If you’re a hardcore backpack hunter who loves to punish yourself and your body, today is a great day. Today is a day where a bountiful number of really good pack manufacturers exist, with no other dream than to make the perfect hunting backpack. Gone are the days of Forest Service pack boards. Gone are the days of 14-lb. packs that hurt just to look at. Today’s packs are engineered with fine materials, quality construction, unique and functional ideas, and practical solutions.

This is easily the most intense and time-consuming review I’ve ever undertaken. If it wasn’t enough to try to coordinate logistics with a dozen top pack manufacturers, it just happens to deal with the one topic surely to generate the most opinions and arguments. Get two or more guys together and bring up the subject, and we’re sure to need a Ron Burgundy “Well that escalated quickly” meme to with it.

Backpack Series 1

Ben Howland struggles under the load of his giant Idaho elk, taken in 1929. If you’ve ever packed a heavy load and felt like ol’ Ben looks here, then these packs will make you say, “Ahhhh.”

My goal with this review was to feature every possible significant western pack manufacturer and we pretty well accomplished it. The chance to see all these fine products side by side, where they shine and where they lack was truly something special.

We also feel pretty fortunate to be the first ones to review – or in some cases even SEE – some of these packs. Cabela’s Prestige 85L, Exo Mountain Gear 5500, Horn Hunter Full Curl System, Kuiu Icon Pro, Mystery Ranch NICE Metcalf, and Outdoorsmans Optics Pack all were either brand-spankin’ new, had new modifications, or were final prototypes for soon-to-be-released models.

We focused on a cubic-inch range near 5000 cubic inches for this review, because that might be the most useful range of packs out there. Small enough to compress and pack on your back for long day hunts where you want the ability to pack meat if necessary, but just big enough for five-day extended stays, these packs are the bread and butter of hard western hunting.

Backpack Series 2 Within these 12 packs, there are some markedly different strategies. Some are bona fide meat haulers, some are lightweight specialists, some are minimalists, some are organization specialists, and some are really good blends of some or all of those attributes.

Generally, we’ve stopped short of “declaring winners and losers”. Personally, I feel it’s an insult to a lot of good engineers and pack makers to do so, and the answer is rarely that clear-cut or simple. These are all really good packs. What we’ve done is laid out all the specs, attributes, and options, focused on a few key strong points and glaring weaknesses, and did the legwork. The rest is (and should be) up to you, to weigh it all and make the best decision for what pack will best fit your own personal needs. Good luck!


-Ryan Hatfield, Editor