Scott Haugen is a hunting legend. He’s traveled the country in search of game, and when it comes to gear, he’s one picky customer. Haugen knows that in many cases, his gear is what will help him seal the deal on a game animal. He also knows it’s gear that can make the difference between being comfortable and miserable and coming home safe or in a pine box.
One of the things I love about writing for Born Hunting is the level of authenticity it delivers. They don’t govern what I write about, and they don’t cut content I highlight, even if it’s not that of a sponsor.
Enter my top gear pics for 2023. This is the gear I’ve used over the past year, even longer for some. I know everyone gets excited about the new gear coming in 2024, but I simply hate writing about gear I’ve never used. What follows is a look at gear I believe in and will keep using.
I first used the Pelican 14QT Personal Cooler ($120) on dog training sessions and big game scouting trips last summer. I was so pleased with its ability to keep things cold and frozen that I stepped up to their 70QT Elite Cooler. I’m glad I did. Now, both coolers serve specific needs while I’m hunting, camping, and dog training. The Elite is one of the best-performing big coolers I’ve ever used on extended hunts, weekend outings, or defrosting freezers at home. The latch and seal systems are solid and efficient, and I love the non-skid feet, rugged handles, and durable design built for protection and performance.
Engel HD20 Heavy-Duty Soft Sided Cooler Bag
I quickly fell in love with Engle’s Soft Sided Cooler Bag, not only because of the appealing looks but how well it kept meat frozen on a cross-country flight that lasted nearly 45 hours due to multiple delays. The welded seams, durable zippers, strategic straps, and many lashing points are perfectly designed and serve their purpose. It’s become my go-to soft-sided cooler for keeping things frozen and toting drinks packed in ice. It features closed-cell foam insulation, which prevents air from passing through and optimizes the thermal range of the cooler and the seams held in water. It’s efficient, rugged, and worth every cent.
Wiley X Detection Glasses
These are the most ingenious eye protection glasses I’ve worn. I use them when training dogs, hunting, shooting at the range, and around the home for countless outside jobs. They’re frameless, which means a 100 percent field of view, and the five lenses provide unmatched clarity in any lighting situation. The lenses are fast and easy to switch out; I often change them multiple times a day on hunts to meet continual lighting changes and shifts in habitat location. They’re strong and scratch-resistant, which I learned when I dropped them on some rocks while chukar hunting, and are so comfortable you’ll forget you have them on.
5.11 Clothes & Travel Bags
I’m very picky when it comes to functional clothing that performs to my high standards. Last fall, I wore an array of 5.11 Tactical clothes, from base layers to ripstop pants, insulated jackets to softshell pants, and they all impressed me. Tiffany, my wife, used their specialized women’s clothing while biking over 400 miles and hiking another 150 last summer in Europe, and she loved their fit and performance day in and day out. The 5.11 line of luggage and backpacks are also tops in durability, space, and functionality. I’ve taken both on multiple hunting trips around the country, and they’ve held up great both in truck and airline travel. Don’t let the tactical name fool you; these are quality clothes, bags, and luggage that are comfortable for travel, hunting, fishing, camping, and more.
Sitka Apex Pack
Last fall, I used Sitka’s Apex Pack on multiple hunts, from pronghorn in the desert to deer, elk, and bear. I like streamlined, lightweight packs that stay close to the body no matter how much weight is in them and offer multiple compression straps to keep loads solid and ergonomic. Sitka’s Apex pack does all this. Some great design features are well-designed compartment sizing and placement, ample water bladder space, and a low-profile top. I’ve logged over 50 hours with this pack and have zero complaints. I enjoy how comfortable and simple this top-end backpack is.
Work Sharp Rolling Knife Sharpener
Tiffany, my wife of 33 years, helps with all the butchering in our house, and she was a full-time wild game cook and cookbook author for nearly 20 years. Her lineup of Shun knives would leave any knife connoisseur in awe. Once a year, she sent these fine blades to the factory for sharpening, but once she got her hands on the Work Sharp Rolling Knife Sharpener, that changed. This sharpener works on high-end kitchen knives and all our hunting and butchering knives, bird blades, and fish filleting knives of all lengths, shapes, and sizes. It comes with three sharpening abrasives and a four-sharpening angle magnetic block. The compact unit could be the best all-around sharpener Work Sharp has created.
Keep reading if you are looking for a lightweight, streamlined, very diverse big game knife. Benchmade’s folding Taggedout and fixed-blade Altitude are simply amazing. Years ago, I used to help a company design hunting knives, and I wish these would have been the ones I could put my name on. I field dressed, skinned, and broke down two elk and a deer and caped another deer with the Taggedout before the blade needed a quick touch-up. The carbon fiber handle makes for easy gripping with bloody, wet hands, and this tool’s lightweight yet sturdy performance is simple and top-notch. If you’re a fixed-blade minimalist, the Altitude is a must-have. Once you hold these knives, they’ll grab your attention; once you use them, you’ll get over the price point.
Meindl EuroLight Hunter
For nearly two decades, I’ve hunted around the world in Meindl boots and can say, without hesitation, that their new EuroLight Hunter boots are superb. Tough, very low-profile, and for the incredible lightweight features, offer phenomenal ankle and foot support. The boot features 9-inch waxed nubuck leather uppers that perform well in various conditions and aren’t restricting on calves or ankles. A Gore-Tex waterproof and breathable liner keeps water out but allows perspiration vapor to escape. The multi-directional lug construction offers exceptional traction in the wide range of rocky habitats I roamed. Insulated, uninsulated, and women’s models are available.
LaCrosse Ursa MS
Over the past 11 months, I’ve logged over 85 miles in LaCrosse’s new Ursa MS boots. The Ursa’s are the best technical hunting boot LaCrosse has ever created. Light, durable, and ergonomic, the Ursa is more like wearing high-top sneakers than hiking boots. The comfort and ankle support of the Ursa’s are impressive, and the sleek soles ensure you’re not kicking rocks or protruding roots. Quiet on hard, dry ground, sturdy all the time but not stiff and cumbersome, waterproof and resilient in all the different terrains and conditions I wore them in, the Ursas are boots every serious hunter will want to consider.
Leupold BX-4 Range HD TBR/W
Downright impressive in low light, heavy shadows, and even on flat, bright terrain, I was instantly impressed with Leupold’s new BX-4 Rangefinding Binoculars. I used them in the Roosevelt elk rainforests of the Pacific Northwest, sage country habitat for Rocky Mountain elk, and dozens of other hunts. Whether you’re a long-range rifle hunter or a bowhunter, the BX-4 Range will meet your needs. Leupold’s True Ballistic Range/Wind (TBR/W) technology is all about precision, offering 25 selectable ballistics groups that account for your preferred cartridge, allowing you to dial in the exact distance of your target. The guesswork is gone thanks to the TBR/W’s 10-mph wind holds that provide the information needed to connect on the first shot. Combined with Leupold’s Custom Dial System, you’ll be on target in seconds, with no question as to where your point of impact will be. The edge-to-edge clarity and quality of the glass are exceptional, and you can configure the unit to operate with either hand.
Sea to Summit Big River Dry Bags
I first used this dry bag while bird hunting in the Midwest, where it was hot, dusty, and very windy. I also used it in rainy, windy conditions of the Pacific Northwest. The 20L Big River Dry Bag protected my valued camera gear and other items, no matter how challenging the conditions. I then used it to fish in the ocean, and it kept saltwater spray and rain from penetrating. Then, I used it on multiple duck hunts and as a carry-on bag during a recent cross-country plane flight. The only thing I need is more of them. The Big River Dry Bag Comes in multiple sizes and colors.