Good times, bad times. Light loads, brutally heavy hauls. Many laughs, and close to shedding a few tears. These are just some of the experiences that I’ve had while harnessed into the Exo Mountain Gear 3500 backpack.
I have received a lot of questions about the pack since I posted a “first look” review and video last summer. I was, at that time, a fan of the pack because I was aware of the massive amount of development effort that went into the pack’s design, as well as the quality of the materials and the production process. I liked the concept of the innovative, titanium frame. I appreciated the layout of the bag, lid, pockets, and side-zip access.
Those are all good things, but they’re not hard-tested, real-world experience that forced the pack to either prove its strength or reveal its weaknesses.
I’ve been withholding my review so that my opinions were forced to align with the realities of the pack’s performance. Good ideas and clever features don’t mean crap if the pack is miserable to carry, difficult to use, or outright fails when you need it most.
This past September I got the chance to load the Exo with a week’s worth of gear and head miles-deep into the backcountry. I lived under the weight of the pack for days on end. I carried more than half the meat of a deboned bull (my share was 130-150lbs) through six-miles of mountainous terrain – ascending to 11,300’, before diving, sliding, and nearly crawling down to the trailhead. It was a journey that I couldn’t have completed with other packs that I’ve tried.
When it mattered most, the Exo performed admirably.
I cannot objectively state that the Exo Mountain Gear pack is the greatest pack on the market for backcountry hunting. Nobody can make that claim, because preferences and needs vary from user to user. But I will say without hesitation that the Exo Mountain Gear 3500 (and it’s big brother, the 5500) is definitely the best pack on the market for my budget, my needs, and my preferences.
I have absolutely zero doubt about that.
Here is a quick-list of features and functions that my elk hunting partner, Jerud, and I like most about the Exo Mountain Gear 3500…
- Simplicity. You have what you need, and aren’t bothered by what you don’t. As Jerud said, “There are no useless features.”
- Adjustability. Three different hip belt sizes are offered. The sliding torso adjustment fits a variety of builds and allows for very fine levels of adjustment. The hip belt itself is very comfortable and doesn’t slip, even with the heaviest loads. The lumbar pad can also be tailored to the user’s preference.
- Fluid rigidity. What the heck does that mean? Well, the unique frame design allows for fluid, uninterrupted movement while wearing the pack, yet the vertical rigidity of the frame doesn’t bow or buckle under heavy loads. It’s really something that needs to be experienced.
- Size versatility. Jerud and I both nearly maxed-out the 3500’s built-in storage capacity with a week’s worth of gear (we could have strapped more gear on the outside or between the pack and frame) – but the pack also collapses down to nothing and makes a great daypack.
- Load shelf. The ability to load gear – especially meat – between the bag and frame is ideal. The bag is tightened to the load, which helps stabilize it. And when hauling meat in the load shelf you are keeping the heavy weight close to your back, which is how heavy loads are intended to be carried.
- Side-zip access. Quick and easy access to the main bag. This feature came in especially handy when using the pack while hunting and being faced with the need to quickly retrieve items. The Exo also has traditional top-loading access under the main lid, which is helpful when packing the main bag with high-volume loads.
- Stretch. There’s a rear stretch panel/pocket on the exterior of the pack, which is incredibly convenient for storing or retrieving clothing layers or rain gear.
- Hip Belt Pockets. They’re genius. They hold their shape, making it easy to retrieve and return items. The zipper provides smooth, one-handed operation. The zippered opening isn’t too large; a rangefinder is held quite securely, even when the zippered top is open.
There are some design tweaks coming to the Exo design for 2015, and I’ll have an opportunity to cover those down the road. So look for a new video to come in the next couple of months. In the meantime, to learn more about the pack’s specifications, features, and design details, visit ExoMountainGear.com.
As always, let me know if you have any questions.