaiters may be the most significant improvement to an ordinary piece of gear that I've ever used. They’re excellent. And the Stone Glacier socks paired perfectly with insulated boots, so my feet never overheated.
Next most important was having the Access Bag attached to my main pack. I spent some time custom-fitting durable foam to the bag's interior to securely carry our Mavic drone camera and extra lenses for the Sony cameras we run. As our principal videographer, having these tools accessible without opening my backpack is critical to capturing important moments. Thanks to the Access Bag, I captured remarkable images of Chase and Joe on the recovery of Chase's bull.
And the third item I was glad I took on the trip was an Aeropress. This inexpensive, small, lightweight press makes a good cup of coffee in the morning. And a good cup of morning coffee, especially on a cold rainy day, helps get me going, whether at work or on the mountain.
I always obsess over taking the proper gear when packing for a big mountain hunt. I never want gear to limit my experience. Over the years and a few big hunts, I worry less about these things. Because when you find what works, you keep it; when it doesn't work, you try something different. Here are 3 things I think will be around for a while.
1) The Chinook Merino Boxer. If I plan a 7-14 day hunt, I am not taking 7-14 pairs of underwear and socks. It takes up too much room and weight. With the assistance of a couple baby wipes, the Chinook Merino Boxer is suitable to support you for several days on the mountain. Good undies are a must. The SG Ram Wool Socks are great too.
2) The Chilkoot 15° Sleeping Bag has been my go-to for many years now. I choose the 15° because when you add a puffy top and bottom, the range of temps you can sleep comfortably in is wide. I have slept in the same bag for over 100 nights, and it still keeps warm like the day I bought it. With a small amount of care and maintenance, it holds up great.
3) A GoPro. Capturing the moment has always been a priority for me.
I bought my first camera before I bought my first gun. The GoPro is an excellent option because it is small, rugged, and can carry several batteries. It's a great option if you want to bring those memories home with you.
When I was in New Zealand, I realized I'd over-packed, something we often do. Throughout the trip, I learned a few things are more important than others. Here are my top 3 picks.
First and foremost, The SG Dome Basecamp tent is a must to sleep in with your homeboys and keep all your gear out of the elements. I had no idea how cool it would be to have a house that big. It would've been crap being stuck in a tent solo for two days with bad weather. Some of our best memories, we're "stuck" in front of that fire in our "house." Also, using a lightweight stove to heat the tent meant we could dry our rain-soaked gear each day. It was crucial.
A close second would be a rangefinder with angle compensation. Going to a place like this, with such drastic elevation changes…mandatory for me. A 2' high, clean-miss opened my eyes to this.
Third — and this will always be in my top three — my puffy. If you don't know, ask your friends. They are excellent at keeping warm and pack down to nothing. I've rolled it into the hood and used it as a pillow. The Grumman Down Jacket is pretty much always in my pack.