How to Select the Best Hunting Backpack for Your Trip
The importance of a top-end backcountry backpack can’t be overlooked. There are items you can skimp on — cut corners with. A backpack is not one of those items. The better backpack you sling over your shoulders, the more comfortable and enjoyable your next western adventure will be.
I’ve never embarked on a western hunt — bow or rifle — without a backpack over my shoulders. A pack is the lifeblood of the backcountry hunter. During my Western tenure, I’ve experimented with loads of backpacks. From external frame packs to internal frame packs to those without a frame.
Early in my hunting career, I treated packs like boots; I refused to spend my money on the REAL thing. Instead, I skimped, dropping $50 here and $70 there on subpar makes that would rub my hips raw, pull on my shoulders, and crumble under a heavy load of elk meat.
Six years ago, I stopped skimping. Sick and tired of packs that were below par, I saved my pennies and purchased a top-of-the-line model from Stone Glacier. That pack changed how I could hunt. Because the backpack didn’t break my body down, I could stay on the mountain longer, hunt in comfort, and when my arrow or bullet found its mark, I could haul as much as my body would let me carry off the mountain.
Don’t be me! Don’t waste years getting by with packs that aren’t up to snuff. A quality backpack is worth its weight in gold. Yes, top-end packs are expensive, but this is one gear item you can’t cut corners on. Save your pennies, invest in an excellent backpack that will serve your western hunt needs, and dominate the mountains.
Here are five makes that won’t let you down.
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Best Value Hunting Backpack:
This lightweight, durable wonder has been my number-one go-to for the past two years. During that time, I’ve used it to haul a pair of elk, a pronghorn, and two mule deer from hellish locales.
Made from 500D Cordura, the PU-coated pack is highly water-resistant and comes with a rain cover that stores perfectly in a zippered compartment on the pack’s bottom.
The pack promises a customized fit via six-position torso adjustment and a waist belt that fits waist sizes between 31 and 55 inches. Comfort is second to none. Breathable 3D air mesh suspension promotes airflow, the shoulder straps are padded, and the frame is complete with an anti-slip lumbar bad.
My favorite feature of this pack + frame system is the tab-style attachment hooks on the frame and loops on the bag. The pack detaches and attaches to the frame in seconds, and should you choose, ALPS offers a 1,800-cubic-inch daypack that attaches to the Elite Frame.
Other must-note features include:
- An adjustable lashing system.
- Load lifters.
- A pair of extension lashing straps.
- A full-access main compartment zipper.
- Waist-belt pockets.
- Rifle and bow drop-down pocket.
- The monstrous main compartment has five mesh zippered pockets that boost the organization.
Most durable hunting backpack:
This slice of heaven will cost you some greenbacks, but the system is worth every penny. In 2021, I used the backpack and frame on a once-in-a-lifetime Colorado Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep hunt. It proved its salt over three weeks in the backcountry while scouting and hunting.
Comfortable, light, and built like a tank, the Xcruve Frame uses four carbon fiber composite stays that form the shape of an X to better match the curvature of the lumbar and upper back. This frame distributes weight amazingly, and the Powerlock hip belt showcases forward assist pull with locking features. This design ensures the frame won’t slip, even with over 100 pounds of meat and gear. The frame weighs 3 pounds with the medium belt and is compatible with all Stone Glacier bags.
The pack is a work of art. The total pack weight is 2.4 pounds, and a full-panel zipper always allows immediate access to the main bag. The perfect size for a week-long elk excursion, the Sky 5900 transforms from a 4,300-cubic-inch pack to a 5900-cubic-inch pack with the addition of the Sky Lid. I love the lid, and with uber-adjustable straps, it works great for slipping horns under and then snugging them down.
Other must-tell features include:
- 22-inch front vertical pocket that’s great for a spotting scope and other gear.
- Attachment points for swing-out pockets.
- Lots of lashing straps.
- Hydration compatible.
Most versatile hunting backpack:
One of my all-time favorite packs, the Metacalf is a tried-and-true warrior that works well for multi-day hunts in any terrain. The total pack volume is 4,335 cubic inches, and the weight with the Guide Light MT Frame is 6 pounds.
A slight upgrade from the Guide Lite Frame, the Guide Light MT Frame sports SJ Autolock buckles throughout, and the 500D Light Plus fabric ensures tear resistance in critical areas and overall pack longevity. Years ago, I loaded the frame with an elk hindquarter, backstraps, tenderloins, cape, and horns and trekked miles out of the backcountry. The frame distributes weight evenly, and the five-point waist belt and shoulder straps never slip. Mystery Ranch’s OverLoad uses a load sling set between the pack and sling that expands and puts the bulk of the weight closest to your back.
The pack allows easy access to the main compartment, and you’ll love the removable top pockets that provide access to need-right-now gear. Like the Stone Glacier, the top lid has uber-adjustable straps that allow the user to place extra equipment, or horns, under the lid and on top of the pack. The straps suck down tight and don’t slip.
Other notable features include:
- Woven side pockets.
- MOLLE attachment points on the waist belt.
- Two stretchable side pockets.
- Lashing points on the inside of the bag for Mystery Ranch accessory items.
- Compression shroud at the top.
Badlands Vario 65 OS
Badlands cut its teeth making great packs, and I’ve used several of their models over the years. My favorite to date is the Vario 65 OS. The Vario Frame is sturdy, hugs the body, is uber-adjustable, and a few years back, I toted five loads of moose meat out of the Rockies with this pack. The waist belt snugs up nicely, the shoulders are adjustable, and the frame allows for ultra-simple installation of the Vario 65 OS Bag. The fame will fit all packs in the Vario lineup, which allows any Badlands Pack fanatic to be highly versatile.
The 65 OS pack has 6,500 cubic inches of storage space, and the nylon ripstop construction should be applauded. The main pocket has a double draw-string closure system for added security, and access to the main bag is a breeze. The pockets are purposeful, and side stretch pockets allow for a water bottle or rain gear. Thanks to the pack’s lashing system, I’ve also used the stretch pockets for a spotting scope. Daisy chain lash points make adding accessories a breeze, and Badlands offers several items like the Meat Shelf, Backcountry Game Bag, and Deluxe Batwing OS that attach to the frame.
Other must-mention features include:
- Hydration compatible.
- Built-in rifle/bow boot.
- Buckle closure.
- Four Way Stretch fabric.
- Included rain cover.
Best looking hunting backpack:
KUIU makes remarkable hunt apparel, and its pack selection isn’t too shabby. The 5500-cubic-inch pack features a Carbon Fiber Frame and will accommodate any hunter that packs carefully for up to a week. The load sling allows for an expanded hunting capacity of 2,500 cubic inches; the total pack weight is a mere 4 pounds 3.6 ounces.
The pack is available in multiple frame and suspension sizes. Featuring Pro Suspension, the shoulder straps are comfortable and fully adjustable, and the waist belt snugs up and is fitted with waist-belt pockets. The system maximizes proper weight distribution.
Made from 330D Cordura, the pack is bulletproof, and the back and bottom panel are waterproof. The pack is complete with YKK zippers, and multiple pockets ensure gear is organized and easy to transport.
Other key features include:
- Hydration compatible.
- Bag-Swap Modularity means the system is interchangeable with any sized Pro LT or Pro Bag.
- Duraflex Hardware throughout.
- Hypalon Reinforced Compression Strap.
- Side-zip rear pockets.
- Interior divider panel.
In conclusion, selecting the best hunting backpack is a pivotal decision for any seasoned or aspiring hunter. A well-chosen pack can make all the difference in ensuring a successful and enjoyable hunting expedition. From rugged durability to ample storage, comfort, and specialized features, we’ve explored a diverse array of options in this article to cater to your unique needs and preferences.
Whether you’re embarking on a backcountry adventure, stalking game through dense forests, or simply need a reliable companion for your hunting gear, the best hunting backpacks can be your trusted ally in the field. It’s not just a piece of gear; it’s an essential tool that can enhance your hunting experience and contribute to your overall success.
Remember to carefully consider your specific hunting requirements, terrain, and personal preferences when making your choice. Prioritize features that align with your hunting style, and always invest in a backpack that not only meets your immediate needs but also has the durability to withstand the rigors of seasons to come.
With one of the best hunting backpacks by your side, you can confidently tackle the challenges of the wild, keeping your gear organized, accessible, and secure. Whether you’re a seasoned hunter or just starting out, the backpack you choose can be the key to unlocking unforgettable hunting experiences and treasured memories. Happy hunting, and may your chosen backpack carry you through countless successful adventures in the great outdoors!