One Backpack to Suit All Your Outdoor Needs
The blue Osprey backpack that I used for years worked well for backpacking, but when we started having success big game hunting and it came time to haul large loads of meat (like the elk that Olivia harvested in the photo below) it was uncomfortable to a point where I am sure it was unhealthy. I also had to put game bags full of meat into the inside of the pack, which wasn’t ideal when I wanted to use it for its original purpose later on.
A sleeping bag that smells like elk blood probably isn’t the smartest move. The bright blue color stood out like a sore thumb, it was starting to rip, it wasn’t waterproof whatsoever, and I despised having to pull out my bright red rain cover as soon as it started raining. But it worked. It got the job done several times. Here’s a photo of it loaded up for a work trip when I was working as a fish technician sampling fish in the high country.
Like many of us, I tried to first focus my limited finances on absolutely essential things for trips like gas, food, a good sleeping bag, tent, etc. My Osprey worked, but I hated it for hunting.
When I finally decided to upgrade and get a backpack specifically for hunting, I listened to hunting podcasts, watched a lot of videos online, read reviews, and talked with friends. I quickly became familiar with a lot of the main hunting brands. I also looked at larger Osprey backpacks and other recreational packs just to keep my options open – they were often significantly cheaper than hunting packs but never had the meat hauling capabilities I was looking for.
I started looking more closely at hunting backpacks made by brands like Kuiu, Stone Glacier, Exo Mountain Gear, Mystery Ranch, Kifaru, Eberlestock, ALPS, and more. I went into bigger stores like Cabela’s and Sportsman’s Wharehouse, and smaller local sporting stores that carry quality gear that I could try on.
While I was deep into pack research I went hunting with my friend and experienced hunter, Trevor, and picked his brain a little. He really likes his Kuiu pack, and it was helpful to get a first-hand account of why it worked for him. I was very close to buying one of their models, but I ended up continuing to look for something a little more waterproof – I really don’t like using a rain cover.
In addition to wanting to buy a pack from a quality brand with reputable customer service, I had specific criteria in mind for a highly modular pack in my price range.
Here is what I was on the lookout for:
1. Budget of about $500 or less
Some of the high-quality pack brands didn’t have anything under $500, and if they did they were often much smaller packs than what I was looking for. Or they didn’t satisfy criteria #2.
2. An entirely modular pack system that I can use as an ultralight day pack OR for extended, overnight trips
Every fall I end up doing some day trips, car camping, short backpacking trips, and longer backpacking expeditions. Sometimes I will do several types of trips within a week. Finding a pack that can literally do anything is not easy. Some brands, especially the higher quality brands, offer frames separately from bags and you can purchase several different sized bags that are interchangeable with the one frame. This is a great option if you have a lot of cash, but the problem is that buying several bags gets very expensive very quickly.
3. A meat hauling capability separate from my main bag
Regular backpacking packs like my old Osprey aren’t great for hauling meat. Not only does the inside of your pack get bloody and furry, but you have to take everything out of your pack to make room for the meat, which in my case often resulted in not having enough room at all.
In my mind, keeping meat bags separate from everything else is a no-brainer for a big game hunting pack. Sometimes I’ve used Olivia’s green Osprey pack to camouflage a little better and that would get the job done, but I was still putting meat into the inside of the bag.
4. Ability to easily haul meat even when my pack is set up as a day pack
I like the option of being able to go on a day hunt with a super-light pack with nothing but the absolute essentials (first aid, water, food, kill kit, etc.). I also want to have the ability to carry out a large load of meat if I am lucky enough to harvest an animal.
5. A high quality pack frame that remains comfortable with heavy loads
For this, I decided to choose only from the most reputable of brands and to focus on frames made by hand and of the highest quality material. An adjustable frame and padding in all the right places without overdoing it.
6. Have a 100% Waterproof Backpack
In an ideal world a good hunting pack would be light weight but 100% waterproof 100% of the time. Last fall I hunted western Washington for Roosevelt Elk and Black-tailed Deer and it changed my perspective of wetness. It rained consistently, even in September, and the chest-high foliage just stayed wet. I want to be able to hunt through rain and soggy conditions without having to worry about whats on my back getting soaked.
7. Ability to haul oddly-shaped objects like rafts, inflatable kayaks, antlers, etc.
We do a huge variety of stuff. I was looking for a pack that could carry anything and everything I could possibly want to strap to my back. Crates full of mushrooms, boxes full of berries, bags of edible plants, sheds, who knows what I might want stow in there.
The Solution- A Kifaru Tactical Platform Frame with a Cargo Net and Dry Bags.
This pack can do just about anything. The total cost for the frame and cargo net was about $460. The total weight without a dry bag is 4 pounds and 11 oz. (I chose the 26″ frame with ultralight composite stays). For a multi-day trip with a large 100 L+ dry bag, the pack weighs about 6 to 7 pounds. As a day pack it weighs about 5 to 5.5 pounds. The weight of this setup is the same as or just slightly more than comparable backpacks, but the comfort and versatility more than make up for a few ounces here and there.
It might seem like a lot of money for a pack without any bags. The way I see it is that if I change my mind, I can buy a regular bag from Kifaru and I will only have the additional cost of $65 for the cargo net – which will come in handy regardless.
I spent another $20 on a 30 L camo dry bag for day trips and I already had a large dry bag to use for extended trips. Larger dry bags (50-100 or more liters) from high quality brands typically cost about $40 to $100 and can weigh anywhere from less than one pound to a little over two pounds.
Here are some of the benefits
It works great with any bag.
For a super, super ultralight day hiking setup I can toss all of my gear for the day into a game bag and strap it down. For longer trips I can run a large dry bag and strap down as much gear and/or additional drybags as I want.
The frame is super comfortable even with a heavy load.
Comfort is definitely dependent on preference of the person carrying the pack, but one thing I wanted to point out here is that with the cargo net you can adjust the load up or down or side-to-side very easily to distribute the load how you want it. When I was lucky enough to harvest a deer in Washington last fall I strapped two quarters, the head, and my 20 L dry bag onto the pack. We had an easy and comfortable hike out in the dark.
This pack is truly 100% waterproof.
No rain covers outside or trash bags inside and no more worrying about valuable and essential gear like my sleeping bag getting wet. One of my main concerns was that opening and closing a dry bag might be annoying, but when you compare the ease of opening a dry bag side-by-side with a lot of packs where you have to cinch a draw string and then secure some buckles, I think I actually prefer the dry bag. All it takes is a few rolls of the opening and clipping it shut.
In addition to being 100% waterproof, dry bags float.
Considering a hunting trip involving a river crossing or a canoe, kayak, or raft? I would definitely rather have my gear in a dry bag for any of those circumstances. A dry bag may not float with enough heavy gear in it, but if you lose your backpack to a river or otherwise get it wet, if you can recover your bag your gear will still be dry. And there’s always the option of using an over-sized bag to make sure it will float if that’s a big priority.
Dry bags aren’t expensive to repair or replace.
If you happen to burn a hole in an expensive backpacking bag, tear it, or otherwise destroy it to where your pack company can’t fix it, you’re looking at several hundred dollars to replace it. Dry bags are easy to patch yourself and they are cheaper to replace.
No more blood soaking my bag or my gear.
This goes hand-in-hand with being waterproof, but I wanted to point it out because it’s another nice bonus. Dry bags are easy to clean out, and usually need no more than a wipe down after a trip.
It’s modular and easy to strap on additional storage and gear.
The hip belt has sewn loops for hip pouches, water bottle pockets, range finder, or whatever else you might want handy.
I have a scope case that I can strap onto the out side of the pack – it has a water bottle pouch that fits my large Nalgene too.
I also bought some hip pouches from Amazon that fit great, though I haven’t put them through the test of a full hunting season yet.
This pack has tons of other uses.
It is great for shed hunting in the spring. I can use it to haul our inflatable kayaks and/or raft. I’ve used it for small day trips when we take off for a high mountain lake to fish. The options are endless.
This pack definitely might not work for everyone – but don’t get me wrong. I think that it would make a lot of people really happy that are currently using other gear. It works well for me, and that’s why I wanted to share. So far I really haven’t experienced any drawbacks with this pack and I am surprised that I haven’t seen it done before.
If I had to be critical, I would point to the cost and say that you could definitely get a cheaper hunting pack from another brand. However, it may not have all the qualities that I was looking for and found in this pack.
It’s also not the lightest option – it’s ever so slightly heavier than some of the other options out there for hunting backpacks. This is mainly because of the dry bags which weigh a bit more than a regular backpacking bag. I’ll definitely accept an extra pound, though, to never worry about my gear getting wet again.
I hope this review of my pack is helpful for anyone considering an upgrade, or looking to change over to something a bit more modular and waterproof. It has certainly worked well for me. Feel free to comment below or drop us a line with your hunting pack success stories. There’s definitely a pack out there for everyone.