Next to your rifle or bow, weapon and optics, your pack might be the most essential piece of equipment in backcountry hunting. Your pack can literally make of break your hunt. Spending hours and days with it on your back, you will become intimately familiar with its comfort and function – or lack there of.
Consider this: you’ve spent hours narrowing down your gear list, honing in on only the most essential items needed, now you just need the means to skillfully carry it all into the backcountry – and hopefully out with twice the load. So do your research and don’t skimp on this equipment if you plan on doing serious backcountry hunting.
Currently I’m running the Kuiu 1850 Icon Pro for most day hunts and the 5200 Icon Pro on a 2-3 day bivi hunt. I will be sharing my experiences on the Kuiu packs throughout the article. Other notable and high quality packs I would recommend are Kifaru, Stone Glacier, Mystery Ranch, Eberlestock and Exo Mountain Gear. My next pack will likely be the Mystery Ranch Mule or another Mystery Ranch offering, for various reasons, including its weight and carrying capacity, structure and expandability.
Over the years I’ve experimented with several packs ranging from middle of the road affordable to budget stretching, high end packs. I’ve owned several Badlands and Eberlestocks, all decent packs. In general, the old cliche “you get what you pay for” holds true with this piece of equipment but a high quality pack ranges from $340-$500+.
Critical Pack Components
Things I consider when choosing a pack are:
Weight – This is probably the most obvious yet critical consideration. Ounces are pounds in the backcountry, so choose wisely! The Kuiu 1850 Icon Pro weighs in at 4 lbs 3.8 oz. frame and all. Not bad considering this pack is well capable of packing out an elk hind quarter.
Fit & Comfort – Most modern packs have several adjustments not only in the common areas like shoulder and waist straps but vertically and how the pack fits on the frame and your torso. Choose a pack the allows you to customize the fit. Perfect fit is key. The Kuiu Icon Pro and Ultra pack models allow for a range of adjustments to get it dialed in as do most other quality brands. The shoulder straps, hip and lower back contact points are crucial and must be as comfortable as possible. A pack that fits well all around and distributes all the weight on your hips is what you want.
Durability – A high quality pack is not a cheap investment. The last thing you want is a pack system failure on your haul out with 80lbs of elk. Durable frame, stitching, zippers, buckles and attachment points are a must. From my experience, Eberlestock produces some extremely durable packs though there is a weight addition as a result. The Kuiu packs are durable enough but I’ve already noticed some wear after two seasons. Namely in the zippers and some of straps.
Storage/Organization – Organization is key. When you need to quickly and readily access a piece of gear, the last thing you want is having to dig to the bottom of your pack to find it. Kuiu does a nice job of providing organization with their packs and add-on storage pouches are nice when you need them. One knock on the Kuiu are the hip pouches. For me, they sit too far back on the belt and require two hand operation so you’re usually reaching across your body, around the other side trying to unzip a loosely attached pouch. They’re a bit cumbersome to work with.
Expandability – One of the most appealing aspects of the Kuiu pack line is the ability to expand and interchange. Go bigger when you need to. I like to go “bare minimum” at all times but when the environment or hunt dictates the need for a larger pack I can always swap up keeping the same frame and suspension. This system is not unique to Kuiu but it was one of the things that drew me to it and they were one of the first.
In addition to swapping packs you can expand the storage capacity with dry bags (in between the pack and frame) as well as attachable hip belt pouches, and storage bags like the one seen in the photo above. Mystery Ranch and others make packs and frames that you can swap depending on your needs and most of the cost for the higher end packs lies in the frames, making purchasing different bags to use on the same frame not quite as painful.
Function – Function comes in many forms and definitions but to me optimal functionality is not noticeable, its natural…like an extension of your body. The Kuiu 1850 functions well for my needs. Minus the hip pouches. The Kuiu 1850 has one main compartment with internal mesh compartments, a top compartment with and inner, and a front compartment just big enough for a spotting scope. In addition the 1850 has drawstring pouches on each side and you can attach the hip pouches (R/L), sold separately. It is also hydration compatible and Kuiu offers an assortment of attachments like gun and bow holders. This basic set up provides me with just the right amount of function and accessibility to critical items.
Personally, my choice gear falls somewhere in between minimalist and enough to get the job done reliably. This includes packing all my essentials in and as much meat out in one round trip. I’m not a believer in going back to spike camp or the truck for a different pack to haul meat. I want to throw a hind quarter in the same pack that hiked in with. The Kuiu Icon Pro 1850 and larger will do just that. When it’s loaded it’s every bit as comfortable and stable. While this pack has a few things to be desired and I do think it lacks slightly in the durability department – it’s weight and functionality make up for it. It might need a little more TLC than it’s counterparts to make it last several years but overall, I thoroughly enjoy the Icon Pro packs and highly recommend them.
In closing – Everyone has their own personal preferences and requirements and there are several quality options out there. When it comes time for me to purchase a new pack Mystery Ranch is high on the list.
What considerations do you make when selecting a backcountry pack?