Essential Hunting Gear for Beginners

Be prepared and make your hunt more comfortable by having essential hunting gear with you at all times. While different hunts require different gear, there are a few pieces of hunting gear that you should never head out without. Use this guide to build the best hunting pack for your next hunt. We’ll also cover gear to have with you whether you’re elk hunting or deer hunting.

At onX, we’re hunters too, and we know a good day in the field takes great technology and having the right tools and gear at your side. To help increase your success, we’re adding a new benefit for Elite Members—access to exclusive pricing on products and services handpicked by the onX Hunt team. If we don’t use a product from these brands, you won’t find them here. Explore Elite Benefits here.

Essential Clothing for Hunters

Weather poses a common but serious risk to hunters. Hypothermia happens when your body loses heat faster than it produces it, causing your core body temperature to fall, and it can happen at temperatures as high as 50° Fahrenheit.

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Hunting Rain Gear

One of the best ways to protect yourself against hypothermia is to have good rain gear. Quality rain gear not only protects from moisture getting to the body, but it will also prevent trapping moisture produced by the body (i.e. sweat) through proper ventilation.

Base Layers for Hunting

Having base layers is another excellent way to manage moisture while hunting. Base layers wick perspiration away from the body to keep your skin dry. There is a wide range of base layer fabrics, including synthetics like polyester and nylon, or natural fibers like merino wool or silk. Some hunting brands specialize in base layers that block scent and offer extra durability.

No cell service required. Public and Private Land Boundaries, GPS Tools, and more. Try the onX Hunt App for free.

Hunting Socks

Hunting socks are an essential piece of gear. If you keep your feet dry and in good shape you will be able to go further, stay out longer, and move around comfortably in all weather conditions. The number one rule with socks is to avoid cotton. Just like a vital base layer, having socks that wick moisture, provide protection and warmth, and prevent blisters will pay dividends during your hunt.

Essential Hunting Tools

Without fail, every hunter should carry a knife. Some prefer fixed blades. Some prefer folding knives, and others carry multi-tools. From cleaning game, cutting rope, or notching hunting tags, a hunting knife is one of the most essential pieces of hunting gear you can have with you.

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Here we’ve gathered some advantages of different styles of knives to help you narrow your choice:

Fixed Blade

  • Will Not Break
  • Easy to Maintain
  • Larger Blades

Folding Knife

  • Easy to Pack
  • Multiple Blade Types
  • Lightweight


  • Most Versatile
  • Screwdriver, Saw, Scissors – All-in-One Hunting Tool

A growing number of hunters are now opting to carry knives with replaceable blades because they are ultralight, very sharp and don’t need sharpening, and they are affordable.

Essential Navigation for Hunting

Getting outdoors (and getting back) is a huge draw for why we hunt, but thousands of people get lost in the woods in the U.S. every year. It is essential to know exactly where you’re going, where you are, and what terrain you might encounter along the way. A traditional map and compass have long been standard gear, but only if the hunter knows how to use them properly. Unfortunately, orienteering is a skill not taught enough these days.

Hunting GPS units have become a de facto replacement for the paper map and compass. While ranging widely in price and features, GPS devices have made navigating in the outdoors relatively easy and accessible for many hunters.

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A simpler and cheaper alternative to carrying a GPS unit is to have the onX Hunt App on your smartphone. With Offline Maps, you’ll have the ability to access your location, save Waypoints, and use all Layers and Tools even if you don’t have cellular service.

New: The onX Hunt App now features 3D maps to help you better understand the lay of the land. Below is an interactive map sample. Use Control + Drag to rotate in 3D. Login or create an account to gain full functionality.

In whitetail woods, the ability to mark and share stand locations and access routes has been huge at our family farm. We are always shuffling, adjusting, and hanging new tree stands. Before the Hunt App, navigating to them the first time turned into frustrating walks, not being able to find the stand and inevitably not finding it until shooting light. That is, fortunately, a problem of the past. The ability to share the Track that gets you there as well as a Waypoint of the stand location has been so crucial to our ability to efficiently manage tree stand locations. – onX’s own Jared Larsen

Essential Hunting Visual Aids

The four primary rules of firearm safety (T.A.B.K) are:

  1. Treat Every Firearm as if it Were Loaded
  2. Always Keep the Muzzle in a Safe Direction
  3. Be Sure of Your Target and Beyond
  4. Keep Your Finger Outside the Trigger Guard Until Ready to Shoot

The emphasis on number three above is why good visual aids are essential hunting gear. While it would be nice to have a rangefinder for measuring shot distance or a spotting scope and tripod for glassing faraway hillsides, it is essential to have a dependable pair of binoculars to be able to assess your target and beyond before taking a shot.

Choosing the right pair of binoculars for hunting depends on the power of magnification you want balanced with the weight you’re willing to carry. Anything from smaller 8×32 to the Bushnell Forge 15×56 binoculars might suit your needs. Accessories like a bino harness or bino tripod might also be worth having depending on your type of hunt and hunting area.

Emergency Supplies for Hunting

Do not leave home without emergency supplies. They are as important as every other piece of gear and clothing you’ll have with you. Consider this list as the absolute minimum you should consider carrying in case of emergency:

  • Water and Water Purification System (UV filter and iodine tablets)
  • Food (high-calorie foods with 40 percent carbs, 30 percent protein and 30 percent fats)
  • Shelter (space blanket or emergency bivvy sack)
  • First Aid Kit
  • Fire-making Supplies (two lighters wrapped with duct tape and a waterproof Magnesium striker)
  • Illumination (flashlight, headlamp, and extra batteries)
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“Being a western hunter, one of the most important pieces of gear that never leaves my pack is my Sawyer Water Filtration system. It is lightweight, takes minimal space, and is extremely easy to operate. It also allows you the ability to fill a bottle or bladder with water if you are in a hurry, and filter it at a later time. Although I have never had an issue with it, it never hurts to always carry a few emergency water tablets, just in case.” – onX’s own Dylan Dowson

Other Hunting Essentials

Over the years, seasoned hunters have learned a few tips and tricks for what they like to carry in their hunting packs. Some of these gear items serve more than one purpose in the field, which is why hunters count on them.

  • Trash Bags – A couple of large lawn bags, when cut open, make an excellent ground cloth to put game meat on as you process an animal. They are also excellent for keeping gear/clothing dry (especially during stream crossings), or in a worst-case scenario serving as part of a survival shelter.
  • Pen, Pad, Sharpie – Whether for jotting down notes and observations while watching for game or using the Sharpie to leave notes that won’t ruin in the rain, bringing these few small items along will be worth it. Pro tip: it’s easy to wrap about 10 feet of duct tape around one Sharpie.
  • Paracord – 30-50 feet of p-cord in your pack and you’re ready to do just about anything. From hanging food from a tree, building a shelter, or having for a primitive bow drill for fire-making, paracord is the multi-tool of rope. There’s even a company that makes p-cord with a flammable core (FireCord).
  • Toilet Paper – This should be self-explanatory.

Essential Elk Hunting Gear

When elk hunting in high-country western states there are a few pieces of essential hunting gear that you should consider having with you.

  • Game Bags – When you’ve finally gotten an elk on the ground, you’ll need quality cloth game bags to protect the quarters and meat after field dressing. Game bags keep flies and other insects off of your game but are breathable, allowing the meat to cool when hung properly. Before they’re needed for packing out an elk, these bags are also helpful for storing and organizing extra clothes in your pack.
  • Boots – Western mountain elk hunting is strenuous, and the weather is unpredictable. You’ll be carrying a heavy load if you harvest an elk. You’ll need boots with excellent ankle support and waterproof linings.
Essential Hunting Gear Checklist - onX

Essential Deer Hunting Gear

Whether you’re bowhunting from a tree stand or chasing whitetails on foot, there are a few essential items to throw in your pack.

  • Scent Control – Deer have up to 297 million olfactory (scent) receptors in their nose. By comparison, dogs only have 220 million and humans have just five million olfactory receptors. Covering your scent is essential for successful whitetail hunting.
  • Rangefinder – Take all the guesswork out of your shot with a lightweight rangefinder. For bowhunting, you’ll want a rangefinder that works well in close proximity (10 yards or less), with readings marked in fractions of yards.
  • Deer Drag/Rope – Paracord (mentioned above) could work for a makeshift deer drag, but if you have to cover much distance you’ll want to save your shoulders and back and have a proper harness-style deer drag with you to get your downed deer back to your truck.

Boot Blankets. There are a variety of companies that make insulating or heat-reflective boot blankets that can simply be slid over the top of any pair of boots to help keep your toes warm. At reasonably affordable prices, minimal weight, and space in the pack, I don’t leave home without them once the temps start dropping. Just make sure you put them on over your boots after you have got into your stand and are strapped in as they can be dang cumbersome to climb with. – onX’s own Jared Larsen


Ryan Newhouse

Ryan Newhouse was raised hunting squirrels and whitetails in the deep South but has spent the last two decades chasing Western big game in Montana. He has written professionally about his travels and the craft beers he’s consumed along the way. He loves camping, fishing, boating, and teaching his two kids the art of building campfires and playing the ukulele. His great-great-uncle, Sewell Newhouse, invented the steel animal trap.