Hunting Backpack Review winter 2018

Hunting Backpack Review 2018

Well the results are in:

My team and I ran these bags through the ringer on all different types of hunts just to name a few Blacktail in California in July, Early Muleys in AZ in Aug, Oregon Roosies in Sept, High country muleys in UT in Sept ,  Coues deer in Oct/Nov , Even Treestand hunting whitetail in New York, Braving the bitter cold on rutting mule deer in South Dakota in Nov and finished it off with late season bull elk hunt in AZ. Each bag was was worn by at least one of my guides and myself some got a third opinion as well. I really feel like if you want to get an honest review out it needs to be done this way: different hunting styles, different body types, hunting different species, in different environments .

Hunting Backpack Review 2018

The Backpack review 2018 Test parameters:


Perceived Weight 

Ease of use





Mounting accessories






The Hunting Backpacks we reviewed……

Day plus packs:

Blacks Creek: Answer on Talon Frame with Knicknack Hip sacks  

Blacks Creek Answer Pack


$680.98 as tested

First impressions – My first impression I didn’t get a lot of help or direction from the representative when I phoned in to get info on the pack. But with the help of their website I was able to decide on the Answer.

Receiving the pack –  The pack was well made and very intuitive very easy to figure out how it operated.  The grip frame feature makes it super easy to switch from different pack options to suit different hunting needs in fact its the easiest of them all just unzip the Answer pack from the Talon frame and zip on one of their other packs to meet your other needs.

Hunting with the pack –  Its quiet, no creaks or cracks,   It’s easy to adjust the shoulder straps and hip straps while on the move.  It’s easy to strap a bow, a tripod etc.  The over-sized hip belt pockets were both a blessing and a curse they held a lot of the gear you need in an easy access spot and they are internally organized to help speed up what you are looking for, but because of their size I found they rubbed on my arms a bit and it was annoying after few days of hunting elk. one of the features I really liked was that it had plenty of hidey-holes to organize your gear and that you could get to items at the bottom of your main pouch  without tearing apart the whole bag.

Pros: The Blacks Creek Answer has a lot of little hidey holes to separate gear and keep you organized. The pack is well constructed and is outfitted with just enough tie down straps in intuitive attachment spots, the main bag is a true 2000cuin pack unlike some of the others we tested, the side bottle pouches double well for carrying spotting scopes and tripods, I liked that the side belt pockets were large enough to carry radios and gps plus internally segregated to organize little things like elk diaphragms. We found this pack to be a very capable meat hauler that could carry a lot of weight.  Lastly the Talon frame with its zip on and off feature makes it very easy to switch to a larger pack for those longer trips Cons: Even though this pack could carry a lot of weight it was the least comfortable out of all the packs we tested, even with its thick padding and bolsters we could not seem to adjust it to fit well under heavy loads in one of our tests before taking them in the field I wore each pack for 6 hours sitting walking just doing daily routine with 75 lbs in the pack and I found this pack to cause the most fatigue

Mystery Ranch : The Cabinet 

Hooded Pack Fly and Belt Pockets

$565 as tested

First impressions – The worst customer service out of all the packs we tested the rep I spoke to was not helpful at all I end up speaking to friends and doing research online to find the pack to test turns out I should have tested the popup 28 instead it was a better day+ pack .

Mystery Ranch Cabinet

Receiving the pack –  The pack was well made and at first glance I thought It would be my favorite out of all the packs.  It Has the two large side pouches, a front bag with several zippered pockets and expandable to to carry meat and or more gear. The open area between the pockets looked like it would be a great place to stuff extra clothes and to carry my tripod and Phoenix shooting bags glassing pad.

Hunting with the pack –  By far my favorite hip belt! It was the most comfortable hip belt out of the whole group, the contour of the shoulder straps for my body type were very comfortable as well, the tops of the shoulder harness was not my favorite however the pack was very low weight and surprisingly did well with loads as well.  Its quiet, no creaks or cracks, however not very easy to adjust while on the move. It was super cold in South Dakota where I hunted with this pack so I’m not sure if that was the reason but I had a hard time getting things buckled and unbuckled . The open area that I thought would be a blessing was a curse I found it very hard to get my tripod in and out of it and because of the design every-time you need to access items out of the side pouches I would have to undo all the straps which was quite cumbersome. Its sad because I really liked the way this pack felt to carry around but it end up being my least favorite to hunt with. I will say this the Hooded pack fly is a super cool feature and I will be keeping this to use on my other packs

Glassing off the Mystery Ranch pack

Pros: Very well built you can see the detail in the workmanship. This pack for me especially had the most comfortable frame system the hip belt and shoulder straps were markedly more comfortable then some of the other packs. The overall weight of the pack was very light and perceived weight was very light as well I had very little fatigue carry weight with this backpack. Cons: on paper I liked the idea of the way this pack opened up and had basically 3 main compartments. Plus the design had a place to slide your tripod down the center and when carrying loads you could essentially wrap the pack around your load to keep it from shifting…  but once I got this pack in the filed I realized quickly that I really did not like the design I found my self tearing through the pack to get to items I needed and in the super cold weather I had a very hard time attaching and opening the clips, I also didn’t care for the way you carried your bow on the pack (horizontally)




Stone Glacier: Avail 2200 on X-curve frame  

Access Bag ads 800 cu in

Accessory pockets 

Swing Pocktes 

$752 as tested

Stone Glacier Avail 2200

First impressions – Speaking to the guys over at Stone Glacier was a pleasure the rep had hunting experience, understood my needs and was very helpful in helping decide on a pack. I also like that they are so involved in conservation .

Receiving the pack – Showed up within days of my order. Good looking design, very intuitive and not sloppy. The pack was well made very self explanatory I didn’t need to go look at videos on youtube to figure out how to use it although they have multi how to videos to help you . Clips and buckles easy to adjust and came with extra to modify attachment points.

Hunting with the pack –  This was my favorite to hunt with I could hardly feel it was back there, super easy to access my gear, no squeaks or noises, customized-able to the needs of the hunt. I used this hunt on 2 hunts: elk hunting in Oregon for roosies and tree-stand hunting in NY for whitetail. And it adjusted to fit the needs of both hunts. I was impressed with it in OR because its very well suited for run and gun style hunting super nimble and sleek. I love packs that I can keep on while stalking game and don’t get in my way or hinder my movements. Side bar: Do this… the next time you try a pack on (its one of my pet peeves), hunch over as if you were stalking game and trying to stay low. If your head hits the pack before you reach full extension or you cant look forward without standing up for me this is a problem and the bag design is flawed.

My little back pack test




This pack had the greatest range of motion. My other biggest pet peeve is having to tear apart the whole bag to get to items I want in my pack.  This pack was very well organized and made even more so with the use of the swing out pouches . The one major draw back was the pockets were not designed in a manor that they add to the capacity of the bag they took away from it. which kinda sucked and was my only complaint about this bag.

Pros: It was the lightest overall weight pack we tested, very nimble super comfortable, even under weight the perceived weight was one of the lowest of the day pack bunch and for me was my overall #1 pick, it was simple and well organized, I always had what I needed without having to search a bunch. It wasn’t intended to be used this way but I could mount the bow holder on the side of the pack to carry my bow out of harms way and without it hitting me in the back of the head. Also when stalking in on animals most of the other packs don’t allow your head to extend all the way back while hunched over with this pack you could. The harness was micro adjustable and very easy to customize it to the user. Cons: even though stone glacier lists this as a 2200cu in bag its more like 1500 the internal pockets and external pocks when filled take away from the capacity of the main bag. Its not as nice to carry tripods and spotter on the side because there is no true pocket there just a stirrup or strap to secure the tripod. I wish they would have added a pocket instead.

Large Multi Day packs

Initial Ascent: IA4k 

Frame, Suspension w/Lid + IA4K Bag + Pannier Load Carrier + 1.5L Platypus Water Bladder Kit and Hip Belt Pockets 

$698 as tested

IA4K Pack Initial Ascent

First impressions – The Guys over at Initial Ascent were top notch they took the time to make sure I knew the functions of the pack and give me suggestions for use during different hunting scenarios. Plus they had me take measurements and sent me the pack already fitted to my frame and build . The pack has an excellent warranty as well

Receiving the pack – Super quick delivery came already fitted to my body.  Solid frame that’s ridged and lightweight . The pack was well made and after a short learning curve it was easy to use. Clips and buckles easy to adjust and there are other points of contact that straps can be moved to on the frame withing seconds for attaching and or re adjusting how you want to carry gear.

Hunting with the pack –  I spent a week chasing elk with this pack and Jake my head Guide carried it for 3 rifle coues deer hunts and we had the same consensus this was a work horse. But don’t let the burly appearance fool you this pack has a lot of great features and its a pleasure to carry and use in the field. I have to admit the first day or so it took me some getting used to how to pack it so that I could be efficient with it but once I did, I found the pack very functional and smooth sailing. Perceived weight was minimal and I was surprised how much weight I could carry. The only thing that kinda bothered me a bit was the the side pockets I think they could do away with the stretchy pockets that are over the tripod and spotter pocket they just seemed to get in my way and weren’t strong enough to hold water bottle which I believe they were intended to be used for. I had a love hate relationship with the front stretchy pocket its was awesome to stuff my Jet stream jacket into for easy access but the material caught on briers and cats claw and caused it to “pill” up. For a big load hauling bag with a meat shelf this bag was quite nimble and easy to maneuver much more so then the Kifaru in my opinion but I didn’t have a lot of time spent with the Kifaru . However, as compared to other large multi day packs I have owned and tested it was far better at organizing and accessing the gear I needed. As a side note most people don’t think about this but when it came time to dismantle the pack and throw it in the wash to get rid of the blood I found it super easy to take it apart and put it back together in fact in order or easiest to least easiest to clean it was #2 over all:  1) Mystery Ranch 2) Initial Ascent 3) Stone Glacier 4) Kifaru 5) Blacks Creek

Pro:s this is a hauling machine super stiff sturdy frame that is surprisingly light, I like the “guide style” lid to store binos and other frequently used items, the other accessory pocket was just enough space to carry other essentials that need to be easily accessible. I enjoyed the integration of a designated spotting scope pocket without scarifying the water bottle pockets . The full zip design lets you get to items at the bottom of the main bag without having to tear apart the bag. The frame design allows you to carry deer quarters on the sides of the bag which is very comfortable and helps with balance  Cons: I wish the stuff pocket in the lower front of the bag was a zip pocket for more organization. I would have liked to have been able to adjust the lumbar up while keeping the shoulder straps in place. The material used on the stuff pouch and the water bottle pocket not designed for use in the desert the cats claw just ate em up

Kifaru: Fulcrum on a  Duplex Lite frame

So this is the only pack I didn’t get to spend much time with but has been extensively tested by my hunting partner Charles Whitwam at Shadow Trekker Adventures for the better part of a year. I did get to pack out my Hog with it and hunt 3 days of rifle coues deer so I do have some insight to offer but I decided run with a write up from Charles.

Kifaru Fulcrum –  7800c.i.

Add on guide lid – 1200 c.i.

2 med belt pouches – 215 c.i. (each)

1 bottle holder

Total C.I. – 9,430 C.I.

$965 as tested

Kifaru Fulcrum

First impressions – My first impression came from speaking with Aron Snyder, (the Kifaru rep/face) when deciding what pack to go with.  This experience was incredible, he gave me his cell phone # and it was ask away.  I told him my needs and we narrowed it down to a few choices.  Once I chose the Fulcrum and Duplex lite frame I was then impressed to be giving my measurements (height, weight, waist size, inseam, back profile) to Kifaru so they could get the pack set up for my body.  I was really looking forward to a more custom set up as many of the packs I’ve worn in the past have been a bit too “universal” or “general” fitting.   Skipping ahead here a bit but the pack fit me perfectly.


I certainly had enough room with this bag and then some.  Speaking of “then some” the day I got the pack I put my wife in it and carried her around.

Receiving the pack –   I could tell it was well made, the zippers were strong and the material would stand up to abuse.  That’s huge.  The bag itself boasts a giant center compartment with two zippered cylinder shaped wings (perfect for spotting scopes) on each side that can be used on their own with the center bag compressed underneath for more of a “day pack” set up or that can easily wrap around the center compartment for full loads.  Inside the main compartment is a small zippered pocket where I keep my tags and a sleeve for a camelback.  The detachable “Guide Lid” (which also can be worn separately as a small day pack or stalk pack) can be positioned on top like a traditional bag top or further down the bag, I decided to put it on top.  On each side of the hip belt I placed the belt pouches and on the left side the bottle holder.   I can put a small camcorder in one pouch along with snacks, then I can put a go pro and headlamp in the other along with some extra snacks if needed.  The bottle holder actually allows you to take a nalgene in and out without having to take your pack off and it keeps its shape so you can continue to do this, if you’ve worn a lot of packs you’ll know what I mean.

Hunting with the pack –  Its quiet, no creaks or cracks, my previous two packs were a bit loud in this department.  It’s easy to adjust the shoulder straps and hip straps while on the move.  It’s easy to strap a bow, a tripod and hiking poles on the pack.  I can get to most everything I need while on the move and if I do need to take my pack off to get into the main compartments the two way zippers make that a cinch by being able to access items at the bottom of your pack first.  The weight stays on your hips the way it’s supposed to and not on your shoulders.  I personally think a lot of people don’t truly understand what that means until you’re wearing a pack with actual weight in it and the bag doesn’t sag down below your hips.  The Duplex Lite frame load lifters are what solve much of these issues. I haven’t been in an absolute downpour however this particular bag is quite water resistant (Kifaru does make waterproof bags) and I haven’t needed to put the rain cover on it.   I’ve now carried out a mature blacktail buck, wild pig and two elk.  One 3.5 mile trip was a rear leg and front leg of a mature bull elk at once… whew! I placed one leg between the frame and the bag (meatshelf was included) and the other leg went in the bag.    The pack also came with two extra compression straps beyond what is on the bag which attach from one side of the frame to the other.  These really help with pack outs to get everything cinched down as tight as possible

Pros –    

  • You can carry the kitchen sink
  • Compresses small enough that I can use as an all hunts pack especially with the two zippered wings to use with main compartment tucked away
  • User friendly adjustments while wearing
  • Maximum comfort with maximum loads – not that 120lbs isn’t going to suck anyways but the bag makes weight distribution the best it can be
  • Extremely durable
  • Customer service and warranty is amazing!
  • You can customize this bag to add extra pockets & smaller compartments/bags
  • The frame will work with many other bags if you wish to have different bags for different missions.
  • A top handle and bottom handle for moving the bag around when off your back – really beneficial when heavy or when dragging.
  • Custom fit to your body.

*      the main compartment zips & unzips its entire length, making it really easy to access & load up large items that aren’t uniform in size.


Cons – 

  • This particular set up can really expand so your straps can tend to get a bit long if you don’t wind them back up, but who does that?
  • I could probably use a few more pockets inside of the main compartment just for organization
  • I’ll probably replace the “guide lid” with the “organizer guide lid” to solve the previous issue.  The “guide lid” is really just a zippered bag which would work better with a more organize-able main compartment.   Again, this is more because of the combinations I chose.
  • The pack is not ultra light.  This is meant for hauling and comfort.  Only a con for someone looking for that ultra light feel but in my opinion will sacrifice comfort come the pack out.
  • Somewhat cumbersome to stalk with




I honestly like features on all the bags we tested each one seemed to do something better than the other and not one of them really did it all but since we cant all own 5 different hunting backpacks the one I felt suited me and my hunting needs the best was the Stone Glacier Avail. The Cool thing is because I’m running the XCruve Frame I can always pick up one of their other bags to put on this frame to meet the needs of a different hunt. I don’t know….. I feel like I may have to sit down and come up with a backpack of my own to solve all my gripes and meet all my needs with one pack or at least sit down with one of these manufactures and help them design one… who knows keep a look out I may just do that in the near future…..