By Rob Shaul
Lightweight, hunting-specific backpacks are a relatively new category of outdoor gear. This category has grown with the growth of backcountry hunting, specifically backpack hunting.
These packs are designed to hold the gear (camping, cooking, food, clothing) for a 1-5 night backcountry hunting trip. What separates them from typical backpacking packs is their capacity to hold and carry boned out meat, or entire quarters of killed game, in addition to the camping gear.
This capacity is possible not because the bag part of the backpack expands, but rather because the bag part of the pack separates forward from the frame, creating a space between the frame and back for heavy load carriage.
These packs are expensive – ranging between $400 and $700 – far more expensive than similar backpacking packs.
This gear test compared three hunting packs from well-known manufacturers, each in the 5-pound weight range, and 3000 cubic inch to 4500 cubic inch size capacity range:
We set out to compare these hunting backpacks across four categories:
(1) Packout Performance and Comfort
Backpack hunting packout loads can range from 60-150 pounds and range up to 10 miles. Overall the packout is the most miserable period of any backcountry hunt, and a pack which doesn’t perform well can make the experience literally, back-breaking. For this analysis, testers conducted a heavy 90-pound, 3-mile ruck effort with each pack on a forest trail.
(2) Scouting Trip Load Carrying Performance/Comfort
Before the pack out, a hunting pack carries 25-40 pounds of gear, water, and food. For this comparison, each tester carried the pack for a 1-2 night backcountry big game scouting trip for elk and deer.
(3) Scouting Trip Features and Ease of Use
This assesses the pack’s utility as a backpacking pack – how well is gear organized, accessed, and stowed?
(4) Overall Build Quality
Material quality, zipper construction, frame build, and overall fit and finish of the pack.
The clear overall winner in this comparison was the Exo Mountain Gear K2 3500. This pack excelled in all areas, especially the heavy ruck performance and scouting trip ease of ease. As well, the Exo K2 3500 had the best build quality in the test. On the negative side, at $575.00, the 3500 is the most expensive pack in the test.
Note: We purchased each pack from the manufacturer or an authorized dealer at full retail price to avoid any conflict of interest issues.
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