September 01, 2021
By Brian Strickland
Teddy Roosevelt once said, “The farther one gets into the wilderness, the greater is the attraction of its lonely freedom.” As I packed past the wilderness boundary sign and began setting up camp a few miles later, I couldn’t help but reflect on how true a statement that was.
I was literally the only one in this lonely alpine basin, and with several groups of bucks feeding around me, it was only a matter of time before I crossed paths with one of them.
With each passing day, I watched several groups of bucks from my elevated perch. One buck in particular stood out from the rest. His 4x4 velvet crown towered overhead, and with a spread of nearly 28", he more than met my standards.
On opening day, I hastily tried to slip into range as he lay bedded. Just as I was about to ditch my pack and close the distance, Mother Nature changed my plans via errant winds.
Three days later, I was glassing from the same rocky perch as before. Unlike the previous days, this time the bachelor group chose to bed in the shade of a ridge that would provide me with an opportunity to sneak in on them from above.
I put a plan in place and slipped in without a hitch. With a patchwork of spruce blocking any opportunity for a clear shot, all I could do was wait for him to make the next move. Suddenly, his thick fuzzy antlers rose above the brush as he began to browse. When his chest appeared at 32 yards, I settled my pin and gently touched the release.
For me, there is no better way to start a fall hunting season than a DIY backpack hunt. Whether it’s chasing mule deer up high or trading bugles with a rutting bull elk from below, there’s a romance with this style of hunting. While there’s usually nothing easy about it, when everything comes together and your pack is heavier coming out than going in, there’s really nothing sweeter.
While boots, bows, and technical clothing are important, having a pack that provides fit, functionality, and the ability to haul heavy loads in relative comfort is what separates the best from the rest in this crowded field.
Take Kifaru International. Not only do they produce stellar tents, stoves, sleeping bags, and other top-shelf gear for the serious hunter, but they offer some of the best packs as well, and their new Kutthroat ($447) is just one example. At just over 4 lbs., it offers 4,050 cu. in. of space, making it the ideal size for multi-day hunts. It’s constructed from tough DWR-coated 500D Cordura and features a proprietary internal frame and Kifaru’s popular and comfortable Duplex shoulder straps and waist belt. Other noted features are three exterior pockets on the front, a chamber pocket to organize gear, dual large-capacity external water bottle pockets on the side, an internal water bladder sleeve, and a snow collar lid to add even more gear.
Another pack for multi-day trips is the updated Metcalf ($499) from Mystery Ranch. It comes in at 5.7 lbs., and its 4,335 cu. in. of pack space enables you to take all the important stuff, and then some. It sports Mystery Ranch’s Guide Light MT Frame with an overload shelf, so you can haul heavy game or additional gear, and also comes equipped with a detachable lid with large organizational pockets, dual stretch-woven side pockets, and a full-length side zipper for accessing the main compartment.
KUIU’s Pro Pack System ($459–$569) allows you to attach any of its five Pro Packs that range in size from 1,850 to 7,800 cu. in. onto the same Pro Suspension and Carbon Fiber Frame. Each pack has multiple internal and external pockets, external straps, and is constructed from a 500D ripstop Cordura fabric. They are also equipped with an additional 2,500 cu. in. load sling for hauling extra gear, or that hard-earned protein. If you want to shave a little weight, their Pro Pack LT series is about 1.5 lbs. lighter and fits on the same frame and suspension system as its predecessor.
Making their minimalist midsized pack even better, Stone Glacier adds an integrated spotting scope pocket to the popular Solo ($619) pack. Paired with their new Xcurve frame, the 3,600 cu. in. Solo comes in at just over 4.5 lbs., but this ultralight gem is no lightweight. It can haul up to 150 lbs., and with the load shelf expanded, you can add an additional 2,500 cu. in. of gear or a whole mule deer.
At 5,500 cu. in., the Palisade 90 ($499.99) is the newest member of the Outdoorsman’s line of Western hunting essentials. Its patented modular pack frame is made from an advanced polymer. The integrated load shelf can haul up to 200 lbs. It’s constructed from 500D Cordura, and is equipped with multiple pockets, a removable pouch, and a padded optics pocket.
Combining versatility, durability, and the ability to carry heavy loads comfortably, Badlands adds the new MRK Pack Series ($389.99–$479.99) into the growing pack arena. MRK is short for “Mountain Range Killer,” and with pack sizes of 2,400, 3,300 and 6,100 cu. in., there’s one available for every need. Unlike their Vario Modular System, which separates the pack from the frame to haul game, the MRK packs are one unit that allows the pack to expand away from the strong magnesium alloy frame, so meat can be carried between the frame and pack. They also feature the new Strata Suspension System, which is touted as their most comfortable and adjustable system to date.
Sitka’s Mountain Hauler 4000 ($495) offers 3,700 cu. in. of space but can be extended an additional 800 cu. in. when you want to stay longer. Its T-6 6061 aluminum frame provides an adjustable suspension and strong chassis that is capable of hauling loads up to 150 lbs. The bag is constructed with a 220D fabric, with thicker 450D on critical wear areas that are polyurethane coated inside and out to keep your contents dry. And with the multiple external pockets, you’ll have no issues organizing gear.
Keeping every ounce a top priority, Eberlestock developed the new ultralight Vapor Series ($149–$249/bag only). Offered in three sizes (2,500, 5,000, and 7,500 cu. in.), bag weights come in at 1.3, 2, and 2.3 lbs., respectively. And when equipped with their M1 Carrier or F1 Mainframe ($229–$249), you won’t have any issues hauling gear and game. Each pack is constructed from a water-resistant 500D Nylon ripstop fabric, or 450D Aramid-Reinforced ripstop that feature multiple pockets inside and out.
Sometimes, the name says it all, and the new Backcountry Hauler with Exo-Frame ($359.99) from Pack-Rabbit certainly encompasses that claim. At 3,700 cu. in., it’s one of their largest available. Numerous lash loops, compression straps, and internal and external anchor points secure your gear, and with the external pouch you can rapidly access go-to items. It features a generously padded, four-point adjustable hip belt and ergonomic shoulder straps, and with the ergonomic Exo-Frame, it’s a game-hauling beast.
Although most of these packs are geared toward the Western DIY hunter, I can’t in good conscience leave the whitetail crowd guessing what’s new in the pack world. With an eye geared specifically toward them, ALPS OutdoorZ adds the Impulse ($149.99) to their expanding pack line. Wrapped with a DEADQUIET fleece, it crushes unwanted noise, and with the waterproof membrane and integrated rain cover, your gear is protected when Mother Nature decides to unload. Enhancing its stealth capabilities, it uses a series of magnets and a unique hook, instead of a zipper on the main lid. Other notables include a rigid construction, so it can stand upright on its own, a hydration pocket, and multiple other organizational pockets.
Another pack designed specifically for the treestand hunter is the Hangtime Day Pack ($199.99) from Tenzing. With over 750 cu. in. of storage, the Hangtime sports a rigid EVA-molded shell that holds its shape to ensure quiet and easy one-handed access. It also offers various pockets and attachment points that are designed to hold everything you might need, and with its handy quick-access optics pocket, your glass is always at the ready. It even comes with a removable bow carrier.
If you’re looking to keep a little extra cash in your wallet, Arctic Shield has you covered with the T3X ($89). Constructed from a reinforced tricot fabric in Realtree EDGE camo, it’s pretty darn quiet when walking through thick brush. The TX3 provides over 1,500 cu. in. of space, with an array of pockets both inside and out to keep gear organized. It features several exterior webbing loops to attach additional gear, and is equipped with a 3D mesh back panel and contoured shoulder straps for packing comfort.