Donnie Vincent on the Best Hunting Gear He Trusts With His Life
Donnie Vincent is many things. He’s an intrepid backcountry hunter whose exploits in the Alaskan wilderness were chronicled in Michael Easter’s best-selling book The Comfort Crisis. He’s a no-BS, tell-it-like-it-is spokesman for wildlife conversation that’s been featured on podcasts like the Joe Rogan Experience and MeatEater, as well as articles in venerated publications. He’s a biologist turned award-winning filmmaker whose work has changed the way millions of people think about hunting. He’s arguably the best person to give advice on the best hunting gear available now.
“Good gear is a system of systems,” Vincent says. “Your rain gear has to double as your tent because, if your tent fails, you still need shelter, just as your warm jacket, pants, layers, and socks have to double as your sleeping bag. These are the things I really believe in. These are the things I trust.”
We caught up with Vincent while he was working on a film project in South Dakota centered around the new Polaris Expedition side-by-side. Here are a few of the pieces he trusts with his life when he’s living out of a tent in the Arctic Circle for weeks at a time.
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Best Hunting Boots: Steger Quetico Mukluks Tough leather combined with thick wool insulation make Steger Mukluks a godsend in below-freezing conditions.
“People write me all the time asking how I keep my feet warm while hunting deer all day in the freezing cold and I always point them to Steger Mukluks,” Vincent says. “Anyone who loves to hunt, fish, or explore in the north country should own a pair.”
Interestingly enough, Steger doesn’t even advertise its mukluks as hunting gear. That’s a shame, because between the tall full-grain leather upper, 9mm-thick wool liner and insole, and silent rubber outsoles, they’re a perfect fit for the task.
Vincent doesn’t wear them all the time. If he’s out hanging tree stands or doing anything athletic, he dons boots, but mukluks are the go-to when he’s sitting for long bouts in the cold. They also last a very long time. He has a friend who’s had the same pair for over 20 years.
“I use the Quetico model, because they have an extra-thick wool bootie inside to keep you warm and they’re silent to walk in,” he says.
This is the kind of footwear you’d have found trappers on the frontier wearing back in the 1800s. They worked then and they work now.
“The sole is kind of like a rubberized house slipper, and they’re deadly quiet in the leaves,” Vincent adds. “They’re the most underrated piece of footwear.”
Best Longbow: St. Patrick Lake Longbows Mushin Styk Vincent says PSE’s hand-laid carbon riser is like nothing else on the market, and their cams are possibly the best he’s ever used.
“The inherent quiet, observational learning that comes from being an archer is one of the greatest gifts; it’s life-changing,” Vincent says.
He has two primary bows in his kit: a longbow and a compound.
His longbow is a Mushin Styk by Erik Hoff of St. Patrick Lake Longbows that’s built with a Yukon Takedown system for wilderness hunting and travel.
“The draw is silky smooth, holding and controlling your shot is something to behold, and watching the flight of the arrow as it finds its mark on the target is more pleasing than you can imagine,” he says.
Best Compound Bow: PSE Mach 34
The compound bow is the PSE Mach 34. The brand’s carbon-fiber technology truly sets it apart from the pack.
“This is essentially PSE’s hand-made carbon riser, which is nothing short of a piece of art,” Vincent says. “It’s warm in the hand, has maybe the best cam system in archery, and is built by a company made up of passionate archers.”
Unlike other manufacturers who essentially glue together multiple carbon tubes to form a single shape, PSE employs expertly trained craftsmen who painstakingly hand-layer over 100 pieces of carbon to build a single riser. The result is an incredibly lightweight yet rigid bow, which, along with its beloved EC2 cam system, delivers one of the most accurate and consistent shot groupings money can buy.
“There are great bow companies with premium bows—Hoyt, Mathews, Bowtech—all of them have honest claims on engineering and performance, but PSE is up there with the best, if not leading,” Vincent adds.
Best Backpacking Sleeping Bag: Wiggy’s Mummy Style Sleeping Bag and FTRSS Overbag The unique insulation in Wiggy’s sleeping bags works in even the coldest, wettest, and nastiest conditions.
“I took down sleeping bags on trips to Alaska for decades—ones with the outer layer treated to be water-resistant, ones with water-resistant down, you name it—but when it’s wet, and I mean even a little, all down starts to fail,” Vincent says. “In those conditions, they go from a puffy, toasty, loft-filled bag to absolutely miserable within a day, and they’re very difficult to dry out in a tent.”
Wiggy’s synthetic insulated sleeping bags are Vincent’s top pick for cold, wet environments. The brand makes a robust system that pairs a 0-degree Mummy-Style Sleeping Bag with a 30-degree overbag, so you’ve got shelter that can protect against a bone-chilling -40 degrees.
The secret is a proprietary insulation called “Lamilite” that gives 25 percent more loft than other synthetic fills, and has virtually zero difference in loft or weight compared to a down bag of equal size. It won’t absorb moisture, so the bag never loses its loft in wet conditions.
“A good down bag can run you $800 alone, but you can get Wiggy’s full multi-bag system for under $500,” Vincent says.
They’re a little heavier and bulkier, but the added weight is worth it.
“I’ve crawled into a Wiggy’s bag completely soaked in sweat and wet from crossing swift rivers with a heavy load, only to wake up bone dry,” Vincent says. “Many of the bush pilots I know won’t even fly without their Wiggy’s in the plane…now that’s an endorsement.“
“The first day I wore Hanwag Serius II GTX Boots was on a serious hunt where I had a boot from another company fail just days before,” Vincent says. “On the first day, I hiked 10 miles with a heavy pack in some very steep country and they performed flawlessly with no blisters, which speaks volumes for a stiff boot. These are the best hiking boots I’ve ever worn.”
Hanwag’s dedication to old-world craftsmanship and quality is something you have to see to believe. As one of the few bootmakers left in the world with both the requisite knowledge and machinery to produce double-stitched leather boots, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more durable or re-craftable boot at any price.
“I beat the absolute piss out of these things,” Vincent says. “You’ll run out of tread before you break anything in the boot, and they’re completely re-soleable.”
Of course Hanwag has embraced modern manufacturing processes as well, which, along with the brand’s obsessive dedication to fit, is the main reason why even its most technical alpine boots can be worn comfortably day in and out.
“Hanwag thinks of everything, including the way your foot rides in them when you’re in off-camber terrain carrying heavy weight,” Vincent adds. “They’re absolutely bombproof, and the fit and finish are second to none.”
Best Binoculars for Hunting and Best Spotting Scope: Maven B1.2 – 8X42 / 10X42 and S.1A – 25-50X80 Donnie’s been successfully tracking game with Maven optics for years, be it caribou, sheep, or bears.
Great binoculars are for everyone, not just hunters. The closer you get to a subject, the more interesting it becomes. Vincent swears by Maven’s B1.2 – 8X42 / 10X42 hunting binoculars and S.1A – 25-50X80 spotting scope.
“Good glass opens up the world around you,” Vincent says, whether you’re watching birds at your feeder or watching a pack of wolves stalk a herd of caribou.”
Vincent’s used Maven since the brand’s first year of business. The company makes world-class optics out of Japan (think binoculars, rangefinders, and rifle scopes) and sells direct to consumer, so its able to compete with top-of-the-line products coming out of Germany.
While flagship binos and spotting scopes from premier German companies like Swarovski, Leica, and Zeiss can run you anywhere from $3,000 to $6,000 a pop, the most expensive glass in the Maven catalog retails for under $2,000. Performance-wise, Maven optics deliver the goods the most skilled hunters need, and everything is backed by a lifetime warranty to boot.
Best Hunting Backpack: Barney’s Sport Chalet Freighter Frame and Pinnacle Pack When it comes to hauling heavy loads through the backcountry, hunters like Vincent know a Barney’s bag will do anything they ask of it.
Barney’s Pinnacle Pack paired with its Freighter Frame is a sturdy setup for serious hauls. “The system gives you the confidence for any backcountry hunt or camping trip,” Vincent says. “This is an old-school external frame pack where paint chips in the coating are earned and it’s so badass.”
Barney’s Sport Chalet is best described as a mountaineering store packed into a two-bedroom apartment that only carries the best hunting and backpacking gear in the world. Located in the heart of Anchorage, Barney’s sells all the premium brands like Sitka, Kifaru, and Stone Glacier, but it’s Barney’s custom in-house brand, Frontier Gear of Alaska that gets the nod from the most hardcore hunters.
The external frame packs, in particular, are regarded as the toughest on the planet by folks in the know, sporting small-batch quality and laser-focused features for the unique rigors of Alaska’s backcountry.
Vincent finds the Freighter Frame Pinnacle Backpack to be light, super comfortable, and inherently adaptable.
“Day hunting out of camp is no problem because the back can be pulled in to feel as if it’s not much more than a daypack,” he explains. “When moving camp across miles of steep, broken terrain, this pack makes a heavy load feel like a fraction of reality; and, once you find success, well, it’s called a freighter for a reason.”
You can lash antlers to the frame and there’s even a meat shelf.
“Hunting in the backcountry is very difficult: Even the smallest of mountain ranges seem bigger than life and going ultra-lightweight means you’re not likely to accomplish a lot,” Vincent says. “Trust me: elk, moose, caribou, or even sheep, this is a very good bag to check out.”
Best Rain Jacket: Grundéns Neptune 319 Commercial Fishing Jacket Breathable jackets have their place, but Vincent prefers the no-questions-asked reliability of Grundéns’ PVC raingear nowadays.
“I’ve used all the most expensive rain gear out there, but hands down, the best I’ve ever used are Grundéns’ PVC rain jacket and pants,” Vincent says. “We’re talking about the kind of stuff you see dudes working on crab boats wearing.”
As is the case with most of Vincent’s kit, there’s a stark difference between what’s advertised to work, and what he’s found to be truly effective out in the field. Grundéns’ rain gear isn’t meant to be breathable, it’s meant to be waterproof, which is what you want when you’re spending hours sitting still glassing for caribou, moose, or brown bears—or waiting out a storm without shelter.
“I learned the hard way about breathable rain gear, which is meant for occasional showers,” he says. “I’ve worn very expensive breathable shells from all the best brands, but at the end of the day I’m soaked.”
As an added bonus, a full set of Grundéns’ old-school PVC gear—jacket and pants included—costs about a third of most “premium” rain jackets alone.
Best Tent for Camping: Seek Outside Teepees A portable vacation cabin in the woods: Donnie and his crew rely on a Seek Outside teepee tent in all but the most brutal climates.
Vincent has used Seek Outside 8-Person Tipi for countless trips, but the true..