• Mark Kenyon

    Great advice Mark! I’d also recommend, if possible, that folks try these different packs on before buying them – and try them loaded heavy. Each pack is going to carry weight a little differently, and fit each person a little differently and that can make a HUGE difference in how comfortable and functional they’ll be for each person. For example, I used an expensive very nice internal frame pack for my latest elk hunt. I loved it for backpacking in, hunting, etc. But when I loaded it with an elk quarter and a skull/antlers – it didn’t carry the weight in a way that I needed it to. It pulled the weight back on my shoulders and low, and it was horribly painful/uncomfortable. It just wasn’t the right design/fit for me at that heavy load. That said, my friend had a cheapy external frame – and that carried the heavy load like a champ. In the future I’m definitely going to try the different packs I look at, and not just with 35 or 40 lbs in them, but try to find a way to test them at 80+. Those heavy weights are rare to have, but those are the moments when you really want your pack to make things easier for you, not harder.

    • SoleAdventure

      Great advice, Mark. Bags of Quikrete are you best friend for testing packs.

  • Tom Sorenson

    While I appreciate your advice for hauling meat as comfortably as possible, I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from hunting elk by thinking they’ll have to drop $500+ on a pack in case they get one down. As someone that has packed more than a dozen elk off the mountain – most of them by myself – in generic, internal frame packs, I can attest to the fact that they will work. Of course they won’t be as comfortable, but if you have a pack that an elk hindquarter will fit in, you have a pack that will work for hauling elk. That said, I had one of those sub-$100 packs break under a heavy load one year…and that sucked. My personal thought: if you have the $ to spend on a nice pack, make the commitment and you won’t regret it. If you don’t have the $, don’t let that stop you from chasing elk. Know your limits and know that regardless of the pack you use, packing an elk out is an incredible commitment of time. After re-reading your post, Mark, I think you just said the same thing. So, whatever…here’s a pointless comment.

    • SoleAdventure

      I’m definitely not trying to discourage anyone that doesn’t have $500 for a pack. That situation is completely understandable. What I am saying is, if you don’t have the $500, then don’t waste your money on a low- or mid-range “hunting” pack. Go with a solid, inexpensive frame hauler, and an affordable daypack that’s quiet and comfortable (it doesn’t have to be hunting-specific, or covered in camouflage). A $100 frame + a $50 daypack is going to perform better than a $250-$400 hunting pack that claims to serve both jobs well.

  • Tyson Woods

    The hunting/fishing/outdoor industry has taken a huge turn in the last several years. It has become very evident that items have hit the market with very high price points. Some are justified, but some aren’t. That being said, there are 4 or 5 pack brands out there that are focused on hunters. These brands are worth the price if you ever have to come out heavy. Like Mark, I have gone through several trials of low-grade/low-price packs and into the mid-range packs. Year after year, I was selling and searching again. Last year, I ponied up the money and found a great pack that is comfortable while carrying loads. Even for day hunts, I carry this pack. It compresses down nicely, but allows me to come out heavy on my first trip. I hate wasting time when I have an animal down. If money is a limiting factor, start cheap and easy with a backpack and external frame as Mark suggested, but try to stash away a few bucks for purchasing a quality pack down the road.

    • SoleAdventure

      You got it, Tyson. The leap to a quality backpack can be a tough one to make, but it is an investment that’s necessary for someone that’s going to haul more than a couple of animals out of the mountains.

    • Brandon G

      Tyson, what kind of pack did you end up buying?

      • Tyson Woods

        In 2013 I used the Mystery Ranch Crew Cab. It’s a great pack, but I wanted something a little more versatile. Last year I switched to the Mystery Ranch Metcalf v.2 and I love it. It condenses down nicely, but can expand in a flash when a load needs to be carried.

  • Mark

    I was unlucky and had tag soup last season in Colorado. But I trained w 90lbs regularly. My buddy had had a eberlestock and also carried 90lbs. When I let him try my Kifaru Nomad, he was amazed at how much better it carried the load. He ordered one that day.
    There’s a monetary cost as well as a misery cost one has to weigh at some point. Arduous worked needn’t be painful and punitive. It’s not as if anyone else is going to really understand how bad it hurts to haul w a crappy pack unless they’re doing the same thing. Packs and boots are items I won’t skimp on.

    • Randy

      I think this is a key point that too many people overlook…test your gear before you leave for the hunt. Many of us will buy gear online without the benefit of being able to try it. Good companies understand this an let you try it and return if your not happy. Like Mark, I’m not a rep for ExoMountian and I have a pack from them that I really like. I try to find gear that I’ll be happy with for a long time…until I wear it out. I think it saves me money in the long run.

  • Hey Mark, I bought a higher dollar Mystery Ranch pack for this past season. Sight unseen, never tried it on. Without weight it felt fine. With 75 pounds of meat in it, I realize I didn’t have it set up for myself correctly and it made for a very miserable pack out. Lesson learned: Test your new gear before you go in the same manner in which you plan to use it! I sent a video and an email to MR customer service and they were VERY responsive. They said I did have it adjusted incorrectly and they offered to help me via Skype video chat to get it right. The point is, Jansport and cheapo external frame won’t come with that high level of service. Mystery Ranch and Exo and Eberlestock and Kifaru etc are all expensive, but you get what you pay for. And if I had bought a Kifaru, I can walk directly into their business here in Colorado and they would help me, just as I’m sure any of those high end pack companies would. If I buy a Badlands or Kelty at the tier 2 price range, MAYBE I get some service, but not at the level of the others. And if I buy a Jansport or Redhead or similar, expect zero customer service. Plus some of the higher priced packs have a lifetime warranty. I’d rather spend $400 one time in my life than $200 multiple times. But I understand budget. So that said, your advice is dead on.

    • SoleAdventure

      You’re right…personal service and a no-BS warranty aren’t going to come with the low-dollar packs. The problem is, even a lot of the hunting packs in the mid-range (which is still a lot of money) don’t offer anything either. Some of the big names offer a warranty, but the problem is…a lot of guys have to use it! I want a pack that offers a warranty because they truly stand behind their product and know that problems will be few and far between.

  • Tyler Dominguez

    I understand where Mark is coming from, he has been hunting the last couple years the way we’ve been hunting here in Colorado for elk, deer and bear. If you’re backpacking in to set up camp and then once established, your day hunting from that camp you need a pack that can carry all the weight of your gear and then possibly even more weight in meat on the way out. So ideally a pack that an carry a lot of weight but then work very well as a day pack is the reason that he has been using the types of packs that he’s using. my hunting buddy has been using Eberlestock for the last couple years and it works OK but with larger loads it struggles. This last season I switch to an Optics Hunter pack by Outdoorsmans which I couldn’t be happier with, but it’s personal preference. Marks use of the Tenzing led me to reevaluating my pack and eventually to that versatile style. Thanks again Mark.

    • SoleAdventure

      You bet, Tyler. The style of hunting dictates how important the pack is. For what I do, a solid pack is critical. If I had a basecamp and was only dayhunting from there (as mentioned in this post), then a pack isn’t as important.

  • JT

    Mark, I enjoy your blog immensely. My thoughts on a hunting pack. My current pack is an Eberlestock Just One (J34). It works for me. It isn’t perfect for everything but it does haul lots of gear!. Setting it up took time as would be expected with any one you end up buying. I’ve found that with any pack, you (meaning all of us), should spend the time getting it dialed in with the different loads. Hopefully “heavy coming out” and “just enough” going in. I finally took the time to play with this pack until it felt right and then started with the various loads….coming into camp (moderate load), day pack (light) , and hauling out. Those were the three scenarios I pictured myself in. Then I started at the light end and simply wore the pack doing anything and everything like working out, walking the dogs, hiking, yard work, hunting pheasants, etc. More adjustments…… Eventually I got it figured out to where I knew how to make it work and how I wanted it set up without too much thought. And I got into better shape than I would have just working out or going to the gym. Eventually I figured that the “packing out the animal” would be plain old work regardless of which pack I had! So the whole process then, to me anyway, was analogous to training with the bow. Working at different shots……standing, seated, kneeling, uphill, etc., until I got better.
    BTW the only negative for me with the J34 pack is that it’s a bit heavier empty than some other packs but it sure can haul a load! Also it has an integral rifle scabbard and if you don’t use a rifle…….??!! Anyway, Once I got it adjusted and got used to it? No problem. And I was sure glad I didn’t have to fiddle with the pack once I was on the hunt.

    • SoleAdventure

      Glad it is working out well for you, JT! It definitely takes time to fit most packs. I think a big reason for that is because guys don’t know how a pack should fit, or what it should feel like. I’ve been there.

  • rfd515

    You can get a surplus ILBE pack on ebay for less than $100 which is super durable and capable of carrying a sizable load. Plus they’re already camo for obvious reasons.

    • SoleAdventure

      Thanks for the tip!

  • GH

    Mark, clearly there is a lot of interest in Exo. However it is not convenient to “try one one”. That is why when an honest review comes along, it gets people’s attention. Thank you for that. Can you comment on the size of your 3500 for that week long hunt. Was it adequate? I see Exo also makes a 5500. I wonder if that added fabric would get annoying in Day Hunt mode. Many of us hunt elk for one week a year and then our packs revert to day hunters.

    • Jerud Earnest

      The 3500 was just right for a week long hunt with the gear that Mark and I use. There is also the option of strapping items on in the meat load section between the bag and frame. We didn’t need to do this but it’s an option. If you can’t get a weeks worth of food and gear in the 3500 for a September elk hunt, you may need to revisit your packing list.

    • SoleAdventure

      As Jerud said, the 3500 can do a week without a problem, assuming that you have a relatively svelte gear list. That’s with utilizing the “internal” storage and pockets. You could obviously strap additional items to the outside of the pack, or between the pack and the frame. If you’re a guy that takes a weeklong trip once a year, and will still use the pack for other smaller trips/hunts through the year, then the 3500 is the way to go.

  • Dave

    Buying a backpack is difficult; especially when conventional wisdom say to buy the backpack last after all the gears have been purchased so one knows how much volume and weight-bearing features are required.

    I pretty much counted every gram possible, and the only way to get any lighter with the 3-season hiking list is use a tarp (combined with a bug bivy) and trekking poles. Now that being said, the only hunting-related equipment which seem to be trimmed back on are the rifle, scope, knife and backpack; and for bushcraft, a folding saw and a small forest axe. And for winter-related equipment, it’s mostly the skis and snowshoes which I need to evaluate and trying to decide if I should bite the bullet on a XGK for when a remote canister don’t function.

    And the backpack is the hardest one, especially hunting-quality ones are not inexpensive and there is a waiting list for them. Considering Stone Glacier Crux or Paradox Evolution frames though.

  • Jesse T

    What do you think about the Alps commander? I’m slowly accumulating gear and aimming for next year for a diy Archery hunt.